Thursday, January 20, 2011


I've never really seen the value in the Fruits of the Holy Spirit.

[...wait, what!?  Did he really just say that!?]

Yep, I did.  But allow me to qualify it:

The only emphasis on the fruits of the Spirit that I remember from religious education growing up was that we had to memorize them.  That's all.  (Though, there is the possibility that I just wasn't paying attention.)  So I ask, why are they important, if all we're going to do is learn how to list them by rote?  I do not recall it ever being explained to me how these things are relevant to my life.

<in my boring voice>
1) Love, 2) Joy, 3) Peace, 4) Patient Endurance
5) Kindness, 6) Generosity, 7) Faithfulness, 
8) Gentleness, 9) Self Control

<in my sarcastic voice
These are the fruits of the Spirit.  Aren't you edified?

<back to normal me>
(that is, I hope I don't normally sound boring and sarcastic...) 

Time to stop trying to shock and/or entertain the reader 
and simply say what I mean:  

The Fruits of the Spirit are intensely important, but we can't just look at these nice qualities in a list and expect it to matter.  First, we need to hear the fruits in their context from St. Paul's letter to the Galatians.  Therein, he presents the fruit of the spirit in contrast to the works of the flesh:*

"Now the works of the flesh are obvious:  immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I have warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  Against such there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the spirit, let us follow the spirit's lead." (Gal 5:19-25)

If we are to live according to the Spirit, then the fruits are for us a sign, in their presence or their absence, of how seriously we are taking this new life in the Spirit to which we are called.  If they are present in us, then that's a pretty good sign we're doing well.  If they're no where to be found, maybe it's time we dealt with that.

I think that most of us can get distracted by some of the more "extra-ordinary" works of the flesh listed, such as sorcery, idolatry, or orgies (which are no less real for seeming so out of the ordinary), and disregard the whole list as outrageous sins that "normal" people don't regularly deal with.  However, there are some very common and very insidious things in that list that we definitely ought to pay attention to.

For example, how many of us tend to lose our temper in outbursts of fury?  What about the tendency that many of us have to divide family or community into factions through the sin of gossip?  Even something like idolatry is very relevant--don't we all, even if we don't admit it, set other things higher than God on our list of priorities?  St. Paul is really taking us to task.

But if we think we aren't doing so well after examining the works of the flesh in our lives, how much more so when we come to see the lack of the fruits of the Spirit?  Do I patiently endure traffic, or a headache, or someone else's whining?  How self controlled am I?  Self control has to do with a lot of things:  food, drink, chastity, occasions of anger, etc.  Where is the joy in my life?  Forget just looking at the bad I have done; how much of a lack of the good is there in my life?

(I've never thought of this before, but I might consider using this whole passage, both the list of works of the flesh and the fruits of the spirit, as a guide for examining my conscience.  It's actually pretty comprehensive insofar as it covers (albeit generally) both "what I have done" and "what I have failed to do.")

And yet, even if we feel terribly accused and convicted by these inspired words of St. Paul, that doesn't mean it's doom and gloom, that all hope for us is lost, and we won't ever enter the Kingdom.  No.  All of it is put into perspective by what Paul writes a few verses earlier:

"You were called for freedom, but do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. ... Live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh." (Gal 5:13,16)

This is why the Fruits of the Spirit matter:
Freedom is the key.  We are called for freedom and it is the Spirit who makes us free, who helps us choose the good.  Looking at our lives through the lens of the fruits of the Spirit is not just to point out how bad we are and how good we aren't.  So much more important than that, it ought to remind us that we can change!  Paul is not writing to condemn the Galatians nor to condemn us.  He's writing to remind them of the Truth he first preached to them, and to remind us of the Truth we have also heard.  By the power of the Spirit, we can live lives full of joy, love, kindness, generosity, etc.  (By the way, how awesome is the line: "against such there is no law"?)

Make no mistake, when Paul says, "you were called for freedom," he is talking to you. (and me, for that matter)  It's not some hypothetical, as though it us up to us first to decide whether or not we want to live in the Spirit.  It is already a fact:  you are called to be free, so don't waste that freedom on gratifying the flesh.  Take it as an opportunity to be who you were meant to be.

My short-lived stint as a stand-up comedian...
definitely not who I was meant to be
If you think you aren't very patient, then start working on it (and don't forget to pray often for the Spirit to guide you).  If you aren't living your life with joy in your heart, start looking for the many reasons for joy that you have.  The Spirit won't hesitate to help you see them; you just have to ask.  Go down the list, and anything that is lacking in you, make a commitment to welcome the Spirit into your life in that way.  We won't change overnight, but we won't change at all if we don't ever get started.

And while your at it, pray for the intercession of the saints, especially St. Paul.  He desired that the Galatians heard of these fruits--I'm pretty sure he's hopeful we hear of them too!

*- By "the flesh" St. Paul doesn't mean the same thing as St. John when he says that "the Word was made flesh."  John is talking about the mystery of the Incarnation, and how good it is that the Son of God became one of us in every way but sin.  Paul means something very different.  He uses the term "flesh" to mean our sinful inclination away from God, our selfish tendencies which are opposed to the Spirit.  

The usual random photo:
(a bit less random now that it's the norm)
The evening of Sunday, October 3, 2010
You all know what happened.