Sep 192010

I received for review Holy Ghosts: Or How a (Not-So) Good Catholic Boy Became a Believer in Things That Go Bump in the Night and I am not quite sure what to make of it.

For the most part I really enjoyed the narrative of the book as the author relates a haunting of the house he lived in with his family that was also his childhood home. The author a Catholic describes the events that happened that convinced him that something was going on that was not material, but kept a mainly skeptical view throughout. If this was a novel and not a true account it would be an enjoyable read with some interesting chills, but not any real horror in the modern sense. Gary Jansen as an author is very engaging and you really come to accept all that he writes as he relates the haunting the strange coincidences piled on top of each other.

The sub title of the book describes the author as a (not so) good Catholic boy, which I found rather annoying. The author certainly seemed to be a serious Catholic in that for example when he was doing research on the subject who turned to the writings of the late Fr. Hardon of whom he trusted as an authentic source for Catholic teaching. At another point he turns to Peter Kreeft. There are interesting discussions between him and his wife on whether an action was something appropriate to the Catholic faith. He is also an author who has written a book of meditations on the Rosary. So while Catholics serious about the faith shouldn’t think that they are ready to be canonized and should know that they are indeed sinners saved only by the grace of God; at the same time humility is knowing the truth about yourself and being self-depricating as in the sub title is not really accurate. I probably dwell too much on this point and I love books like the Bad Catholics Guides to …. . It is just that I though this was a book written by a fallen away Catholic.

This is not to say that all decisions made by the author in getting rid of his haunting I though were prudential or even within Catholic doctrine. It was interesting to see the amount of research Gary Jansen did in learning about the spirit world and the realities of Angels and Demons and orthodox books on the subject going back of course to the Angelic Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas. With this type of grounding he still turns to a well-known ghost whisperer and follows her advice. This was the part of the book I have heavy qualms about. The idea that some hauntings are people who have died that need to find their way to the light after something has been resolved is common folder in stories. The concept that people in Purgatory might be doing this I find little credence for. Though as far as I know it is not something totally ruled out by doctrine and of course our knowledge on Purgatory is extremely limited.

While the author in the acknowledgements mentions a priest he had become friends with, what is missing is his actually going to the Church for advice about these hauntings. There is no mention of his discussing this with any priests, but this might have been left out. If so it is a curious omission. I just found strange the curios tension with him going to good and orthodox sources for research and then after some thought going with a ghost whisperer recommended by a friend.

Like Julie at Happy Catholic who reviewed this book I found rather disconcerting the authors use of occasional swearing which while not being particularly offensive, just seemed incongruous with the way he wrote. Despite some of my qualms and quibbles I did enjoy this book and it was a serious page turner in wanting to find out what would happen next. The writing makes you really want to accept what the author writes as a true experience and I certainly never had the feeling the story was less than truthful. I would certainly recommend this book with the caveats mentioned as it gives you much to think about.

For a book where the author wants to be seen as credible it seemed rather odd for me that one of the review quotes on the back of the book was from writer Whitley Strieber, author of Communion and other books. I have read Communion which is suppose to be a true account of Streiber’s encounters with aliens and is also written with a skeptical view of what was happening.

Happy Catholic’s much better written review is here. She also quotes some good passages from the book.

  4 Responses to “Holy Ghosts”

  1. “While the author in the acknowledgements mentions a priest he had become friends with, what is missing is his actually going to the Church for advice about these hauntings. There is no mention of his discussing this with any priests, but this might have been left out. If so it is a curious omission.”

    It doesn’t seem curious to me. Most of the priests I know have almost nothing productive to say about this type of issue.

  2. A lot of Catholics are hesitant to go to priests for non-sacramental stuff, because they know priests are busy and don’t want to hog their time. This of course leads to laypeople trusting themselves to other laypeople on certain issues when maybe they really do need a priest. I mean, if you’ve got ghost troubles, why wouldn’t you ask for a house blessing from Father? But instead, you see people trying to bless their own houses or using non-sacramentals like they are sacramentals or trusting themselves to “deliverance prayers”. Good luck with that, ’cause it’s really going out on a limb. Sure, God will probably help you, but that’s like passing up the gas station in the hope that somebody will bring you a gas can when you run out.

  3. I must say, I have a real problem with Mr. Jansen’s book. The Winkowski woman is a real piece of work, seriously involved in evil activities (e.g. offering magical ways to increase wealth; see her website), and if he is truly serious about his faith he should have had nothing to do with her. The most effective lies, it is pertinent to recall, are salted with enough truth to make them plausible.

  4. It is also worth noting that no priest is permitted to engage in an exorcism of any kind without authorization from his Ordinary. Like the CJ, I saw nothing in Jansen’s book to indicate he approached anyone for help except the Cleveland Medium.

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