Spirituality for Today – October 2015 – Volume 20, Issue 3


Rev. Raymond Petrucci

Halloween and All Saints Day follow one another, but certainly are nuanced in meaning. Both days are concerned about the dead, but you don't get candy on All Saints Day. Although Halloween denotes a connection to All Saints Day, the celebration of it at the secular and commercial levels is more about the scary dead, door–to–door candy seeking, and parties. What is it about those who have passed that links us to this season? Nature itself appears to be dying and the seemingly lifeless winter is soon to follow. The emphasis placed on these celebrations, however, is not on absence but on presence. How are we interacting with departed spirits?

In last year's October edition of U.S. Catholic magazine, there "appeared" an article by Tim Townsend titled, Paranormal activity. Townsend quoted Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor at Boston College, "The dead often do appear to the living. There is enormous evidence of 'ghosts' in all cultures" Kreeft sees in this declaration no contradiction to Catholic theology. He refers to certain Old Testament references such as the witch of Endor in 1 Samuel. As far as being comfortable with the term, many of us are old enough to remember naming the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity: the Holy Ghost.

In the article, reference also is made to the writings of the Jesuit, Father Phillip Schmidt cautioning against Spiritualism: "Human beings can't control the supernatural – only God can. Whenever magic begins, where mirrors and windowpanes break in pieces… where one can ring up on the telephone Napoleon, Cleopatra, Herod, or Paracelsus as though they were acquaintances from the rowing or the tennis club… then spiritualistic nonsense begins." Thus, we disdain séances and other attempts to control access to spirits, but in what way can we encounter those who have crossed over to the other side and then, in a way, have crossed back. Kreeft opines that ghosts are denizens of purgatory whom are categorized by Kreeft in the following manner (from Townsends article):

"The first are 'sad, wispy ones' that are 'suffering some purgatorial purification until released form their earthly business.' The next type of ghosts are 'malicious and deceptive spirits' that are likely the ones 'who respond to conjurings at seances' and 'come from hell.' Lastly, there 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.'"

I admit that I have never encountered a ghost or any other spiritual entity, but I have spoken to a number of people who are convinced that they have had such a meeting. Intellectual honesty and openness does leave the door open, so to speak, for such possibilities. How can we dismiss absolutely activity issuing from a realm of existence that we attest to believe in but about which we know nothing. Although I am native of Connecticut, in this matter I guess that I am from Missouri.

No doubt we are encouraged to pray for the dead; we believe that we do pass from this material existence into a purely spiritual one; we are assured and encouraged by the belief that a host or communion of saints are energetically praying for us to join them. All Saints Day is a celebration of the victory of Christ over sin and death and the sharing of that victory by the righteous. In this understanding of the bridge between the mortal and immortal realities of our existence, we reach a much more comfortable relationship with the hereafter and those who dwell there.

I leave the question of the world of ghosts and other lingering spirits to your own conclusions. Please do not let the subject worry you and cause you sleepless nights, this Halloween I recommend opening a favorite candy bar and just enjoying the evening. On All Saints Day and All Souls Day, serious attention can be paid to praying for those faithful departed and for all who need our prayers. Allow me to leave you with this final note from Tim Townsends's article: It seems that a seminarian was visiting a rectory reputed to be haunted by a long deceased bishop. Upon departing the rectory, he asked the pastor who was sitting at the front desk when he arrived. The seminarian was assured that there was no one else in the rectory except them. The young man happened to pass by a portrait of the dead bishop. At which point, he turned to the pastor and said, "That's the man I saw when I came in." Humm! I wonder.