Saturday, March 3, 2007

The Fruits of the Spirit in Scripture

A wonderful find . . . written by Mark Shea

LOVE! Genesis 22:2

He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you."

This passage is the first one in which the word "love" — the greatest of the three supernatural or "theological" virtues — is used in Scripture. It is both telling and haunting that it is instantly coupled, not with warm and fuzzy platitudes about God as the big Care Bear in the Sky, but with the stark and frightening revelation that love means sacrifice. For that is what love is: the offering of self for another. Abraham had to learn and live this, not because God was a bloodthirsty monster (in fact, God stops the sacrifice once Abraham's test is complete), but because God was taking the first step toward revealing that it is He, not Abraham, Who was to offer His Son, His only Son, Whom He loved.

JOY! Nehemiah 8:10

Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

The world tells you that your strength is through anxiety, fear, and tension. To be strong is, in the world's terms, to be frightened, distrustful, ready to strike back, and plagued by worry about what your enemy may do to you. Worldly "strength" is to cherish grudges and never forgive. But Scripture reveals an entirely different sort of strength and the root from which it springs. The joy of the Lord is the strength of the saints. Though they are watchful, they are not tense. Though they forgive, they are not suckers, saps, and losers. For they know that bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other guy to die. So they live in the life of the Blessed Trinity — that is, joy — and receive the power of that life to do what God wills. That is the greatest power there is.

PEACE! Psalm 122:6-9

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! "May they prosper who love you! Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers!"
For my brethren and companions' sake I will say, "Peace be within you!" For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.

G.K. Chesterton says that there is no record of morality beginning with people saying "I will not hit you if you do not hit me." Rather, it began with people saying "We must not hit each other in the Holy Place." In short, when you seek the Kingdom and its righteousness, you get earthly goods thrown into the bargain. When you seek earthly goods, you don't even get that. That is why the Psalmist seeks the peace of Jerusalem "for the sake of the house of the LORD our God." His goal is not merely earthly peace. His goal is to please God, which is simple justice. We, who have seen such terrible lack of peace visited on our own towers, must remember that the only way to achieve real peace will be spiritual, not merely technical, rearmament against the sin that so easily entangles and destroys. Today seek the peace of Jerusalem by seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

PATIENCE! Proverbs 25:15

With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone. Patience does not mean being a doormat or a dartboard. It means a long, persistent will to soldier on and keep doing what is good, true, right and noble despite the strong gusts of hot air that buffet us from the mouths of foolish and temporarily powerful people. A small plant can slowly push its way through a tiny crack in concrete where all the storms of hell have not been able to make a scratch. Today, be patient, do what is right, and trust in the Lord.

KINDNESS! Proverbs 21:21

He who pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor. There is a certain perception of "righteousness" in our culture which does not readily associate it with "kindness." A "righteous" person is assumed to be stiff, forbidding, thin-lipped, and full of that stern, gray rectitude of a 17th-century Puritan we associate with the sorts of people who burn witches. But biblical righteousness is not like this. It is open-handed, happy, and full of an ebullient liberality that is ready to have a feast or shower gifts on the poor. It is, in a word, kind like Fezziwig, not austere like Scrooge. Today, find life and honor by pursuing both righteousness and kindness. They are twins.

GOODNESS! Exodus 33:18-20

Moses said, "I pray thee, show me thy glory." And He said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you My name 'The LORD'; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But," He said, "you cannot see My face; for man shall not see Me and live." C.S. Lewis once remarked something to the effect that those who glibly think it would be fun to look into the face of absolute goodness simply had no idea what they were talking about. "God is not an uncle," says Rabbi Abraham Heschel, "God is an earthquake."

Encountering absolute goodness in our current condition would be, for most of us, like staring into the sun without shades or trying to trying to capture the Pacific Ocean in a bucket. That's why Moses had to be protected and could not see the Lord's face. And that is why the promise of the Gospel is so astonishing: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Today, ask for the good Holy Spirit and let Him change you so that you may one day see God and live forever.

GENTLENESS! 1 Corinthians 4:21

What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

Paul wrote the above in the heat of extreme exasperation at the antics of the First Church of the Jerks in Corinth. From getting drunk at Mass to abusing the poor to starting whispering campaigns against Paul to adopting clever and enlightened attitudes toward all sorts of gross sin, the Corinthians were a real piece of work. Enough to drive an Apostle crazy. And so Paul has to rebuke them. Yet rather than give them both barrels, Paul continues to pull his punches and look for ways to say what he must say with gentleness. Why? Because the point was that the Corinthians should learn, not that he should win. It's a point we do well to imitate when we too have disagreements with annoying people.
It is notable that gentleness, like mercy, is usually a virtue we must exercise toward those who don't deserve it. It is love, not crushing rhetorical style, that wins hearts.


I have not hid thy saving help within my heart, I have spoken of thy faithfulness and thy salvation; I have not concealed thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness from the great congregation.

It is a curious fact that, for the authors of the Old Testament "steadfast love" and "faithfulness" are as natural a pairing as left and right. Since God loves us, of course He will stay with us. Israel can't shake Him, no matter how hard they try. Even His punishments come precisely because He will "never leave you or forsake you." The psalmist knows this and praises God for it. Whatever pain Israel has to embrace in its painful history, it will never have to know the pain of a meaningless universe without God. Nor will it have to know a loveless God. His love is demonstrated precisely in His faithfulness, and faithfulness means, quite simply, that He stays. Today, praise God for His steadfast love and faithfulness. Then give some of it to somebody else, preferably a "difficult person."

SELF CONTROL! Proverbs 25:28

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.

Self-control is like the immune system. People who despise self-control think that they are breaking free. In reality, they are breaking down. Ignore self-control and the big laws God has given in the Ten Commandments and you don't get freedom. You don't even get anarchy. You get the small laws. You have to micromanage a hundred petty problems and put out a thousand little fires created by your failure to take the trouble to do the right thing in the first place. And the busier you are with that, the less time you have to deal with the reality of a dangerous world in which there really are people (and demons) who wish you ill. When your guard is down such creatures are more than happy to exploit your weakness, as America discovered September 11, 2001. The same is true in our individual lives. Abandon self-control and you will soon be controlled by someone or something else. Control yourself and you will not be "repressed" — you will be free.

1 comment:

Isadora Duncan said...

This is a great post. Gotta love that Mark Shea!

Are the graphics his or yours?
I have printed this and plan to use it in RCIA.

You have a nice blog here. Keep up the good work!

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