Faith Helps Us Truly Enjoy the Fruit of the Holy Spirit
By Bishop David J. Malloy
St. Paul, writing to the Galatians, famously formulated a list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, he told them and us what telltale attitudes and signs within ourselves will become evident when we are living the faith as the Holy Spirit guides us. As we recall, he said, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal 5: 22-23).
That list, which St. Paul probably could have expanded if pressed to do so, requires of us more than a superficial reading and nod of assent. Each individual fruit could have a first and superficial level. But upon prayer and reflection, each of those fruits become deeper and more transformative as we strive toward eternal life with Christ in heaven.
For example, St. Paul tells us that first on the list is love that comes from the Holy Spirit. Our current culture has often made love to be fundamentally an emotion or a feeling. As such, many people experience love as a transitory state, here today and potentially gone tomorrow. Understood in that way, love is an emotion over which we have little or no control.
But Jesus has given us clear instructions on the depth of love. We have each been told, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:31). As if that were not enough, Jesus raises the standard by making His love for us the model of love. “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34).
Love then takes on a new and profound meaning. If Christ tells us that we must love others, love is not transitional. It is not necessarily even linked to the emotion that our songs, books and films have made so central in our pop culture. Love involves commitment. It brings forth sacrifice for others. And it finds Christ in others, even in strangers or people disagreeable to us and for whom we do not feel any sentimental reinforcement.
Likewise, St. Paul tells us that joy is from the Holy Spirit. By nature we can feel ourselves able to rejoice in the joy of a day or a period of time when things are going well. Perhaps at the moment our health and that of family members is good, our employment is secure and we get on well with the neighbor next door.
The Holy Spirit, however, strengthens us and deepens our character so that we recognize and take joy even in difficult moments. That might seem at first to be counter-intuitive. How, for example, can we be joyful when we receive a painful diagnosis about our health? What about when family struggles need to be addressed and healed, or when one loses a spouse with whom love was shared for so many years?
Faith and the Holy Spirit give us, in such moments, a courage, a resilience and a wisdom that is greater than what comes within us on our own. We find that we can bear patiently the trials and sufferings of ill health, perhaps edifying those around us in so doing. We might reflect on how good it was to sacrifice for and serve the deceased spouse during the time shared together. In short, the joy of the Holy Spirit teaches us to genuinely say ‘thank you’ to God for every experience and every challenge we encounter in life because it comes from His hand.
We can examine the other fruits of the Holy Spirit and find also in them the depth of St. Paul’s teaching. When we have faith, life looks and is lived differently. It is not easier. But we learn to be humble and to take great satisfaction in knowing that Christ, in the Holy Spirit, really is with us in every moment.