• Our Blogger

    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

    Albert r Salanitri on Art, Poetry & Song in…
    Jane on Ask a Priest
    Samantha on If Good Dogs Can Go to Heaven,…
    Samantha on If Good Dogs Can Go to Heaven,…
    Chris on If Good Dogs Can Go to Heaven,…

Art, Poetry & Song in Heaven?

151123474510859 (1)

The question about art, music and poetry in heaven is more complicated than we might initially acknowledge.  These three efforts at creativity can either be directed to the bottom feeders or they can target the heights of inspiration and hope.  There is a vast difference between pornography and the human forms that speak of God’s creation and salvation history in the Sistine Chapel.  There is no comparison between a vulgar rap song that espouses violence and sexism to a sweet solo of Ave Maria or a full chorus and orchestra giving us Faure’s Requiem or Handel’s Messiah.  There is an infinite distance between simple rhymes for children or off-color limericks for dirty old men and Milton’s Paradise Lost, Dante’s The Divine Comedy or Thompson’s The Hound of Heaven.

Believe it or not, I have heard arguments for music in hell.  Indeed, certain authorities intimate that the devil or Lucifer had a certain charge over music in heaven.  If so, this explains something of the terrible depth of his fall from grace.  It might be discordant, but the arts can both reveal and conceal.  I suspect that in hell they do the latter.  A fumbling king might imagine he has real greatness if only the trumpets blow and the fanfare is exalted enough.  Art can give us a counterfeit beauty, as a mask to cover the ugliness around us.  An intricate and moving poem can give a sense of mystery and importance, even to the mundane or hollow.

By contrast, what could an artist in heaven possibly paint that could better express the transcendent than the God and heaven that surrounds him.  His picture would be a poor copy.  The only true artist in heaven is God.  He has painted a masterpiece with the blood of the Lamb.  We are all a part of his great work and yet when one steps back from the depiction of all our faces, only one face is seen, the face of Jesus, God’s Son.

We speak of the Eucharist as a foretaste from the heavenly banquet.  I suspect that the best and most solemn hymns also grant us a tiny sampling from the heavenly choir.  There is something in the soul that vaguely remembers music from before the fall.  A note here, a piece of melody there, and suddenly we are conveyed to another plateau of existence. The celestial choir eternally sings the praises of God.  While on earth music can raise our hearts and voices to God; in heaven, we are already there— music can only express this abiding presence and the truth that we are made for God and must give him the glory.  Singing God’s praises in heaven might be like breathing on earth.

As for poetry, the greatest works seek to crack open the mysteries of God— to apprehend a fleeting truth.  Poetry and music are kindred threads.  The mystery they target is realized in heaven, but when it comes to the kingdom it has swallowed us up— filled us— transformed us.  God is the poet in heaven and we have become his poem.  All poetry in heaven is love poetry.  God takes the initiative because he loved us first.  We are called to the marriage banquet of the Lamb.

“My lover speaks and says to me, ‘Arise, my friend, my beautiful one, and come! For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance. Arise, my friend, my beautiful one, and come! My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff, Let me see your face, let me hear your voice, For your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely’” (Song of Songs 2:10-14).

Advertisements

Are the Saints Dressed with More than a Smile?

151114333672358

Children used to be the only ones to ask the question, “Do the saints in heaven wear clothes?”  However, adults are increasingly asking me the same question.  Dr. Kreeft refers to visions from private revelation:  “They say that it is hard to classify the blessed as either clothed or naked. If clothed, it is as if the clothing were a part of the body, an organic growth, rather than an accidental, foreign covering: it reveals rather than conceals, and it is natural and necessary rather than artificial and accidental. If naked, it is shameless and not arousing erotic desires.”

 

I recall reading a speculative fiction paperback years ago where the people destined for heaven found themselves embodied.  As they went up to heaven their bodies began to change— principally their sexual organs began to shrink and disappear— making them appear as small children but without sexual passion or interest.  Those who went to hell seemed to go through a reverse process and became more unruly and manipulated by their desires and sin.  I really do not think that is the prospect that awaits us after death.  If our Lord could even carry the wounds of his ordeal in his hands, feet and side; then I think it is more likely that we will continue to be who we are, albeit no longer subject to concupiscence or the need to propagate the species.  Indeed, the need for intimacy will no longer require the joining of bodies but will be satisfied with the beatific vision and union with God.  Our souls, if not immediately then at the final consummation, will be rejoined to our bodies glorified and made immortal.  Naked or clothed it will make no difference because there will be no shame, just as it was with Adam and Eve in the primordial garden before the fall.

