The 12 Fruits of the Holy Spirit
If we’ve said it once, we’ll say it a third time: as the Easter Season fades away we move into what is called the season of Ordinary time within the church. The term leads us to think of this as a time where nothing special happens, just filler between Easter and Christmas. However, this is a bit misleading. Ordinary time makes up the majority of the year and it is really the time where the Holy Spirit is the primary actor within our life.
The Holy Spirit is sometimes the forgotten member of the Trinity. We relate easily to Jesus because, after all, “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) which makes God visible. He is a man like us (although fully God) with whom we can converse, see, and touch. Likewise, we have all experienced the fatherhood of our own fathers which provide an imperfect but very tangible sense of the fatherhood of God. We also know what it is to create, whether, works of art, music, or ideas. All of this connects us to God the Father.
Often times our sense of the Holy Spirit (whose image in the scriptures is the form of a dove or tongues of fire) is much more abstract. However, the actions of the Holy Spirit are no less real or necessary than those of the Father or Son. In fact, it is the Holy Spirit that is the nurturer of souls. His role is so important that Jesus states, “… it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)
Fruits of the Spirit
My favorite image of the Holy Spirit is the tongues of fire. I love this image because the properties of fire so perfectly capture the capacities of the Holy Spirit. After all, fire illuminates, purifies and perfects, and its warmth gives comfort and animates. These are the effects of the Holy Spirit in our life. The catechism teaches that it does so in 12 ways which we will now examine. “The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the Church lists twelve of them: “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity.” (CCC 1832)
The fruits of the Spirit may be thought of as 12 dispositions or attitudes that comprise holiness.
Dispositions of Charity, Justice, and Fortitude (Courage)
The first 5 gifts (charity, goodness, kindness, generosity, gentleness) relate to attitudes toward interpersonal relationships. They help perfect the virtues of charity, justice, and courage. “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” (CCC 1822) “Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor…” (CCC 1807) and “Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life…” (CCC 1808)
These three virtues allow us to pursue God by loving our neighbor. For example, fortitude or courage gives us the strength to serve others even at personal cost to ourselves. It is the virtue that allows a soldier to lay down his life in service of his country. It is also the virtue that precedes generosity. It provides the strength to give financially to help those in need even at the expense of personal security. Only a brave soul can give up personal security for the sake of another.
One practical tip for growing in these fruits is financial giving. For most of us, there is nothing more closely connected to our heart than our wallet. Therefore, I encourage you to become a systematic percentage giver (giving a predetermined percentage of your income). Giving systematically means giving with a plan. Giving with a plan causes us to grow in charity because it requires us to think of others intentionally.
Become a percentage giver. Percentage giving forces us to give even when it is not convenient. It is a very powerful way to grow in generosity. It holds us to giving even when it is uncomfortable (which takes courage). Overtime, we can gradually increase the percentage level at which we give calling us to even deep levels of courage and generosity.
Dispositions of Faith, Hope, and Prudence (Wisdom)
The next 4 gifts (joy, patience, faithfulness, and peace) involve attitudes of trust in God. They ask the questions are we content with what we have and do we trust the plan of God when we are not. “Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us…” (CCC 1814) “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength…” (CCC 1817) and “Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it…” (CCC 1806)
Prudence or wisdom allows us to see God’s plan unfold in our lives. The fruits of joy and patience give us the faith and hope necessary to wait for that plan to unfold. A practical tip for developing these gifts is to practice mental prayer each and every day. Talk to God about your joys, your trials and tribulations, and your uncertainties. You can ask the Holy Spirit to place people and situations in your path to practice these virtues. “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Mt. 7:7) You may find patience in the face of a demanding colleague, and joy in a job well done. You may be surprised how God develops these gifts! The family also provides an excellent opportunity to grow in these fruits. A priest friend once asked me, “What have you learned to be the key to marriage?” My response was that, “Marriage is only difficult if you are looking ahead or behind. Looking ahead leads to worries about things you cannot control and looking back causes you to focus on old hurts and develop grudges.”
Peace can be developed by making a conscious effort to live in the moment. Be forgiving and don’t hold grudges. I have a rule, be as quick to apologize as you are to be angry. Sometimes this means apologizing even when you are emotionally still hurting, but reconciliation and excepting forgiveness are the first steps toward peace.
Dispositions of Temperance
The final gifts (modesty, self-control, and chastity) involve attitudes regarding personal desires. “Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods…” (CCC 1809) Temperance is a virtue that protects our freedom. It allows us to govern our desires rather than becoming coming enslaved to them. It prevents addictions of any kind.
Often times we think of fasting as a practice for Lent, but fasting is one of the most powerful tools we can use to develop self-control. Practice some sort of fast regularly. The fast can be large or small. It may be as simple as not salting your food. I am constantly amazed at how much self-control is necessary to be faithful to even the smallest sacrifices.
A second tip is to attempt one selfless act daily. Let your wife hold the remote. Give your husband 30 minutes to watch the game without interruption. Put down your favorite book or turn off the television to give your undivided attention to your children. Even the simplest acts when done intentionally for another can be a great source of growth.
As we move into Ordinary time, let us all make a conscious effort to recognize the actions of the Holy Spirit who perfects us in many ordinary ways. Take action, large or small, to predispose yourself to His grace. For “…when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth” (John 16:13) even in the most ordinary of times.