Tag Archives: purgatory

Pope’s Intentions for November

1 Nov

Following are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI for the month of November, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Ministers of the Gospel.  That bishops, priests, and all ministers of the Gospel may bear the courageous witness of fidelity to the crucified and risen Lord.
  • Pilgrim Church.  That the pilgrim Church on earth may shine as a light to the nations.

The month of November is dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. The Church commemorates all her faithful children who have departed from this life, but have not yet attained the joys of heaven. The Church has always taught us to pray for those who have gone before us into eternity. Even in the Old Testament prayers and alms were offered for the souls of the dead, as it was considered the “holy and pious” thing to do (2 Mac. 12:45)  We know that a defiled soul cannot enter into heaven.

November is a rich month liturgically. It marks the end of ordinary time and the beginning of Advent. It begins today with the solemnity of All Saints followed by All Souls’ Day. The remainder of the month contains the feast days of many popular saints as well as the great feast of Christ the King. The Church in the United States also sees the secular holiday of Thanksgiving as a time for all of us to thank God for the rich blessings he has bestowed upon us.

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

29 Oct

The Bible actually points to evidence that ghosts do indeed exist. In the Old Testament, ghosts appeared to both Job and the Maccabees in their sleep to relay messages (2 Macc. 15:12-16; Job 4:15).

When Jesus appeared in the resurrected body, he was mistaken for a ghost and even said that ghosts don’t have flesh and bones (Lk. 24:39). The prophet Samuel prophesied from the grave (Sir. 46:20). Also, in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31), it’s implied that the dead can communicate with the living in verse 25. And even stranger is the possible separation of the spirit from the living body or bilocation in the story of Philip baptizing the Ethiopian in Acts 8:39: “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again . . .”

Accordingly, the Church believes that ghosts, or spirits, do exist. There are times when spirits appear to our benefit, but we are warned against attempting to contact spirits. We should be extremely cautious and guarded simply because Satan could be attempting to deceive us.

But what are they?

“Ghost” is another word for “spirit” (it comes from the German word Geist,  which means “spirit”). There are three kinds of spirits: (1) the human spirit which combined with a human body make up a human being; (2) a spirit that that has no body, such as that of an angel or devil; and (3) the infinite Spirit—God–of whom the Third Person is the Holy Spirit or “Holy Ghost.”

When someone asks whether ghosts exist, he usually has in mind the first kind, a human spirit, but apart from one’s body. Hence Servant of God John Hardon defined “ghost” as a disembodied spirit. Christianity believes that God may, and sometimes does, permit a departed soul to appear in some visible form to people on earth. Allowing for legend and illusion, there is enough authentic evidence, for example in the lives of the saints, to indicate that such apparitions occur. Their purpose may be to teach or warn, or request some favor of the living (Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980, p. 229).

The last sentence of Fr. Hardon’s definition implicitly gives the Church’s teaching on ghosts. Appearances of ghosts are understood with regard to our salvation. Ghosts can come to us for good, but we must not attempt to conjure or control spirits. The Church teaches that “spiritism”–seeking recourse or power from ghosts–is contrary to the virtue of religion (i.e., the Commandment “You shall have no other gods before Me”):

“All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future…

“All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others–even if this were for the sake of restoring their health–are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2116-17, original emphasis).

Peter Kreeft, in his interesting book Angels (and Demons) (San  Francisco: Ignatius, 1995, pp. 51-52) provides this interesting speculation regarding “haunting”:

“Ghosts are the spirits, or souls, of human beings whose bodies have died.  They may hover around the earth “haunting” material places, usually houses.  There seem to be four possible reasons for this:

1. They don’t yet realize they are dead.

2. They were so attached to their material places or possessions that they can’t detach themselves from them and leave.

3. They are working out some purification, penance, or purgatory, some remedial education or ‘reform school.’

4. They are consoling their loved ones who have been bereaved.

“Angels, in contrast, did not have human bodies in the first place and never will.  Ghosts once had human bodies and will receive new resurrection bodies in heaven if they go there.”

Apparently, according to Dr. Kreeft, C.S. Lewis once claimed to have seen a ghost of his wife.

What’s Happening Down There?

7 Aug

A recurring criticism of Catholic theology by other Christians is our belief in the communion of saints. More specifically, we believe that there is a spiritual bond uniting believers on earth, souls in purgatory, and the blessed in heaven. We believe that those who are “saved” and are now in the presence of God are aware of what’s happening on earth and in fact can be counted on to pray for us.

For that reason, I thought an article appearing last week at christianpost.com was pretty interesting. The article is about Protestant Evangelist Greg Laurie, who lost his son in an automobile accident four years ago. Since that time he has been reflecting on heaven as well as the virtue of hope. While he limited the scope of his inquiry to Scripture alone, he still came to the conclusion that people in heaven know what’s going on here on earth. Here’s an excerpt:

Pointing to scripture found in Revelation [and] Luke chapters 15 and 16, Laurie  explained that he believes that people in heaven have knowledge of what is  happening on earth.

“Let me take it a step further. I think people in heaven know a lot more  about earth than we may realize,” he said.

“People in eternity are aware of the fact that loved ones are not saved. This  is based on Luke 16 . . . In the afterlife we are the same person with real memories  of earth. You will know more in heaven than you will on earth, not less. We  don’t all get a collective lobotomy when we go to glory.”

A second point he made during the sermon is that when people come to believe  in Jesus it’s “public knowledge in heaven.”

“There is joy in heaven whenever one person repents,” he said. “Whenever  someone turns to God on earth they break out in applause in heaven.”

His third point about heaven is that people there know about the time and  place of events on earth as evidenced by passages in Revelation. . . .

Again, pointing to verses in the Bible, he added as a fourth point that there  will be a connection between those in heaven and those on earth. Those in heaven  will be aware of the spiritual status of their loved ones.

He doesn’t seem to be too far removed from a Catholic understanding of the communion of saints.

Laurie assures his listeners that heaven is not one long church service. He reminded of a quip I once heard from Dr. Peter Kreeft, who said in effect that hell is an eternal church service without God, while heaven is eternity with God without the church service.

What Purgatory Is . . . and Isn’t

2 Nov

Does purgatory offer a second chance to those who rejected Christ in this life?

This question and others like it reflect a widespread Protestant belief that purgatory is one of those “unbiblical” Church teachings that Catholics manufactured. I’m sure most of our Catholic readers have encountered such question about Purgatory at some time in their life.

And today, of course, the Church celebrates All Souls Day, which in a sense gives purgatory center stage.

Three ecumenical councils affirm the Church’s teaching on purgatory, two of which preceded the Protestant Reformation: Lyons II (1274), Florence (1439), and Trent (1563). These councils did not “create” this teaching, but explicated the faith of the Church, found in Scripture and Tradition, and attested by Church leaders throughout the first Christian millennium.

Check out Catechism, nos. 1030-32 and the resources below for more information.

In answer to the question posed at the beginning of this post, purgatory is not a “second chance.” Christ judges each one of us upon our death, and at that time our eternal destination—heaven or hell—is determined. Purgatory does not offer a third way or some sort of end run, as though we could earn our way to heaven after death despite rejecting Christ during our life. It doesn’t work that way. If we reject Christ, we will not be saved (see Jn. 3:18).

Thus, the spiritual purification of purgatory is possible only for those who are reconciled to God through the saving death of Christ.

But what about that? Isn’t Christ’s saving death sufficient? If we died in friendship with Christ, why then do we need this “purification”? Continue reading