While visiting my parents in Wisconsin recently, my mom shared with me that she had purchased a few tomato plants to be planted in a new raised garden bed that my dad had just set up in the back yard. My mind immediately went to the delicious taste of fresh, home-grown tomatoes, one of my favorite summer treats! But as I looked at those plants sitting on the kitchen counter, I realized there was quite a journey ahead of them before they would bear the desired fruit for which they were created. The successful production of fruit would depend on the plants being properly cared for, ensuring that they get enough water, that the weeds get pulled, and that the deer stay away from the plants.
The image of tomato plants is one that often comes to mind when I think about the Holy Spirit, whose descent at Pentecost we celebrate today. In particular, I think of the fruits of the Spirit, so desirable to us. Here is how St. Paul lists them: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal 5:22–23) If you are like me, seeing this list makes my spiritual mouth water with a desire to have these fruits! But, as with those beloved tomato plants, to enjoy the fruits of the Spirit, we need to ensure that our souls are properly disposed to ensure the growth of these fruits. In other words, these fruits are not automatic. We cannot produce them on our own, but our cooperation with the Lord will give them the environment that they need in order to be present for our enjoyment as Christians.
Think of how weeds can slow the growth of a plant, and how if they are not controlled, can actually kill the plant, preventing it from producing any fruit. In the spiritual life, those weeds are our sins. Every time we come to Mass, we are called to acknowledge our sins, to humbly admit we have spiritual weeds in our lives. The Mass helps in removing those smaller weeds, known as venial sins. But some weeds (mortal sins) have deep roots and require a more intense uprooting, which is why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. So as you review the list of the fruits of the spirit, and wonder why you just cannot seem to be patient, joyful, or self-controlled, ask yourself this question: When was the last time I went to confession? If it’s been more than a month or so, you are likely being prevented from enjoying these fruits due to unattended spiritual weeds which the Lord is more than happy to help remove in the sacrament of His mercy.
Another important element for growth with many plants is exposure to the sun. If there is no sun, or if the plants are in places that never get good sunlight, they are likely not to grow, at least not as effectively as they could. When it comes to growing in spiritual fruits, the same principle applies, but this time, we are in need of exposure to the Son. One of the ways that we do this is through daily prayer, when we place ourselves in the presence of the light that is Christ, whose loving gaze warms us and helps us to grow. In that regard, a way of getting maximal Son exposure is to spend time in prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, especially in Eucharistic Adoration. The rays of Christ shine most powerfully on us during these times, strengthening us in His love, bringing about that transformation in our hearts that make room for the Spirit to work and grow in powerful ways.
Why not take advantage of this during our 40 Hours Devotion that will be taking place June 9-11? As you read this, I can guarantee there are still many open slots that need to be filled. But please do not hear that as just a plea that we need you to fill those slots. More importantly, I make the plea to remind you that you need this time for your own spiritual growth, so that we can more fully bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit in your life, for your good and the good of the Church.