Do I Have the Spirit?
As we approach the coming of Pentecost, we can’t help but reflect on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Unlike those early Christians in Corinth, I do know there is a Holy Spirit. But for a long time I wondered how to tell if I had received Him. I know that I received the Spirit at Baptism and Confirmation. Where’s the evidence? How can I determine it’s presence in my own life. Perhaps I’m not unlike a lot of people who think that if they truly had the Spirit then they would heal people, speak in tongues and do amazing observable things.
Recalling another saying that says ‘by their fruits you shall know them’ it dawned on me that if the fruits of the Spirit are evident in my life then I must be “in the Spirit”. The Holy Spirit gives gifts. A gift cannot be returned to the giver without giving offense to the giver. What are His gifts? They are Wisdom, Understanding, Piety, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge and Fear of the Lord. These have already been given, no refunds, non-returnable. I can put them in a closet and forget I have them or I can dust them off and exercise them. The gifts give us power. As Americans we like being powerful and these gifts endow us with abilities to be more than human, not superhuman but supernatural. We are called to higher things than what the natural world offers.
When I was teaching high school kids would always ask just how can you exercise wisdom and stuff like that? Being very concrete thinkers I’d have to give them specific examples. It’s not as simple as walking the dog or lifting weights. The gifts give us powers but also put demands on us.
Wisdom requires that we practice prudence or use good judgment maybe even just plain common sense. When we are attracted (tempted) to something that we know is not good for us and we exercise the good sense of avoiding it, then we have practiced Wisdom. But remember, doing an exercise once doesn’t make us good at it everytime. It has to be repeated in order to build the moral muscle to be wise when everyone around us is playing the fool.
Understanding requires that I be compassionate. It’s not that hard to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes. Kids would say to me, “Why don’t those welfare moochers just get a job and get off our taxs rolls?” Compassion says, take a closer look. What kind of school is in their neighborhood? What kind of teacher teaches there? Was there any level of education in their homes to imitate? So what kind of job skills do you think they have? Poor people don’t usually choose poverty they have inherited it from the culture and political systems that keep people without the resources from bettering themselves. Compassion is understanding in action. Such as looking for ways to give a hand up versus a handout.
Piety is another word for prayer or reverence toward the Holy . “Oh, I don’t have time for that!” you say? Prayer strengthens all of the gifts. Just ask for it. Just ask for the time to pray. You’ll find it. I am NOT a morning person yet for years my job required that I be on deck at 7:30 a.m. to meet and greet sleepy teenagers who really didn’t want to be in a religion class at that hour and probably not at any other hour. Driving to work became a good prayer time for me. I started by saying rote prayers; sometimes I would sing them just to get my own blood flowing. I’d pray for my students. I’d pray for all the other drivers on the road and most especially for those that were rude. I figured they were feeling crankier than I was. If we want to pray we will find time to squeeze it in. Turn off the radio in your car. It’s like sending a text message to God. Then we want more messages from Him and somehow we’ll create the space to spend more time with Him in the scriptures, just as friends or lovers do. If you love someone you make time to be with them.
Counsel is the ability to take advice or even correction when necessary. This requires humility and wisdom. It also requires me to seek advice and correction from trusted spiritual guides or friends or my spouse. A ball player has no problem asking the coach how he’s playing the game so neither should we be reluctant to seek counsel on how we are living our lives. The Spirit empowers us to do this so that we might live our life plan in conformity with God’s goals for us. This is another reason to go to confession frequently.
Fortitude is strength to do what is needed when I might be tempted to avoid a situation or let someone else act. Fortitude requires action and endurance. People throw out a lot of insults and name-calling and it is so easy to jump into it and try to one-up them. We endure a lot of cursing and coarse language and it is so easy to fall in with it. Fortitude asks me to be stronger than what I experience around me. Sometimes that may mean that I won’t be popular. But Jesus didn’t call us to popularity. He calls us to greatness, a higher level of living and fortitude helps to make that possible.
Knowledge is the ability to know the things of God. I am made in His image and I am His child. I can know the mind of God through His teaching. I can know God as a person, as a friend, as Father, a Brother. We are made a little better than angels because we are made in the image of God. We have free will; we can know His love and forgiveness. We can have a personal relationship with our God. Jesus once asked the disciples, how it was that they didn’t know the Father, because if you know Jesus, you know the Father. Read Scripture
Fear of the Lord isn’t about being scared of getting caught in wrongdoing. It is the fear of hurting the one we love above all others. Sin is the greatest offense against God and we should fear wounding our relationship with Him by our selfishness and pride; that is living my way rather than His way. It is also acknowledging the greatness of God and our own littleness. He is the creator of all that is and holds everything in existence. We should be in Awe of God.
