The True Fruits of the Holy Spirit
The greatest events in all of human history were the Incarnation, the death and the Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. All else pales in significance. All the great wars, the empires, the inventions of humankind are as nothing in relationship to those events. In them all of history was understood in its proper context in relation to redemption. As Christians, we know that God was always present to humanity from the very beginning and remains present to us and to his creation even now, at all times and in all places. But it was in Jesus that he was present to us in the flesh as one with us. History, what we name as the past, does not apply here. God is. Therefore, what was done then, is still real and living and present right now. And the fruits of those events are still ours. Because we believe, the Holy Spirit offers us various fruits for our earthly happiness that come from the very nature of God.
As human beings, we know that our human desires are often in opposition to the Spirit within us, that we sometimes do what we know we ought not do. These desires come in both physical and emotional forms. They are, as Paul tells us, things like: ʺImmorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, and orgies.ʺ (Gal. 5: 19-21) Paul tells us that those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But Paul does not just stop there. He understands the struggle within the human soul. Indeed he understands it intimately. He knows that because God gave us free will, and when we are confronted with choices of moral import, we can go either toward the immediate gratification of our finite, ephemeral, human desires, or that we can choose out of respect and love for the other, to delay our gratifications, even deny them for a good greater than our own desires. When we do the former we come under the consequences of the law, both eternal law and human laws. When we do the latter, the results are quite different. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells the Galatians (and us) that in choosing the latter we are no longer under the law, we are the law in our very being. He writes, ʺIn contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Against such there is no law.ʺ (Gal. 5: 21-23)
As Christians we understand that God is no prude. He gave us our passions, both those of the flesh and those of the heart. They are not evil in and of themselves. Indeed, they make our lives richer, when they are used and experienced in their proper balance. We know that he wants us to experience the wonder of sexual love in its proper form and function, within the context of marriage. He made it one of the most intense experiences in our lives for a reason. It is the means through which we can cooperate with God’s act of creation. No wonder it is so powerful an experience. The purest joy of love-making is in the act of giving oneself to the beloved humbly, and respectfully, expressing each other’s love in the most physically intimate way. It is when this powerful, intimate, life-giving gift, is used simply for the ʺfunʺ of it, or when it is used as an instrument of power over another, when one selfishly ‘uses’ the other for one’s own gratification, that it becomes immorality, impurity and licentiousness. It becomes simply another toy to be used in an effort to escape the self-perceived boredom of a boring world. There is no love or life in that.
We can sometimes be driven by other passions, like greed. When money becomes our sole concern, our singular passion; when it drives our every decision, our every action, even when it causes damage to others, it has become a matter of idolatry. It, then, rules us. It becomes something that divides us from others and ourselves. As a result jealousy, rivalry, factions and dissention enter our lives. We become jealous, envious of those who have it; we begin to hate them for it. Or, if we are those that have it, others become jealous, envious and hateful toward us. There can be nothing but dissention and rivalry between us. We become slaves to money either way. But if we understand the proper role of money, that its value is in its ability to help us in meeting our basic needs and for making a difference for the good in the world, then we are free from its demands on us. We are in charge of it, not the other way around.
Power is another idolatry that can rule our lives so completely that even our use of power is as a slave to it, rather than as its proper steward. This goes for all the variants of power available to us in the world. Any time power is used to control others overtly from outside for one’s own purposes, or to diminish or to eliminate others who are perceived to be in opposition to us, it becomes unjust, even evil. When this becomes our way of life, we find ourselves in a constant state of vigilance, always having to keep looking behind us because someone else, driven by the same idol, is always trying to take our place. This is a recipe for rivalry, dissension, factions, and outbursts of fury.
As human beings, we know that our human desires are often in opposition to the Spirit within us, that we sometimes do what we know we ought not do.
The world is always arguing that licentiousness, greed and power are means for happiness. All of us are vulnerable to the siren calls of each of these things. More often than not, we know by experience that this is a lie though. The world tells us that self-discipline is hard and too heavy a burden, so why take it on. The world refuses to accept any limits, external or internal, to its headlong and constant rush for immediate gratification.
But as Christians we know that Christ calls each of us to develop the maturity of self-control as adult Christians. We understand that this is what it takes to live well in this world. To live well is to live happily. We know that, yes, it is hard to develop this, but we also know that this is what it means to live in accord with his commandment to us to love one another as he loved us. It is in this self-discipline, rooted in love, rather than in fear of someone or something else, that we begin to experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit. If we look deeply within ourselves it is easy to recognize that what we really desire is, ʺlove, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and gentleness, not immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, etc. When we develop this loving self-control, this meaningful and purposeful self-discipline, we begin to experience one or more of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We begin to experience happiness. It is God’s gift to us. It is the one, true, real source of happiness for us in this life. Living in this manner is the ʺnarrow pathʺ that leads to the kingdom of God.
Let us pray, then, that God give us the grace to turn away from the false temptations of the world for self-gratification. Let us learn the wisdom of self-discipline and, in doing so, find our truest happiness in our humble and generous, service to others. This is the Christian calling. Its benefits here in this life are the fruits of the Holy Spirit. ʺ…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.ʺ (Deuteronomy 30: 19)