Learn About the Fruits of the Holy Spirit: Part 3
In this third post on the fruits of the Holy Spirit, we will be looking at generosity, gentleness and faithfulness.
Generosity is also known as largesse or magnanimity, and refers primarily to being kind with one’s material belongings. This can take the form of donating to nonprofit charities, putting money in the collection basket at church, or volunteering your time at a soup kitchen. When we practice generosity, we are imitating God, Who is magnificently generous in bestowing gifts upon His creatures, especially human beings. We have done nothing to deserve the good things that God gives us, and yet He continually showers us with gifts. In fact, every breath we take is a gift from God, and there is truly nothing we can do to repay God adequately for His generosity to us.
However, we can in a very small way reflect God’s generosity by practicing the same towards our fellow man. When we give freely to others, we are acknowledging that the good things we have don’t really belong to us, and didn’t really come from us; they belong to God, and He is simply allowing us to use them for His greater glory. Adopting this attitude should make it easier for us to be generous with our gifts.
It is interesting to note that magnanimity, which is another word for generosity, comes from the Latin words magnus and anima, literally meaning great or large soul. Practicing generosity does enlarge our hearts and opens them up to love for others. Being stingy and selfish with our gifts causes us to be like the fictional Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: closed in on ourselves, with small hearts that have no room for others. Opening up our treasures to others causes our hearts to expand as well, thus allowing us to further reflect the love of Jesus, Whose Sacred Heart is open to the whole world.
When considering generosity, it is important to remember that what matters most is not so much the objective quantity of one’s gift, but rather the love with which one gives. In the Gospel of Mark chapter 12, Jesus sees an elderly woman putting two small coins into the temple treasury, and points out that although the monetary value of her gift was small, the merit of it was large because it was a greater sacrifice for her to give two coins than for many wealthy people to give much larger amounts. Mother Teresa once said that we must do small things with great love. A great way for each individual to grow in generosity is to begin small, to do small things with great love, and eventually build up to the point where one’s whole life is a gift back to God, through others.
Much like patience, gentleness refers to an interior disposition that restrains the passions from running wild. Also known as meekness, gentleness specifically restrains us when we are inclined to deal harshly with others who have done wrong, or who are under our authority. It is perhaps best practiced by those who are in positions of authority, such as parents, priests and other spiritual leaders, or political figures.When someone who has the responsibility to discipline another chooses to use the opportunity for the other person’s good - to root out a fault and encourage virtue in the offending party as well as in others - rather than as an outlet for their own anger, or to “get back” at the other person, then he is practicing gentleness.
As with the other fruits of the Holy Spirit, gentleness when practiced by human beings is a reflection of the way that God interacts with us. Instead of punishing our every wrong move, God gives us many opportunities to repent. When He does give us suffering in this life, it is not out of a malicious desire to see His children unhappy, or to “get even” with us, but rather for our own good. At times God sees that suffering might be the best means for us to turn away from sin and return to His love. When Jesus said that He was meek and humble of heart (see Matthew 11:28-29), He was not exhibiting a false humility or fishing for compliments. Rather, He was showing us the face of God the Father, Who would rather see His children repent of their sins than suffer eternal punishment. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance (see Luke 15:7). When He does punish, it is for the sake of our good. This is gentleness in action! This is the meekness of God in a nutshell.
Finally, faithfulness is the fruit that enables us to commit ourselves steadfastly, such as to our spouse, our religious community, or to whatever our vocation may be. Faithfulness here is distinguished from the Catholic Faith itself, which is the truth we receive from God, and through which we are saved. The fruit of the Holy Spirit that is faithfulness is the interior ability to stand by our commitments to others, even when things become difficult. When a man is faithful to his wife, a religious to her vows, and a soldier to his country, they are practicing faithfulness.
The interesting paradox about faithfulness is that although at the time it may be repugnant to our inclinations - for example, being faithful to one’s religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience - in the long run, it is only when we are faithful to others that we are most fully human and most fully alive. For, as Saint Francis said in his famous Canticle of the Sun, it is in giving of ourselves that we receive, and Our Lord reminded us that only through giving up our life do we will find it in heaven (see Matthew 16:25).
Here, as with many of the other fruits, we can look for the perfect example to Our Lord, Who maintained his commitment to suffering and dying for us on Good Friday, even when He did not feel inclined to do so. In the Garden of Gethsemane He admitted that in His human nature, He felt disinclined to go through with the Father’s plan for His passion and death. Yet He was steadfast and resolute, saying to His Father, “Not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). What a beautiful and truly perfect example of faithfulness! Every vocation, be it marriage, priesthood, or religious life, can learn from Christ’s example of faithfulness to His calling. His particular “vocation,” of course was totally unique in human history, but we can still learn from His example of trusting in the Father’s strength to help Him fulfill His vocation perfectly.
For every one of us, our lifelong vocation will require faithfulness and a total self-giving to others, every single day. The Holy Spirit truly desires to give us the power to live our our vocations, to die to ourselves, and to more perfectly conform ourselves to the image of Christ crucified, who did all what His Father desired.
In the final post on the fruits of the Holy Spirit, we will look at the last three fruits, which are modesty, self-control and chastity.