The Fruits of the Spirit
It is pretty hard to assess whether we have the gifts . But we can get an idea from how we are living, that is-- by the fruits of these gifts. There are seven gifts of the Spirit and seven fruits as well. Scripturally, seven is a number of perfection, completion, that’s why so many things come in sevens.
…the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
This becomes a checklist for living in the Spirit.
LOVE: How do I love others? Do I put others needs and wants before my own? Do I leave the last cookie for my brother? Do I do things that would please others or lighten their load without being asked? Love is giving. True love is selfless giving.
JOY: A joyful person is a pleasure to have around. Grumpy, silent, cranky, angry people are a burden to live with. It does not require me to be a jokester but to be pleasant to others even when I may be feelingl quite unpleasant. A cheery hello, a word of encouragement, a compliment given in joy brings joy to others. Joy is interior and shows on the exterior. One can be joyful even in the midst of pain and sorrow because we are happy with the Lord’s presence in us even when circumstances are painful.
PEACE: Peace is very much related to joy. Most of us can pick up tension whenever we enter a room. A peaceful person does not generate tension. They are easy to approach, they speak a gentle word, offer a kind smile. People feel they can exhale when in the presence of a peaceful soul because they experience a welcome and hospitality.
FORBEARANCE: A forbearing person puts up with the weaknesses and annoyances in others out of love. Some prefer to call it patience. It's not the same as tolerance.There would be none of the fake martyr’s sighing and muttering at the quirks of others. No huffing and puffing with demands made upon us. Families require a lot of patience. Any group of people living in close quarters has to practice forbearance in order to have harmony.
GOODNESS: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to assess the goodness of ones life. That doesn’t mean that we are perfect but we know if we are generally keeping the commandments of God and the precepts of the Church. We are doing our best to do our best so that goodness is also a fruit of the Spirit.
FAITH: The tough fruit in our times is faithfulness or fidelity. Do I fulfill my obligations to my family and to my job to the best of my ability? Am I faithful to God, my spouse, and my friends? Am I reliable and trustworthy? Do I keep my word or do I make promises I know I can’t fulfill? Some personalities are such that they want to be the good guy who will promise everything but are not so good at keeping their word; that too is infidelity. I’ve lived with some real porcupines in my life and it isn’t fun. But real Faith is believing in what cannot be seen.
GENTLE: Gentleness is a beautiful gift to give to others. It takes some fortitude to be gentle with prickly people but it generates peace and tranquility. Gentle words and gentle actions can soothe a mighty storm. I worked with a woman once who trained dogs and she was always directing them to be gentle by softly saying the word over and over. I internalized that for myself and repeat it when I am slam banging around or being too snappy in my own actions. Gentle, gentle.
SELF CONTROL: Books could be written about the fruit known as self-control.
It is mastery over body, mind and spirit. If I have it, I’m probably close to
sanctity! But in truth it is the one most difficult to master. How I think of myself could be called modesty, as in not prideful. But to control my actions and appearance in today’s world is more challenging. Modesty is nearly unheard of in western cultures. Self Control of my tongue with its sharp retorts or unsavory topics takes practice.. Control of my appetite with its self-indulgence in food or alcohol requires grace and will power. I must control the eyes and ears---what I choose to linger on that may not be what I’d want to share with my mother or the Blessed Mother! Control of what I say about or share with others, even if it’s true, it doesn’t have to be told. Then we can look at how we control our finances and the quality of stewardship of the gifts we have been given. Do I litter or waste things? The possibilities for self control are endless. If I ask myself what is out of control in my life it probably will be an easy answer.
So have I “got the Spirit”? I could ask those I live and work with (if I dare to hear the truth) whether they can see any evidence of the fruits of the Spirit in my life. If not then I need to pray more for an increase in the gifts and the grace (power) to exercise those gifts until I learn the mastery. This is a life long project that really never gets completed until life is completed. Don’t worry God isn’t finished with us yet and there will always be room for improvement. God desires our perfection even more than we do. He wants us to be a perfect reflection of His image because He loves us.