I Don’t See Ghosts, But God Does.

The Parish where I serve has a history stretching back to 1893. Though our current buildings reach back only to 1938, even that is a stretch of over 70 years. As I walk these buildings, especially in the quiet of the night I sense a connection. I surely have never seen a ghost but in my mind’s eye I sense those who once walked the aisles of my Church, who sat in the pews. I ponder the many, many baptisms, at our font. The thousands of brides who walked our beautiful aisle. The thousands of first communions, confirmations, the thump as penitents knelt in the confessionals still in use after all these years. And yes, the many funerals.

How many times have those venerable old doors opened to admit a soul loved by God? How many tens of thousands, maybe over a hundred thousand have cumulatively prayed in my parish.

Late at night, I often visit the Church which is connected to the rectory, and I can almost see them. Perhaps too a faint echo of organ or choral music from the deep past echoing faintly in the shadows of the hallowed hall we call our Church.

In the rectory too, I wonder at the many dozens of priests who once occupied my room, who once sat at my dining room table. Most of them long dead, some still living. At times I sense their presence. I remember one priest who is dead now. Some years ago in the early 1990s when I was assigned here for the first time I occupied the rooms he once did. I felt a strong mandate from the Holy Spirit to pray for him. He was quite old but still living at the time and had left in 1970s for a schismatic church. Three years ago he died. Recently a brother priest told he that he had reconciled him to the Church just weeks before he died. Praise God. And now here I am again, back living in the same pastor’s quarters he once lived in. I feel a connection to him and the other priests who once walked these halls and lived in these rooms.

Somehow the past reaches forward and touches me and I know it is real. For the past is just as present to God as the present moment is and every future moment. It’s all knit together by God who is eternal. For eternal means the fullness of time. It means that the past, present and future are all the same to God, each equally present to him. So in God all those church events of the past are just as present to him as I am now. And tomorrow’s sermons is already accomplished for God as are all my sermons and Masses. And every priest who will one day come after me, and all that they will do, is already present to God. It’s all equally present to Him.

I don’t see Ghosts, but God does. And they are just as present and real to him as I am. And God sees those who will come after me too. The great mystery of time and God’s eternity unfold in these hallowed halls and in yours too.

The picture at the upper right is my parish in 1956.

This video is an unusual one. It depicts three priests singing of the history of a parish. And as they sing that history becomes present. There are men and women depicted going back to the 16th century. Sacraments are celebrated, people pray, and light candles. And gradually the people look more and more modern and then are of the present. Every parish holds the past as well as the present. For since God is present, so is the past, and so is the future.

If this post seems familiar, it is. I pray your leave as a republish an old post. Today was a busy one and tomorrow is busier. It is 11:30 pm and I haven’t blogged. So this was a little reprint from 2010.

13 Replies to “I Don’t See Ghosts, But God Does.”

  1. “I felt a strong mandate from the Holy Spirit to pray for him.”

    I know how that can be.

    I woke up in the middle of the night a few years ago with the strong conviction that I needed to pray for my best friend NOW. I had no idea why. I spoke to him later and he did not know of any particular danger that he might have been facing at that time. Was my experience just an irrational feeling probably tied to a bad dream? Maybe. Or was it the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and the prayer helped avert an unknown danger? Maybe; many dangers are only recognized not when they are risks, but when they are actualized disasters.

    I don’t expect an answer in this life. Jesus said, “I have yet many things to say to you: but you cannot bear them now.” Maybe this is one of those things for me.

  2. I find my thoughts drifting to my grandparents and my ancestors often when I am at Mass and I can feel really close to them when I am there, even the ones I never knew, who lived in different countries, in far-off times.

  3. Nicely done.

    One priest I knew routinely walked the aisles of his parish church to assist in his homily preparation. His homilies were often peppered with stories of parishioners or events. I admired his respect for the liturgy, for people, and the value of remembered history.

  4. I think about the martyrs this way when I attend communion. While the priest is praying, “May he make of us an eternal offering to you,” I am thinking about Blessed Charles Lwanga and his companions praying alongside us in the moments of their death, or Blessed Maximilian Kolbe in the death bunker, or Blessed Polycarp in the arena, all of them included in the “us” of the prayer, those great saints with all of us regular “civilians.”

  5. My home-town church, St Mary’s in Lee, MA celebrated it’s 150th anniversary in 2007. The rectory is as old. I have seen pictures from as far back as the late 1800’s of our church and rectory, which are in a book compiled for this grand 150th birthday. It IS exactly as you have written, Monsignor Pope. I think the same things, and it is very comforting to me. In a few weeks, I will be back in Lee, MA to visit family and to celebrate Mass in my old church!

  6. I am so please to read this post because I have had the same experiences myself. They are hard to explain to others so I have just kept them to myself. I used to love to go to Vicksburg and visit the Civil War battle field. In one particular area, every time I went, I would get this overwhelming feeling of sadness and loneliness. It was like, in my mind’s eye, I could see very young soldiers wounded, hungry, some dying and others wanting to go home. I wanted to cry but I would just pray for them all.

    1. Google “Pennsylvania Hall Gettysburg College ghosts”. You are not alone in experiencing the horrors of war at these sites. Others have had extraordinarily graphic experiences.

  7. Reminded me of a song lyric:

    “I am as pale as a ghost or a flower on a stem.
    You have never seen a ghost, no, but you have heard of them.”–Bob Dylan

    And also of this passage from The Dead, by James Joyce:

    “A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

  8. You should republish posts more often. You’ve got some real good ones that could bear repeating.

  9. My father, although an untrained singer and unable to read music, was known throughout the Italian community in Washington for his beautiful voice, and perfect sense of pitch. For almost 3 1/2 decades he sang with the choir at Holy Rosary Church, the Italian parish in DC, 12 years ago he died from a sudden heart attack. The choir director / organist, who does most of the almost 50 weddings there per year, mostly when booked solo, is often asked by the wedding party and parents as to who was the powerful tenor singing with her, usually on pieces like Schubert’s and Archedelt’s Ave Marias, Mozart’s Ave Verum, and Panis Angelicus, among others. The kicker was when a best man, not knowing what had been contracted, in handing her the check gave her one made out to “Cash” for the tenor who was heard accompanying her. Eerily, several years ago, two years after his passing, we recorded the choir, direct-to-disk without overdubs, for the 90th anniversary of the parish. Although there were two of us singing the tenor parts, his voice in a third harmony part can be clearly heard in places on the recording.

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