November 2nd is “All Souls Day,” a day that the Universal Catholic Church remembers for the sake of the Church Suffering.
At a recent Catholic Conference, I decided to pray the Prayer of St. Gertrude including it in my Rosary:
"Eternal Father, I offer you the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen"
The Bible gives some very interesting texts in both the Old and New Testaments showing that there is Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory (Sheol also referred to as the Neither-world)
Matthew 14:22-33 states, “After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
“Truly, you are the Son of God”! What a scene, can you imagine what you might of thought if you were among the Apostles? Would you have thought this image walking on the water midst the storm a Ghost as the Apostles themselves exclaimed? Did the Apostles really even believed in ghosts? What would you have thought if you witnessed Jesus walking on the water?, Obviously, this was all beyond human understanding.
Jesus is not a ghost, he is the “Son of God” as the Apostles finally concluded from the scene.
At the time before the Resurrection of the Lord, Spirits of the dead were not able able to enter into heaven. 1 Peter 3:18-21 states, “For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the Ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now”.
These Spirits were alive, they were not dead as if they were simply waiting for the end of time. They were alive in this State that was called Sheol, or the Netherworld.
Consider the following: 1 Samuel 28: 8-19 states, “So he (King Saul) disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and set out with two companions. They came to the woman by night (The Witch of Endor), and Saul said to her, Tell my fortune through a ghost; conjure up for me the one I ask you to. But the woman answered him, You are surely aware of what Saul has done, in driving the mediums and fortune-tellers out of the land. Why, then, are you laying snares for my life, to have me killed? But Saul swore to her by the Lord, As the Lord lives, you shall incur no blame for this. Then the woman asked him, Whom do you want me to conjure up? and he answered, Samuel. When the woman saw Samuel, she shrieked at the top of her voice and said to Saul, Why have you deceived ME? You are Saul! But the King said to her, Have no fear. What do you see? The woman answered Saul, I see a preternatural being rising from the earth. What does he look like? asked Saul. And she replied, It is an old man who is rising, clothed in a mantle. Saul knew that it was Samuel, and so he bowed face to the ground in homage. Samuel then said to Saul, Why do you disturb me by conjuring me up? Saul replied: I am in great straits, for the Philistines are waging war against me and God has abandoned me. Since he no longer answers me through prophets or in dreams, I have called you to tell me what I should do.
To this Samuel said: But why do you ask me, if the Lord has abandoned you and is with your neighbor? The Lord has done to you what he foretold through me: he has torn the kingdom from your grasp and has given it to your neighbor David. Because you disobeyed the Lord’s directive and would not carry out his fierce anger against Amalek, the Lord has done this to you today. Moreover, the Lord will deliver Israel, and you as well, into the clutches of the Philistines. By tomorrow you and your sons will be with me, and the Lord will have delivered the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines”.
2 Kings 13:21 there is another interesting story that occurred when a band of Moabites were conducting a raid in Israel. Some people were in the process of burying a man when they witnessed the raid. In fear, they tossed the dead man into the grave of Elisha and they took off for fear. When the dead man came into contact with the bones of Elisha, “he came back to life and rose to his feet”. Now, the text does say that “everyone went off”, was it for fear of the Moabites or was it from Elisha?
Mark 9:2-10 states, “After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. The Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, This is my beloved Son. Listen to him. Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.”
The examples of Samuel, Elisha, Moses and Elijah shows that the Spirits of the dead were alive, waiting for the Resurrection. Consider Matthew 27:51-53, “And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of MANY saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city (Jerusalem) and appeared to many”. Wow, think about that Scene!
From the Resurrection of Jesus, many spirits were released from this “prison” and they entered the heavenly host. But this State, this prison was not completely done away with. Matthew states that many were released, but not all. This State in the New Testament is called Purgatory, it is a temporary state that spirits of the dead go through a purging process to enter heaven, these are saved. They are not damned.
