As I mentioned before the holidays, the Fruit of the Spirit matures in us to the degree that we are connected to Christ and cooperating with the Holy Spirit. This organic relationship at the heart of our sanctification (transforming us into Christ) is closely connected to the process of salvation/justification. It too, is a gift given at baptism.
To understand best how to specifically begin cultivating/cooperating with the gift of the Fruit within us, we can turn to the natural world. The conditions necessary for natural fruit to flourish provides helpful imagery we can “spiritualize” for our purposes. Let’s first look at what is external to us and then how we can directly cooperate.
The first is the sun. In our metaphor for cultivating the spiritual life, it represents Christ. The Fruit of the Spirit is “Son-ripened” and depends ultimately upon this single factor. Without the sun there would be no fruit in our world, apart from Christ, we will never produce fruit. Jesus confirms this principle in John 15:4:
“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.”
While the gift of the Fruit of the Spirit is pure grace (the un-earned and undeserved favor of God), we can cooperate with it.
In keeping with our agricultural metaphor, we must water the landscape of our soul. “Since the beginning of the world, water, so humble and wonderful a creature, has been the source of life and fruitfulness. Sacred Scripture sees it as "overshadowed" by the Spirit of God: At the very dawn of creation your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness” (from Catechism No. 1217, and the blessing of water at the Easter Vigil). The way we spiritually water our lives is with the Word and Sacraments - the primary sources of the life of grace for the Christian. They are our continual source of life, refreshment, and fruitfulness. To not take advantage of every opportunity to participate in them (either directly or by witnessing them at ordinations, baptisms, anointing of the sick, etc.) is to neglect the greatest sources of life God has gifted to us.
What’s great about this reality in the spiritual realm is there is never a danger of over-watering! We are, by nature, leaky vessels. We need to continually be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18)).
For more reflection on this essential key to cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, see Ps. 1; Ps. 65:9-10; Isaiah 58:11; Jeremiah 31:11-12.
The second way we can cooperate with and cultivate the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives is by providing good soil. We are all familiar with this imagery from the Parable of the Sower in the Gospels (Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8). When God (the Farmer) sows the seed of His Spirit into our lives we must provide the proper conditions for it to grow and flourish. In Jesus’ time, a farmer would broadcast (scatter) the seed across large shallowly plowed fields that would often be traveled across by people and animals and quickly eaten by birds of the air. For maximum fruitfulness, the soil must be “receptive” and welcome the seed within. I like how James puts it, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). The word meekness is rooted in the concept of humility which takes its origins from humilis or humus which means the soil or earth. To provide the proper spiritual soil we must possess a receptive and teachable spirit. God provides the seed (2 Cor. 9:10) and we receive it with hope and expectation.
The third way that we can cultivate the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives is by carefully pruning our spiritual garden. Again, the imagery is a common one in the Bible (turn to the opening verses of John 15 to reflect more deeply on this metaphor). The Greek word for pruning is katharos which literally means to “be made clean.” God is not only asking us to clear away the works of the flesh in our lives but also to be cleansed of all the painful memories and events of our lives that may be preventing us from fully flowering as the tender planting of the Lord.
The fourth way we can cultivate or cooperate with the Fruit of the Spirit already gifted us at Baptism is by fertilizing. Now this is rarely a pleasant experience, but let’s face it - manure is a part of the human condition. Like it or not, we “step in it” ever day. Your neighbor’s bumper sticker confirms it - “Manure Happens.” But the difficult and messy parts of our life can be accepted and offered up to God as a key part of our spiritual growth. There is a parable that will pick up this imagery. For more reflection, read Luke 13:6-7.
Finally, location, location, location. On of the interesting things I have learned this year of cultivating my garden (both in my yard and in my interior life) is the importance of location. This is not only true regarding direct access to the sun for the proper amount of hours, but also concerns what plants you plant next to each other. Some types of flowers and vegetables just are not designed to coexist with one another, and can diminish or kill other plants. So we should ask ourselves “Am I surrounding myself with plants that encourage or diminish the Christ life in me?” Obviously, we don’t cut ourselves off completely from our family just because they are continually negative or toxic. But we do learn to create boundaries with those kinds of people and we surround ourselves with those who offer life. And we want to be in a place that is regularly receiving the life-giving rays of the Son (Luke 10:38ff).
Thomas Smith was a Protestant minister who was received into the Catholic Church in 1996. Thomas is a repeat guest on EWTN and Catholic radio as well as a sought after parish mission and conference speaker, and an international presenter for the Great Adventure Bible Timeline. Smith is the former Director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and the Denver Catechetical School and now lives on his family ranch in southeastern Idaho where he farms and writes.