“And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.”
When I was only two, we lived in Germany because dad was stationed with the army in Ansbach. While there, my dad bought a “pop-top” VW camper bus, orange, that we would take for family camp outs. My memories are so fond of that camper bus that just a few years ago, my mom gave me a custom Christmas tree ornament of the same, orange and all. It even came back with us to the States. One of my earliest memories is of a camp out at a farm, gathered with other families near a barn.
As evening fell and the campfire burned, a ghost appeared in the upper window of the barn. Years later, it would be revealed to me that a parent had snuck up there to put on a show for us kids, but for a long time, I believed I had seen a ghost. Perhaps because of that experience, or it may just be my natural inclination, I am skeptical about the paranormal. History is filled with accounts of those who profited from faking paranormal experiences, by either selling their story or by duping the gullible. My limited background in magic taught me that you can’t trust everything you see. The power of suggestion, the mediation of our senses, our own physiological limitations (I once saw people in the flames of a campfire when I was dehydrated), mental illness, and drug induced hallucinations provide plenty of rational explanations for paranormal activity. Once I had had a profound spiritual experience of God’s presence, however, I became convinced, for a time, that all paranormal phenomena was just the work of the devil to confuse us and lead us away from God.
I have softened my stance some. The Church has not spoken definitively or doctrinally on the existence of ghosts, but our belief in the eternal existence of the soul allows for the possibility. Great saints have disagreed, so there is some room for a variety of opinions. Some of the most convincing ghost stories come from Catholic roots and some even believe Fr. Jack Schindler, our founding pastor at St. Pats, or some of the Franciscan Friars at St. Boniface still roam the properties. Up to 45% of the U.S. population believe in ghosts and shows about the paranormal seem to proliferate. If ghosts exist, they do so in accordance with God’s will and in his providence. They do not live here on earth, so to speak, but the Church exists on earth, in heaven and in purgatory. We know of various apparitions, even of Moses and Elijah in today’s Gospel, or of the particularly moving stories of deceased loved ones revealing that they are at peace. We should be cautious and discerning and avoid any attempt to seek or control the supernatural or afterlife. The catechism states, “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.” Malevolence in the paranormal is certainly not from God. Yet, in the communion of saints, I suppose it is possible that our loved ones may be allowed to appear in this world as a sign from God, as messengers of his love, or as companions in our need. They may also encourage our prayers for them in purgatory, the process of purification to full, beautiful, true and eternal communion in love. In any case, we shouldn’t become distracted from the transfigured one. Ghosts or the paranormal can pull our imaginations and focus away from Jesus. Don’t get caught up in a minor issue. Remember the point: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” I have never seen a real ghost with my own eyes and I’m still sure there’s not a ghost in every window, but I’m not so sure there are none. If there are, it is up to God.