The Gift of Understanding Moving Hearts to Grace and Action

This article was posted on: March 19, 2019

The Gift of the Holy Spirit called Understanding (Intellectus) is, like the others, a supernatural gift. So, not trusting myself, I turn to St. Thomas Aquinas, the seraphic doctor, in this exploration. Understanding is also aided by the experience of human life and action. Therefore, I turn to the missionary work of the Servant of God, Father Joseph Walijewski. Understanding is made visible in the remarkable transformations that occurred all around Father Joe, who himself embodied Aquinas’ definition.

Question eight, article one of Thomas’ Summa Theologica seeks to answer whether Understanding is a gift of the Holy Spirit. His explanation is helpful to keep in mind as we describe what happens to the human heart. He writes, “‘Will’ denotes simply a movement of the appetite without indicating any excellence; whereas ‘Understanding’ denotes a certain excellence of a knowledge that penetrates into the heart of things” (Article 1, Reply to Objection 3). In other words, a mere tourist is acting on a desire or an appetite for pleasure in travel. But a person on mission, no matter how brief the experience, is in search of something more excellent. The missionary acts with Understanding.

Father Joe heard of a grave need in Bolivia and was stirred to compassion and action. He worked to establish Santa Cruz Parish. Just a few years later, Understanding enkindled him again, this time in Peru. There he founded the orphanage, Casa Hogar, to give children and families hope under extremely dire circumstances. But that is not where the untiring gift stayed. The Holy Spirit inspired others, through Father Joe, to a similar and supernatural Understanding.

While many cave in to despair and give up, Understanding moves human hearts to grace and action. In Bolivia, the local Church was moved to accept full responsibility for their parish. At Casa Hogar in Peru, a few have been enlightened with new vocations in life. More have left family and homeland to serve and grow using their unique skills for God’s purpose. Hundreds have made pilgrimages of a few weeks to live and work with the people Father Joe loved, gaining insight about themselves and the work of God in the world. Thousands have participated with generous sacrifices of prayer, volunteerism and financial contributions. Motivated by Understanding, peoples’ lives have been touched through the mission of such a simple man.

Furthermore, this is only a small fraction of what the Mission Office sees Understanding and the other Gifts of the Holy Spirit accomplishing. We are privileged to serve and support connections made by people and parishes of the Diocese of La Crosse to local churches and communities all over the world. The Gift of Understanding blesses these human activities, making them deeply personal, amazingly effective, and profoundly faithful. The divine power of Understanding penetrates everything and makes it excellent.


Father Woodrow Pace
Director of the Office for Mission, Pastor at St John the Apostle Parish in Whitehall and SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Independence.





Alex Kren, Fourth year, St. Mary University, Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, Winona, Minnesota. Hometown: Neillsville, WI

“After my mission trip to Uganda, I began to see the world through a different lens. One of the most profound experiences about my trip was seeing the joy that the people of Uganda carried with them. I’ve never witnessed so much joy! They had very little food, clothes, money, and some didn’t even have beds to sleep on, but they had the love of God in their hearts. I understood that I don’t need the big house, fancy car, the newest iPhone. All I need is God, for our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.”
Alex Kren, Fourth year, St. Mary University, Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, Winona, Minnesota. Hometown: Neillsville, WI

“Through my missionary experience in Tanzania, I grew in the understanding of both what it means to receive through giving as well as what it means to build relationships with people one normally wouldn’t encounter “
Hugh Steiner, St. John the Baptist Parish, Marshfield, WI

“I grew in the understanding that the struggles I face day to day are not all that different from those that people struggle with around the world. By realizing we all have shared experiences, we can overcome the struggles of daily life together.”
Leo Steiner, St. John the Baptist Parish, Marshfield, WI

Amy Geenen, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse

Sarah Laman, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse

Hugh Steiner & Leo Steiner, St. John the Baptist Parish











“Understanding is a Gift of the Holy Spirit that helps us to see how certain actions affect others. It teaches us that you need to look deeper into someone’s situation to understand what they are going through or what they need. It is important to be sympathetic toward others and provide support for them to show your love and understanding.”
Amy Geenen, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, First year BioMed Major. Hometown: West Bend, WI.

“More than just an intellectual grasp of something, Understanding is the ability to perceive, on a deeper level, all that God is saying. While Understanding does not provide definitive comprehension of all the mysteries of God, with this Gift of the Holy Spirit, we are capable of digging deeper into our relationship with God and having a greater appreciation for and clarity of  what He is calling us to be.”
Sarah Laman, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, Second year English/Spanish Double Major. Hometown: Lino Lakes, MN.

Maggie Clements, Volunteer at Casa Hogar, Peru

“As a missionary, you constantly encounter pain and suffering in the people that you work with. And as human beings, often our first reaction is to question why a loving God would allow such hardships in a person’s life, and we lose sight of Him in this pain. However, the Gift of Understanding makes you take another look. It brings you back to the Bible, to Jesus’ sacrifice on a cross, and reminds you of the deeper purpose to pain and the profound workings of God. All is not in vain.”
Maggie Clements, Volunteer at Casa Hogar, Peru. Member of Blessed Sacrament Parish, La Crosse, WI



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