From Mediocrity to Magnificence: A Meditation on the Fruits of the Holy Spirit

What do you expect from your relationship to Jesus Christ? I have come to discover that many do not expect all that much. In effect they hope that faith can kind of help them “muddle through” life and offer them a few consolations that, perhaps things will be better some day, and in heaven. Others see the moral life described in the scriptures more as a duty than a description of the person being transformed by Jesus Christ. And because they see it as a list of duties,  rather than the result of grace, they tend to resent it, consider it unrealistic, or just feel overwhelmed by it. Very few expect to be able to radically live this moral life and experience it happen in their life.

But I ask you, is this the best that the death of the Son of God can do for us? Did Jesus die on the cross so I could suffer boredom, have a tepid and distracted prayer life, and be morally mediocre? Did Jesus die to offer me a life filled with resentments, disappointments, or moral weakness? Where is the joy, where is the victory over sin, where is the vigor of hope and the intensity of love? Where is the progress, the clarity, and the experience of God changing my life?

Scripture describes the Christian life as consisting in  joy, victory, confidence, hope, love, self mastery and so forth. This is the normal Christian life. Consider just a few passages in this regard and understand that passages like these are describing what is to be the normal Christian life. They are not giving  us things to do but describing what happens to the Christian who is being transformed by Jesus Christ:

  1. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor 5:17)
  2. I kneel before the Father,  from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.(Eph 3:14-21)
  3. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin…..count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master…But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:6-7,12-18).
  4. Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)
  5. But you know that Jesus appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning….No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:5-6; 9)

Now do not dismiss these texts or diminish their radical meaning. They are describing the normal Christian life. That is, they are describing what a Christian ought routinely to expect from their relationship with Jesus Christ. Certain words and phrases  jump out: New creation,  old is gone, his glorious riches, strength, power, grasp, wide, long, high, deep, surpassing, filled, fullness, immeasurably more, sin done away with, no longer slaves, brought from death to life, righteousness, obey, set free, wholehearted, cannot go on sinning, born of God. Look at these words and phrases! They are not tepid. They are strong and vigorous descriptions of what happens to person justified and being transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ. THIS is the Christian life.

One other way the Church and the Scriptures have traditionally described the Life of the Christian is through the setting forth of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. They are found in Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. The Church has added to these nine three more fruits, really by way of distinction more than addition: generosity, modesty and chastity. I set them forth for you below. I realize You may not have time to read them all now, so I have also set them forth in a PDF document that you can print and set aside for later instruction. The PDF is here: Fruits of the Spirit

But know this, they are not for you to achieve, they are for you to receive. They are fruits of the SPIRIT, not fruits of you. The Christian moral life is a gift to the believer, not an imposition on the believer. These fruits describe what begins to happen to the Christian who is being transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit  and the grace of Jesus Christ. These describe the normal, the “to be expected” Christian life.

Don’t accept mediocrity. Expect great things in Christ Jesus. Remember this is the Blood of Jesus Christ we are talking about here and there is power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the Lamb.

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit: (The analysis of the Greek is from William Barclay in his Daily Study Bible)

1. Love – ἀγάπη (agape)– to love with a God-like love, unconditionally, and vigorously, not counting the cost, not being based on mere reciprocity. It is wanting only what is good for the other. This sort of love is distinct from other forms of love in Greek such as eros (passionate love), philia (warm love most common in the family or among close friends, brotherly love), and storge (the love of affection usually for family members). Agape love is far above these and is, of necessity,  a work of God so as to come to its fullest expression. Hence it is rightly called a fruit of the Holy Spirit

2. Joy – χαρά (Chara) – The joy referred to here is more than a passing worldly joy. It is deeper than an emotional experience. It is rooted in God and comes from him. Since it does not have the world for its origin, but rather comes from God, it is more serene and stable than worldly joy which is merely emotional and lasts only for a time. For example, note the following uses elsewhere in Scripture and see how it is always connected, not to the world, but to the faith and to God:

a. Ps 30:11 – You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
b. Romans 14:17 – For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit
c. Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit
d. Phil 1:25 – Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith.

