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Caitlin Kennell Kim
Mary
Fr. Rick Malloy, SJ
General Questions
Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP
Ecumenical, Interfaith
Neela Kale
Culture, Moral Theology
Ann Naffziger, M.A., M.Div.
Bible
Mike Hayes
Swingman/Editor
 
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Our readers asked:

What is the Catholic teaching on the presence of ghosts or spirits?

Neela Kale Answers:

Editor’s Note: This is one of the winning questions asked by our readers during Busted Halo Summer School.

Q: Scientists are constantly trying to “prove” the existence of ghosts or departed spirits. What is the Catholic teaching on the presence of ghosts or spirits?

Ghosts5Catholics believe that death is not the end of human existence. While our present, corruptible bodies decay after death, our immortal souls will be reunited with our glorified bodies in the fullness of time. We don’t actually know what this will look like, although we do believe that we can have contact with the dead who have gone before us. That’s what we do when we pray for the intercession of the saints. But the Church does not teach that tormented souls linger on earth like the ghosts of popular imagination. Instead, Catholics believe that the communion of saints is invisible to most people most of the time. Any contact we have with the dead comes through the experience of faith, not necessarily though the empirical channels employed by scientists in search of the paranormal.

Karl Rahner, S.J., explains this well:

“The great mistake of many people … is to imagine that those whom death has taken, leave us. They do not leave us. They remain! Where are they? In the darkness? Oh, no. It is we who are in darkness. We do not see them, but they see us. Their eyes radiant with glory, are fixed upon our eyes … Though invisible to us, our dead are not absent … They are living near us transfigured into light and power and love.”

 
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The Author : Neela Kale
Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • LivingCatholic

    Always Love this topic…my ah-ha moments always come when my child’s mind engaged (good that Jesus loves the little children). This one came to me as my father was dying a few years ago at age 92. After communion, the thought came to me that we are created in the image of Christ who was fully human and fully divine. He told the apostles that he would leave his spirit behind, the Holy Spirit, as an encourager/Advocate (John 14:26). I feel certain that our spirits are what is “left behind”. Not as a ghost, but the spiritual connection to the communion of saints. I have had more than one experience that has strengthened my understanding of this. As it says in Ephesians 1:8-9 “In all wisdom and insight 9 He [j]made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His [k]kind intention which He purposed in Him.

  • Curry Russell

    Nothing biblical backing any of these statements. I do believe the BIBLE says king Saul conjured Samuel. The bible should be the soul authority on Christian doctrines.

    • UAWildcatx2

      You made a blanket statement on this post, so I have to respond:

      “Our immortal souls will be reunited with our glorified bodies in the fullness of time”- 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16

      “the intercession of the saints”
      - Revelation 8:1-5

      At least two of these statements have scriptural basis. Whether you choose to ignore it is your own thing. But just FYI: Bible and Trinity are not specifically stated in Scripture.

  • Veronica

    I remember a priest say in a homily, that when a person dies, we really shouldn’t say that he/she is now “an angel” looking down on us, and watching over us. He asked if we wanted to think of our departed loved ones as ghosts or spirits. He used the same description as you did, that we believe in the communion of saints and that it’s not the same as ghosts/spirits/angels. He said we should imagine that our loved ones are at a big dining table, and that in good time, we will join them at that table. I like how that priest and you describe the communion of saints.

    • Sonja Flater

      Yes, very nice. I have always been surprised that people will refuse the term “saint” but, accept “angel”. They are another being entirely.

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