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Do Catholics Believe in Ghosts?

angels_and_demonsWhen 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

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)

Demons

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

Conclusion

“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?

 


Frank was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey and moved to Miami at the age of thirteen. He graduated from Florida International University with a B.A. in English. During his Freshman year of High School, Frank felt a strong calling to the art of film and began writing, directing, and producing his own work alongside his wife Laura Paulina. After rediscovering his faith during College, Frank's call became a need to give back to God the talents He had bestowed upon him. Frank is now an Award-Winning Writer and Director for his acclaimed short films Best Kept and Finding John Doe. He is also the Co-Director and Co-Founder of the John Paul II International Film Festival in Miami, FL. He is a former Youth Minister and a current member of the National Association of Catholic Youth Ministry Leaders.


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  • Claire

    Thank you for addressing this. I have always struggled to reconcile Church teaching with seemingly credible accounts of ghost sightings.

    • Frank Brennan

      Thanks Claire! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. It’s an issue I have struggled to understand as well.

  • Struble

    “The popular idea that ghosts are the spirits of human souls who have died
    and are trapped here for some reason is not possible.” Why is that?

    I asked a priest recently if souls could be (not trapped but) sentenced to hover about and watch their sins play out on earth? He did acknowledge the possibility that such could be an aspect of purgatory.

    • Frank Brennan

      Hey Struble, it could be a possibility. That spirit would fall under the Purgatory explanation. What I was referring to was the Casper explanation, a ghost lingers around earth awaiting unfinished business. If Final judgment is immediate after death, then there wouldn’t be any unfinished business. The soul of the deceased would process into heaven, purgatory, or hell with full knowledge of where it belongs.

      Here is a snippet from my blog and the CCC:

      (CCC 1022) “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven—through a purification or immediately, or immediate and everlasting damnation.”

      So according to the Catholic Church’s teachings, there cannot be ghosts who linger around the earth lost, confused, with no place to go, or with a form of “unfinished business”. At the time of death, a spirit will know exactly where it should be based on their merits in the life they led…..The rest can be read here: http://www.frankonfaith.com/2013/10/ghosts-and-catholic-church.html

  • Lyn

    An excellent book on purgatory and “haunting” souls is Hungry Souls by Gerard van den Aardweg, PhD. Very well researched… I found it to be extremely helpful in understanding ghost sightings and such.

    http://www.amazon.com/Hungry-Souls-Supernatural-Messages-Purgatory-ebook/dp/B004Q3RK3W/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1386348652&sr=1-1&keywords=hungry+souls

    • Frank Brennan

      That’s a great book Lyn. I have only read excerpts, but you have inspired me to check out the whole book. Hopefully, there is a Kindle edition. Thanks for the read!

      • Shannon Marie Federoff

        I was going to suggest the same book!

        Along those lines, my teens and I have watched the “Ghost Adventures” TV show. It is AMAZING how often the ghost hunters capture voices on their EVP that say “pray.” The secular hosts of the show think it is a warning to them, but my teens have even written an email to the guys telling them its actually a request to PRAY for their souls in purgatory.

        “Ghost Hunters” has defiantly captured demonic activity as well.

        • Frank Brennan

          Thanks for sharing Shannon! The scary thing about Ghost Hunting I think is it is almost like opening a door for these presences to enter into. I had several encounters with some weird supernatural activity for a week straight leading up to a Youth retreat I was leading. I woke up every night either completely freezing, covers torn off, paralyzed, and strange pressure pushing through my chest. I asked my Spiritual director what I should do and he told me to sleep with a St. Benedict medal and to never communicate with the presence I felt. he said communication is a doorway. My wife loves the Ghost Hunters as well.

  • DFPierre

    Here is an interesting excerpt about ghosts from Peter Kreeft:

    http://www.domestic-church.com/CONTENT.DCC/19980901/ARTICLES/GHOSTS.HTM

  • Cogitor

    Furthermore, ghosts cannot hurt you. True, they are usually humans from purgatory who God permits to remind us here in the Church Militant, to pray for them. They may have been dead a very long time and very often in places where the Faithful were persecuted: e.g. England and Spain.
    Demons CAN hurt you, and would love to do so if God permitted it. But He doesn’t permit them to make themselves sensed by us, lest we be terrified. The “principalities and powers” we are battling as St. Paul says, are all around us. Of course some great saints did battle with demons, but they probably had more Grace than most of us.

  • Sissy

    Remember that St. Pio was in a bed at an old monastery, if my memory serves me right, and he saw a “ghost” It was a soul from Purgatory begging for one last Mass that would send him to Heaven. Padre Pio later found out that the man was a monk and had died in that room when he fell asleep with a cigar and caught fire.

  • Soliloquized

    Interesting article, but too simplistic. Having directly experienced the noisy netherworld residents of a house we rented, I’m not sure how the innocuous noises fall into the above categories.

    My wife was spared for some reason, but myself and two sons, and previous residents, and previous to them, and subsequent, and subsequent to them, all heard the noises.

    I had related my experiences to my coworker, and my landlord also worked for the same company that we did, just another plant. My coworker was at a meeting with my former landlord, when the landlord announced he had to leave the meeting early, his new tenants were complaining about noises. (The tenants after me and my family moved out). My coworker told my landlord about my experiences there.

    No saints, didn’t appear to be demons, and why would purgatory souls make noises that were no more than may have been expected if the source of the noise was still alive, nothing attempted to scare anyone, just noises, bangs, and steps thoroughly investigated at the time to rule out earthly causes.