We will be recognizable and yet different.  Imagine if no one were overweight or starving, weakened by age or handicapped, and no longer anxious about tomorrow or weary from the world’s betrayals and difficulties.  It is no wonder that the women at the tomb did not immediately recognize Jesus.  Remember, they had last seen his scourged and crucified body taken down from the Cross.  Now, suffering and death no longer has any part of him… this is the smiling Jesus… this is the Christ of joy!

There are several instances where the Bible describes the vestiture of heaven as white, indeed when it comes to the Transfiguration (indicative of Christ’s coming victory over sin and death and his resurrection), his clothes are whiter than any bleacher could make them— almost like light itself.  It would make sense that believers would suppose that those who follow our Lord would be similarly attired. “After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him” (Matthew 17:1-3).  Light and truth are interconnected themes.

Clothes are worn in the garden because of a sense of shame or inadequacy.  Clothes are still worn, not only for warmth and comfort, but also to project something about ourselves— an image that may not always be in conformity with the truth.  Some wear tight clothing for reasons of seduction.  Others wear loose or baggy clothing to disguise shape.  Still others wear clothes that inspire or impress others.  Note that the new Adam is virtually stripped when he undergoes his passion and the victory of the Cross.  I suspect any clothing that we may wear or appear to wear in the coming kingdom will not disguise but rather show precisely who we are and what we are about.

A parable is told about a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.  After his initial guests made excuses so as not to attend, he sends out a general invitation.  “‘Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:9-14). It is important for us to remember that the wedding garments were readily available and given at the door.  This one person entered the feast unconcerned about honoring the king’s son and lacking any gratitude for the invitation.  There is no answer he can make.  He does not belong.  He is thrown out.  Note that he is tied up.  Turning to Jesus, outside the feast there is only bondage and despair— there is only sin and hell.  The wedding garment, these gowns of white for the elect, signify honoring Christ and that we are participants in the wedding banquet of the Lamb.

Note that brides still often wear white dresses or gowns.  Those who attend the heavenly banquet are more than guests, they are members of the Church and the Church is the bride of Christ.  White is a precious sign of light, purity and marriage.  Groom and Bride wear white, indeed, the bride’s gown has been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. “Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, ‘Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?’ I said to him, ‘My lord, you are the one who knows.’ He said to me, ‘These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:13-14).

There is an old saying, clothes make the man.  If this is the case, then wearing Christ means embracing the new man.  We are not what we were before and yet, in a sense, we have become our true self— what God has wanted us to become from the very beginning. The saints of heaven will be spiritually clothed in Christ, in whom nothing is hidden and where truth reigns.  “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Treasure for Ourselves in Heaven

151102102441930

I remember many years ago a man who so loved his car that he made the news by being buried in it.  He literally tried to take it with him.  This stands in stark comparison to a priest I knew who was buried almost naked in a cardboard box.  The only thing he took with him was a fork as a symbol of his readiness for the banquet table of heaven.  The discussion here about possessions is a bit odd because we should all know that we leave this world as we came into it, naked and without earthly belongings.  The only treasure we can take with us into the kingdom after death is the gift of Christ.  If we have God then what more could any of us ever want.  If the question is about stuff in heaven, then it is certainly possible but I doubt there will be ownership as we now experience it.  Stuff will be insignificant.  We give material things value in this world.  But what happens when the only prize that measures is the greatest good, God, himself?

The formation of saints begins on earth, not in heaven.  The rich man lacked charity for the beggar Lazarus at his door.  “Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented’”(Luke 16:25).  The beggar was regarded as a thing of no importance, not a person of infinite value.  He was literally a door mat, walked over each time the rich man entered his home.  Indeed, worse than that, we are told the dogs licked his sores.  He had been reduced to dog food.  The rich man in this story is condemned, not simply because he was rich, but because he had no real or practical love for Lazarus.  We are told that the Lord identifies himself with the poor and the oppressed.  A failure to love the beggar was a failure to love God.  The reward given to Lazarus and the punishment suffered by the rich man is an expression of divine justice.

Scripture tells us that we have a jealous God.  “‘No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon’” (Matthew 6:24).  Jesus encounters a young man who has kept the commandments and desires spiritual perfection. “Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 19:21-23). It appears that the young rich man is invited to be a thirteenth apostle.  But he goes away sad because his possessions are many.  Jews traditional view themselves as blessed by God according to wealth, land and progeny.  The kingdom of Christ turns this reasoning on its head.  The young rich man could keep the rules, but giving everything to the poor is a level of mastery with charity that he has yet to acquire.  It would mean putting aside worldly standing and the personal security that he has come to trust.  It takes faith and courage to live for the kingdom.

