Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Virtues, Gifts, and Fruits

I had to do a presentation on the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the parish Confirmation class tonight. To unavoidable circumstances, the scheduling had changed, and the usual coordinator couldn't be there, so I ended up having to change what I was doing a bit, and made it mostly just a review of some things. It went so-so. I broke up the discussion with little games and contests with prizes (little magic kits and detective kits from the dollar store); they weren't hugely impressed, I think, with the contests or prizes, but it did keep them from falling asleep or getting too rowdy. I only once had to resort to the nuclear option for handling uncooperative teenagers (the last-resort principle for dealing with any teenager is: As an adult my capacity to embarrass you far exceeds your capacity to be embarrassed) by repeatedly saying, "OK, everybody is done except this table; we're only waiting on this table; as soon as this team is done we'll move on."

Teaching is one thing, teaching already tired high school students is another thing entirely, and it was a mediocre outing on my part. All my habits for dealing with college students are exactly the wrong habits to have for dealing with high school students, particularly a large group of them (there are nearly fifty students, and it really needs to be broken up, but there's simply not enough people to get it done properly), so it was exhausting work. And it's always difficult to know how substantive to make it. On the one hand, anything too complicated will lose them. On the other hand, they really do have substantive questions; for instance, I was asked tonight, out of the blue, why there was evil in the world. (I said it was complicated, but one reason is that being in the image of God we were all made to love, and love has to be free; but some people use their freedom to love less important things more than more important things. Not exactly an answer to the problem of evil, but it's accurate as far as it goes and was probably the best non-technical answer that could possibly be given in three minutes to such a major question.) I probably erred on the side of complicated; it's a less serious error when dealing with college students than when dealing with high school students.

In any case, I thought I'd put my notes for the night up. I tried to simplify and expand on them on the fly; I think this was a mistake -- too easy to break things down the wrong way. What I really should have done -- and I am kicking myself for not thinking in these terms from the start -- is to start with stories about the saints and tie them into the various lists. I can tell a story and they are much, much more likely to listen to (and remember!) stories than explanations. Jesus knew what he was doing in teaching by parable. But this would be a good skeleton for discussion by an older group. (The fruits of the Spirit I just went over very briefly, but I had to point out -- I was rather disappointed that every single Confirmation class program I looked at ignored the point completely -- that there are two different lists of fruits of the Spirit, one with nine, one with twelve, depending on whether one follows the original Greek or the Latin translations. The nine, of course, is found in most Bibles because they are translated directly from the Greek; but the Catechism follows the Latin tradition and gives, without any further explanation, the list of twelve. And I find it astounding that a lot of Confirmation resources will list the nine and then refer students to the Catechism without apparently any idea that the discrepancy -- and why it's not regarded as a serious one -- might need to be explained.)

A Summary of the Christian Life

(1) All human beings, being in the image of God, are called to live moral lives. This requires practicing the four moral or cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance. Our ability to live according to these is part of what it means for us to be in the image of God.
In Bible: Wisdom 8:5-7
In Catechism: #1805-1809

Everyone capable of reason can see that these are good and work to achieve them, including non-Catholics. However, living a moral life is not enough because original sin guarantees that we will make many mistakes and because there is so much evil in the world that just being a good person sometimes will not compensate for it.

(2) Therefore God has called us to be part of the family of God. In Baptism we are adopted by God and receive the divine or theological virtues: faith, hope, charity (or love). These strengthen the image of God in us.
In Bible: 1 Corinthians 13:11-13
In Catechism: #1812-1829

Charity or the virtue of love has two parts: love of God and love of neighbor. It is the single most important part of Christian life and it is what makes us like God our Father. All Christians, even those who are not Catholic, are given the ability to be like God in this way if they are baptized.

However, because all of the theological virtues go beyond the ordinary moral virtues that can be reached by reason, none of us can practice the theological virtues without God's help, which is called grace, and which we receive by prayer and participation in the sacraments.

