Grant Us Wisdom, Grant Us Courage.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit.

–1 Corinthians 12:4–



Whenever I taught my students about the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, I would always mention the 1970 Academy-Award-winning Hollywood film Patton, starring George C. Scott.  There is that classic scene:

It’s 1943.  General George Smith Patton, Jr. realizes that the U.S. Seventh Army is inexplicably stalled in the mountains of Sicily.  It’s critical that the troops get moving.  Knowing that lives are at stake, Patton rushes to the front of the column and jumps out of his jeep.  “What’s going on here?” he demands.  He quickly sizes up the situation.  Two mules and a cart are blocking a narrow bridge, and despite the efforts of an MP to remove the obstruction, the mules refuse to budge.  Patton is in utter disbelief.  “Jackasses?  You let a whole column get stalled and strafed over a couple of jackasses?  What the _____’s the matter with you?”  And with that, the general takes out his ivory-handled pistol and dispatches the animals.  “Now dump ‘em over the side and clear this bridge,” he orders.  The bridge is cleared, and the army continues its advance.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I’m opposed to cruelty to animals, and it’s worth noting that, although we hear the pistol shots in the movie, the mules are not actually shown being killed.  The reason I would discuss this scene with my students is because it has spiritual implications.  How often do we let asinine obstacles stand between us and what is right, stand between us and our duty, stand between us and our getting to heaven?

In this context, two gifts of the Holy Spirit—wisdom and courage—are vitally important.  According to my Basic Catechism, “Wisdom is the gift which helps us to love spiritual things, to put God in the first place in our lives, and to look at everything either as a help or an obstacle to reaching heaven.”  Courage, on the other hand, “is the gift which helps us to be brave and patient in overcoming difficulties and carrying out our duties.”  In other words, the Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom helps us to identify the mulish obstacles on the road to heaven, and the Spirit’s gift of courage helps us to persevere in removing those obstacles, no matter how stubborn they prove to be.  Wisdom and courage help us advance along the road to virtue, and it is virtuous people who make the world a better place.

Years ago I recall hearing the story of a mother who wanted some alone time.  What did she do?  She found a map of the world in a magazine, cut the map into bits, gave the pieces and a scotch tape dispenser to her seven-year-old daughter, and told the young girl to go and reassemble the map.  Well, in a remarkably short amount of time, the child reappeared, fully reconstructed map in hand.  “How did you do it so fast?” gasped the astonished mother.  “It was easy!” exclaimed the girl.  She turned the tape-laden page over, and on the other side was a large picture of a smiling man’s face.  “I knew all I had to do was get the person right, and the world would be right, too.”

We tend to think that the world will become a better place only when we get the big picture right—the best officials in office, the best laws enacted, the best political system in place, and the best alliances among nations.  But, mes amis, the world will improve only to the extent that each individual undergoes a radical transformation.

In his book, Twelve Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson, who is not even Christian let alone Catholic, puts the matter quite eloquently.  He writes:


Consider your circumstances.  Start small.  Have you taken full advantage of the opportunities offered to you?  Are you working hard on your career, or even your job, or are you letting bitterness and resentment hold you back and drag you down?  Have you made peace with your brother?  Are you treating your spouse and your children with dignity and respect?  Do you have habits that are destroying your health and well-being?  Are you truly shouldering your responsibilities?  Have you said what you need to say to your friends and family members?  Are there things that you could do, that you know you could do, that would make things around you better?

Have you cleaned up your life?

If the answer is no, here’s something to try:  Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong.  Start stopping today.  Don’t waste time questioning how you know that what you’re doing is wrong, if you are certain that it is….

So, simply stop, when you apprehend, however dimly, that you should stop.  Stop acting in that particular, despicable manner.  Stop saying those things that make you weak and ashamed.  Say only those things that make you strong.  Do only those things that you could speak of with honour….

Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies.  Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience.  Have some humility.  If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?  ….Watch what happens over the days and weeks….  Your head will start to clear up, as you stop filling it with lies.  Your experience will improve, as you stop distorting it with inauthentic actions.  You will then begin to discover new, more subtle things that you are doing wrong.  Stop doing those, too.  After some months and years of diligent effort, your life will become simpler and less complicated.  Your judgment will improve.  You will untangle your past.  You will become stronger and less bitter.  You will move more confidently into the future.  You will stop making your life unnecessarily difficult.  You will then be left with the inevitable bare tragedies of life, but they will no longer be compounded with bitterness and deceit.

….Maybe your anxiety, and hopelessness, and resentment, and anger—however murderous, initially—will recede.  Perhaps your uncorrupted soul will then see its existence as a genuine good, as something to celebrate, even in the face of your own vulnerability.  Perhaps you will become an ever-more-powerful force for peace and whatever is good.[1]


Okay, I can ask myself: What is it that I can start stopping right now?  What mulish obstacles can I clear from my path this day?  Good questions!  But Peterson, I think, makes it sound a little too easy.  Mules, after all, can be stubborn.  If being virtuous and getting to heaven were simply a matter of willpower, the world would be a far better place than it is.  That’s why Jesus has sent us His Holy Spirit.  The Spirit’s gift of wisdom will help us to identify obstacles on the road to virtue and heaven.  The Spirit’s gift of courage will help us to remove those obstacles.  The lines from the old hymn are spot on.  Let’s make them our own.


Save us from weak resignation

To the evils we deplore

Let the gift of Thy salvation

Be our glory evermore

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage

Serving Thee whom we adore[2]


In other words:


Come, Holy Spirit,

Our souls to rule,

And clear our paths

Of every mule!


[1] From the chapter entitled “Rule 6: Set Your House in Perfect Order before You Criticize the World.”

[2] Kate Campbell.