“When our own spiritual lives bear fruit, we become filled with joy, which is the clearest sign of faith’s grandeur.”
The above quote is one of my favorite lines from Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, Lumen Fidei, also translated “The Light of Faith.” Within these words, we discover an affirmation that our spiritual lives have the capacity to bear fruit — as in, birth into existence something that wasn’t there before. However, when considering the word fruitfulness and what it means to bear fruit within our given state of life, do we consider both the physical and spiritual realities of this word?
For married couples, the word “fruitfulness” might immediately call to mind the command from the beginning of Genesis: “Be fruitful and multiply!” Thus, one might be tempted to view physical fruitfulness as the only definition of fruitfulness. While the gift of a child is and always will be the crowning definition of fruitfulness, and all married couples are called to be open to new life, that does not in any way mean that fruitfulness cannot exist in other forms within marriage or that a couple cannot claim fruitfulness if they do not or cannot have children.
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Married couples are called to bear fruit through the day-to-day sacrifices involved in growing their life of love together. Scrubbing her dishes, folding his clothes, tending to one another in sickness, truly listening and encouraging when you’d rather complain or criticize. Surrendering for days, months and years to a continually interweaving of two lives into one has the capacity to inspire others, move mountains and, yes, bear much fruit. Galatians reminds us that, “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (5:22-23). Consider how you are bringing to life these spiritual fruits in your daily intentions and actions of marriage.
Just as much as married couples, a single woman or one in the consecrated or religious life can and is called to be fruitful. Given your unique gifts and life circumstances, where do you see God calling you to bear new fruit? In what ways can you bring about a new good, a fresh glory to God that wasn’t there before?
A single woman or a religious sister can be fruitful through the work of her hands: caring for the sick and injured in her family, friend group, church or religious community. In doing so, she ushers in the possibility of the fruit of restoration and healing to one’s mind and body. She can serve as a teacher or educator, enabling fruit to form and blossom in the minds of her students. She can channel her literary and artistic creativity by birthing into existence stories, music or works of art that touch and inspire the lives of those in her community, neighborhood or workplace. She can tend to those on the margins by volunteering in hospitals, prisons and soup kitchens. She can share her testimony of faith amidst trial, praying longer and harder for all people, and by presenting her entire life as a gift to God. Because of her service and sacrifice, imagine how many ways the face of Christ is taking shape — being born into the lives of countless souls.
The list of ways and places where all people can bring about good fruit are multitude. Parents bear new physical fruit in their children, but anyone — married, single or religious — can bear spiritual fruit within their prayer, work, relationships and service.
Just as we are all called to holiness and inseparable union with God regardless of our state in life, so, too, are we all called to universal fruitfulness. How, then, can you make your daily actions an offering of fruit to the Lord? Every time you choose patience over rushing, self-control over giving into temptation, gratitude over comparison, recognition over indifference, you are gathering up fruit that you can lay at his feet at the end of each day.
At the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and made possible the existence of a physical fruit — Christ Jesus, the Lord — but just as well, that same Holy Spirit descended as tongues of fire on the apostles, imparting spiritual fruits to each — fruits of strength and conviction to go out to all the world glorifying and sharing the love and Gospel of Christ through their individual stories and lives.
John 15:4-5 gives us these words of Jesus: “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” In every little moment, we are called to entangle ourselves in Christ — desiring that our lives be a perpetual offering of good fruit. In this desire, our rooted love in him cannot help but grow, blossom and ultimately overflow. Love deeply in all vocations, and fruit will overflow.