    • Frank Brennan

      Did you ever get the house blessed?
      Fr. Gabriele Amorth wrote about haunted houses in his book “An Exorcists tells his Story”. It’s a great read and he mentions that objects, animals, and even houses can be filled with demonic presence. Also, he mentions that demonic presences can come from a curse placed on an object, person, or location by a human being.

      A great haunted house scene is in the film “The Rite” with Anthony Hopkins. It’s based on some ideas in Fr. Gabriel Amorth’s book. One of the scenes deals with a haunted hotel in Italy. It’s exaggerated for Hollywood, but shows that even locations can be haunted.

      This doesn’t explain the noises you heard, but it’s interesting to know that haunted houses do exist.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4rOjAf1-Uo

      • Soliloquized

        The story was pieced together from various facts that didn’t culminate until after we moved out. I was working turns, sleeping in the day, while my wife was at work and kids in school. I’d hear footsteps or banging upstairs (we rented the entire house), thinking the kids didn’t go to school or left early, so I’d account for the one cat we had, and with him not a factor would go upstairs to determine the cause. Nothing could be found. Due to the roof slopes, additional storage space existed by creating a wall on either side of the room while the ceiling still had enough room to stand. This formed a crawl space of sorts, with small doors to permit entry. I even searched those. Nothing.

        My sons heard the noises at times, one of their bedrooms was on the entry level, the other upstairs. Unbeknownst to me, one of their friends had asked them, right after we moved in, if we had started to hear the noises yet. Apparently the previous two tenants were so afflicted, as well as two tenants after we moved out. Likely there were more, I just don’t have access to the information.

        My sons and I would hear the noises together infrequently, the most remarkable being a phenomenal crash in the basement sounding like pots and pans falling and spreading across the floor. I figured an animal had gotten in, so I loaded an air rifle (yeah, I know, not the best, but why not hedge my bet, and it’s an exceptionally powerful one) and went into the basement, expecting to see a racoon. Nothing, absolutely nothing, was disturbed. The interesting thing is that the basement was so deep you could play basketball on the one side. The house was built at street level, the yard tapered off sharply alongside the house, and the cinder block basement walls were very high. The basement floor was bi-level, and two makeshift wooden stairs with three steps were positioned on each side of the basement, it’s easy to believe that someone missed the steps while carrying something, historically of course.

        I found out later that one of my one sons was so horrified of the place that if my wife, the other son, and I were out, he’d sit on the front porch and call a relative a number of miles away and talk to her basically the whole time. (Doesn’t speak well for inter-family communication, but my family of origin was like that as well.) Yet none of the noises ever disturbed me, my wife never heard any, the other son was not unduly concerned, and the cat was downright nonchalant. Weird huh?

        Will most priests these days still bless houses?

        Thanks for the link and comments, I appreciate it much.

        • Frank Brennan

          It definitely sounds like ghostly phenomenon. I would say “Potergeist” which literally means “noisy ghost”. I don’t know if it was demonic, but it seemed to inflict some type of fear and has caused people to leave the house several times.

          Priests still do blessings for houses or you can even ask a Deacon to do it. A priest friend of mine told me a story about a room that he blessed from one of his kids in youth group. Apparently the kid got involved with an occult and held seances in his room. Night after night the kid said he began to feel uncomfortable and unsafe in there. He would see red eyes strange at him in the dark, have things knocked off his shelf, and hear strange noises and sounds. When my priest friend came to bless the room he said all of the hairs on his arm stood up and he felt a sudden sense of dread. he couldn’t explain it any other way. He felt something was wrong in there. So he did his blessing and the kid gave up the occult he was in and started attending mass again. After that there has been no problems.

          The weird thing is that out of the entire house, only the kids room had that eerie feeling.

          There is so much to the spiritual realm that we can never understand. The Church tries to explain it as much as it can with what it has known through Scripture, Tradition, and through the Magisterium. Through time we may learn new things about the spiritual realm through private revelations and even exorcism encounters. Fr. Gabriele Amorth has some great books on the spiritual realm through his experiences with Exorcisms. It’s legit material too, not the spruced up versions of exorcisms that Hollywood produces.

          • Soliloquized

            Thanks much for the reply and additional information. Certainly my experiences at that house and limited reading on the topic have brought me to understand that science cannot explain all. This, in turn, reinforced my spiritual beliefs, and I’m talking God, Church, and Catholicism, not seances and ouija boards. Thanks much.

  • John McNichol

    Hi Mr. Brennan.
    I was intrigued by your biography; are you still making movies?
    Love to hear your response, either here or at (Enable Javascript to see the email address).

    • Frank Brennan

      Hi John,

      Yes, I am currently working on two feature Screenplays and have two short films that I am hoping to shoot next summer. Are you a filmmaker as well?

      • John McNichol

        Hello, Frank,

        I’m more of a writer.

        I ask because a few years back, a filmmaker approached me with a script he’d penned of one of my novels. I’d just gotten back in touch with him again when I saw your piece & your credits as a filmmaker.

        • Frank Brennan

          Hey John, the novels look interesting. Are they available on Amazon? Are they short stories or full novels? I am wrapped up in the John Paul II International Film Festival, so all my time is tied to that, but we see many filmmakers come through every year. Attending the event may be a great opportunity to connect with some of them and even so the kind of work they produce. http://www.jp2filmfestival.org

  • annie

    Hiii