But the harvest of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the old nature and with its passions and desires. If the Spirit is the source of our life, let the Spirit also direct its course. Galatians 5:22-25 Revised English Bible
I have been searching for a way to address what I know has to be a conundrum for the vast majority of unChristian folks who have a question that needs to be addressed: How do we know who is and is not reflecting the true teachings of the Church? I make no claim to be a true and honest teacher on my own or of my own volition. I am always seeking to be correct, and recognize that I am quite often wrong. Yet, in my striving, I submit myself to the direction of the Spirit of God that is freedom, love, and grace.
When all the charges and counter-claims are made; when all the insults and hard words are cleared, all that remains to answer this question, really, are these words of St. Paul to the troubled churches in the old Roman province of Galatia. We Christians are those who bear the marks of the crucified one in their lives (as he says later in the letter, in chapter 6, verse 17). The fruits of the Spirit who guides our life are not a shrill dedication to damning all those who differ. Rather, in the Spirit of love and discipline, we do nothing more than live in the free love of the crucified and risen Christ. The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of love. We uphold one another, bear one another's burdens (again, repeating St. Paul's injunction in chapter 6), and measure ourselves not against others, but only against our own lives and the inner testimony of the Spirit.
I cannot, in good conscience offer any other guide to discernment than this. Doctrine passes away. Prayers fall silent at some point. The testimony of the Spirit, lived in the life of the community as it witnesses to the world with love and freedom and grace as guides are all we have. We in the Church have much for which to make penance to the world. Our failure of clarity, the monstrous misdeeds done in the name of the One who died and rose so that all creation may experience the love and rebirth offered by God in Jesus Christ - we must confess these before we can speak the word of life for the world. We should offer a humble plea for forgiveness for our desire to be the Voice of Truth when there are far too many already in contention for this place of worldly honor. Finally, we should ask that our faults and failures not be held against us, as we do not hold them against the world so beloved of God the Father.
All that remains, it would seem, is to live in the Spirit so that our lives are the only testimony needed. I cannot think of another way of saying what needs to be said. Jesus Christ came so that we might have life, and that more abundantly. Everything else must testify to that reality. The Gospel defines who we are, who we are to be. That is all that remains, and lies at the heart of St. Paul's plea for the people of the churches in Galatia to bear the Spirit in their lives.
I hope and pray that same Gospel informs my own life. I can offer nothing else, certainly nothing that is mine.