As an engineer, I love being able to assess the progress of a project. What do I need to do? What comes first? How much time am I going to allocate for each task? When I became Catholic, I was uncertain how to assess my progress. I eventually found advice from a priest, Fr. Ripperger: it was to meditate on the Fruits of the Holy Ghost, and pay attention to the "sweetness" or "bitterness" in your disposition to it. For example, I would meditate on Long-Suffering and have a bitterness in my heart as I thought about awaiting the good things I love. It's important to note that these Fruits are caused by the Holy Ghost, not us. We can dispose ourselves to receive grace for these Fruits to mature in us by asking the Father to prune our attachments to worldly things (John 15:1-17, I-II.Q70.a3).
In order to best understand what these Fruits our, I'll outline how St. Thomas Aquinas defines the Fruits of the Holy Ghost. The first five Fruits (Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, and Long-Suffering) are directed to God. The second four (Beneficence, Kindness, Meekness, and Fidelity) are directed to our neighbor. The last three (Modesty, Chastity, and Self-Control) are directed to that which is under us, our flesh (I-II.Q70.a3).
LOVE GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, MIND, SOUL, AND STRENGTH
Charity: Love for God. Love is the first and root of all our emotions (I-II.Q27.a4). The rest of this question has to do with the causes for love. This didn't connect with me until I read St. Thomas's effects of love (I-II.Q28). A love for God is going to have the effects of desire Him as the Highest Good. There will be a desire to unite with Him, in Spirit and Truth. There will be a firm understanding (through faith) that He belongs to you and you belong to Him. With hope, you will be willing to remove every obstacle for a fuller unity with Him. This is the number one thing to pray for: perfect love for God. By this love you will prepare for the entrance of your Beloved into your heart by putting away sin and doing what is pleasing in His sight.
Joy: Abiding in God and Him abiding in you is to presently rest in Him, which brings great joy. Although, we only possess a portion of Him in this life, it can certainly be most enjoyable, if disposed correctly.
Peace: "The perfection of joy is peace in two respects:
- First, as regards freedom from outward disturbance; for it is impossible to rejoice perfectly in the beloved good, if one is disturbed in the enjoyment thereof; and again, if a man's heart is perfectly set at peace in one object, he cannot be disquieted by any other, since he accounts all others as nothing..."
- Secondly, as regards the calm of the restless desire: for he does not perfectly rejoice, who is not satisfied with the object of his joy.'
It is important that we pray for God to be the center of all our desires and to be perfectly satisfied with Him and His commandments.
Patience: "By not being disturbed whenever evil threatens." As we start out in the spiritual life, we don't typically have a perfect love, joy, and peace for our Father in Heaven. However, whatever love, joy, peace, satisfaction, etc. that we have for Him, we need to protect by being constantly disposed to prayer.
Long-Suffering: As we recognize that we lack a perfect union with our Beloved, we suffer. The way that I've come to dispose myself for this Fruit is to compare it to a road trip to see my family. The expectation of seeing them soon fills me with joy and allows me to be disposed to the bodily suffering of sitting in a car for hours. However, there was given to me a better way of looking at it. Meditating on the Passion of Christ. Every step that He took, He was thinking of His union with you in the Eucharist and in Heaven. I like to think that He couldn't help but smile, causing His torturers to beat Him more severely, since they regarded His joy to be with you as contempt.
LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF
Beneficence (Goodness): Willing the good for our neighbor. Thinking, planning, and being overall disposed to do good for them and their reputation. Praying for our fellow man is the first thing we should do in regards to beneficence. All of this will lead to the execution of good deeds.
Kindness: This is the execution of a good will. It is basically the execution of the Spiritual and Corporal Acts of Mercy.
Meekness: Our neighbor will inevitably trespass against us. We ought to keep our composure when we are wronged. We also want to keep our minds thinking of our neighbor in a positive light and not being to quick to judge. We must protect ourselves from the sin of unjust anger. Let us put all our trust in the Lord for He will avenge us. It my even be so that we experience this wrong for a good reason. We can adopt the words taken from Psalm 141,
"Let not my heart incline to the evil of engaging in deeds of wickedness with men who are evildoers; and let me not partake of their dainties. Let the just man strike me; that is kindness; let him reprove me; it is oil for the head, which my head shall not refuse, but I will still pray under these afflictions" (Psalm 141:4-6).
Fidelity (Faithfulness): Refraining from doing harm to our neighbor through anger, fraud, deceit, etc. This regards the disposition to forgive and forget. "For although he may have experienced injury from external causes, he is himself his greatest enemy by wickedly staining his soul with hatred, malevolence, and envy" (The Roman Catechism).
Modesty: This is to be well-disposed in respect of that which is below us, as regards external action, observing all our words and deeds. These things are what St. Thomas Aquinas says require moderation:
- "One is the movement of the mind towards some excellence, and this is moderated by humility.
- The second is the desire of things pertaining to knowledge, and this is moderated by studiousness which is opposed to curiosity.
- The third regards bodily movements and actions, which require to be done becomingly and honestly, whether we act seriously or in play.
- The fourth regards outward show, for instance in dress and the like" (II-II.Q160.a2).
Chastity: This withdraws us from unlawful desires. Firstly, and properly, it relates to "chastising" the venereal pleasures by the use of reason. However, generally speaking, "For if the human mind delight in the spiritual union with that to which it behooves it to be united, namely God, and refrains from delighting in union with other things against the requirements of the order established by God, this may be called a spiritual chastity" (II-II.Q151.a2).
Self-Control (Continence): It is a firmness of mind against strong passions in order to avoid being led away from reason. It may involve withdrawing from lawful desires such as the venereal pleasures shared between a man and woman in a lawful marriage. Although the intercourse drags the mind down to the intense carnal pleasure, it is excused by the marriage blessing (III-Supp.Q41.a3). I encourage you to read the entirety of chapter 7 of the first letter to the Corinthians as it pertains to your life. In my humble opinion, as a man who has fought against the allurements of lust and failed many times, I would not want to introduce a future, virgin wife to the vehemence of those sexual desires without adequate preparation. If our goal in marriage is to get our spouse to Heaven, then keeping God at the center of your marriage will include taking time away from the venereal pleasures of intercourse so our minds can be more transfixed on the enjoyment of our First Love.
I love how St. Thomas Aquinas separates the Fruits in accord with the greatest commandments given to us by Jesus Christ. There is a good reason that they are called great. They require us to put all our trust in God. Let's face it, there is great difficulty in loving the unseen God. If we are going to make it to Heaven and see our Beloved face to face, we need to persistently pray for this end. Let me give you another great commandment, "Climb Mt. Everest." How would you go about doing that? With diligent preparation, encouragement from family, a knowledgeable guide, etc. Let us climb the mountain of the Lord, encouraging one another while uniting to the one mind and heart of Jesus Christ our Lord, through the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God, the Father. Amen.