“Bring to the world what you have received from God,” Father Mark gently encouraged those of us congregated for Pentecost Mass. The church was sparsely peppered with parishioners who braved facing the coronavirus stipulations for resuming attendance for celebrating the weekly liturgy.
Through the strange sensation of breathing into a face mask, I nodded. His words seemed apt for our times, even more so now than ever. He continued by reading the fruits of the Holy Spirit with deliberation, pausing between each one. “I want you to think about these in relation to the strife and uncertainty going on in our world. Think of the virus, of the racism, of the political tension, of division and hatred and rioting. What is the Holy Spirit asking you to bring to the world?”
“The fruit of the Spirit is…love.” Father Mark pointed his finger, not as an admonition but an invitation. I thought of the violence and hatred everywhere – on social media, in the streets of many cities (including my own), within homes, in conversations and even the interior monologues of self-deprecation. Love. The Spirit wants us to choose to listen, to enter into our inner sanctuaries and discover His presence within us so that we can accept our brokenness and the flaws of others as the only pathway to His mercy.
“Joy,” he continued. I considered the oppressive, invisible weight that most people seem to shoulder these days. It’s nearly palpable. Even now, Sarah and I travel quite often to various medical specialists, and the burdens people carry are evident – droopy eyes, frowns of deep-seated sorrow, slow movements. The Spirit beckons us to be harbingers of joy – not in the sunny spirituality sense, where we dismiss and trivialize the very hard and real suffering in the world, but in the way we smile or acknowledge another person with our eyes (even under our face masks).
Peace. The opposite of love isn’t hatred, I once learned in youth group; it’s apathy. Maybe the opposite of peace isn’t conflict, either. Maybe it’s lack of trust based on uncertainty. Most of life contains incomprehensible mysteries. But we’d rather maintain control, and when we don’t, we lost our sense of peace. The Spirit gives us the “peace that surpasses all understanding” (see Philippians 4:7). When we dwell in the midst of discomfort and agitation and all the dark emotions that tend to cloud our senses, we can still maintain the clarity of mind that peace bears upon it. And that is what we can bring to the world.
Patience. I think of how, if we chose to be more patient, much of the chaos and turmoil that swirls around us like tornadoes would be calmed. Patience, if it begins with us, is at the root of tolerating the faults of others and realizing that others do the same with us. Would rioting happen if the crowds were patient with law enforcement trying to help them convene peacefully? Would it happen if law enforcement took the time to truly listen to their anger and outrage? Patience is at the heart of a new Pentecost, because from it – like humility – other fruits spring forth.
Kindness. There is a difference between kindness and niceties. Being nice is easy, superficial, and involves a quick or friendly hello. Kindness goes deeper. It means I essentially convey the message “I see you. I hear you. You matter” to those who do not feel seen or heard or valued.
Generosity. It’s not enough for us to go about our lives as Christians simply believing that generosity involves financial stewardship or occasionally volunteering at our local soup kitchen. True generosity is an act of self-giving. We do not hold back what must be offered in each moment, despite our discomfort or emotional frustration. The Spirit stirs within us, and we are compelled to extend our hands or our hearts.
Faithfulness. Fidelity is persevering through trials with the end in sight. When we do this, we are bearing witness to the world that life is worth living in every circumstance.
Gentleness. Along with kindness, what if we stopped long enough in our day to consider our vocal intonation? Our body language? Facial expressions? Are we gentle in our word selection and timing when we must speak a difficult truth to another? I want to imagine our world filled with a greater overall gentleness, in touch and speech and heart.
Self-control. The opposite of impulsivity, self-control is the spiritual fruit that tells us to pause, to calm our intense emotions, and to pay attention to what our minds, hearts, and bodies are teaching us in each moment. If zeal calls us to act, then self-control wisely asks us to wait. Often, in the space between reaction and action, if we wait, we discover our ability to bear the Holy Spirit to the world in a way that unites and heals.
We live in a strange new world, it seems, but we remember that God is “ever ancient, ever new,” as St. Augustine once eloquently described Him. His life-breath in us, His Holy Spirit, is what moves in and through us to respond to the world’s increasing anxiety, uncertainty, and division. We are called to first reflect in silence, then respond in charity.