“How does a person know if she is bearing good fruit for God?” A young woman asked me this question following an Advent retreat in which I’d presented about the spiritual benefits of waiting. It’s a common question, I realize — one without a clear, universal answer.
Maybe it’s a cop-out to respond, “There’s no panacea,” but I frequently do. And then I read about the fruits of the Holy Spirit in scripture, recalling that there are definite signs that one is, indeed, fruitful in one’s work.
Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The short answer to the initial question, of course, is that our lives will exemplify a melange of these spiritual fruits if we are, in fact, following God’s will. But how can we recognize these fruits, and what can we do to foster them in our lives?
Let’s begin by differentiating between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. “The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit…complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.” (CCC 1831) “The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory.” (CCC 1832)
In other words, spiritual gifts are those that God chooses to bestow on us without any merit or practice on our part. We cannot earn or acquire these gifts. But if we use them by being attentive to the ways in which God is calling us to share them with others, we will see the consequences of these gifts — which are the spiritual fruits, or results, of our good deeds.
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