Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit

Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit

Carmel of Fayoum

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…”.[1] In these troubled times, with the sounds of weapons and threats to humanity, we all desire to receive this precious fruit of peace that the Holy Spirit gives us. But how can we prepare our hearts to receive it?

To answer this question, it’s good to ask ourselves what we’re talking about when we speak of the “fruit of the Spirit”. “Saint Thomas devoted a question to them in the Summa. He characterizes them as the ultimate and delightful product of the action of the Holy Spirit in us. The comparison is taken from plant life: the fruit is what one gathers at the end of the branches, coming from a vigorous sap, which one delights in. Or, it is that which is harvested from a sown and cultivated field.”[2] “The term, ‘fruit’ does not evoke a gift, but a progressive action of God within us; the fruit of the Spirit emphasizes our interior life, which develops little by little and irrigates our existence; we do not suddenly receive a fruit as if it were a completed gift that God would put in our hearts; a fruit is the development of God’s grace.”[3]

In other words: “The fruit of the Holy Spirit is the result of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of a Christian.”[4]

Therefore, if we are to receive the fruit of the Holy Spirit, we must commit ourselves to cooperate with the grace of God that is at work in our hearts so that we may live in a new way. It’s a dynamic process that sets us in motion and sets us free. To help us move forward on this path, the words of St. Silouan (Силуан) of Mount Athos are very enlightening:

“All men desire peace, but they do not know how to attain it.

“We must expound to our brethren gently and with love. Peace is lost if we vaunt or exalt ourselves above our brother, if we find fault, if we enlighten otherwise than gently and with love; if we eat too much, or are indolent in our praying. All these things cause us to lose peace.  But if we accustom ourselves to praying eagerly for our enemies, and loving them, peace will always dwell in our souls; whereas if we feel hatred towards our brethren, or find fault with them, our minds will be clouded and we shall lose our peace and the confidence to pray to God. Peace in our souls is impossible unless we beg the Lord with all our hearts to give us love for all men. The Lord knew that if we did not love our enemies, we should have no peace of soul, and so He gave us the commandment, ‘Love your enemies.’ Unless we love our enemies, we shall only now and then be easy, as it were, in our souls; but if we love our enemies, peace will dwell in us day and night. Guard the peace of the grace of the Holy Spirit in your soul. Do not lose it over petty trifles. If you give peace to your brother, the Lord will give you incomparably more, whereas if you injure him, affliction will inevitably befall your soul.”[5]

Peace is given to us by the Holy Spirit but as Silouan says, we have to “guard the peace of the grace of the Holy Spirit in [our] soul,” watching over this gift that is given to us, so as not to lose it amid life’s trivia. Isn’t everything that takes us away from love—the sole purpose for which we were created—triviality? According to the holy monk of Mount Athos, to maintain peace of mind at all times, love must extend to our enemies, for a heart that does not love is divided; it is at war and has no peace. Yet, by ourselves, we are incapable of loving our enemies. And Silouane knows this well, inviting us to “beg the Lord with all our hearts to give us love for all men.” Fortunately, as Saint Paul says, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”[6] Therefore, it’s the Spirit of Love who comes to rescue us in our weakness and enables us to love our enemies. He comes within us, to love. And this divine love unifies our hearts and gives them peace.

So, we need to ask for this grace in prayer, to ask the Holy Spirit to come and make his home in us and transform our hearts. And if we want to hear his voice, a certain solitude is necessary, for it is in silence, in solitude, that God speaks. Among the Sayings of the Desert Fathers of Skete, we find this advice: “Abba Alonios said: If a man does not say with his heart, ‘only God and I exist in this world,’ he finds no peace.”[7] With these words, Abba Alonios gives us the secret of his life with God. He teaches us that to find rest for our souls,[8] we must go to God unceasingly and abide in him, without being troubled by external events. “Those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them,” said St John.[9] To experience this love of God, we need interior solitude—intimacy with God in prayer. It is not a question of rejecting others with a selfish attitude, but of guarding our soul:

