From: Novena to the Holy Spirit
The Fruits of the Holy Spirit
Gathered with his Apostles in the Upper Room, Jesus reminded them that he had chosen and appointed them to “go and bear fruit that will remain.” (John 15:16) At that same Last Supper, he promised them that they would not be alone in accomplishing this mission: “I will ask the Father,” he said, “and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit.” (John 14:16-17) The story of the early church related in the Acts of the Apostles shows just how Jesus kept his promise: the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles at Pentecost, and they went out to accomplish great things in the mission of evangelizing the world.
Although we have all heard of the Holy Spirit, he can sometimes be the most difficult of the three Persons of the Trinity to understand. Jesus himself compares the Holy Spirit to the wind: we cannot see the wind, which is invisible, but we recognize it because we can feel it blowing on our skin, and we can see its effects on the objects around us. In the same way, although the Spirit himself is invisible, and often works in hidden ways, we can recognize his presence in the works that he accomplishes in those who believe. Saint Paul calls these works – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” – the fruits of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23)
In the Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas explains that these spiritual qualities in a person are called “fruits” because they are the result of one’s cooperation with the Holy Spirit. They are different from the theological virtues (faith, hope, and love) and the gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and holy fear), which are infused, that is, poured into the heart directly by God. Rather, the fruits of the Spirit come about in the soul when we receive the virtues and gifts of the Spirit, and let them change the way we live; in other words, when we put them into practice. The gifts are graces: purely the initiative of God, the giver of all good gifts. The fruits are evidence of our response to God’s gift. They combine our own efforts with the Spirit of God working in us, and show the world the power of God at work in our lives.
The Novena to the Holy Spirit
Before he ascended into Heaven, Jesus instructed the apostles to remain in Jerusalem and to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. If we wish to receive the power of the Holy Spirit that will help us to bear his fruits, we too must follow this command and example of fervent prayer.
Because there were nine days between that first Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday, the church has developed the practice of the novena devotion, a set of prayers and meditations that is repeated every day for nine days to pray for a special intention (the Latin word for “nine” is novem). The Christian faithful pray novenas to prepare for the feasts of the liturgical year, to express devotion to a particular saint, or in times of special need. This repetition of prayers for nine days has nothing to do with superstition or some sort of “magic number.” Rather, it is a way for us to connect ourselves with the example of the Apostles, who were obedient to Christ’s command to make the “original” novena.
The rest of this series contains prayers and devotions that may be used to make a novena of prayers to the Holy Spirit, seeking help that we may bear his fruits. Certainly, a good time to pray such a novena would be on the nine days between Ascension and Pentecost, but there are many other reasons to pray for the Spirit’s fruits during the whole year. A new job, a new school year, a move to a new location, are all good times to pray for the guidance and support of the Advocate that Jesus promised to his disciples. Or perhaps we have recognized that peace, love, joy, or some of the other fruits are missing from our lives. Prayer for the action of the Holy Spirit is the necessary first step if these fruits are to grow in our lives. Whatever the reason, we can be sure that the Holy Spirit hears our prayers, and will pour out his graces on us so that we can bear fruit in abundance.
The Vessel of the Holy Spirit
When the Apostles made the original novena to the Holy Spirit, they were not alone. In the Upper Room, they “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” (Acts 1:14) Because we belong to the Communion of Saints, we too can be sure that as we pray, we are in the company of the Apostles, as well as myriads of saints from every time and place. In our meditations during this novena, we will pay particular attention to one saint, a sixteenth-century Roman priest who has come to be known as the “vessel of the Holy Spirit.”
Around the year 1533, a young man from Florence entered the gates of the city of Rome, drawn there by a special attraction, what he perceived to be a call from God himself. He soon found employment as a tutor to the two sons of a fellow Florentine who was director of the customhouse – a job that provided him with a roof and a bed, food and drink, and a great deal of free time, which he put to good use. Sometimes he would go to volunteer in the hospitals, and often he would spend long hours in prayer in one of Rome’s many churches. Nearly every day he would walk around the city, seeking out young men like himself who also had time on their hands, and striking up conversations with them.
From this humble beginning, Philip Romolo Neri built a lifestyle and a ministry that would lead to his being called “The Second Apostle of Rome.” For out of the friendships he made in these early days would come his own vocation to the priesthood, and the gathering of a community of lay people for prayers and fellowship each afternoon in a chapel – also called an “oratory” – above the aisle of his church of San Girolamo della Carità. Soon these afternoon exercises became known as “The Oratory,” and gave a name also to the congregation of priests and brothers that was established to conduct them. Through it all, Philip Neri had an impact on thousands of people – paupers and popes, men and women of every class and career – over a lifetime of eighty years. Everyone agreed that there was something special about this humble, unassuming man, which drew people to him “as the magnet draws iron.”
Heart of Fire
To depict this special quality that people experienced in their contact with him, Saint Philip is often described in art, poetry, and prayers as having a heart of fire. But this is not merely a metaphor. During his lifetime many people noticed that he seemed always to be warm; he was often flushed, and would walk around with his cassock unbuttoned at the chest, even in the middle of winter. Not only that, but several of his disciples reported that his heart used to beat violently when he prayed or preached, sometimes enough to shake the bench on which he was sitting. Some people could hear his heart beating across the room, and others experienced unspeakable peace and joy when he embraced them and held their heads to his breast. Typical of Saint Philip, although so many people witnessed this incredible warmth and palpitation of his heart, no one knew where it came from, until Saint Philip was on his deathbed. There he told one of his favorite disciples, Pietro Consolini, who waited until he himself lay dying, in 1643, before he revealed the secret of Saint Philip’s personal Pentecost.
Over a period of about ten years, while Saint Philip was in his twenties and still a layman, he used to spend many nights in prayer, either on the porticos of Roman churches, or in the catacombs, the underground burial places of the martyrs outside the walls of the city. On the vigil of Pentecost in 1544, Saint Philip was praying in the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian, on the Via Appia, as he had done many times, and asking God to give him the Holy Spirit. As the night passed, Saint Philip was suddenly filled with great joy, and had a vision of the Holy Spirit, who appeared to him as a ball of fire. This fire entered into Saint Philip’s mouth, and descended to his heart, causing it to expand to twice its normal size, and breaking two of his ribs in the process. He said that it filled his whole body with such joy and consolation that he finally had to throw himself on the ground and cry out, “No more, Lord! No more!”
This mystical experience was a defining moment in Saint Philip’s life. But he did not make much of its extraordinary nature, and he would not want us to do so either. “As for those who run after visions,” he would say, “we must lay hold of them by the feet and pull them to the ground by force, lest they should fall into the devil’s net.” Rather, its importance lay in the fact that, from that moment on, Saint Philip was convinced and constantly aware of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in him and through him. This mystical experience of the Spirit gave him great confidence in living his vocation, and carrying out what he saw to be his special mission. He was sure that he had received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and this assurance set him free to bear the Spirit’s fruits.
The world in which we live today is not terribly different from the materialistic, self-centered, overly sensual Rome that Saint Philip evangelized in the sixteenth century. He was a driving force for renewal in his own day, and his example and advice are as relevant and necessary in our day as they were in his. Above all, Saint Philip shines forth as a sign of hope – of the great things that become possible when a person cooperates with the power of the Holy Spirit working in him, and dedicates himself to bearing spiritual fruit. The saint of gentleness and kindness, who practiced perfect chastity and tireless generosity, is an example of patience who draws us to celebrate the peace, joy, and love that come from the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in each human heart. Let us pray with him for an outpouring of the same Holy Spirit that set his heart on fire, that we may imitate him in bearing the fruits of the Spirit.