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The Reality of Ghosts

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“When Saul saw the Philistine camp, he grew afraid and lost heart completely. He consulted the LORD; but the LORD gave no answer, neither in dreams nor by Urim nor through prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, ‘Find me a medium through whom I can seek counsel.’ His servants answered him, ‘There is a woman in Endor who is a medium.’ So he disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and set out with two companions. They came to the woman at night, and Saul said to her, ‘Divine for me; conjure up the spirit I tell you.’ But the woman answered him, ‘You know what Saul has done, how he expelled the mediums and diviners from the land. Then why are you trying to entrap me and get me killed?’ But Saul swore to her by the LORD, ‘As the LORD lives, you shall incur no blame for this.’ ‘Whom do you want me to conjure up?’ the woman asked him. ‘Conjure up Samuel for me,’ he replied. When the woman saw Samuel, she shrieked at the top of her voice and said to Saul, ‘Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!’ But the king said to her, ‘Do not be afraid. What do you see?’ ‘I see a god rising from the earth,’ she replied. ‘What does he look like?’ asked Saul. ‘An old man is coming up wrapped in a robe,’ she replied. Saul knew that it was Samuel, and so he bowed his face to the ground in homage. Samuel then said to Saul, ‘Why do you disturb me by conjuring me up?’ Saul replied: ‘I am in great distress, for the Philistines are waging war against me and God has turned away from me. Since God no longer answers me through prophets or in dreams, I have called upon you to tell me what I should do.’ To this Samuel said: ‘But why do you ask me, if the LORD has abandoned you for your neighbor? The LORD has done to you what he declared through me: he has torn the kingdom from your hand and has given it to your neighbor David. Because you disobeyed the LORD’s directive and would not carry out his fierce anger against Amalek, the LORD has done this to you today. Moreover, the LORD will deliver Israel, and you as well, into the hands of the Philistines. By tomorrow you and your sons will be with me, and the LORD will have delivered the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.’ Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, in great fear because of Samuel’s message. He had no strength left, since he had eaten nothing all that day and night. Then the woman came to Saul and, seeing that he was quite terror-stricken, said to him: ‘Remember, your maidservant obeyed you: I took my life in my hands and carried out the request you made of me. Now you, in turn, please listen to your maidservant. Let me set out a bit of food for you to eat, so that you are strong enough to go on your way.’ But he refused, saying, ‘I will not eat.’ However, when his servants joined the woman in urging him, he listened to their entreaties, got up from the ground, and sat on a couch. The woman had a stall-fed calf in the house, which she now quickly slaughtered. Then taking flour, she kneaded it and baked unleavened bread. She set the meal before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they got up and left the same night.” (1 Samuel 28:5-25).

If genuine, then Samuel was a ghost summoned by a medium.  He would be regarded as a hero of faith and today as a saint.  However, he would have come from the limbo of the fathers as Christ had not yet open the way to true heaven.  Genuine or not, the manner in which the ghost was called forth was a violation of God’s law.  I suspect that he appeared, not because of the medium but rather by God’s permission to announce judgment against Saul.

Jews and Christians alike are forbidden to use mediums, oracles or fortune-tellers (see Deuteronomy 18:11 and Leviticus 19:31).  God was already displeased with Saul.  Now Saul had sealed his fate by employing the services of a witch.

Many of us are intrigued by ghost stories.  Protestants more so than Catholics, tend to regard them as either pure fiction or as demonic deception.  Many Catholics have an open mind about such phenomena.  Indeed, some of the stories seem to reaffirm our teachings about purgatory.  If there be ghosts, from where do they come?  This topic can be somewhat dangerous.  We are warned not to be obsessed by such preoccupations.  Séances and Ouija boards are condemned, not merely as superstition but as a slippage into witchcraft or the occult.  Catholics pray for the dead and invoke the saints to intercede for us.  However, we do not seek direct two-way communication.  The proper focus of all prayer, even sanctoral orations, is always almighty God.  There are stories of the saints appearing and speaking with the living, as in the life of Joan of Arc.  However, there is a difference between what God permits and what men might seek.  The danger is demonic subterfuge and lies.  There are cases where supposedly demons masqueraded as the souls of the dead.

An article, “Fourteen Questions About Heaven,” by Dr. Peter Kreeft speaks of three types of ghosts:

  1. Ghosts from heaven;
  2. Ghosts from purgatory; and
  3. Ghosts from hell.

I have already made some reference to the first.  There are numerous other cases in the long history of the Church.  These are the apparitions of visionaries, often with messages.  Like the Virgin Mary, they always direct us back to Jesus and implore repentance and faith.  We are urged to pray and to remain steadfast. They are not subject to diabolic necromancy or sorcery.  They would never promote rebellion against the Lord or his Church.  Neither would they tolerate or legitimize immorality.  If a paranormal entity is malicious then it is not from heaven.

 

Kreeft speaks about the saints who come with a message or warning from heaven. I have always emphasized the ones from purgatory who need our prayers. The third type has undergone much speculation but about which many of us were unsure. If there were an evil or malicious haunting, I would usually regard it as demonic and not originating with a human soul or ghost. However, those who speak about the need to heal the family tree and certain forms of deliverance would join Kreeft in speaking about ghosts from hell. While the living can be haunted by past trauma and memory, I would have thought the damned souls too helpless and restrained by God to intervene in earthly affairs, but I may be wrong.

I remember a story told years ago about a convent of women that felt assured about the saintliness of a particularly pious nun who had recently died.  One day while at chapel in prayer, her ghost walked toward the altar.  Turning to her fellow sisters, she told them, “Pray for me.”  She then placed her hand print in some wet mortar used to repair the wall and disappeared.  Presumptuous of her personal holiness, correction was offered; she needed their prayers as a soul in purgatory.

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