The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 32)
The Fruit of the Spirit (continued)
Spiritual fruitfulness is a favorite metaphor in Holy Scripture for those dispositions, graces, and perfections that are formed in our lives through the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit in us. The image of fruitfulness helps us to understand that we do not achieve these dispositions. Rather, they sprout up in us as signs of the Spirit's sanctifying presence. But, of course, we are not robots moving about under the bursts of some sort of spiritual electricity. The Spirit of God always engages our freedom, by which we claim as our own God's work in us.
Starting with St. Paul's discussion of the “fruit of the spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23, we reflected last week on love, peace, joy, patience, kindness and goodness. We can now complete the list.
+ Faithfulness: In secular Greek, the word had wide usage. Faithfulness, or fidelity, described a person who was utterly reliable and trustworthy. In St. Paul's usage it retains this meaning, but it takes on a more specifically Christian meaning. Faithfulness speaks particularly of the faithful endurance under persecution.
+ Generosity: There is no more characteristic mark of a truly Christian life than generosity. Why? Because in Jesus Christ the endless generosity of God is revealed, and the Divine Generosity is our salvation. Think about the central place of the word “grace” in our Catholic vocabulary; and “grace” means simply “gift”. In our Christian vision, the whole of existence is a gift of that eternal generosity. Christ himself is the gift to us from our heavenly Father. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...” (Jn. 3:16). If the Spirit of such a God dwells in us, how could the habit of a self-sacrificing generosity not grow in us as the fruit of the Spirit?
+ Gentleness: The Greek word paostes (sometimes translated as meekness) is very difficult to render in English by a single word or concept. It can describe one who is submissive to the will of God. It also means teachable. Very often it means being considerate of the feelings and needs of others. Aristotle used the word to describe the person who is angry when he should be angry and never angry when he should not be.
+ Self-control: In the New Testament, this word (ekgrateia) describes the athlete's discipline of the body, the self-control of Christians in relation to the love of earthly pleasures, and especially in relation to sexual desire.
+ Chastity is a particularly urgent kind of self control, because it protects sexual love, saving love from its counterfeit, lust. There is a form of chastity appropriate to the religious celibate life: life-long renouncing of sexual relations. Another form is right for the single life: protecting one's body and spirit for the sexual love which one hopes to enjoy in a future marriage. And then there is the chaste love that belongs to the sacrament of marriage—a love that is open to new life, and that respects the dignity of one another, bodily, spiritually, and emotionally.
+ Modesty: To speak of modesty in our time is to speak a foreign language. In this short space, perhaps all one can do is set down the inner “logic” of modesty somewhat abstractly. The exhibition of the inherent beauty of the secrets of the body (created for love) serves lust, not love. The self-exposed person is thereby depersonalized, reduced to a mere object of fantasy and desire.
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