Well done! You’ve made it to Day Nine of Bishop Boyea’s Pentecost Novena as we’ve each meditated upon the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit which should animate out daily lives: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith in action, gentleness, and inner strength (Galatians 5:22-23). Today: Inner Strength. Bishop Boyea says:
She was one woman against the entire Assyrian Empire. The General Holofernes was the enemy of her people, Israel. Yet she, Judith, had an inner strength rooted in her faith. When her city was ready to give in and be taken over by this vast empire, Judith rallied them to resist, to remain different from the other nations and never to deny the power of God. She managed to get into the good graces of Holofernes and eventually cut off his head and thus save her people. Her strength of character to see all of this through was a gift from God.
We need to make clear what we mean by this term. This term, self-control, [egkrateia] is used by St. Paul to talk about one’s mastery over oneself, about being moderate or temperate in one’s behavior. But the Greek word itself means “in strength,” that is, being inwardly strong.
What is this inward strength meant to handle? When we have this inward strength from the Holy Spirit, we are able to resist all forces which seek to control us: our fear, our desires for revenge, our angers, our improper uses of drugs or alcohol or sex or speech. Instead of being controlled by these forces, we have an inner strength which enables us to control them.
As an example, St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians (9:25) compares himself to an athlete. He is clear that for the sake of the goal, who is Christ, he will refrain from anything which will hamper his getting there. This is just like someone training for football or track or any other sport. We give up a lot; we discipline our bodies; we focus our minds—all for the sake of the prize which will come at the end.
Now we need to be clear about what we mean here. This inner strength is not something we create in ourselves. This is not some extra umph that we put into our efforts. Rather, this inner strength is a result of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us this power over ourselves. As you know we can often be our own worst enemy. The Spirit helps us to be disciplined and focused on Christ.
How will the Spirit help us to live in this kind of inner strength? It seems to me there are three ways. First, the Holy Spirit helps us not to be dragged down. The Book of Sirach mentions this (18:30): “Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.” If we wallow in the mud we will not be able to have our souls lifted up to do the things of God. Judith needed this inner strength to control her fears or she would have been dragged down. Instead, she was able to be God’s agent for the salvation of his people.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit helps us to develop a disciplined life. Each of us must become a master of himself or herself. This requires daily practice, something we can only persist in if we are filled with God’s grace. For God can do in us what we have such a difficulty doing in ourselves. St. Peter (II Peter 1:6) urged his people to build on their knowledge of Jesus with a disciplined life, with self-control and then he added, “For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins” (v. 9).
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit gives us confidence to live a life that is moderate, that demonstrates that we have this mastery over ourselves, and that we can then actually overcome the real enemies to us and to the world. Judith sang this song: “For God is the Lord who crushes wars; for he has delivered me out of the hands of my pursuers… The Lord has foiled them by the hand of a woman… Then my oppressed people shouted for joy; for weak people shouted and the enemy trembled; they lifted up their voices and the enemy turned back… O Lord, you are great and glorious, wonderful in strength, invincible” (16:3, 6, 11, 13).
The result of this great gift will be an inner strength in each of us. Let us not be dragged down by our baser selves! Let us learn to discipline ourselves and become a masters of ourselves! Then win victories for Christ. Become heroic, like Judith, in the face of all the pressures which we face. For the Lord indeed is great and glorious and wonderful in strength.