Joy—And the Fruit of the Spirit
By Lenora Grimaud
In contrast [to the works of the flesh], the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
The fruit of the Spirit are effects of the Holy Spirit that come through us in our thoughts, words, and actions. They are the work of holiness produced in us, by the Holy Spirit, manifested in a life of virtue—in contrast to vices that are manifested through the “works of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16-18).
In his “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus taught his disciples many things in order to teach them how to distinguish the false prophet from the true prophet, the false disciple from the true disciple, and the fruit of the Spirit in contrast to the works of the flesh. (Mat. 5-7). Christians need to know this sermon in order to have good discernment. Christians also need the Holy Spirit in order to be able to distinguish the true from the false disciple, because we can easily be deceived by outward appearances, rhetoric, and manifestations of power. Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves.” (Mat. 7:15-16)
Christians need to know how to “test the spirit” behind the spiritual gifts and consolations that we receive in a prayer meeting, as well as our individual prayer life. Charisms of the Holy Spirit are often given to people who are new to the spiritual life and not very advanced in holiness. Charisms and consolations from God lead us to God and to growth in holiness. All of these charisms and consolations can be counterfeited. They can come from our ego, or they can also come from the evil one. This kind of discernment takes maturity in wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Beginners are not able to discern, yet. Mature leadership and spiritual direction is very important.
The joy that humans can experience in this life can come from many different sources, and be external or internal. Joy—the fruit of the Spirit, is a very different kind of joy. It is one of the marks that identifies Christians who “have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). Unlike the gifts and charisms of the Holy Spirit received through Baptism and Confirmation, the fruits of the Spirit identify the Christian who has grown in wisdom and maturity through union with the Holy Spirit.
But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2Cor. 4:7-11)
The joy that is the fruit of the Spirit is an internal joy, most apparent during times of suffering, trials, tribulations, testing, loss, and persecution. It is a confident hope in God’s mercy, goodness, and promises. This kind of joy is gratitude to God for everything, in all circumstances of life. St. Paul says:
Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we too believe and therefore speak, knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence. Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God.
Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal. (2Cor. 4:13-18)
This kind of joy, the fruit of the Spirit, cannot be counterfeited. However, joyful emotions, feelings, fervor, zeal, and enthusiasm, can be counterfeited. Putting on a happy face does not a happy person, make. For some people, external joy can even be a mask, or contrived, in order to hide from themselves and others, their lack of joy, or their grief. They want joy so they pretend they have it. Joy, the fruit of the Spirit, is much deeper, and more permanent, than what most people understand as “joy.” Nevertheless, it is a good thing to “put on a happy face”—smile a lot—when we are feeling down or experiencing desolation, as long as it is not a form of denial. This can be a means of resisting the “bad spirit.” Gloomy saints do not make good witnesses.
We also need to be able to distinguish between the fruits of the Spirit and spiritual consolations from God. Spiritual consolations are a totally, free gift, or grace from God, given for our benefit. They do not depend on our holiness. We cannot earn them or force God to give us these spiritual consolations. We can only prepare ourselves to receive them. These consolations are special graces given in accordance with God’s purpose. They are not permanent, and usually not long in duration. They cause us to delight in the things of God. They enable us to praise and worship God with heartfelt emotion. They make prayer and service effortless. The bad spirit can also give spiritual consolations of great joy. This is especially true as we advance in the spiritual life. For beginners, the bad spirit is not so subtle. He usually brings only spiritual desolation.
Spiritual desolation from the bad spirit can come in the form of sadness, anxiety, fear, condemnation, loss of hope, doubting God’s love and the authentic gifts and consolations received from God, tepidity, loss of fervor and desire to pray, distractions in prayer and doing good, rationalizations, and false reasoning. This kind of desolation leads us away from God—away from faith, hope, and love. These things, we need to recognize and resist.
The “Baptism of the Holy Spirit,” is for many people, a conversion experience that opens the door to receiving many wonderful spiritual consolations from God and “good spirits,” as well as charisms for the building up of the Church. As time goes on, the bad spirit discovers this open door and brings spiritual desolation, as well as spiritual consolations. He attempts to distort or counterfeit the charisms and to use them for his own purposes. Thus, the great need for teaching and discernment of spirits for all those living the spiritual life.
