Concrete abstraction


A few days before Easter I received a surprising request in a dream.  A man told me, “I want you to write about the resurrection.”

And what am I supposed to say when I’ve never questioned it? 

The directive weighed on me like a term paper.  I thought and thought, tried to ignore it, felt discomforting disequilibrium beyond the beyond, and hoped it would go away.  Yet I knew the message would bug me until I dealt with the assignment.  So, even if I didn’t want to comply, I felt obliged to see the task through to completion.

Shared thoughts

The following month Mary B stayed at her beach house, so I rode my bike over for an afternoon visit.  I took my Bible and the Word among us, since I’d read an interesting article I wanted to talk to her about.

“What do you think about the resurrection?” I brazenly asked, not knowing how she’d respond (react), being that we could get into differences of opinion really fast.

Mary wasn’t surprised by my question.  We talk pretty much about everything, namely our beloved grandkids.  But our spirituality is so intricately woven into our everyday lives that religious perspectives aren’t separate topics.

Sticky conversations aside, we both attended Catholic school as kids.  But Mary has been Methodist her whole life, so her opinions always seem to matter more than mine!

Making meaning

Regardless, I took the plunge and found myself explaining the resurrection out loud not to Mary, but to myself with the classroom in mind.

This is like the Sharon Wells approach to math.  Kids have to work with the concrete before they can understand the abstract.  At the start of each week’s math concept kids work with hands-on activities.  Then, midweek, they progress to the mental math.  In my classroom we reviewed, quizzed, and retaught on Thursday to gauge mastery for Friday’s test.  My kids were great teachers.  We cheered each other on.  We were all responsible for our collective (and individual) success.

From that perspective the resurrection made perfect sense!

God knew that people couldn’t fathom the abstract without first experiencing the concrete.  This is why he sent Jesus to live among his people.  And, when Jesus vanished from the tomb, he appeared to Mary Magdalene so she’d tell the others.  Then, when the apostles were in hiding, Jesus appeared once more.  He wanted Thomas to see him and touch his wounds so he’d stop doubting.

The Paraclete on Pentecost was the transition between the concrete and the abstract.

Concrete abstraction

The way that I checked for understanding through Thursday’s quiz was the way that God checked for understanding through Jesus.  Once the apostles and the others in hiding understood what was about to happen— that Jesus had to leave but that the Paraclete would take his place— God knew he’d successfully taught his lesson.

The Holy Spirit is the abstraction that restores our memory of the concrete Jesus!

Not only that, I believe that Jesus was just an instrument in God’s master plan.  God understood human nature: Seeing is believing!  So, for people to believe in God— and know he’s real— he had to reveal himself through Jesus.  Otherwise, how would we know that he’s always here for us and that he loves us unconditionally?

“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).

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O Holy Spirit, in these days of doubt, confusion, and uncertainty, come into our hearts with your light, your strength, and your consolation.

Come with the light of truth and teach us the will of God in our daily living, especially now when God’s basic laws are challenged or ignored.

Come with your strength that purifies our heart and our desires and guards us against the danger of pride and self-conceit.

Bring your consolation so that, with a heart attuned to your holy love, we may live in peace and harmony in our families and give to our communities the spirit of cooperation, tolerance, and understanding.

O God, you have instructed the faithful with the light of the Holy Spirit.  Grant that, through this same Holy Spirit, we may be truly wise and enjoy his consolation always.  Amen.

OLCC6714-69Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love.  Send forth your spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.

O God, you have taught the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit.  Grant that, by the gift of the same Spirit, we may be always truly wise and ever rejoice in his consolation.  Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart with your holy gifts.

Let my weakness be penetrated with your strength this very day that I may fulfill all the duties of my state conscientiously so that I may do what is right and just.  Let my charity be such as to offend no one and hurt no one’s feelings, so generous as to pardon sincerely any wrong done to me.

Assist me, O Holy Spirit, in all my trials of life, enlighten me in my ignorance, advise me in my doubts, strengthen me in my weakness, help me in all my needs, protect me in temptations, and console me in afflictions.

Graciously hear me, O Holy Spirit, and pour your light into my heart, my soul, and my mind.

Assist me to life a holy life and to grow in goodness and grace.  Amen.

