Learn About the Fruits of the Holy Spirit
One of the most pivotal moments in all of Church history is the day of Pentecost. Known as the “birthday of the Church,” Pentecost occurred fifty days after Christ’s Resurrection. While the Twelve Apostles were gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit descended upon them in the form of tongues of fire. This gift of God’s Spirit gave the Apostles the courage, wisdom and unity to proclaim the Gospel to the entire world. From that day to today, and indeed until Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time, the Holy Spirit guides the Church into all truth (see John 16:13). It is the Holy Spirit Who guides the Magisterium into knowing and proclaiming the truth about Christ, and Who keeps the Church together throughout the centuries, despite persecution, heresy and strife. But in addition to guiding the Pope and the Bishops in union with him, the Holy Spirit also plays an active role in the daily life of every single Christian. The Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts at our Baptism, and He wants to give each of us spiritual gifts that will help us in our love for God and neighbor.
In the letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul talks about the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and lists nine gifts: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Over the centuries, Catholic tradition has developed this into twelve, adding modesty, chastity and goodness. As early as the thirteenth century, Saint Thomas Aquinas counted twelve in his consideration of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which can be found in his Summa Theologiae (I-II Q 70). Aquinas stated that a man’s “fruit” can be understood as the product of his labor, and that if a man’s labor proceeds from a higher power than himself, namely, the Holy Spirit, it is called a “fruit of the Holy Spirit.” Thus the fruits of the Holy Spirit can be understood as God acting through human beings to produce spiritual results.
In this and subsequent posts, we will be looking at each of the twelve fruits in turn, starting with the first three: charity, joy and peace.
In its essence, love, also known as charity, refers primarily not to positive feelings toward other people or toward God, but rather to the friendship between God and man. Saint Thomas Aquinas states (Summa Theologiae, II-II, Q 23, A1) that any true friendship must be mutual - between two people - and must be based on desiring the good of the other person for their own sake. When two people each will the good of the other person, and that willing is communicated between the two people, there is a friendship. Because God wills the good of humans, and because He communicates His happiness to us, it is possible for God and man to have a true friendship with each other.
This friendship between God and humans is the most basic and fundamental kind of love, and is the source of all other genuine loves. All other loves that we can experience flow from this basic love between God and man. When we love other people purely and unselfishly, desiring what is good for them instead of what is good for us, we are experiencing a bit of heavenly love. Further, love is the greatest of all virtues, because its object is not primarily any created thing, but God Himself. However, our love for God must overflow into our fellow man, since Our Lord said in the Gospel that we must love God and our neighbor (see Matthew 22:34-40).
How can we take our love for God and translate it into love for neighbor? We must always consider that each person’s true good consists in attaining heaven after their death. While God may choose to give us good things on earth during our lifetimes, they are not what we should set our hearts on. Loving others means wanting them to go to heaven, and all of our actions, words and intentions should be oriented towards salvation, both for ourselves and for others. When we will the salvation of our neighbors, then we are truly loving them.
It is for good reason that love is listed first among the fruits of the Holy Spirit, for it is truly the source from which all the other fruits flow. An immediate effect of love is joy, which may be understood as a kind of interior conviction and belief in God’s goodness, and His abiding presence in one’s soul. Pope Francis has said, “A Christian is a man and a woman of joy.” What sort of joy is he talking about? Does this mean that if one truly lives a Christian life, that he or she will not feel sadness? Of course not. The joy that is a fruit of the Holy Spirit is not an emotion, but is an unshakeable knowledge and reliance on God’s love. Saint Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between two kinds of joy: we can rejoice when we are in the presence of one we love, or we can rejoice when one we love is benefited in any way. The spiritual fruit of joy pertains primarily to God, and for this reason it cannot be taken away from us by our circumstances. Unless we cut ourselves off from God through sin, we know that He is always with us, and we know that He is always perfectly happy and blessed in Himself. Thus if God is the object of our joy, then our joy can never be lessened or removed by any bad things that might happen in our lives. For this reason, it was possible for Our Lord in His lifetime to be called “a man of suffering,” (Isaiah 53:3), and yet for Him to still retain the joy that is rooted in God.
While each of the fruits are genuinely gifts from God and cannot simply be “practiced” as you would practice a natural skill such as a sport or a musical instrument, a way in which joy can be manifested in one’s life may be through always referring everything that happens to one’s final end of heaven. When we remain intent on things of heaven rather than things of earth (see Colossians 3:2) and keep God always on our mind, contemplating His goodness and blessedness, it will be easier for us to maintain a spirit of joy in the midst of whatever sufferings we may have to experience in our lives.
The word peace is often thought of as agreement between nations, or the lack of war. But the fruit of the Holy Spirit that is called peace is a different thing entirely. The peace of God consists in having all of one’s appetites and affections correctly ordered towards the right things, namely, love of God and of neighbor. When we want a multitude of different things, many of which are mutually exclusive, we have no peace in our hearts. We all know the feeling of wanting contradictory things: for example, we’d like to stay living in our home town, but a new and better job opportunity awaits in a different state. When our heart is divided like this, we do not have interior peace. Also, this lack of peace often comes from not referring our desires back to the most important desire, and that is for God. If we want things that are contrary to God’s will for us, we experience this lack of interior peace.
As with love and joy, the way for us to foster this peace - in addition to asking the Holy Spirit for this fruit - is to remain focused entirely on God’s will for us, and always referring all of our actions, wants and thoughts back to Him. It is not wrong to desire temporal goods, such as physical health, financial security, or good friends, but if we desire them in an inordinate way, without referring them back to God’s Will for us, our hearts will be divided, and we will not experience the interior peace that the Holy Spirit wants to give us.
In a later post we will examine three more fruits of the Holy Spirit: patience, kindness and goodness.