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It was there in the Mass readings two weeks ago:

When there was fright in seeing Jesus' after the Resurrection, the Lord replied, "Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Touch Me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have."

That's in Luke 24 and it's fascinating because Jesus Himself used the word "ghost" -- defined as the spirit or manifestation of the deceased.

Perhaps it is an answer to those who wonder if belief in such manifestations is properly Catholic.

If there were no such thing as a ghost, why would Jesus refer to such (and why would His disciples think in this fashion)?

Another term for "ghosts" may be "earthbound spirits": there are those who claim that the deceased can become "stuck" here on earth through obsessions or unfinished business or because they refuse to go to the Light of that very same Jesus (perhaps fearful of judgment).

In a famous case, a prominent psychiatrist named George Ritchie asserted that during a glimpse into the beyond that the Lord showed him how many spirits roam the world (including a bar where alcoholic spirits sought to relive their alcoholism through the living). Padre Pio once said he ministered to more unseen spirits than physical people.

The supernatural -- the spirit -- gets trapped in the natural (perhaps through obsessions with a home, jewelry, or family members), and the question of the week is whether this can cause us problems.

"Spirits will remain earthbound because they are attached to a place or a thing," claims a woman from Ohio who specializes in helping "plagued" families. "I always think of these ghosts as being the people who never quite believed the famous phrase, you can't take it with you.'" She says she has noted such problems when children won't stay in a room, pets react strangely, or there is sudden tension or illness in a particular location.

"Other folks may have built a house and raised a family there," she adds. "And now their spirits don't want to leave. Perhaps someone else cannot bear the thought of a life without their beloved sports car or her treasured piece of jewelry. Or maybe it's just that they don't want anyone else to get their hands on these things. Some of the most commonly cursed places are hotels or bedroom-and-breakfasts and resorts."

We have to be extremely careful with this. Never initiate communication. That's necromancy, which is condemned. If there is really a spiritual factor behind a problem, it could be a demon.

Still, in the Gospel passage, it wasn't a "demon" that was mentioned, but a ghost. Jesus certainly knew the difference between a "ghost" and a "demon." He was not referring to an evil spirit per se. But can "earthbound" souls also do damage?

We get reports of ghostly manifestations in the news stream on a constant basis. Those who research this area claim that deceased relatives can "hang around" a family, causing problems that can be emotional or physical. It makes sense to this point: if indeed spirits of the deceased affect us, it may be a negative effect, for we die with the same personality, and the effect of an antagonistic person may be antagonistic.

For your prayerful consideration.

When such a prospect arises, the safe thing is simply to have a Mass said for whoever may be plaguing your house, workplace, or vicinity. Souls may be doing purgatory on earth, according to St. Pio. At Medjugorje, the Blessed Mother said that souls of the departed are sometimes allowed to manifest (as a reminder to pray for them). Others say that ill-willed spirits can "haunt" a location or person even to the point of causing physical maladies, or be passed down the family tree -- clinging to relatives.

We're not sure about that, but there do seem to be many families that are spiritually plagued by something that comes down through the generations. Are there strange disturbances in your home? Or is there a mysterious block in your life? Does the same sin seem to haunt various family members? Are there mysterious ailments (physical or mental)? Is there a feeling of disruption (including of sleep)?

If so, you may want to consider having a priest bless your home (this never hurts), and use Holy Water liberally. Ask the Blessed Mother to purge your home of anything that may be invisibly afflicting you (and your loved ones). Prayer is the answer to everything! And perhaps say this prayer (designed by a priest who is an expert in this field):

"Heavenly Father, I come before you as your child, in great need of your help; I have physical health needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs, and interpersonal needs. Many of my problems have been caused by my own failures, neglect and sinfulness, for which I humbly beg your forgiveness, Lord. But I also ask you to forgive the sins of my ancestors whose failures have left their effects on me in the form of unwanted tendencies, behavior patterns and defects in body, mind and spirit. Heal me, Lord, of all these disorders.

"With your help I sincerely forgive everyone, especially living or dead members of my family tree, who have directly offended me or my loved ones in any way, or those whose sins have resulted in our present sufferings and disorders. In the name of your divine Son, Jesus, and in the power of his Holy Spirit, I ask you, Father, to deliver me and my entire family tree from the influence of the evil one. Free all living and dead members of my family tree, including those in adoptive relationships, and those in extended family relationships, from every contaminating form of bondage. By your loving concern for us, heavenly Father, and by the shed blood of your precious Son, Jesus, I beg you to extend your blessing to me and to all my living and deceased relatives. Heal every negative effect transmitted through all past generations, and prevent such negative effects in future generations of my family tree.

"I symbolically place the cross of Jesus over the head of each person in my family tree, and between each generation; I ask you to let the cleansing blood of Jesus purify the bloodlines in my family lineage. Set your protective angels to encamp around us, and permit Archangel Raphael, the patron of healing, to administer your divine healing power to all of us, even in areas of genetic disability. Give special power to our family members' guardian angels to heal, protect, guide and encourage each of us in all our needs. Let your healing power be released at this very moment, and let it continue as long as your sovereignty permits.

"In our family tree, Lord, replace all bondage with a holy bonding in family love. And let there be an ever-deeper bonding with you, Lord, by the Holy Spirit, to your Son, Jesus. Let the family of the Holy Trinity pervade our family with its tender, warm, loving presence, so that our family may recognize and manifest that love in all our relationships. All of our unknown needs we include with this petition that we pray in Jesus' precious Name. Amen.

St. Joseph, Patron of family life, pray for us."

[resources: Healing the Family Tree and Deliverance from Evil Spirits]

[Masses for family healing]

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