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Ministries, Charisms, Fruits - 22 Self-control

Thursday, June 18, 2009

People can often be put off Christianity by a perception that it makes moral demands on its followers which it is impossible to live up to: “there’s no way I could manage that,” they might say, “so why bother trying?”

When St Paul teaches us in Galatians 5: 22 that self-control is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, he reminds us that things don’t quite work like that. You don’t have to be perfect before you even think about becoming a Christian: rather, it is the participation as a Christian in the life of God which enables you to grow in the way of perfection. Yes, the moral life is a struggle (but then that’s true even if you’re not a Christian – there are always things you know you ought to do even if you don’t particularly feel like it); however, it is by allowing God to work in us through the Holy Spirit, given at baptism that we acquire the strength we need to engage in that struggle. Now, that doesn’t mean that, the moment you’re baptised, you’ll immediately be perfectly self-controlled: after all, the Christian life is about a process of growth in the love of God and neighbour which lies at the heart of choosing to do the right thing. What it does mean, though, is that, in a sense, the person who said “there’s no way I could manage that” was right – we can’t make ourselves perfect through our own effort, we need the grace of God.

This is a useful reminder, too, for those of us who are already Christians, and who find ourselves from time to time, perhaps often, subject to all kinds of temptations and feel too weak to resist. If self-control is a gift of the Holy Spirit, then resisting temptation is not just a question of gritting our teeth and not giving in through sheer effort on our part: rather, we should seek to draw close to God in prayer, and especially in the Sacraments, in which he shares his life with us. In doing so, we allow the Holy Spirit we received at our baptism to work more fully in our lives, and thus our self-control grows as the fruit of his operation in us.

Gregory Pearson OP


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