People who have the experience of “baptism in the Spirit” frequently receive many spiritual consolations. The time comes, however, when those spiritual consolations stop, or are very infrequent. Spiritual consolations and the joy we experience from them is not the same as the joy that is the fruit of the Spirit. Spiritual consolations are a foretaste of heaven. We should desire these consolations, and do all that we can to be receptive to them, because they bring us nearer to God—but, in humility, not presumption. Christians frequently mistake spiritual consolations for the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus said: “You will know them by their fruits.” He did not say, “You will know them by the spiritual consolations or charisms that they receive.”
“Charismatics” need to distinguish between what is temporary and what is permanent. We can be tempted to mistake spiritual consolations for the fruits of the Spirit, and believe that we are already sanctified Saints. We can be tempted to judge others by our own distorted perception and understanding. We can also be tempted to mistake the charisms for virtues and the sanctifying gifts of the Holy Spirit, attributing these charisms to ourselves, as signs of our own holiness and goodness. We need to know how the bad spirit operates and to be aware of his presence. The bad spirit is also, frequently right on the heels of spiritual consolations coming from God. We need to stay awake! As scripture says, ‘Be calm but vigilant,’ because your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Stand up to him, strong in faith and in the knowledge that your brothers all over the world are suffering the same things. (1Pet. 5:8-9)
All humans, throughout life’s journey, experience natural consolations (joy) and natural desolations (sorrow). These are the mountains and valleys of life. Most of the time, we experience times of tranquility that are neither marked by consolation or desolation. The spiritual life is similar. Christians committed to Jesus, experience movement back and forth, between spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation. Much of the time, we live in between—in tranquility—walking by faith and trust alone, without consolation or desolation.
There is a difference between natural consolations and spiritual consolations, as well as a difference between natural desolation and spiritual desolation. Natural desolation comes to everyone, from living life. Sometimes desolation can be a cross that we are called to embrace, when we are powerless to remove it. Whereas, spiritual desolation always comes from the evil one, and is something we need to recognize and resist, as much as possible. We need to recognize spiritual consolation from God so that we can receive it with thanksgiving, and recognize spiritual desolation so that we can resist the enemy and his temptations.
The somewhat contagious happiness of a person who makes you happy just to be around them may only be natural joy. Natural joy comes from an appreciation of goodness, beauty, and truth. We experience it in the appreciation of nature, in the birth of a baby, in the experience of being in love, in celebrations of life, and in all sensible consolations and pleasures of life.
Joy can also be an outward sign of unity within the Christian community; whenever we come together to praise and worship, when we share an “agape meal,” when we come together for retreats and large gatherings, and when we celebrate Eucharist together. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. The joy and love that we manifest to one another becomes a sign to others. Jesus said: “By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35).
Joy can even come from sinful pleasure—the joy that those given over to the flesh, experience in drunkenness, orgies, foul talk and jokes, lust, immorality, revenge, and all the other works of the flesh. For awhile they find joy in these pleasures, but it turns sour, leaving them empty and in greater desolation.
It is very important that we learn to discern between the fruit of the Spirit and natural attributes, feelings and emotions. They are very different. The fruit of the Spirit is spiritual fruit; we need the Holy Spirit in order to understand them. This kind of fruit is beyond natural virtues. If we do not understand what this fruit is, we will not recognize it when we see it in others, or ourselves. We will expect something different.
Our natural understanding is often skewed. We need the Holy Spirit to understand the meaning and purpose of the fruit of the Spirit. Our natural understanding can cause us to think that love means loving to pray, praying a lot, feeling love for God and others, zeal to save souls, doing all the right things, being a daily communicant, and taking on every devotion that comes along. We can be tempted to judge those who do not live up to our expectations as lacking in love for God and others, and not having the Holy Spirit:
People going through natural or spiritual desolation; people who experience dryness in prayer; people who do not practice many different devotions, or attend daily Mass; people who are not elated by feelings of love; people who do not seem to be zealous to save souls.
We need to recognize that our zeal can be skewed. We cannot save anyone, and the souls we may be trying to save might be holier and closer to God than we are. Judas was probably a Zealot, and St. Paul was a rigid Pharisee who killed Christians out of zeal for God, before his conversion. Love is quite simply, doing the will of God. That takes a lot of discernment and self-examination, which is not so simple.