3. Peace – εἰρήνη (eirene) – This is normally used in the Greek Bible to translate the Hebrew word shalom. This sort of peace is more than an absence of conflict. Rather, it is the presence in the human person and their relationships of everything that should be there. It is a kind of equilibrium that comes from trusting in God and the experience that everything is alright, that everything is in the hands of God. On account of this experience the human person does not obsessively seek to control people and things and is more content to allow things to unfold, rather than to control and manipulate the outcomes of life. In this sense, they become more peaceful toward others.

4. Patience – μακροθυμία (makrothumia) – Generally, the Greek world applied this word to a man who could avenge himself but did not. This word is often used in the Greek Scriptures in reference to God and his attitude to us. In the human person this fruit of the Spirit causes us to be more willing to suffer the difficulties of life and of other people. We are less needful to avenge wrongs and slights and are more able to endure the imperfections of people and this world. By this fruit we can forebear the crosses, miseries and difficulties of life in this world.

5. Kindness – χρηστότης (Chrestotos)– In Greek, old wine was called “chrestos” which meant that it was mellow or smooth. Christ used this word in referring to his yoke that which was easy (Matt 11:30). That is to say it did not chafe, it was well fitting and accommodated to the wearer. So kindness here refers to an attitude that goes beyond mere justice or what is required to a something wider and more accommodating.

6. Goodness – ἀγαθωσύνη (agathosune) – This word is more difficult to define, in that it rarely occurs in secular Greek. It’s biblical use seems generally to mean doing what is right and best for others in every circumstance. This might at times include rebuking or disciplining. At other times it would include encouraging or reassuring. The key point in the word seems to be what is good or best for the person. Here are some other instances where the word is used in the New Testament and one will notice that it places goodness in the context of instruction, truth and faith. Hence, goodness here can have different applications than just being a “nice guy.”

a. Rom 15:14 – I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.
b. Eph 5:9 – For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.
c. 2 Thess 1:11 – To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power.

7. Fidelity – πίστις (pistis)  This is the common Greek word for being trustworthy, being faithful and reliable. In the Bible the word is more commonly used in a nominative form simply to mean “faith,” that is, the act of believing in God. By extension it can mean the quality of being faithful. The connection between the two concepts can include the fact that if one believes in God they will tend to be more trustworthy and reliable since their faith imbues them with a sense that God is watching and they are accountable. Further, they are trustworthy because true faith makes them more inclined to respect others and the commitments they make to them. As fruit of the Spirit fidelity comes as a result of the Spirit’s promptings that we live up to our commitments.

8. Gentleness – πραΰτης (praotes) – There are different ways that this word is used in the New Testament. Basically, it means to be submissive to God and to be humble enough to be taught by God. Toward others it means to be considerate. Another common way of translating this word in English is “meekness.” Aristotle defined meekness (πραΰτης ) as the mean between being too angry and not being angry enough. There is a place and a need for anger. Not all anger is sinful. It is right to be angry over injustice, for example. The meek person has authority over their anger. They are able to summon its energy but control its extremes. The Greek word here was also used to describe an animal that had been tamed. Hence meekness refers to us having tamed our anger.

9. Self control – ἐγκράτεια (egkrateia) – This fruit is sometimes called “continence.” This fruit or virtue was understood in Greek of one who had mastered their love and desire of pleasure. There is a place in life for pleasures and desires. Without them we would perish. Since the fall of man however, our desires are often inordinate and excessive. There is need for the virtue of self mastery that moderates and regulates them.

Now these are the nine fruits of the Spirit annunciated in Galatians 5. To these,  Catholic catechetical tradition adds three by distinguishing:

10. Generosity – To be generous is similar to kindness,  as set forth above, in that it is to give beyond what is required by justice. It is distinct from kindness in that it tends to refer to money and things whereas kindness is a little broader and includes matters of attitude and behavior as well as things.