Further, we cannot completely live the life of faith, hope, and love without continuing Christ's work.

(3) Therefore God has called us not only to be adopted children of God but also to do God's work in the world, as His Son Jesus Christ did. In Confirmation we are given the grace to do Christ's work in the world, in the form of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of the Lord. These help us act in ways more appropriate to the image of God in us and to be more like Christ.
In Bible: Isaiah 11:1-4
In Catechism: #1830-1831

It is because He was anointed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit that Jesus was the Messiah or Christ. By being anointed with the same gifts, we are given what we need in order to continue Jesus's work in the world in some small way, each one of us in the way appropriate to us. The gifts are what make it possible for the Holy Spirit to work through us to accomplish amazing things we ourselves could never have planned or accomplished on our own; but for this to happen we must live lives of faith, hope, and charity.

(4) Because of original sin, human beings are often confused about what they need to do in order to live a Christian life or be like Jesus. In addition, it is difficult for us to do these things unless we can see the results. The results of Christian life that show us that we are on the right track are called the fruits of the Holy Spirit. There are infinitely many, so they can be listed in different ways, but some are especially important for everyone, like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
In Bible: Galatians 5:22-25
In Catechism: #1832

The fruits of the Spirit are not virtues but specific actions that become easier for you the more you grow in the virtues. Unlike the gifts of the Spirit, which are ways the Holy Spirit works in us, the fruits of the Spirit are things you yourself do when inspired by the Holy Spirit. We are only living Christian lives if our lives are full of these actions, but a life that is full of them is blessed, and brings a little bit of Heaven down to earth.


  1. MrsDarwin2:25 PM

    Teaching tired people is hard, period. I've had tired second-graders, tired fifth-graders, and tired adults in RCIA, and it is never easy when the burden of maintaining energy is all on the teacher. An unresponsive audience wears down even the most seasoned professional. And dealing with one or two members of the youth has very little do with dealing a whole group (much less fifty!) of them; the methods of management are totally different. I have an interactive lecturer style of teaching, which is exactly not suited for a class of fifth-graders; I often wonder if in later years some member of my class will remember that MrsDarwin spent the whole year talking and talking about how God is Love, or whether the only thing that will stick is the time my co-teacher brought in the hot glue gun and popsicle sticks, and everyone got to make Christmas trees.

    (Heads up to Rob: the dear old Alma Mater is making fundraising calls, and they WILL find your number, no matter what lengths you go to to avoid them.)

  2. Enbrethiliel2:34 PM


    Don't beat yourself up. Most of my great ideas when I was teaching teenagers came after I had floundered through the original lesson plan. (Having to do the same thing with five different sections ensured that at least one group--and at best, four--would benefit from the first section's unfortunate timing as the guinea pigs. And then I could blissfully imagine that "herd education" was happening. =P)

    I think your idea of connecting a saint to each gift or fruit of the Holy Spirit is brilliant. If I were still teaching, I'd steal it! =) Of course, I'd modify it, too. Thinking back to what my classes were like, I'd either: a) divide each class into twenty-one groups (which means teams of two--and now you know those class sizes!) and make each one pick a saint whose life ties into one of the gifts or fruits in an obvious way; or b) make each student pick twenty-one saints for her own personal "Confirmation Patrons" booklet.

  3. branemrys6:48 PM

    I should say that the self-critique is not atypical of my way of approaching practically all of my teaching, so in itself it's not actually out of the ordinary for me. I do the same thing with my college courses; and, indeed, have a reputation in my department for being the sort of person who, if asked to say what I could improve in my courses, will go on at great lengths about the subject.

    On the retreat a few weeks back I used Blessed Gerard Thom as an example for the gift of Wisdom, and, of course, in the previous post I mentioned St. Felicity on Fortitude, so I still can't quite wrap my mind around why it didn't occur to me to build on that.


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