Galatians 5 is among my favorite passages of Scripture. St. Paul directly lays out exactly how to see if the Holy Spirit is at work in your life! Like we read in John 15, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Paul lays out these things, which are fruits of our living relationship with Jesus: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
It is very important to realize that fruits are very different than pious actions and feelings. “Doing all the right things” doesn’t necessarily mean that someone has an active, living relationship with Jesus and that they’re drawing closer to Him. I’m currently reading a book by Graham Greene called The Power and the Glory about a priest on the run in a time and place where Catholicism is illegal. He gets arrested for another having alcohol on his person (which is also illegal) and admits his identity to a woman in the communal jail cell. This woman was arrested for having a bible, but the priest immediately notices that despite her piety she is no saint. She spends their time together judging others, looking down on sinners, and declaring her own self-righteousness. Such things are not the fruit of the Spirit.
Good feelings, too, are not necessarily fruits of the Spirit. Never judge the state of your spiritual life by the good or bad feelings you have. St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote what is called the “14 Rules for the Discernment of Spirits” in which he details how the Holy Spirit uses spiritual consolations and desolations to draw us out of sin and closer to the heart of the Father. The feeling of being far from God might actually be His way of trying to teach you how to trust!
That’s why these fruits are the best way to judge our own spiritual journey. If we see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our lives then we can trust that we are truly connected to the vine and that He’s bringing these good things into our lives. Always seek to practice them, even if they don’t well up naturally within us. Virtues are habits that need to be built up in us, and the only way to cooperate with the Holy Spirit is to cooperate with Him which means intentionality on our part. But don’t fall into the lie that you’ve ever “arrived.” There will ALWAYS be more to do. Equally, don’t be discouraged if it feelings like you don’t have any of these fruits in your life. If you’re pursing life with Christ, then I’m sure they’re there in some ways that you don’t even notice, but keep persevering.
-Amanda Benner, Director of Evangelization