Learn About the Fruits of the Holy Spirit: Part 2
Patience, kindness, and goodness are not words used only in reference to etiquette or agreeableness, they are gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit that allow us to love and serve God, and attain true happiness. Through patience we have peace, through kindness, love, and through goodness, union with God.
The virtue of patience refers primarily to the ability to endure evils without losing our peace of mind. It also includes refraining from taking revenge on someone for a wrong done. Saint Augustine says that although God does not literally suffer and have to endure evils, we can say in some sense that He is patient because He gives people time and many opportunities to repent. In this way, when we practice patience we are imitating God. The two Greek words makrothumia and hupomone both convey these different aspects of patience. Makrothumia involves being patient with someone who has done wrong to us, while hupomone refers to the ability to bear suffering without complaining.
The old saying “Patience is a virtue” is certainly true. Virtues are habits that preserve the good of human reason when the passions and emotions want to run roughshod over our lives. Patience is the virtue that enables the reason to stand strong when the emotion of sorrow wants to take hold of us. It is not necessarily bad to feel sorrow, or to grieve when something bad happens in our lives. Our Lord Himself actually wept when Lazarus died (see John 11:35), and certainly felt sorrow when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane (see Luke 22:44). And yet, however strong our emotions may be, we must never allow them to override our use of reason. We all know that when we feel any emotion, but particularly sorrow, very intensely, it can sometime prevent us from focusing on what is more important in life. This is wrong and unreasonable. The virtue of patience helps to steel us against emotional winds.
A good way to nurture the virtue of patience is by doing what Our Lord did when He was in sorrow - praying. In fact, Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane was the very first Holy Hour. We can follow His example and make a holy hour - perhaps once a week - and spend time with God, asking Him to give us the virtue of patience. When we do this, taking a good amount of time out of our lives to do nothing but simply be with God, we will learn that many of our problems are solved by putting them in God’s hands rather than our own.
The fruit of the Holy Spirit that is known as kindness refers to a kind of gentleness of one’s disposition and an ability to deal with people with sweetness and effectiveness, especially those who may be abrasive or hard to interact with. The Greek word chrestotes, from which this idea comes, was often used for kings or rulers who were benevolent and merciful to their subjects. It is also exhibited, most perfectly, by Our Lord, who said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves,” (Matthew 11:29). It is interesting that in this passage Jesus says that if we practice kindness, especially to those who are difficult, the result will be that not only will they be more well-disposed towards us, but also we ourselves will find inner peace. When we look at our own lives, we see how true this is. Holding a grudge against someone, or reacting harshly when we are treated badly usually does not make us feel any better, does not help with our relationships with other people, and does not reflect the love of God onto the world. On the other hand, when we practice kindness, we deal with others in the same way in which God deals with us. Scripture tells us that God is “slow to anger, abounding in mercy. He will not always accuse, and nurses no lasting anger,” (Psalm 103:8-9). We see this every time we receive the Sacrament of Confession. God does not hold grudges against us, and so we must not hold grudges against our neighbor.
Of course, if someone has done something wrong it is sometimes necessary and commendable to point out to them their wrongdoing, and urge them to correct it. The Letter of James states, “whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins,” (James 5:20). However, the way in which we offer correction matters, and correcting a neighbor’s sins is entirely different from harboring feelings of anger in our hearts over an offense. If we keep in mind that correction must always be for the good of the offender and anyone offended, and not merely for the sake of revenge or soothing our own egos, we will go a long way towards practicing truly Christlike kindness.
The fruit known as goodness might sometimes be hard to distinguish from kindness, since in fact the same Greek word chrestotes is often used for both. However, another Greek word, agathosune, is also used for goodness, and this refers to moral uprightness of one’s heart. While kindness generally refers to the way one behaves towards others in one’s words and actions, goodness can be taken to mean an interior disposition that is true and right. While doing good actions and saying good words is of course important for living a virtuous and holy life, it is also important that our souls be correctly ordered towards the good. To do what is right for the wrong reasons, or for less than pure reasons, may be “better than nothing,” but it is more perfect also to want in your heart what is right.
This requires great vigilance on our part, for in the modern world we tend to place a large emphasis simply on external actions and their outcomes, and less of an emphasis on interior dispositions of the heart. As long as the concrete consequences of an action end up well, what does it matter how we feel about it? This is a very common attitude to take towards the spiritual life. But this is not the attitude that Our Lord takes towards us. During the Sermon on the Mount, He repeatedly told His audience that it was not enough merely to do what was right; they must also want what was right. He repeatedly said to them, and us, “You have heard that it was said… but I say to you…” For example, not only should we not kill; we shouldn’t even harbor anger in our hearts, for anger is what leads to killing. The bottom line is that God wants all of you: not only your actions, but also, and more importantly, your heart. He wants to save the entire person, and He wants a relationship of love with us, which requires that we give Him our heart. The fruit of goodness is essential in order for us to love God sincerely and unselfishly. The Holy Spirit desires that our hearts to burn with love for God and do not merely obey His rules mechanically and unthinkingly. Through the Holy Spirit’s gift of goodness, we can attain that perfect love.
In the next post we will discuss the fruits of generosity, gentleness and faithfulness.