God of grace, thank you for loving us and showing us the way to a personal relationship with you through your son, Jesus.  We are thankful for his birth and for his saving grace on the cross.  Teach us how to respond to such love by loving one another. In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

Holy Trinity…  Glory be to the Father, who by his almighty power and love created me, making me in the image and likeness of God.  Glory to the Son, who by his precious blood delivered me from hell and opened for me the gates of heaven.  Glory be to the Holy Spirit, who has sanctified me in the sacrament of baptism and continues to sanctify me by the graces I receive daily from his bounty.  Glory be to the three adorable persons of the Holy Trinity now and forever.  Amen.

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Contact information

To receive prayer leaflets like the one on the Holy Spirit (R-12 R), contact Franciscan Mission Associates, P.O. Box 598, Mt. Vernon, NY 10551-0598.

January 10, 2013

God was incomprehensible, inapproachable, invisible, and hard to imagine.  He became man, came close to us in a manger so that we could see and understand him (St. Bernard of Clairvaux, 1090-1153).

August 24, 2013

Come, Holy Spirit, open my eyes to the glory of God that is all around me.  Help me to see Jesus with the eyes of faith, so I can become his witness (the Word among us, July/August, p. 74).

October 30, 2013

The Spirit comes to the aid of our weaknesses for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.  And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will (Romans 8:26-27).

January 2, 2014

“The spirit raises our hearts to heaven, guides the steps of the weak, and brings perfection to those who are making progress” (St. Basil the Great).

April 20, 2014

Resurrectio Domini, spes nostra!  The resurrection of the Lord is our hope! (St. Augustine).

May 29, 2014

“If the sun is going down, look up at the stars” (Father Lasance).

July 3, 2014

O Glorious St. Thomas, your grief for Jesus was such that it would not let you believe he had risen unless you actually saw him and touched his wounds.  But your love for Jesus was equally great, and it led you to give up your life for him.  Pray for us that we may grieve for our sins, which were the cause of Christ’s sufferings.  Help us to spend ourselves in his service and so earn the title of “blessed” which Jesus applied to those who believe in him without seeing him.  Amen.

August 1, 2014

“Realize that you may gain more in a quarter of an hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament than in all other practices of the day” (St. Alphonsus Liguori).

August 2, 2014

“Happy is the soul that knows how to find Jesus in the Eucharist, and in the Eucharist all things!” (St. Peter Julian Eymard).

August 6, 2014

“At his Transfiguration, Christ showed his disciples the splendor of his beauty, to which he will shape and color those who are his: ‘He will reform our lowness configured to the body of his glory'” (Philippians 3:21; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae).

May 14, 2015

From the first till the last, every grace has passed and will pass through Mary.  Just as she prayed to the Holy Spirit to come upon the apostles, she will do for all till the end of the world (Blessed James Alberione).

May 15, 2015

Whom do we want to win the battle for our mind: the flesh or the Holy Spirit?  If we want the Holy Spirit to prevail, we’ll need to take an active, rather than a passive, approach.  Unless we actively present our minds to the Lord, we’ll allow our thoughts to welcome among them the voices of evil.  Taking active concert for our minds involves both refusing the influence of the flesh and yielding to the grace of the Spirit (Bert Ghezzi, 2001).

May 17, 2015

Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you, for you alone?  He burns with the desire to come into your heart (St. Thérèse of Lisieux).

May 19, 2015

The Holy Spirit is the fire of charity which burned up the apostles from the moment of Pentecost, when it kindled in them the flames of divine love until there was no longer love of self left in their souls.  “Our God is a consuming fire” (Dom Hubert Van Zeller in How to find God).

May 23, 2015

Be ever mindful of the Holy Spirit who is within you, and carefully cultivate purity of soul and body.  Faithfully obey his divine inspirations so that you may bring forth the fruits of the spirit— charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity (Chaplet of the Holy Spirit, 1892).

May 24, 2015

“Father of Light from whom every good gift comes, send your Spirit into our lives with the power of a mighty wind and, by the flame of your wisdom, open the horizons of our minds” (Pentecost morning prayer).

November 14, 2015

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18).

December 10, 2015

“Those whose hearts are pure are temples of the Holy Spirit” (St. Lucy).

December 25, 2015

God becoming man is the great message of his love.  In it we humans see God’s face (St. Hildegard of Bingen).

April 10, 2016

“Faith in the resurrection of Christ never misleads us and hope in our own resurrection never deceives us because God… restored our Lord to life and will restore us to life, too, by his power” (St. Bede the Venerable).

