By Barbara Hosbach | Catholic News Service
Jesus assured his disciples he would not leave them as orphans; he promised the Father would send another Advocate to be with them always (Jn 14:16-18). That promise was kept on the day of Pentecost, considered the birthday of the Church, when Jesus’ followers received the Holy Spirit. We who believe are also blessed with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes, as with the apostles, the Spirit’s manifestation is astonishing and the results immediate. Our experience may not be as sudden or startling, but it’s no less profound.
One Pentecost Sunday reading, taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, lists the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (5:22). This fruit can’t be developed independently. I know. I tried.
Picture an apple tree. Apples never grow in isolation. Those that fall from the tree eventually rot.
Similarly, efforts to be good or gentle or patient on my own usually fail. I simply can’t produce these qualities single-handedly. Although I might keep it up for a little while, sooner or later my pleasant veneer wears down.
If I’m “generous to a fault” and others don’t reciprocate — or at least notice and thank me — I become resentful. As I try to exercise self-control, the more I suppress my feelings, the louder they nag at me. I’ve even tried willing myself into patience.
When annoyed, I’d lecture myself. It never worked. “You’ve got to be patient,” I’d mutter to myself, all the while feeling like a cartoon character ready to shoot steam out my ears.
Knowing what I should do — even if I want to — doesn’t enable me to do it. Knowing and doing are two different things.
That’s where the power of the Holy Spirit makes all the difference. After all, the disciples didn’t manufacture the Holy Spirit; they received it.
For example, I’ve heard that patience can’t be achieved through willpower; it’s acquired by letting go of self-will. Accepting God’s unconditional love empowers me to accept myself as a frail human in need of his help. That humility makes room for the Holy Spirit to emerge.
Of course, I feel more peaceful when I treat myself gently instead of pressuring myself. I can be kinder to others and more patient when I’m not trying to force things to go the way I think they should. When I relax, my relationships with others always improve. These gentler attitudes pave the way for joy.
Maybe it’s no accident that — at least in the English language — the word fruit can be singular or plural. St. Paul listed the first fruit of the Spirit as love, but all the others are connected — they come from and lead to love. When I allow myself to pause and breathe in God’s love through the Holy Spirit, I become more effective in genuinely carrying his message of love.
It helps to remember that spiritual growth is a process. Apples don’t materialize fully formed. They start as tight little buds that aren’t even edible, then slowly blossom. It takes time for them to ripen. They need to receive nourishment from the sun and rain before they develop into fruit that will nourish others.
That’s why we need to remain faithful and be patient with ourselves, trusting God’s own faithfulness, patience, gentleness, and generous love for us. We can’t give what we don’t have. As we grow in the Spirit, bearing fruit becomes a natural process.
Jesus said, “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Christ keeps his promises. When we open ourselves to receive the blessings he offers through the Holy Spirit, we will bear much fruit.
Barbara Hosbach is a freelance writer and author of “‘Your Faith Has Made You Well’: Jesus Heals in the New Testament.”