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Often ghosts are depicted in popular culture either as cute, cuddly creatures like Casper, the Friendly Ghost, or frightening beings that haunt a particular place or person. Yet in general, most people believe ghosts are objects of fiction, not real.
But what’s the truth about ghosts? Are they real?
According to the Catholic Church, yes, ghosts are real, except the Church’s definition of ghosts is slightly different than the world’s view and includes three different types.
First of all, the word “ghost” is traditionally defined as “spirit.” In this respect, the Catholic Church heartily affirms that there is a spiritual world around us. These spirits are normally identified as “angels.”
Angels, similar to God, are pure “spirit” and do exist. It is a “truth of faith” and we are obligated to believe in them as Catholics.
Whenever an angel appears to someone in the Bible, the person might be afraid at first, but then the angel speaks and urges them not to be afraid. The angel appears to give a specific message of encouragement and to help a particular person draw closer to God. Their purpose is to lead a soul on the path that God has laid out for them in hopes of ultimately reaching eternal life.
Also, an angel does not seek to deceive and would not lurk around corners, trying to hide from someone. Their mission is very specific and often they give assistance without our even knowing they are an angel. At times they may take on a human appearance, but the way they look is not meant to scare or frighten, but to help us.
On the other hand, while there do exist good angels, there also exists bad angels. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms, “Satan or the devil and the other demons are fallen angels who have freely refused to serve God and his plan” (CCC 414).
This type of “ghost” falls into the definition of spiritual creatures that are featured in paranormal reality shows. Reports of such ghosts always revolve around something that scares an individual. It might be a moving object or a haunted house. Sometimes it is a report of a terrifying figure. Often the person who believes they saw a ghost only catches a glimpse of it but the experience is chilling.
This tactic is certainly reminiscent of what demons want to do to us: they want to scare us. Demons want to trick us into believing that they are powerful and gain our submission. It is an old tactic. The devil wants to lure us away from God and wants us to have a fascination with the demonic.
Odds are very likely that if someone sees a ghost or if they are involved with “ghost-hunting,” what they saw is actually a demon.
Spirits of the dead
The third category of “ghosts” does not fit the definition of an angel or demon. There have been countless stories throughout the centuries of saints or souls in purgatory who visit people on earth. Saints appear to people to urge them on and give them hope of eternal life and souls in purgatory typically come to ask for prayers or to thank someone for prayers. The saints have attested through the centuries of seeing souls from purgatory, but these souls always seek the prayers of those they appear to and then thank the saint when they are admitted into Heaven. Souls in purgatory have a purpose behind their appearance and do not seek to scare or intimidate us.
The Church officially does not have anything “written in stone” regarding the souls who appear after death, though stories and the common experience of people appear to confirm this phenomena. It is possible that some ghosts are the spirits of deceased relatives who seek to give us a word of comfort or even warning, but the Church has not said either way whether that could be the case or not.
In the end, the Church would suggest that if you are plagued by ghosts who are trying to haunt and scare you, don’t call the Ghostbusters. Call your local priest instead. There might be something much more sinister at work that paranormal investigators will have no power over.