Pentecost marks the foundation by the Holy Spirit of Christ’s Church here on earth. In his letter to the Galatians, St Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit:
2 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit
This comes after a list of the works of the flesh
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Let us consider, in humility, which set of attributes we, as Christians, exhibit on vexed issues such as the recent referendum in Ireland. That our society is awash with evidence of the works of the flesh is clear enough; but are we, as Christians, awash with the fruits of the Spirit?
In an era when communication was never easier, mutual understanding seems further away than ever. How quickly ‘discussions’ become ‘arguments’ in which the effort to understand the other is abandoned in favour of a closed insistence on our own point of view. The very frequency with which the word ‘dialogue’ is invoked is, I suspect, simply evidence of its absence in reality: digging trenches, erecting the intellectual equivalent of barbed-wire, and then lobbing explosives at one another are all fruits of the flesh – and when we fall so quickly into that mode, we perhaps fail to reflect the fruits of the Spirit; and if we do not exhibit them, who will?
Western Christians need to come to terms with the reality of our situation. We do not even ask the question which our opponents ask – why should the State favour the views of one part of the population at the expense of the “rights” of another?’ So used are we to assuming the State is ‘on our side’ that we do not ask why concepts such as ‘marriage’ and even ‘mother’ should be defined as we define them; it has always been so, it makes sense. But it does not make sense to some of those who do not hold our views, and when they ask the State for ‘equality’, the State is rather perplexed as to why it should not yield to their cries. We can stamp our little feet, we can go to the secular courts for redress, but the first makes us look pathetic, and the second is a route to failure; secular courts will go with secular laws.
Here is where Geoffrey Sales has an excellent point. The reliance on the State which has been a part of Christian life in the West since the time of Constantine is over. The Churches have, over the years, succumbed to the temptations of power, and much of what our opponents throw at us comes from that. We can complain all we like when the power of the State is turned against us, as we see it, but others simply see old wrongs being righted and a privileged caste complaining. Down that road lies nothing but further disappointment – as well as some of the fruits of the works of the flesh.
The impotent fantasies of a few Catholic monarchists apart, the days when the State felt an obligation to uphold the truths of the Christian faith have gone, and no one can foresee how or when they will return. We have a voice in the public square, and we can use it to defend our liberties – but as long as we persist in the claim that the State should protect our views on things such as marriage against the views of others, we shall sound unconvincing.
In this country we made a great fuss about marriage, but, with the exception of Catholics and some non-Catholics, we’ve made far less of a fuss about the killing of infants in the womb, and when it comes to issues such as fornication and even adultery, we have been a trifle on the quiet side – again, allowing our opponents to hurl a convincing charge of hypocrisy at us, arguing that we are obsessed with homosexuality. They have a point, their sin is only one of those St Paul singles out. We can jump up and down all we like and call it one of the sins that cries out for vengeance – and we sound more and more like ISIS in the ears of those who have no idea what we are talking about, but do not like the sound of it. What is the point of criticising the secular world for its views when the Church does nothing about those within its ranks who have misled their flocks. If bishops and priests who failed to follow the teaching of the Church, like Catholic politicians who do likewise, suffer no sanction, then we have come a long way from the days when St Ambrose excommunicated an Emperor until he repented of his ways. There is some sound sense on this subject here.
The choice is ours. We either concentrate on getting our own house in order, on good catechesis and good practice in the parishes and in our own spiritual lives, or we continue to ignore these things which are essential if we are to bear the fruits of the Spirit, or we demand that an indifferent State fulfil (to it) an out-dated conception of its duties. For sure, it is easier to do the latter, but I wonder if it is not better for us to concentrate on the former? The State will still be there, those who believe that having it legislate for them will find, as we have, that that is no path to real happiness – or the blossoming of the fruits of the Spirit. If we provide an example of what it means to be Christian which is even half as convincing as the early Christians did, we may yet have something which the world will be willing to listen to; it certainly needs it.