“We can believe that above all in his Saying, Alonios was thinking about the problems created by relationships with our neighbors. There are times when our neighbors, or more precisely our closeness to our neighbors, weighs us down, bothers us, pains us, or disappoints us. There are times when, on the contrary, our neighbors attract us, please us, and even seduce us to the point of captivating our hearts. In any case, it is good and useful to remember the words of Alonios: ‘only God and I…’ This is the secret of peaceful relationships with our neighbors. […] We may well have brothers, sisters, and friends around us who the Lord has put on our path so that we may love them and help them, and also be loved and helped by them. But no one should ‘populate’ our desert; no one should violate our solitude. We must maintain our strength in God and for God, as a psalm says.”[10]

Because they knew how to draw from the source of infinite love, the saints have contributed so much to the growth of peace in the world for “true peace comes from God.” In this respect, the example of Saint Francis of Assisi is particularly luminous, to the point of inspiring many peacemakers, even today. That is why we would like to end this meditation with the words dedicated to him by Pope Francis in his encyclical, Fratelli Tutti:

“There is an episode in the life of Saint Francis that shows his openness of heart, which knew no bounds and transcended differences of origin, nationality, color or religion. It was his visit to Sultan Malik-el-Kamil, in Egypt, which entailed considerable hardship, given Francis’ poverty, his scarce resources, the great distances to be traveled and their differences of language, culture and religion. That journey, undertaken at the time of the Crusades, further demonstrated the breadth and grandeur of his love, which sought to embrace everyone. Francis’ fidelity to his Lord was commensurate with his love for his brothers and sisters. Unconcerned for the hardships and dangers involved, Francis went to meet the Sultan with the same attitude that he instilled in his disciples: if they found themselves “among the Saracens and other nonbelievers”, without renouncing their own identity they were not to “engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake”. In the context of the times, this was an extraordinary recommendation. We are impressed that some eight hundred years ago Saint Francis urged that all forms of hostility or conflict be avoided and that a humble and fraternal “subjection” be shown to those who did not share his faith.

“Francis did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God. He understood that “God is love and those who abide in love abide in God” (1 Jn 4:16). In this way, he became a father to all and inspired the vision of a fraternal society. Indeed, “only the man who approaches others, not to draw them into his own life, but to help them become ever more fully themselves, can truly be called a father”. In the world of that time, bristling with watchtowers and defensive walls, cities were a theatre of brutal wars between powerful families, even as poverty was spreading through the countryside. Yet there Francis was able to welcome true peace into his heart and free himself of the desire to wield power over others. He became one of the poor and sought to live in harmony with all.”[11]

Unfortunately, even today we see how—despite goodwill—political strategies are powerless to advance justice and peace. For the world to change, what we need is not so much a change of structures as a conversion of hearts for it is from within, from the human heart, that the world will be renewed. Mary, help us to welcome the Spirit of love as you do, so that it may purify our hearts and transform us into peacemakers, so that the face of the world may be renewed!

Unfortunately, even today we see how—despite goodwill—political strategies are powerless to advance justice and peace. For the world to change, what we need is not so much a change of structures as a conversion of hearts for it is from within, from the human heart, that the world will be renewed. Mary, help us to welcome the Spirit of love as you do, so that it may purify our hearts and transform us into peacemakers, so that the face of the world may be renewed!

 

[1] Gal 5:22

[2] Ives Congar,  « Je Crois en l’Esprit Saint », Vol. II p.181 

[3] https://bayeuxlisieux.catholique.fr/wp-content/uploads/sites/18/2018/06/Les-dons-de-lEsprit-Saint-03.pdf

[4] https://www.gotquestions.org/fruit-of-the-Holy-Spirit.html

[5] Sophrony, A 1991, Saint Silouan the Athonite, Stravropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex. pp. 312, 316, 318–319.

[6] Rm 5:5

[7] https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/06/wisdom-from-holy-abba-alonios.html

[8] Mt 11:28–29

[9] 1 Jn 4:16

[10] Lucien Regnault, osb. Paroles du désert d’Égypte, p.95–96

[11] Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti 3–4

 

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