Transfiguration, conversion, and the fruits of the Spirit


The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord on Aug. 6 holds a special place in my heart. One summer day in August, while out in the garden meditating on the transfiguration of Christ, the Holy Spirit gave me an insight into the nature of patience in the development of fruit.


Fruit relies on several factors that work together over time, and depending on the balance of those factors, the goodness of the fruit develops — a transformation from bud to something that nourishes others.


The definition of transfigure is “to transform in appearance, or to change so as to glorify or exalt.” That last part — “to change so as to glorify” — is something that many of us experience. It’s sometimes called conversion.


Conversion is a movement of the heart toward God through the realization of the fruits of the Spirit. These fruits are interior developments, an unseen perfecting of the soul toward eternity over time, and the soul that is so changed aids a person to bear the fruits of the Spirit visibly in the world.


The Catholic Church lists 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit, nine of which are found in Galatians 5:22-23. The12 fruits of the Spirit are: charity (love), joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1832). Through practice, we learn how to allow these spiritual fruits to mature in us. They do not develop individually; the fruits are mutually dependent.


The first and most important of the fruits is love, or charity (from the Latin caritas). We read in the Catechism: “The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity [love], which ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony’” [Colossians 3:14] (CCC, 1827).


Joy is sometimes confused with happiness, which comes from things of this earth. True joy is a thing of eternity and exists whether we are happy or not. Joy comes from the confidence in recognizing our helplessness and utter dependence on the Creator (see CCC, 301). It too is relational to the extent that we are open to love.


Peace comes from doing what needs to be done as it needs doing and not fretting about future or past events. This can be a difficult task for some of us. The Virgin Mary modeled the peace of “doing” within God’s love by her constancy even during difficult times.


To be patient in all things is a tall order! Patience is about trust in God’s timing and his will — not about tolerance with gritted teeth. It is a quiet, steady nature in bearing misfortune or provocation. It is closely connected to faithfulness and the virtue of perseverance.


Kindness and generosity are fruits of the Spirit that have within them a great desire to do good for others. Their fruitfulness grows in the fulfilling, as well as in the desiring, to give.


Two clear examples of this in the Bible are when Abraham saw three men in the hot sun and “ran from the entrance of the tent,” begging them for the favor to serve them (see Genesis 18:1-15); and when Mary “set out and traveled … in haste” to pregnant Elizabeth, yearning to assist the aged woman (see Luke 1:39-45).


These two fruits also apply when we are kind and generous toward ourselves after a mistake; not continually berating ourselves for what we have done, but rather learning the lesson, so that, as St. Benedict said, “always we begin again.” With understanding, we can offer a similar grace toward others who err. Empathy and compassion develop from generosity and kindness.


Faithfulness is a way of life; it develops all the other fruits of the Spirit. There are distinct differences between trusting something to be as it is and having faith and believing. When we trust, it is in something tangible — a child named Jesus was born, for instance. To believe is to embrace with faith something intangible — to believe in love and the love of God in his incarnation. It is in our believing that faithfulness flourishes (see Lumen Fidei, 18).


The last three Fruits of the Spirit are modesty, self-control, and chastity. I’ve grouped these together because they focus on keeping things in balance. Many Christians relate the perfection of these fruits with sexuality. But modesty and self-control include more than chastity. There is the modesty of how we use our resources, the self-control needed when we start to focus on acquiring more things, and the control of our emotions. Chastity is required before and in a marriage, or in a chosen celibacy outside of it; developing this fruit helps us find ways of expressing our love beyond physical gratification.


The fruits of the Spirit are beautifully balanced and interconnected. Love goes beyond the physical body; joy and peace develop through patience and faithfulness and are expressed in a kind and generous heart that reflects gentleness.


Making a fruits-of-the-Spirit garden


Creating a garden that represents one or several fruits of the Spirit begins by looking for plant symbolisms related to a sentiment — for example, joy is represented by shamrocks (Oxalis spp.) — and matching the plant to your garden’s USDA zone. Remember to select plants with similar growing needs, including the amount of light and water and the soil condition.


You could create a whole garden dedicated to the fruits of the Spirit. If that feels overwhelming, consider selecting two or three fruits of the Spirit that have a personal connection for you, and clustering them in a small area.


As an example, consider three fruits of the Spirit: kindness and generosity, which are interdependent with gentleness.


A plant symbolic of kindness is blue flax (Linum lewisii). It prefers well-drained soil and full sun, blooming on wiry stems in spring and flowering into summer. It is a short-lived perennial that reseeds and is best utilized in naturalistic gardens, and it is lovely along the sunny side of woodland paths.


Generosity is represented by orange buttercup or globeflower (Trollius spp.) A tall perennial of about 30 inches, it flowers dark gold in full sun to a deeper orange in part shade in early summer. Because the color orange is also symbolic of generosity, you could use another plant of that color (there are many).


Gentleness is symbolically represented with ornamental grasses, and wheat, with its many biblical references, falls into this category. Ornamental grasses also require full sun and well-drained soil. The fronds, developing in mid to late summer, and leaves sway with the wind. Like the breath of God in our life, we see the movement, though not the breeze.


Picture the combination of these three plants: A tall ornamental grass at the back with fronds in late summer; orange globeflower in front with its distinctive dark green leaves, flowering in early summer; and the lacy stems of flax, with blue flowers from spring to early summer, along the front edge.


Meditating on the development of a fruits-of-the-Spirit garden, selecting which plants to use according to their symbolism, and watching them mature in your garden will help open you in a new way to the movement of the Holy Spirit, who guides us to a virtuous life — and transforms us day by day for the glory of God.

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