Today, there are a lot of people who believe in ghosts, there are a lot of movies that entertain us about ghosts, there are literally ghost chasers who travel with high tech equipment searching for energy they can detect. Recently, while I was visiting Tombstone Arizona, I took my Grandson, Matthew, to see the sights and plays of what it was like in the old west. At the end of the day, there was this tour that tells of ghosts who have been seen from the time when Tombstone was a boom silver town in the early 1880′s.
We went with a small group and took the tour and the tour guide presented their story of ghosts that still are known to be there. If you go there today, you can take that tour and actually participate with one of the shows where they have equipment that they tell you shows ghosts being present. For me, this was simply entertainment, but I think some really believe this stuff. So I played along. In doing this, there was no witchcraft taking place, nor were there any kind of seances, that would have been my invitation to leave.
The hosts of the event placed flashlights on a table nearby in front of us, they set up their equipment and from that, turned off all the lights. I have always felt that manifestations of ghosts were basically demonic impersonations, that was how I always have viewed those that could be supernatural. This particular evening, it was my Grandson and I that were present, and I asked the hosts if they had ever encountered anything that could be violent? They replied no, that they would not go anywhere that something evil or violent was known.
Just asking them questions, I was interested if they thought that ghosts were trapped in another dimension. That’s when one of the flashlights popped on without anyone touching the flashlight. I looked around wondering how they did that? The host informed me that a ghost was giving an affirmation to that question. Then the flashlight turned itself off. Well, this lead me to ask further questions. I asked a question concerning if these ghosts were able to transport throughout the world, or are they exclusively there in Tombstone. What sounded like static on their speakers seemed to imply no, they were not able to move about freely.
I asked if these “ghosts” were part of purgatory, if there was a connection some how and the flashlight turned on again. I really began to share a lot of scripture just to see how the hosts thought about that. It would seem that the ghosts were happy about the scriptures I was sharing. I shared 1 Corinthians 2:9, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him…” It was interesting, this flashlight would turn on and off another time and finally, there was another flashlight on the table before us that did the same thing. When the presentation was done, I examined the flashlights and I was stumped how those lights turned itself on and off like that. It wasn’t possible that someone was personally doing that, there had to be some kind of gimmick they had, but for entertainment value, I couldn’t figure that out.
The hosts actually record all these presentations and they were very positive about this session. As Christians, it is important that we understand that when a person dies, their soul lives on. A ghost, if it should be a true miracle of God, a true manifestation, we are not to use occult means: “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. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone” (CCC 2116).
2 Corinthians 11:14-15 gives this warning, “And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light. So it is not strange that his ministers also masquerade as ministers of righteousness. Their end will corresponds to their deeds.”
1 John 4:1 gives this teaching, “Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” This for me is the overriding factor. I do not know of any sighting of ghosts that the Church has endorsed. There are Saints who are in heaven that have been seen, but these are not ghosts trapped in a time warp or other dimension. At best, then, the idea of ghosts might fall into the category called, Opinio tolerata, which are beliefs with a very low degree of theological certainty, but tolerated by the Church. So, are ghosts simply disembodied spirits? That is any incorporeal supernatural being that can become visible (or audible) to human beings… Are they saved spirits waiting for the General Judgement? The whole question is more problematic as I do not see a lot of spiritual benefit.
The real question is the Communion of Saints, those spirits who have made it to their heavenly reward. The Saints are sometimes the focus by anti-Catholics, they will challenge you to why you pray to dead people?
I find this a very interesting development coming from people who might believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. How can you believe in the resurrection of Jesus and not recognize the power that it represents?
Luke 20:37-38 states, “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
The Saints in heaven are like the angels, they can no longer die. At the General Judgement, the body will rise again as did Jesus, and the soul and the body will be reunited, we will have a glorified body.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52 states, “Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” One of the signs the Lord gives us are the many Saints whose bodies have not decayed in the normal natural process. Their bodies are called the “incorruptibles” as if they are waiting for the resurrection of the dead.