We might think that being joyful and happy all the time, and always smiling, means that we have the fruit of joy. We think that people who are grieving, suffering, sorrowful, or experiencing pain and loss, do not have joy. Spiritual joy is not an emotion.
We might think that we have the fruit of peace when nothing disturbs us, when we never get angry or lose our temper, when we never doubt or experience anxiety or confusion, when we never question anything, or disturb anyone. We think that those who have doubts, confusion, or experience any kind of anxiety or natural desolation, or those who make waves and disturb others, do not have the fruit of peace. We should study the “nine kinds of false peace” that St. Teresa of Avila warns us about.
We might think that we have the fruit of patience when we are passive and expect God to do everything, when we wait for a revelation from God before doing anything. We think that those who labor to do good works, and do not wait for a revelation from God before doing anything, do not have the fruit of patience.
We might think that we have the fruit of kindness when we are nice to everyone, never say anything that might hurt someone’s feelings, and help everyone whether they need our help or not; when we do everything for everyone. We think that those who speak out for truth or justice are unkind if anyone gets their feelings hurt; those who go against the grain, push our buttons, or rub us the wrong way. We think that those who are not always busy with many things and always helping others, and those who correct or admonish others, are not kind.
We might think we have the fruit of generosity if we give away all that we have to whoever asks. We think that those who act with prudence and do not choose to give to everyone, or do not give away all that they have, are not generous.
We might think we have the fruit of faithfulness when we follow the letter of the law, keep all the rules, and are always loyal to our group of friends and community—right or wrong. We think that those who do not follow the letter of the law or who do not share our opinions, values, or traditions, are not faithful; those who leave us for any reason, or disagree with us on anything.
We might think we have the fruit of gentleness when we make others feel good and stroke them, when we build up other people’s ego, when we agree with everyone and always say what others want to hear. We think that others are not gentle if they are not overly affectionate and protective of everyone, if they correct or disagree with anyone.
We might think we have the fruit of self-control when we are able to control our feelings and emotions at all times, and never make waves; when we are able to maintain order and to control everyone and everything around us. We think that people lack self-control if they raise their voice, express any kind of anger or disagreement, if they cannot or will not follow the majority and do what they are told or what is expected of them; if they do not obey and follow all the rules, guidelines, and formats set by others.
Fruits of the Spirit:
Love: This kind of love is “not the love with which we love God, but the love with which God loves us” (1Jn. 4:10)—to love our enemies, those who reject us; those who do not like us, or approve of us; those who hurt us. It is to “love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love our neighbor as ourselves” (Mark 12:30). If we love like this, it would be impossible to break any commandment or to hurt another person. This kind of love enables us to put everyone else before our own self—to be ready to lay down our life for another.
Joy: This is the joy that one has when they are able to rejoice when they are persecuted for the sake of righteousness; “when people hate [us], drive [us] out, abuse [us], denounce [our] name as criminal,” because of following Jesus. (Luke 6:22-23). This is the joy that comes from suffering for a good cause; the joy that causes us to be thankful to God in all things—never complaining or blaming others. This joy comes from seeing everything as coming from God for our good; to rejoice in poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Peace: This peace comes from being in union with the will of God; to desire peace and unity among all peoples; to seek reconciliation between all those who are separated or divided; to be a mediator and advocate for all; to be free of all prejudice—not taking sides against anyone; to forgive everyone; to judge no one. This peace comes from being in right relationship with God and others—being free of all fear and guilt.
Patience: This is more than the natural virtue of patience; it is the patience to wait upon God—for his consolations, for his healing, for his mercy, for his gifts and graces, for his word to be fulfilled; it is to persevere in suffering—to have fortitude.
Kindness: This is to have a “preferential option for the poor”—to go out of our way to be kind to those who are lowly, marginalized, sinners; those who cannot or will not return our kindness; to return kindness for insult and abuse.
Gentleness: This is to be meek and humble; to see everyone as better and more worthy than our self; to take the lowest place; to lift others up; to be anonymous; to comfort the afflicted without bias.