The apostles are perplexed by this episode.  They might have been poor or hard working men, but they probably also had dreams about being self-sufficient and knowing earthly security.  The question is asked, is there any hope for the rich man?  “Jesus looked at him [now sad] and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ Those who heard this said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ And he said, ‘What is impossible for human beings is possible for God.’ Then Peter said, ‘We have given up our possessions and followed you.’ He said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive back an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come’” (Luke 18:24-30).  If we will not readily let go, death itself will force our possessions from our clasped hands.

We will have the Lord and belong to God.  “‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be’” (Matthew 6:19-21).

If we were to put anything before God in the life to come then we would not find ourselves in heaven.  Even the “self” must be given to God so that it may be perfected and made holy. Years ago I watched a television musical based on the story of The Littlest Angel about a shepherd boy who finds himself in heaven.  He loves the things of earth and has a hard time letting go.  It is only when he takes his recently recovered box made from scraps of wood and filled with the treasures of earth (two white stones, three blue eggs, a dry butterfly, a starling’s feather, etc.) and presents it as a gift to the Christ Child that he is ready to take his proper place in heaven.  (As a bit of humor, pockets are sewed into his celestial gown because, since there is detachment from things, no one there has pockets.)  He trades his earthly treasures for the one who will rest in the feedbox of the manger.

 

We may speak of possessing heaven, but in truth heaven will possess us.  God is goodness, beauty, truth, life and grace.  We will not know these attributes as things but as a person.  The Lord will share himself with us but we will never be able to utterly consume him.

Is One Free to Sin in Heaven?

151088056944260

There are some questions that can be regarded as silly.  Why?  It is because they focus on a fallacy.  For instance, take this question:  Given that God can do anything; can he make a rock too heavy for him to pick up?  If the answer is YES, then he is not all powerful because he cannot lift the rock.  If the answer is NO, then he is not all powerful because he cannot make such a rock.  What is the answer?  The assertion is nonsense because it contains an inner contradiction.  Similar conflicts are found as in the biblical temptation scene.  Some will argue that if the devil’s temptations were real then Jesus could have potentially given in and sinned.  However, temptation does not necessarily imply the possibility of succumbing.  In the case of Jesus, it was impossible.  Sin is by definition an act of disobedience against God.  However, Jesus is a divine Person.  God cannot sin against himself.  Similarly, the question is raised:  if the saints of heaven are free then are they free to sin?  The problem is how we understand freedom.  While it might be misused in this world, it is perfected in the world to come.  True freedom means loving obedience to God.  The misuse of freedom or a false freedom is realized in sin or disobedience to God.  Indeed, it is to embrace bondage to the diabolical.

Free will and moral perfection are in sync for the saints of heaven.  While sin is possible for those who only see dimly as through a veil, such is not possible for those who see God face-to-face.  When confronted by the greatest good, which is God, the will is immediately disposed to embrace it.  There is no apparent good.  There is nothing which can compete with it.  Arguably even the angels knew some sort of demarcation when they were tested.

It can also be argued that our ultimate decisions were already made during our mortal lives.  Our orientation is fixed with death.  Along these lines, certain theologians argue that the unborn and children who die before reaching the age of reason might be given the opportunity for making a choice in regard to their eternal destiny.  Many suspect that their personal innocence and the intercession of the parents and/or the Church would nudge them to make free decisions in loving God.  But this is speculation, no matter how optimistic the Church might be in their regard.  In any case, the denizens of heaven, both human and angelic cannot change their minds.  They have freely turned their backs to sin and have set their sights on almighty God. Coincidentally, such is also the state of hell and the slavery they have exchanged for freedom. We read the following in the fourth book of Milton’s Paradise Lost:  “Nay, cursed be thou; since against his thy will / Chose freely what it now so justly rues. / Me miserable! which way shall I fly / Infinite wrauth and infinite despair? / Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell…” (line 75)

 

Sin in heaven would be a violation of the very identity of the saints.  Their wills are united to that of Christ.  They have been made holy as God is holy.

No Loss or Suffering in Heaven?

151084734849688

Can God and the saints of heaven experience sorrow for those who have alienated themselves from the Lord and are lost to heaven?