Two More fruits are set forth in Catholic Tradition by seperating out two specific forms of continence:

11. Modesty – refers to observing a proper reverence for mystery in terms of the body. Hence more private areas of the body are clothed in such a way as to keep hidden what is appropriately unveiled only in certain places or before certain people, e.g.: a spouse or sometimes a doctor, people of the same sex and so forth. Modesty may include not only covering certain parts of the body but also covering the shape of the body to some degree. Finally, modesty would also include things such as posture, behaviors related to the comportment of the body and language. The word modesty is related to the word “mode.” Hence, by modesty one observe a middle position between inappropriate disclosure and excessive prudishness. Standards of modesty allow for some variance between cultures and even within cultures. Hence the context of beach may call for different standard than the workplace and so forth.

12. Chastity – Refers to the virtue wherein we exhibit proper sexual expression based on our state in life. For the single person, the member of a religious order and the priest,  it involves total abstinence. For the married person it involves total fidelity to one’s spouse.

9 Replies to “From Mediocrity to Magnificence: A Meditation on the Fruits of the Holy Spirit”

  1. This is a great post! I need to get to my computer and print it out!! I have not looked at the fruits of the spirit from an adult point of view for a long time, and this is great:)

  2. Good post Msgr Pope. Yes the “Comforter” is more than the wind, or a force. As Catholics we need to know more about the attributes of the 3rd person of the Trinity (One God – One Essence). In Acts 10:19-20, the Spirit considers himself to be a person. In John 16 the Holy Spirit is rererred to a “he” 10 times. In 1 Cor. 12:11 is says the Holy Spirit can “will,” which is a characteristic of a person. In Romans 15:30 the Spirit has Love. Scripture says the Holy Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3); speak (Acts 10: 19-20); hear (John 16:13-15); know the future (Acts 21:11); testify (John 15:26); teach (John 14:26); reprove (John 16:8-11); pray and intercede (Rom 8:26); guide (John 16:13); call (Acts 13:2); be grieved (Eph. 4:30), feel hurt (Is 63:10); be outraged (Heb. 10:29); desire (Gal. 5:17); and be blasphmed (Mark 3:29) and is a witness to us (Heb 10:15)

    The above list of attributes of the Holy Spirit was taken from “The Essential Catholic Survival Guide, page 448, section 3, “Is the Holy Spirit a Force or God?”

    The same section gives the following examples to demonstrate the Holy Spirit is God; Acts 5:1-4 teaches that a lie to the Holy Spirit is a lie to God himself. Job 33:4 and Psalm 104:30 explain that the Holy Spirit created the heavens and the earth; He is everlasting (Heb 9:14); He placed his law in man’s hearts (Heb 10:16); the Lord is that Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty ( II Cor. 3:17).

  3. Thank you, Msgr. Would you please clone yourself and send a couple hundred to us in Texas. We need more priests that will speak the truth in love and offer practical means for embracing it.

  4. A wonderful, wonderful post … and if I may be so bold, I think we are meant to become like Jesus with all these gifts. It’s a tall order but I tell this to my kids because after all, we do take Holy Communion and we have Him in us and It is Flesh and Blood and part of us.

  5. Dear Father,

    Kudos for another lovely,lovely post. I was trying to grapple with a certain situation at home, with my own sibling. Wasn’t able to come to terms with a decision of his. Or is it that I am trying to control people and situations? My Lord used your post to let the scales fall of my eyes, I guess. It was the latter more than the former. If I had the fruit of ‘peace’ of the Holy Spirit, I would have let go quite easily, trusting that God and not I who is in control. Thank you so much for distinguishing the farious forms of love which lose their distinctiveness when viewed from the worldly context. Agape love is so unconditional. It is the same throughout. I cannot love someone a little more and another a little less based on my prejudices. Jesus is like that. He welcomes the sinner and the saint and loves with the same intensity.

    As a commentator just mentioned, I too wish we had more priests like you. Beleiving much in the scriptures and living and loving a Christian life that was set out by our Lord!!!

    Here’s wishing you a spirit-filled priestly life.

  6. I suppose the fruits of the Holy Spirit are what we derive from following him or what springs from his service and the seven gifts are what he gives us directly, such as knowledge, counsel and wisdom.

    I am very glad about what wisdom the Holy Spirit has given me and I want to share it with you:

    Look it over! I hope my blogs will be of interest to you! They are the gifts of the Holy Spirit to me!

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