But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:22-26).

One of the most profound insights into the Christian spiritual life occurs in St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians in which he enumerates the fruits of the Holy Spirit. At war with the spirit is the flesh. The flesh means all that is worldly, that which belongs to the kingdom of this world and not to the Kingdom of God.

In Galatians 5:26, he identifies three defects that deprive the soul of inner peace: boasting, challenging others and envy. Boasting is synonymous with an excessive pride over one’s achievements, possessions or abilities.   Challenging others evokes a sense of being adversarial. Envy is jealousy taken to the extreme of contemplating criminality in order to obtain the objects of one’s desires. These three passions deprive the soul of the gift of peace.

The first degree of loss of inner peace occurs when we become preoccupied with thinking that we are better than others and that they are beneath our dignity. We lose inner peace when we obsess over our possessions and the materialism with which we posture ourselves over other people. We lose inner peace when we believe that we are superior in talent to others and that they are inferior.

From this posture follows the second degree of loss: We lose inner peace when we perceive other people as threatening to take away from the status of our achievements, possessions and abilities. It is no longer a case of an internalized fantasy but is now the externalized projection that other people have become threatening rivals.

And finally, the third degree of the loss of inner peace is the disintegration into darkness through the externalized obsession, rightly called envy, that the perceived threat coming from other people must now be eliminated. This is a kind of envy that leads to physical violence, murder and the destruction of property.

One can see that this is a serious war between “flesh” and “spirit.” It is fought internally within the soul and externally within nations and peoples. The key to preventing this war from even starting is the continuous invoking of the Holy Spirit, living by the Spirit and walking by the Holy Spirit. His gifts and fruits, as well as the crucifixion of one’s worldly passions, keep us focused on the Kingdom of God in which Jesus, the Prince of Peace, reigns eternally.

—Father Lance Harlow is pastor of Corpus Christi Parish based in St. Johnsbury.

—Originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.