They attempted to place these accounts, along with reports of other occult phenomena, within a framework of traditional Catholic theology (usually Thomist) and the findings of modern psychology and parapsychology. Perhaps the best known of these theologian-researchers were the Jesuit priests Herbert Thurston and F. X. Schouppe, and the Trappist abbot Alois Wiesinger.
A pattern we have already noted emerges in many of the accounts gathered by these scholars: When the deceased make an appearance, they often come either to aid the living or to ask the living for help. They might request, for example, that prayers and Masses be said for them, or they might ask that certain papers of a confidential nature be destroyed. Sometimes a deceased relative of a person in need of the sacraments comes to inform a priest of the situation and to show him where the one in need is to be found.
Stories such as these suggest a reply to the challenges commonly raised by Christians who are skeptical that the possibility of ghostly visits could fit into a faith perspective. How, they typically ask, would the dead obtain the power to visit the living? St. Augustine answered simply: “Through God’s secret ordinance.” It happens with divine permission and through divine power.
And why would God allow ghosts to visit? Apparently, to accomplish spiritual missions for themselves or others.
That’s why, if you ever do encounter some kind of apparition, the best thing to do is to pray for the soul and have Masses said for his or her repose.
A Final Warning
Finally, we must emphasize that the Church has always forbidden any attempt to seek out communication with the dead through means such as “channelers,” séances or Ouija boards. The reason is clear: Such attempts to “conjure up the dead … conceal a desire for power … as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2116).
Dangers abound here: Demons, known traditionally as “familiar spirits,” can counterfeit the spirits of the deceased. They may take advantage of these occult practices to manipulate and oppress people. Consequently, we must treat with great caution and discernment any encounters we may have with unexplained phenomena, or reports of such that we may receive from others. Genuine ghostly apparitions, unsought by the living and permitted by God’s grace, seem to be extremely rare.
That should be a comforting thought the next time you’re alone in the dark …
Copyright 2013 by Paul Thigpen.