Yes, there is such a thing as a ghost. Disembodied souls can and do appear to humans at God’s command, but what about ghosts that appear to mediums and during seances?
First, it’s important to understand what the Church teaches about the phenomenon of ghosts. According to The Church and Spiritualism by Herbert Thurston, S.J. (1856-1939) one of the world’s leading authorities on spiritualism: 1) the Church has not pronounced upon the essential nature of spiritualistic phenomena such as ghosts (See Catechism #2116); 2) the Church forbids the faithful to take part in any spiritualistic practices (seances, mediumship, and other means of conjuring the dead) 3) the Church suspects diabolical agencies may be responsible for those manifestations that do occur.
Why does the Church believe that devils are usually behind hauntings and appearances at seances is a matter of plain logic?
When we die, our soul leaves the body and we essentially become just a “mind” or what some refer to as a “disembodied soul.” According to Cardinal A. M. Lepicier in his book, The Unseen World, we will all receive special intellectual abilities from God at the moment of death that will enable us to function without our bodies. This is needed because all of our thought processes are based on the material world of the senses – sight, sound, taste, feeling, etc. – things that will no longer be available to us.
It follows then, that after we’re cut off from our senses, we will also lose the ability to communicate with the material world.
Theologians teach that “Part of being a physical and spiritual creature means that we use our physical bodies to communicate with physical creatures on earth. Humans have no natural power, either in this life or in the next, to communicate with the material world apart from their bodies. Any such ability would have to come from either a preternatural source (an angel or a demon) or a supernatural source (God).” (Fr. Robert Allgaier, “The Ouija Board: A Game or a Gamble?” Envoy Magazine, May/June, 2000)
This makes perfect sense because the bodies of disembodied souls are rotting in a grave somewhere, which means there is no body that can appear in a ghostly apparition, no voicebox that can produce a sound, no hands to throw pots and pans around in the middle of the night.
So how do they “haunt” a house or appear at a seance? They call upon a supernatural (God) or preternatural source (angels/demons) to assist them.
We already know that God is all Powerful and therefore capable of enabling a disembodied soul to appear, but angels are also capable of doing this and can easily take on the shape and characteristics of a particular person.
But would God allow this? Yes, for specific reasons. Scripture and Tradition tell us that God and His angels sometimes cooperate in appearances of the dead such as in the case of saints who appear to the faithful to warn them or when souls in purgatory are permitted to appear to ask for prayer.
However, we also know from Scripture that God and His angels would never cooperate in anything as frivolous as appearing during a seance or moving around the planchette of a Ouija board. (See Deuteronomy 18:10; Leviticus 19:31, 20:6 and 20:27; Isaiah 8:19, etc.) God explicitly condemns these kinds of activities in the Bible and would never contradict Himself by cooperating with them, nor would He allow one of His angels do so.
This leaves only one other possibility for who might want to cooperate with mediums who are conjuring the dead – the devil.
We already know the devil has the power to do this, and his fanatical hatred for God and man gives him the motive to do so. Even though the devil can do nothing that God does not permit him to do, we all know that the devil is permitted to tempt man in a variety of ways, including this one. (See Catechism #395)
The likelihood of demonic involvement in ghosts is amply backed up by a pile of evidence collected by both science and the Church, more than enough to determine that the spiritual realm is fraught with danger, especially for the ill-informed, which is why the Church has so wisely forbidden all involvement in this area.
Even though many of the popular TV shows about hauntings claim that good-hearted mediums are just trying to help lost souls “cross over,” this too is preposterous even from just a practical point-of-view. For example, would you drop your child off at the side of the road in an unknown place and let them try to find their way home? You wouldn’t even think of doing this! How much less would our heavenly Father be likely to let a soul get lost during this most critical time in its existence?
Our Church clearly teaches that after death, we are judged instantly and are either saved or damned. The damned go to hell, and the saved go either to heaven or to purgatory. A lost soul is a damned soul, not one who is wandering around trying to find their way home.
Another popular plot line for TV shows about ghosts is that souls haunt places where they died of either murder or suicide. As Adam Blai, Peritus of religious demonology and exorcism for the Catholic Church, explains in his book, Possession, Exorcism and Hauntings, it’s not the soul who is hanging around the building, it could be the demon who encouraged the suicide or murder.
“One has to be careful because demons can take advantage of a known suicide or murder and pose as that person in that location. Also, the demon that helped encourage the murder or suicide could still be there.”
If you really want to know what’s “out there,” consider Peter Kreeft’s book, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven which is written in an easy-to-read Q&A format. Kreeft believes there are three kinds of “ghosts.”
“First, the most familiar kind: the sad ones, the wispy ones. They seem to be working out some unfinished earthly business, or suffering some purgatorial purification until released from their earthly business. These ghosts would seem to be the ones who just barely made it to Purgatory, who feel little or no joy yet and who need to learn many painful lessons about their past lives on earth.”
These may also be the spirits that many claim are “stuck between heaven and earth” but are actually here at God’s command to serve their time in Purgatory.
The second kind are malicious and deceptive spirits — demons. “These are probably the ones who respond to conjurings at seances. They probably come from Hell. Even the chance of that happening should be sufficient to terrify away all temptations to necromancy.”
The third kind are “bright, happy spirits of dead friends and family, especially spouses, who appear unbidden, at God’s will, not ours, with messages of hope and love,” he writes.
“They seem to come from Heaven. Unlike the purgatorial ghosts who come back primarily for their own sakes, these bright spirits come back for the sake of us the living, to tell us all is well. They are aped by evil spirits who say the same, who speak ‘peace, peace, when there is no peace’. But the deception works only one way: the fake can deceive by appearing genuine, but the genuine never deceives by appearing fake. Heavenly spirits always convince us that they are genuinely good.”
For anyone who remains unconvinced that ghosts are demons and mediums can contact wandering souls, consider the fact that for all of the alleged appearances of other-worldly souls, not one (except Jesus, the Blessed Mother and the saints) has ever told us anything worthwhile, such as warning us about Sept. 11 or how to solve any of the many complex issues of our day. Compare this rather dismal record to just one of Mary’s apparitions, such as at Guadalupe where she put an end to the senseless slaughter of millions of “human sacrifices” to Aztec gods.
Regardless of how convincing those TV ghosts stories might appear, the supernatural realm is fraught with dangers.
As Kreeft states: “We are out of our depth, our knowledge, and our control once we open the doors to the supernatural. The only openings that are safe for us are the ones God has approved: revelation, prayer, His own miracles, sacraments, and primarily Christ Himself…”
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