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

A priest who answers questions at EWTN insists that the souls of the just will no longer remember those who have damned themselves.  He argues that this is necessary to preserve heavenly happiness and peace.  I do not believe this is the case.  As for God, our revealed doctrines allow no room for such a sense of loss in the divinity.  God is defined as the unmoved mover. He possesses all perfections.  He cannot be hurt or moved. Dr. Kreeft suggests that the answer is within the generations of the triune persons, “a system of self-dying, self-giving.”  Is he right?  The notion seems a bit contrived to me but it may be that I am not smart enough to understand what he is trying to say.  Certainly, there is a giving and receiving within the godhead.  Recent online debates are also resorting to revised calculations about the number of the damned.  Dr. Ralph Martin is often cited by those who further the traditional assumption that more might be lost than saved.  Bishop Robert Barron is frequently quoted by the other side— that most will somehow go to heaven. If the latter were true, there would not be that many to feel any loss about.  But of course, within the perspective of God, one soul is as loved as all souls. (There was a raging debate a decade ago between certain traditionalists that God hated sinners and thus the denizens of hell had forfeited the love of God.  The saints would then concur that they got what they deserved and that would be the end of it.  Sorry, but I do not think that is a plausible answer either.)

 

I suspect that the problem is that we are trying to resolve how we will know and feel within the unknown conditions of beatific vision and heavenly light. Currently our awareness is often blurred and everything is touched by an oppressive darkness:  suffering, loss, pain, sin and death.  Can we even imagine how things will seem to us when these elements are subtracted?  Theoretically we can try but on the level of real and immediate experience, it is all we know.

Sorrow is defined as “a feeling of deep distress caused by loss, disappointment, or other misfortune suffered by oneself or others.”  The resolution in reference to God seems to be within the Sacred Heart devotion and the mystery of the Cross.  It may be that part of our conundrum is that we are still thinking in a temporal and terrestrial manner.  The secret may be in how we spiritually understand the Mass, which is a sacramental re-presentation albeit unbloody of the passion and death of Jesus.  We know that Jesus dies once and for all and that he can never suffer or die again.  The weight of the world’s sins included both those who would respond in an affirmative way to his self-offering and gift of himself as well as those who would still reject his saving work and join themselves to the devil.  Look at the apostles Peter and Judas.  Both betray and fail Christ; however, one will later be healed by his love of Christ and the other will despair and destroy himself.  The gift of salvation is available to everyone.  But not all will accept it, only the “many” that constitute the elect.  The sorrow of heaven is in the paschal mystery of Christ.  God as a perfect spirit cannot be moved; however, in Jesus Christ we have a God who has made himself one of us.

As pilgrims, we celebrate the sacraments and enter into the betrayal, passion and death of Christ.  We apply our many sufferings to the oblation of Jesus, for ourselves and for the reparation of sins.  We may not mourn or feel loss in heaven, but that does not preclude such sentiment in the present.  The mystery of the Cross cannot be restricted to one page of salvation history.  It bleeds through the many pages of the story.  Along with the sacraments, we are also called to take up our crosses and to follow Jesus.  Here again, any loss or pain toward brothers and sisters who have said no to God is also experienced.  This will later extend beyond the time of testing to the process of purgation.  We will suffer not just for ourselves but like our Lord for all those whom we love and would have as a part of us.  Parents weep for rebellious children.  Siblings lament the ravages of sin in brothers and sisters.  However, once translated into heaven, all the tears would have been shed and wiped away. The time for mourning and pain will come to an end.

The saints in heaven fully embrace divine providence.  The emphasis is upon the goodness of God, what he has done for us and the offer of freedom— not the misuse of freedom or the rejection of God’s gifts.  There is solace to be found in that our Lord as both the Divine Justice and the Divine Mercy has given us every opportunity to share his life and presence.  Those who have turned away are remembered, but as those who have misused their freedom.  They received what they wanted.  God will not force himself upon his children.

God will so saturate us with his joy and his presence that there will no room or space in us for sadness or sorrow in heaven.  That part of the dance will be completed.  That element of the celestial harmony will already be sung.  God withdraws himself from the damned only because they hate him.  Nevertheless, a spark remains that keeps them in existence.  This miniscule spark is what constitutes the legendary and frightening fire of hell.  Poor but happy souls will be perfected (or healed) and saints will dance for joy in the great conflagration of God’s love and the damned will withdraw in pain from the smallest glint of a flame.