But, until that time comes, the soul continues to live on. In heaven, they make up the great cloud of witnesses who are caught up to the third heaven. Here, at the Altar of God, Tobit 12:12 States, “I (the angel Raphael) can now tell you that when you, Tobit, and Sarah prayed, it was I who presented and read the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord (Revelation 5:8/8:3-4); and I did the same thing when you used to bury the dead.”
Revelation 5:8 states, “When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones.”
Revelation 8:3-5 states, “Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a gold censer. He was given quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones, on the gold altar that was before the throne. The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with burning coals from the altar, and hurled it with burning coals from the altar, and hurled it down to the earth. There were pearls of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.”
The Catholic Church is given the chrism by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without the threat of error, it is impeccable because God is impeccable. People are not impeccable, but the Church is entrusted with infallibility that the Deposit of Faith will be preserved down to the final generation.
According to Father Daniel Maher, “The Catholic Church recognizes that the making of saints is ultimately God’s work. That is to say, only with the help of God’s grace can one who has received the universal call to holiness successfully respond to that call and enter into eternal life with God. The Church, however, is entrusted with the responsibility of acknowledging those whose lives have been exemplary models of holiness and heroic virtue. This acknowledgment of holiness serves the mission of the Church by edifying and encouraging the faithful, while also pointing to powerful intercessors who can assist us on our journey towards eternal life.”
What a great joy it is for the Church to remember the Catholic Hall of Fame who are in heaven. The Church Triumphant.
The Saints are those who are recognized as being heaven’s Catholic Hall of Fame. Their stories of how God worked in their lives are an inspiration, they are great role models that encourages us to stay the course of faith.
So, at the end of the day, the Spirits who lived in the Old Testament, we were not damned, many of them are in heaven. There are many since the resurrection of Christ who are in heaven in perfect happiness. In purgatory, there are those who are awaiting for their entrance into heaven, we can pray for those in Purgatory as those in heaven can pray for us. This is the communion of Saints. The question of ghosts, well, I’ll leave that for entertainment and leave it at that. Go with what we know for sure!
As the Saints pray for us, the Church Militant, let us remember to prayer for those in Purgatory, the Church Suffering. Let charity and love prevail in our hearts.
In the New Testament, St. Paul gives a another very interesting clue about Purgatory! Purgatory continues to be a challenge to many outside the Catholic Church.
The question often arises concerning whether Onesiphorus, friend of St. Paul was alive or dead from the text found in 2 Timothy 1:16-18. The fact that St. Paul refers to Onesiphorus family clearly reveals that Onesiphorus is past tense.
The real issue shows that St. Paul recognized the mercy of God that would take place not only this age, but also the age to come. Jesus himself speaks this language saying that those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit would not be forgiven in this age or in the age to come.
The following are examples of what was commonly held regarding this scriptural text.Taken from "Biblical Evidence for Catholicism" by Dave Armstrong:
1) Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) (Anglican): The Expositor's Bible (edited by W. Robertson Nicoll), The Pastoral Epistles, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1891, pp. 324-326: Certainly the balance of probability is decidedly in favour of the view that Onesiphorus was already dead when St. Paul wrote these words. . . . he here speaks of "the house of Onesiphorus" in connexion with the present, and of Onesiphorus himself only in connexion with the past. . . . it is not easy to explain this reference in two places to the household of Onesiphorus, if he himself was still alive. In all the other cases the individual and not the household is mentioned. . . . There is also the character of the Apostle's prayer. Why does he confine his desires respecting the requital of Onesiphorus' kindness to the day of judgment? . . . This again is thoroughly intelligible, if Onesiphorus is already dead.. . . there seems to be equal absence of serious reason for doubting that the words in question constitute a prayer. . . .Having thus concluded that, according to the more probable and reasonable view, the passage before us contains a prayer offered up by the Apostle on behalf of one who is dead, we seem to have obtained his sanction, and therefore the sanction of Scripture, for using similar prayers ourselves. . . .This passage may be quoted as reasonable evidence that the death of a person does not extinguish our right or our duty to pray for him: but it ought not be quoted as authority for such prayers on behalf of the dead as are very different in kind from the one of which we have an example here. Many other kinds of intercession for the dead may be reasonable and allowable; but this passage proves no more than that some kinds of intercession for the dead are allowable; viz., those in which we pray that God will have mercy at the day of judgment on those who have done good to us and others, during their life upon earth.
