Taking a stroll through autumn, we will meander through an array of colors from rust to gold as our feet rustle through leaves of red, brown, green, yellow, and orange. In some ways, these vast shades of fallen leaves reflect the various seasonal spirits that accompany us and seem more present for some as we approach year’s end. We reawaken to the Advent spirits of mystery, Christmas spirits of magic, the frightening spirits of Halloween, heroic spirits of All Saints, yearning spirits of All Souls, and bountiful spirits of gratitude at Thanksgiving.
Throughout The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, we learn about dealing with spirits in our midst. Created in the image and likeness of God (The Holy Trinity), we also possess a triune nature—not Father, Son, and Spirit, but body, soul, and spirit. When earthly life ends for us, our bodies return to dust, our souls return to God’s eternal loving care, and our spirits, in some mysterious way, remain here with the Holy Spirit who inspires human beings toward goodness. When we respond at Mass with the words, “And with your spirit,” we attest that we’re not primarily physical beings that have a spiritual dimension but primarily spiritual beings that have a physical form. Every Sunday when professing our faith, we attest to our belief in things visible and invisible, seen and unseen.
I realize that some of us are frightened by the thought of spirits or ghosts—even a friendly ghost like Casper. Others are more comfortable with spiritual dimensions and identify closely with the Third Person of our Blessed Trinity as The Holy Ghost. We shouldn’t be fearful. The Desert Fathers of the early Christian communities encountered numerous good and evil spirits and recorded for us healthy ways and means to face the spirit world. Like Saint Paul before them and Ignatius of Loyola after them, these mystics offered techniques for us to discern spirits, helping us to recognize good and bad spirits so we can dispel the bad and benefit from the good. It begins with our ability to choose wisely and listen to God who will help us maneuver onward. Discernment essentially means allowing the Holy Spirit to guide the decisions we make.
It’s not unlike parents who instruct their children to participate in activities that are life-giving while steering away from those that make them vulnerable or lead them down dark paths. Though listening to ghost stories around a campfire might scare us into making smart decisions, attending a séance meeting or playing Ouija games or hanging with those that flirt with hazardous drugs makes us vulnerable to dangers. The church wants to protect her children just as parents do, so we urge others not to expose themselves to bad spirits when they can help it. Jesus was sent by The Father to cast out the power of evil spirits and rescue humanity from the realm of darkness so that we can be united with His kingdom of light.
I believe that there are far more good spirits than bad ones but, at the same time, we need to be aware that evil spirits do exist and sometimes we will encounter them. When we do, my profoundly simple recommendation is to pray. Turn to Jesus. Just as happens in the baptismal prayer of exorcism, calling upon the Second Person of the Trinity will set us free from the evil, make us temples of goodness, truth, and beauty, and let us dwell with the saints in glory. Enjoy your stroll through autumn and appreciate the spirit of the season.