by ROWENA OREJANA
Julie Valencia woke up at 2.30am when the door to the guest bedroom she and her daughter were sleeping
in opened with a soft click. Her father had died and they were staying at her brother’s house for the funeral.
Slightly groggy and half awake, she saw a woman in a house dress silhouetted in the door frame.
“What?” she asked. But the woman just shut the door.
The following morning, she asked two other women in the house if they looked in on her in the wee hours. Both replied no.
She was about to dismiss the thing as a dream, but then her daughter said she was also woken by the door opening and saw the same silhouette.
Mrs Valencia and her family speculate that it could have been the spirit of her mother, who died earlier this
year. “She usually favoured house dresses and always had her hair in rollers,” she said, smiling at the memory.
Catholics believe they are surrounded by a spiritual world, although some may be more sceptical than others about ghosts and spiritual manifestations.
Bishop Patrick Dunn told NZ Catholic that it is a mystery. “We don’t know. We can’t talk definitively. But there’s something deep in the human heart I think that sometimes is aware of the presence of those we love, especially soon after death.”
He noted that Maori culture is open to the “presence of spirits who have gone on before us”.
“They have the idea that the spirit is very close, hovering around, as it were, during the funeral. They have this tradition that the spirit is a bit confused after death and so they are hovering around,” he said. “I think
we can live with that very comfortably.”
The Dean of Studies at Good Shepherd College, Fr Merv Duffy, SM, said the Church accepts the spiritual world as much as the physical one. “The Church strongly affirms the continuation of the human soul after the death of the body. Catholics believe in life everlasting,” he said.
“The Church also teaches that there are spiritual powers, for good and evil that can influence people — angels and
demons. We pray for angelic guardianship and for protection against malign influences. Our liturgy has prayers of
exorcism, most notably in the Rite of Christian Initiation.”
Fr Duffy said there are a number Bible passages that suggest a belief in manifestations of spirits.
“When Jesus during his ministry came walking across the Sea of Galilee towards his disciples in a boat, Mark
6:49 records: “When they saw him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out.”
Fr Duffy pointed out that when Peter, James and John saw Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah had been dead for centuries.
“Every apparition of the Virgin Mary is also the manifesting of a deceased person,” said Fr Duffy, adding that Mary “is in a special category of her own, because of being assumed body and soul into heaven”.
Fr Duffy said the Church teaches that each person’s soul is judged at the moment of death, “either entrance into the blessedness of heaven — through a purification, or immediately — or immediate and everlasting damnation”.
“This seems to eliminate the possibility of their lingering to say goodbye or to deal with unfinished business.” However, they are able to come for a visit.
“One influential theologian, St Augustine, recounted how ‘sure witnesses’ saw St Felix appear when barbarians
were attacking the town of Nola. He considered this to be a miraculous exception to the normal run of events whereby the departed do not have it in their power to be interested in affairs the living,” said Fr Duffy.
Despite St Augustine’s belief, the Church teaches the virtuous dead still care for the living, said Fr Duffy.
The Cathechism of the Catholic Church encourages us to pray to those who went to heaven before us, especially the saints: “Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.”
This is why we can pray to the souls of our beloved dead for intercession, like NZ Catholic editor Peter Grace does.
Mr Grace said he prays to one of his sisters, who died when she was only three years old. “For me, she is still alive in a real way. I pray to her to intercede for us,” he said.
Fr Duffy said a theologian who put together Supplement to the Summa Theologica taught that “souls sometimes
come forth from their abode [. . .] and appear to men for man’s instruction and intimidation”.
The same theologian, said Fr Duffy, was sure of apparitions of saints, and considered it “credible” that the
damned might also appear, “hence the intimidation”.
Both Bishop Dunn and Fr Duffy, however, remind us that there is no need to fear spirits.
“The living are not under threat from the dead or other spiritual entities; we are protected by the person of Christ,” said Fr Duffy.
“Some people can become very fearful and terrified of evil spirits, that sort of thing,” said Bishop Dunn. “But
the message in the Gospels is Jesus casts them out as Lord of all creation. So we have a belief in ghosts or
spirits or whatever, but there are no grounds for fear.”