When I was ten years old I had a direct encounter with a ghost. My brother and I were playing in our bedroom, which was in the attic, of our three-story house in New Jersey. There were steep stairs leading up to the bedroom from the third floor walk way. My brother and I were playing Power Rangers as usual and I ended up pushing him down the stairs. He tumbled all the way to the bottom hitting his head against the door. He began to cry and I, like any good brother, ran and hid from the impending doom that awaited me by my parents. My mother heard his cries and ran upstairs. She opened the door and saw him in tears, but with a pale white face. As she made contact I felt the grip of her eyes lock around my neck, but quickly release itself. For my brother spoke, “Mommy, a lady kissed me.”
It was known that our old Jersey house had a ghost lady who walked the third story in a white night gown. She had been seen by my uncle, my grandmother, my mother, my cousin, my cousin’s friend, and now my brother. I prayed that I would never see her because I was too frightened, but my brother’s words were enough to send shivers down my spine for years and instill the fear of sleeping in my room ever again.
Was it a ghost? I’ve always ask myself that, if so how can I as a Catholic understand it? Does the Catholic Church even recognize the existence of ghosts?
Angels and the Communion of Saints
The appearance of a Ghost could be a vision of an angel or a saint. Angels have the ability to appear to human beings with God’s permission delivering divine messages. Remember Gabriel the Archangel appeared to Mary in Lk 1 with the message of the incarnation and two angels appeared to Mary Magdalene in Jn 20 with the message of the resurrection. Angels are defined spirits and can also be called Ghosts. As defined by the Church, a Saint is any person in heaven. If a Saint is in heaven and their body is still here on earth, they too can be called ghosts. 1 Samuel 28 tells a story of a ghostly vision of the prophet Samuel visiting King Saul to deliver the divine message that Saul’s Kingly reign is coming to an end.
Jesus even speaks about ghosts with his disciples. “When they saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:25-27). The disciples thought Jesus was a ghost and they were afraid. Why? Because they believed in Ghosts. Jesus did not rebuke them for thinking he was a Ghost, instead he just calmed them down and let them know it was Him. If the concept of a disembodied spirit is so unbiblical why did Jesus let his disciples believe such things exist without correction?
In scripture, Heavenly messengers always say “Be not afraid.” Interesting.
Purgatory is simple to understand, but I get why some Christian denominations dispute it. In order to purify flesh you must heat it. When you cook a steak, the fire kills the bacteria that is on it. Humans are not steaks to be consumed, but we are flesh to be communed. In order for us to get back into the full presence of God and the communion of Saints, we must first be purified with God’s love if we die with the stain of sin. Think of the Seraphim, the burning ones, who are noted to serve God in the Old Testament. They are Angels that are so close to God that they are on fire. Souls in purgatory have been reported to appear to those on earth in the state of purgation. Eyewitnesses, such as St. Faustina, attest to encounters of purgative souls ablaze in flame who come seeking prayers. Purgatory is a very hard concept for many non-Catholics and many Catholics, but it is one of the oldest teachings of the Church. The Magisterium and Tradition of the Church confirm the existence of purgatory.
Some visions of ghosts could actually be souls in purgatory that are seeking prayers. We must never forget to pray for our brothers and sisters in purgatory. We should offer our mass to them every time we attend.
Check out (CCC 1031, CCC 1072, 1 Cor 3:12-15)
The final explanation of ghosts is what Hollywood loves to make movies about, demonic activity. Demons are fallen angels. When a third of the angels fell from the great battle in heaven, the demons did not lose their angelic powers given to them by God. Therefore, they are defined spirits, the same as angels. Demons will use human loss to enter in and even take the image of a passed loved one. What one may think is the spirit of their father, mother, or spouse could actually be a form of demonic trickery.
The popular idea that ghosts are the spirits of human souls who have died and are trapped here for some reason is not possible. They are much more likely to be demons disguising themselves as the “ghost” or spirit of a human being for the purpose of leading people away from the true faith. “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” – 2 Corinthians 11:14
“Put you on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” – Ephesians 6:11
You have probably read this passage dozens of times, but have you paid attention to what St. Paul lists as who we wrestle with? He says Principalities and Powers, two hierarchies of Angels. Remember that the fallen angels (demons) retain their power given to them from God. So we are indeed in a spiritual battle against them.
So, yes the Catholic Church absolutely does believe in a spiritual realm. This realm is inhabited by human spirits, defined spirits (Angels and Demons) and the infinite Spirit, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Does it explain it all? No, the spiritual realm is certainly a mystery and there may be more things at play that we do not yet understand. The Church’s teaching is based on Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. If we knew it all then what would we need God for?