April 2, 2017

“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’” (John 11:40).

April 11, 2017

The Holy Spirit gives us wisdom.  In the Gospel of Luke,  Jesus told his disciples not to worry because the Holy Spirit would tell them what to say.  When you face tough choices, pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance to know what is right and for the strength to do it (Bob Rice in A 40-Day Spiritual Workout for Catholics).

April 16, 2017

“Jesus’s resurrection has formed a bridge between the world and eternal life over which every man and every woman can cross to reach the true goal of our earthly pilgrimage” (Pope Benedict XVI).

May 20, 2018

“Rejoicing and eternal praise be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ, who sent the Holy Spirit into the hearts of your disciples” (St. Bridget of Sweden).

May 21, 2018

On Pentecost, the Church was born with an unprecedented degree of freedom.  As God had once given the law to Moses, so now he gave his own Spirit to the Church (Mike Aquilina in The Apostles and Their Times).

June 18, 2018

“Jesus revealed to us the divinity of God, making it possible for us to enter into a profound relationship with him” (Fr. Maurice Emelu in Our Journey to God: An African Priest Explores the Power of Faith).

April 22, 2019

Love is the energy that sustains the universe, moving us toward a future of resurrection.  We do not even need to call it love or God or resurrection for its work to be done (Richard Rohr, OFM).

April 29, 2019

Jesus came to give us the courage to trust and allow our inherent union with God, and he modeled it for us in this world.  Union is not a place we go to later— if we are good; union is the place from which we come, the place from which we’re called to live now (Rohr).

April 30, 2019

The here-and-now has the power to become the gateway and the breakthrough point to the universal.  The concrete, the specific, the physical, the here-and-now— when we can be present to it in all of its ordinariness— becomes the gateway to the Eternal.  Please trust me on that and don’t dare dismiss it until and unless you have tried it.  One completely loved thing is all it takes (Rohr).

April 2, 2020

O God of heaven and earth, I pause to give thanks to you for the gift of life and the promise of life everlasting.  Amid the challenges of this world, help me to see the precious moments of your grace.  Constantly renew my faith as I live in the power of the resurrection.  These things I pray in the glorious name of Jesus, our Blessed Savior.  Amen (Pittsburg Theological Seminary).



Links of interest…  28 different ways to pray (book / more)…  Alleluia…  Ascension of our Lordour Christian vocation…  Before the Age of Starbucks…  Bert Ghezzi: aboutblog & more / booksGetting free: How to overcome persistent personal problems (more) / interview…  Catholic Exchange…  Chaplet to the Holy Spirit: beadslitany (more) / prayers: one & two…  Come, Holy Spirit…  Christianity is more than getting out of hell…  Defending the truth of the resurrection…  Did Jesus appear to his mother after the resurrection (more)…  Dom Hubert Van Zeller, OSB (1905-1984): about / books (more / titles) / correspondence with Merton / Gospel priesthood / How to find God / spiritual master / writer’s cramp…  Easter Sunday: articles / beginning to understanddeath to life / homily (video)…  Ezekiel’s extraordinary vision of the resurrection…  Holy Spirit: asking a favor / five ways to incorporate / gifts / homily / invokinglitany (more) / promptings…  Monasteries: Cistercian / Clairvaux / lessons from…  Novena to the Holy Spirit: audios (Poor Clare Sisters) / brochure / for the seven gifts / indulgences & more / kindle a fire within / prayers: one & two – printable (pdf)…  On Pentecost the Holy Spirit reveals unity in diversity…  Pittsburg Theological Seminary: Advent & Lent devotionals & archive…  Primacy of Mary Magdalene…  Resurrection: first Easter / forgotten tenet of Christian faith / meaning / why we get our bodies back…  Seeing & believing…  Signs & symbols of Easter…  St. Bernard of Clairvaux…  St. Teresa of Avila & the power of holy water…  Stations of the resurrection…  Ten ways to open up to the Holy Spirit…  Thinking Faith…  What is mystogogy / the disciples’ doubt about the resurrection teaches us…  the Word among us…  Wounds of Christ & doubt of Thomas

WP posts…  Backtracking…  Dear God…  Dying to live…  Growing pains…  Our music…  Picturing God…  Prayerful ways…  Seven dwelling places…  Simple yet profound…  Two angels