Faithfulness: This is to hunger and thirst for righteousness; to desire holiness; to reject all sin; to love goodness; to seek justice for all; to desire everyone to be holy; to be right with God; to desire God’s will in everything; to do the will of God; to be pure of heart, obedient to God, and trustworthy; having integrity. This is to be a servant of God.
Generosity: This is clinging to nothing; possessing nothing; giving to whoever asks; sharing everything; trusting in divine providence; to be poor in spirit; detached from everything; to be rich in mercy.
Self-control: This is to be free from the domination of sin and others; to be repentant; to have a true sorrow for sin; to do penance; to make sacrifices; to take responsibility for what we do and what we have been given. It is to be free of the domination of the seven capital sins: pride, avarice, envy; wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth.
The spiritual life is not an easy road, it is about growing in the Spirit, and growth is never easy. The fruit of the Spirit is not about natural fervor and zeal, or accomplishments and success, or having a great following, or how hard we work and how much energy we put into our works. It is not about what we do or give, but about what we have received. The fruit of the Spirit comes from our union with God’s will. If we are bearing the fruit of the Spirit, we will be filled with every consolation of God, as well. We will be unable to contain our joy.
If we do not understand the spiritual nature of the fruit of the Spirit, or the difference between spiritual consolations and the fruit of the Spirit, we can be led into spiritual pride, or into rashly judging others. The enemy wants to cause division and factions within the body of Christ. He wants to make us self-righteous so that we lose the gift of righteousness that has been imparted to us.
The most destructive and divisive kind of sin, is judging others. It separates and divides, and destroys the love of God in us. It drives people away from God instead of leading people to God. This is what the enemy did to the Pharisees so that they could not recognize who Jesus really was. Blinded by pride, they could not see his goodness, and wanted him to die, even though he was innocent. The enemy uses this tactic on religious people—including those who are “baptized in the Spirit.” We need to stay awake!
Many years ago, when I received the “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” I was part of a prayer group in which I was the only Catholic. All the women were from various denominations or non-denominational. At first, we were all one in the Spirit. Gradually, these women challenged some of my Catholic beliefs, such as the Pope, the Eucharist, the Saints, and Mary. My first reaction was to defend my faith. Then I became zealous for them to share my faith. I felt they needed the Eucharist for salvation. My zeal was skewed. This behavior, on my part, only succeeded in driving a wedge between us, and pushing them further away from the Church.
The evil one suggested to me that either my friends were not as holy as I thought they were, or the Eucharist was not as important as I thought it was. I did not want to judge my friends, or lose faith in the Eucharist, so I turned to the Lord in prayer, and he set me free. I stopped defending my beliefs, and my attempts to save them. Shortly after, the Lord allowed me to experience an audience with Pope Paul VI, in Rome, and to witness the multiplication of the Eucharist on two separate occasions. In my joy, I shared my experience with my protestant friends. I was spontaneous and had no intention to convert them—like the “Samaritan woman at the well.” They responded by wanting to know more, and by suggesting we pray for the Pope. We are called to share the “Good News” with the world, not to give them an ultimatum.
Many Samaritans of that town had believed in him on the strength of the woman’s testimony when she said, “He told me all I have ever done,” so, when the Samaritans came up to him, they begged him to stay with them. He stayed for two days, and when he spoke to them many more came to believe; and they said to the woman, “Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the savior of the world” (Jn.4:39-42).
A seed planted in the soil goes through various stages of growth until it comes to maturity, becoming a fruit-bearing tree. The seedling needs to be nurtured, watered, nourished, and protected from the elements of nature in order to mature and bear good fruit. It is the same with the fruit of the Spirit. We have received the seed—the gift of the Holy Spirit, new life, but we have to cultivate it in order to have the authentic fruit of the Spirit.
Now instead of the spirit of the world, we have received the Spirit that comes from God, to teach us to understand the gifts that he has given us. Therefore, we teach, not in the way in which philosophy is taught, but in the way that the Spirit teaches us: we teach spiritual things spiritually. (1Cor. 2:12-13)
The “Good News” is, whether desolation comes to us as a cross that we need to embrace, or whether spiritual desolation comes to us as a temptation we need to resist, or whether spiritual consolation comes to us as a gift from God, or whether it comes as an “angel of light,” in the last analysis, nothing, absolutely nothing, can touch us unless it is first screened through the Father’s love.
For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38-39)