Counseling the doubtful is a spiritual work of mercy widely attested to since the origin of Christianity. It shows the intellectual and wisdom dimension of the discipleship of Jesus and of the works of charity. It is not a technique that is learned, a sort of persuasive ability, but it is tied essentially to knowledge and to the spiritual path. Counsel is a concrete act and the first work of charity, interpreted as the ability to understand the difficulties of another person; it also gives meaning and direction to the other works of mercy. This article presents some of its essential features and shows the present and urgent nature of this work for our time.
The Book of Sirach outlines the characteristics of the person who is able to counsel; it is not their skills, influence on the person, or dialectic ability, but an uprightness of the soul and a deep spiritual life. Knowledge of oneself and a good spiritual life are necessary to reach the proper goal of counsel, which is recognizing and accomplishing God’s will.
Counsel is a gift that we all need, especially in our complex society that is rich with unlimited possibilities yet lacking some basic points of reference and full of contrasting proposals: the abundance of information, counsel and counselors is unfortunately part of the problem for they raise anxiety and worry in decisions. For this reason doubt is important: it helps to clarify and challenge fixed ideas, ways of thinking, and customs taken for granted that could become major obstacles to attaining resolution. If doubt is listened to with intelligence and peace, it can become the necessary condition to continue the journey with renewed energy and greater depth.
Counseling the doubtful means recognizing such complexity without fear, sure that good is not absent. In awareness of this situation, we are called to evaluate and decide, being certain that we are offered sufficient capacity to carry it out concretely. Accepting this challenge is the adventure that makes life beautiful and worthy to be lived, because we act until the very end, with the opportunity to spend our lives on that which is worthy.
The author is on the college of writers for La Civiltà Cattolica.