Dr. Kreeft wonders about the tears of Mary for wayward children.  Here again, I would return to the mystery of Christ’s saving work.  Mary is the sorrowful Mother at the hill of Calvary.  She weeps not only for her Son but for all who would become her spiritual children.  She will take the dead body of Jesus into her arms.  While never ordained a priest, she would have every right to say, “This is my flesh.  This is my blood.”  There is a profound unity between the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  They beat in unison, loving not just the holiest of men and women, but also those who are wayward and the most prodigal.  There is something eternal about that moment at the Cross.  Jesus offers himself to the Father as a sin offering for the world.  However, in a spiritual sense, and as the new Eve, Mary joins Jesus in this precious offering or surrender.  Mary was always the handmaid of the temple, first of the temple built by men and now the temple of Christ’s body.  Even as we begin to tear it down, Mary holds her Son in her arms, seeking already to rebuild this temple— an effort made complete in the resurrection and ascension.

We can never fully appreciate the immense suffering of our Lord on the Cross.  This is because he was a divine Person.  It is said that with a greater depth of love there comes an increased capacity for pain or suffering.  God neither created nor redeemed us from necessity.  He fashioned us for himself with a perfect freedom.  He wanted us to love him in freely in return.  The measure of the Cross is to free or liberate us from the bondage to sin and death.  While we preferred slavery, he would again make us free.  The infinite love of God is measured for us on the Cross.  This is how much God loves us.  God makes himself into an absurdity for us, and one that the fallen angels could not stomach.  The almighty is made weak.  The invulnerable is wounded.  The eternal is put to death.  Here is the full measure of pain and loss.  While it could not last it would never be dismissed.  It is a moment in time given everlasting significance.  Heaven touches earth.  The eternal enters the temporal.  The full ramifications of the Creator joining himself to his creation have been realized.  We do not have the words to express what happens.  It is terrible and yet wonderful.  It seems so awfully bad and yet we even call it Good Friday.  Tears of suffering will be transmuted into those of joy.  What would normally be a sign of defeat becomes the greatest of victories.

C.S. Lewis would remind us in his book, The Great Divorce, that hell cannot blackmail heaven.  Manipulation through loss would make a hell of heaven.  Dr. Kreeft explains this as God and the saints being entirely active, not passive.  He writes, “We too can love without sorrow or vulnerability because we love only with the active feeling of caring, not the passive feeling of being hurt.”

See “Fourteen Questions About Heaven” by PETER KREEFT.

The Saints Raise Their Hearts & Minds to God

151071111086563

There are a lot of misconceptions about heaven.  It is not simply a place where we can better satisfy hedonistic longings.  Many of the renditions of heaven on television and in movies would in time probably more resemble hell than paradise.  It is not simply a place where nice people go after death.  Being nice will not save us.  The pattern given to us by Scripture is crucial:  repentance, faith in Christ, conversion and loving obedience.  Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life.  There is no other way to the Father.  This truth of the kingdom may strike many as unfair, but God is the one who sets the parameters for justification.  The preoccupation of heaven is not further self-absorption; no, it is rather transformation and identification with Christ.  The disposition open to grace and holiness is what remains crucial.  We must empty ourselves to be vessels of the holy.  The saints of heaven have one overriding activity— they give eternal glory to God.  Any vision of heaven that neglects this facet is false.

We were made for God.  Our hearts will know incalculable joy in being within the divine presence.  Heaven is not merely a place where men will reason without feeling like the Star Trek Vulcans attempt to do.  Our minds will acquire the truth for which we have always longed— to see and know God face to face within the beatific vision.  But while we will not be afflicted with fickle emotions, as human beings we will have our hearts and feelings saturated by the divine presence and we will be touched by infinite love.  We will be home with the Lord.  There will be no more sadness and tears.  All will be joy.

 

We are promised restoration beyond the grave.  We will not be disembodied ghosts forever.  We believe that just as our Lord rose from the dead in a glorified body, so shall we be restored, albeit with immortality.  Further, while on our earthly pilgrimage, our emotions and passions are often rebellious and our nature is wounded by concupiscence.  The saints will not know rebellion in their members.  We will know control and order, not as robots or ants, but as the children of Adam and Eve were meant to be from the beginning.  Of course, we will also be more as the incarnation and work of Christ has merited for us a share in the grace-filled divine life.  Humanity is raised to a level higher than ever before.  Like the angels, there will neither be marriage nor the begetting of children; instead, we will experience in the light of Christ the immensity and purity of love beyond the current shadows.  While our bodies have often had dominion over our souls, the situation is reversed in heaven.  We will be our true selves.  We will know and love and live in grace, no longer subject to the accidents of nature or corporeal chemistry.  We will be able to think and feel without distraction and disorientation.  As Dr. Kreeft said in his essay on heaven, “All our humanity is perfected, not diminished, in Heaven.”

The Reality of Ghosts

151069676756427

“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.