Here’s something I’ve learned about saints.
They believe what the Bible says. Not just that the Bible is true, but that it’s true for them.
St. Francis read that Jesus told the apostles they should go preach the gospel and take nothing with them, so he did.
St. Anthony read that to be perfect you should sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and radically follow Jesus, so he did.
St. Augustine read about how the Holy Spirit transforms believers and changes their behavior so he converted.
So what should you make of this passage in Galatians, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-33)?
Is that for real? Can you really have those qualities as the fruit of a Christian life? If so, how?
The gift of Love and the fruit of the Spirit
Last week I ran across Catechism paragraphs 733-736 on how the Holy Spirit guides us, gives us grace, and changes the way we live.
It got me thinking about how powerful and tangible the benefits of being a Christian can be…not just after you die, but right here and now.
So here’s a summary of what it said:
- The first gift of God is his love. All other gifts flow from that. St. Paul said, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
- This gift of love is a source of new life. Through communion in the Holy Spirit we can have the forgiveness of sins, be resurrected from spiritual death, and receive power! And, it’s through this power Christians bear fruit.
- That brings us to Galatians and the fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. You also see modesty and chastity added in there sometimes. Who couldn’t use a bit more of those in their lives, huh?
The produce of the Spirit vs. the works of the flesh
These characteristics are the fruit, the produce, of a Christian life when the power of the Holy Spirit works in you.
Of course, you don’t have to be Christian to have these qualities. But if you live by the power of the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit just flows from you. You’re a new creation. You have new life and these qualities are a part of it.
These fruits are opposed to the “works of the flesh” outlined in verses 5:19-21 namely “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.”
I don’t know about you, but the first list seems a whole lot more attractive than the second.
Which would you rather have as the defining characteristics of your life?
The power to overcome
Here’s part of the problem, all day long we run up against all those works of the flesh.
We see them tragically displayed every night on the evening news. They are almost celebrated as the content of reality TV shows.
What do we experience more of, the works of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit? Do we regularly see Christians live these out? I think it sort of sounds good in a “Bible-y” sort of way, but we don’t really believe this is true.
That’s kind of the way I am. I’ve been actively Christian for about 14 years and I struggle with this daily. My actions are far from perfect. Sometimes I feel powerless against it. It seems like all that stuff should just magically disappear at Baptism…but it hasn’t.
And yet, as I look back, I see there are things I have overcome.
Before my conversion, I lived life angry and often resentful. One day after I came back to the Church, I recognized how awful I reacted to people and how terrible it made me feel.
It was like a light bulb turning on. The Holy Spirit was showing me a better way to live. When I prayed and struggled against those tendencies, he gave me power to overcome them. I still get angry and resentful, but not nearly as bad as before.
Open up to the power of the Spirit
I think this is one of those cases where you have to believe the promises of God are true even though they may not seem that way. The Holy Spirit can help you live a happier and fuller life if you cooperate with him. I believe it, but the real trick is making it happen.
The thing that most people don’t understand is living the Christian life is not about being good through superior discipline and monumental force of will. It’s about living connected to Jesus and acting from the power of the Spirit.
That happens through prayer, faith, asking to be guided by God, acting on where you think he’s leading…and more prayer. I have done this at times in my Christian life–some times better than others, but I’ve seen it work.
If you’re a catechist, teach the fruit of the Spirit like it’s true and not just another Bible platitude that seems good but must be impossible.
And maybe that’s the answer…we have to believe the impossible. The Lord is waiting to transform you. Maybe you and I have to suspend judgment on what’s possible with God and open up to the power of the Spirit.