2) James Maurice Wilson (1836-1931) (Anglican): Truths New and Old, Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co., 1900, p. 141: We have, therefore, the sanction of St. Paul for remembering inn our prayers, and interceding for, those who have now passed into the other world . . .
3) Sydney Charles Gayford (Anglican): The Future State, New York: Edwin S. Gorham, second edition, 1905, pp. 56-57:. . . the most satisfactory explanation is that Onesiphorus was dead. . . .And so we may hold with some confidence that we have in this passage the authority of an Apostle in praying for the welfare of the departed.
4) John Henry Bernard (1860-1927) (Anglican), The Pastoral Epistles, Cambridge University Press, 1899, p. 114: On the whole then it seems probable that Onesiphorus was dead when St. Paul prayed on his behalf . . .
5) Donald Guthrie (1915-1992) (Anglican): The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, The Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2nd edition, 1990, p. 148: Since it is assumed by many scholars that Onesiphorus was by now dead, the question has been raised whether this sanctions prayer for the dead. Roman catholic theologians claim that it does. Spicq, for instance, sees here an example of prayer for the dead unique in the New Testament. Some Protestants agree with this judgment and cite the Jewish precedent of 2 Macc 12:43-45 . . .
6) William Barclay (1907-1978) (Presbyterian / Church of Scotland), The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 3rd edition, 2003, p. 175:. . . there are many who feel that the implication is that Onesiphorus is dead. It is for his family that Paul first prays. Now, if he was dead, this passage shows us Paul praying for the dead, for it shows him praying that Onesiphorus may find mercy on the last day.
7) J. N. D. Kelly (1909-1997) (Anglican): A Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, London: A&C Black, 1963, p. 171: On the assumption, which must be correct, that Onesiphorus was dead when the words were written, we have here an example, unique in the N.T., of Christian prayer for the departed. . . . the commendation of the dead man to the divine mercy. There is nothing surprising in Paul's use of such a prayer, for intercession for the dead had been sanctioned in Pharisaic circles at any rate since the date of 2 Macc 12:43-45 (middle of first century B.C.?). Inscriptions in the Roman catacombs and elsewhere prove that the practice established itself among Christians from very early times.
8) John E. Sanders (evangelical / open theist): No Other Name, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1992, pp. 182-183: Some scholars contend that 2 Timothy 1:16-18 contains a reference to praying for the dead; they contend that the person for whom Paul prays, Onesiphorus was dead.Footnote 11:
Among those commentators who understand Paul to be praying for the dead here are the following: W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, Vol. 4 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1951), p. 159; Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, Vol. 3 (Chicago: Moody Pres, 1958), p. 376 . . . J. E. Huther, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to Timothy and Titus (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1871), p. 263.
9) Philip Schaff (1819-1893) (Reformed Protestant), The International Illustrated Commentary on the New Testament, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1889, Vol. IV, The Catholic Epistles and Revelation, p. 587:
On the assumption already mentioned as probable, this would, of course, be a prayer for the dead. The reference of the great day of judgment falls in with this hypothesis. . . . From the controversial point of view, this may appear to favor the doctrine and practice of the Church of Rome . . .
10) Charles John Ellicott (1816-1905) (Anglican): A New Testament Commentary for English Readers, London: Cassell & Co., Vol. III, 1884, p. 223: There is but little doubt that when St. Paul wrote this Epistle Onesiphorus' death must have recently taken place . . .