Ghost Stories

I suspect that many who read this won't have memories of watching shaky, really low-resolution black and white TV on tiny round screens. The television programming that I watched as a teenager came into our home in a big box filled with vacuum tubes and wires. In today's giant-screen, high definition society, programming in those days would seem even more primitive than the equipment. One of the most popular daytime TV shows in Cincinnati in those days was called The Make-Believe Ballroom, an hours long program of a radio disk jockey sitting at a desk playing records while a pretty young lady lip-synced the words or another pretty lady drew cartoons on large sheet of paper. Folks sat for hours starring into a six- or eight-inch dimly-lighted screen, just being entertained by such programs.

Early TV programming wasn't just disk jockeys and test patterns. We had Bob Steele westerns and Felix the Kat cartoons. Now and then, what are now considered to be classic movies would be shown. Some of those wonderful old films pop up occasionally on one of the classic movie channels. I'm talking about movies like Little Lord Fauntleroy or The Prince and the Pauper. One of my favorite movies of all time was the 1930s version of The Canterville Ghost, an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's Victorian Era novella.

People seem to enjoy ghost stories. In these more sophisticated times, we still are occasionally entertained on TV and in movie theatres by such films. Some of these stories are scary. Some are romantic. Some are funny. We teach our children about ghosts when we dress them up at Halloween or encourage them to watch A Christmas Carol. Ghosts and such are very popular themes in Mexico, especially on El Dia de los Muertos -- The Day of the Dead -- known as All Souls Day in the English-speaking Catholic Church.

It seems that, for some folks at least, the entertainment industry is not maintaining a supply of ghost stories adequate to the demand. Not a problem. At least not for a gullible fringe of Catholic faithful. Like believers in UFOs, these folks seem to see strange visitors everywhere. They see Jesus or the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) in oil stains on shop floors, on store windows in need of cleaning, in the shape of a potato, etc. Some who see the BVM have exclusive rights to the view, for she is invisible and inaudible to others who gather at the same place at the same time. How sad that the only contact that pious visitors to Medjugorje, Fatima, Conyers, Emmitsburg, etc., have with their Mediatrix/Redemptrix is when they buy gaudy souvenir images or drop something in the offering bucket.

I have personally visited three apparition sites to see for myself what Jesus looks like. These viewings seemed necessary because just about every image I have seen of the Redeemer presents Him as either a blond Renaissance European or some strangely-figured Coptic or UFO-style primitive figure. I find it difficult to believe that our God who was incarnated among Jews would have looked like anything other than a Jew.

One of my trips took me to the neighborhood of the St. James Catholic church in San Antonio. It was necessary to go there after dark, for this Jesus was a nocturnal visitor. When I arrived at the visitation site, a small crowd already had gathered to pray before this "sacred" image. Conveniently, priests from the nearby church had placed a keg of holy water at the base of a tree near the apparition site. At least I think it was holy water.

As we endured a seemingly interminable sunset in anticipation of Jesus' return, many of those in the assembly were on their knees, mumbling some ritual chant as they tolled their beads or played with a little figurine in some holy image.

Finally, darkness was upon us. We could tell it was dark, because the street lamp behind the tree came on. It was as a theatrical spotlight, heralding the arrival on stage of the principle character in the unfolding drama. As we all sat, kneeled or stood staring intently at the white-painted garage door that Jesus reportedly used for His visits, the holy image appeared before us. An audible sigh could be heard as those in the crowd who had not been kneeling in prayer before the sacred garage door dropped to their knees, all the while making the sign of the cross over and over again.

Well, almost all who had not been kneeling fell to their knees. I remained standing, dumb-struck that anyone could believe that the shadow cast by the light from the street lamp shining through the leaves of the tree under which was the keg of holy water, or whatever, was the Son of God. Perhaps I was wrong to doubt, for the shadowy image seemed to flap its ears or eyebrows as the gentle breeze caused the filtering leaves to move. I walked away, disillusioned and forlorn. After wasting time and gasoline driving to that holy Catholic site. I had seen Jesus in a shadow created by wind-moved leaves on a garage door and yet I had not been moved to prayer or been spiritually uplifted by the experience.

On another occasion, while visiting with relatives in Mexico, I learned that the image of Jesus had appeared on a tree standing before the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic church in a nearby town. I made the short drive to Sabinas, Coahuila, hoping to see for myself what Jesus looked like. I was disappointed to discover that He looked just like a knot on a tree—the scar left when a limb had been removed some years earlier.

Not to worry, for Jesus also was said to have appeared on another tree in another nearby town. I set out again in my search to see the face of Jesus. Interestingly, this time He had chosen to appear as another knot on another tree standing before another church named for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This knot looked just like the other knot. I found it difficult to believe that Jesus of Nazareth had a face like the knot on a tree.

A few years after my great disappointment at discovering that some people think that Jesus Christ looks like a knot on a tree, I discovered that this tree-bump phenomenon is not exclusive to Mexico. The BVM of the bump on a log was reported to have appeared on two trees in a cemetery near San Francisco, California.

Northern California is known for its amazing trees -- the giant redwoods and mysterious strandoid mutants along the Avenue of the Giants. So few were surprised during the holidays when a striking new breed of tree was discovered near San Francisco -- a tree that bears an image that some say looks like the Virgin Mary.-- Virgin Mary in Miracle Tree Stump, © 1996-2006 Doug Kirby, Ken Smith, Mike Wilkins

The Madonna of the Tree Stumps appeared in 1998. More recently, in the Spring of 2006, she popped up in two widely separated places:

In Moline, Illinois, near the Iowa border, over 200 people gathered Saturday evening under the Interstate 74 bridge over the Rock River, where some local residents have reported seeing an apparition of the Virgin Mary. . .In Mexico, Maine, Veronica Dennis is glad to go on the record.

She says she found an image of the Virgin Mary on a blackened wall after her house caught fire in January, and is now looking for a place to display the image so people can come see it--Madonna Images Reported In Two States, ©MMVI, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved

Seems like Catholics afflicted with excessive piety or suffering the effects of over exposure to incense or sacramental wine are always spotting new apparitions, usually of the true god of Catholicism, the Blessed Virgin Mary in one or another of her multitude of personas. That these are nothing more than wishful thinking or flights of fancy filling the minds of people with too much free time seems clear to me. Not always, however. One of the latest reported apparitions of the BVM may be a consequence of over-exposure to either chocolate or sugar.

(AP) As a chocolatier to the rich and famous, Martucci Angiano has posed with many celebrities.

But on Thursday she held in her hand a figure that dazzles her more than any Hollywood star: a 2-inch-tall column of chocolate drippings that workers at her gourmet chocolate company believe bears a striking resemblance to the Virgin Mary--Candymakers Spot Chocolate Virgin Mary, ©MMVI, The Associated Press

“Bears a striking resemblance of the Virgin Mary”? How in the world would they know what Mary of Nazareth, the real being upon which the fantasy goddess of Romanism was modeled after, looked like? Like Jesus Christ, it seems that folks throughout the world simply create a fantasy form for their fantasy high priestess. In the Orient, she has oriental features. In Latin America she appears often as an indigenous person. Sub-Sahara Africans often depict her as an indiginous African.

My personal favorite of the multitude of supposed apparitions of Jesus or the BVM first made the news a dozen or so years ago.

A decade-old toasted cheese sandwich said to bear an image of the Virgin Mary has sold on the eBay auction website for $28,000.

An internet casino confirmed it had purchased the sandwich, saying it had become a "part of pop culture". says it will take the sandwich on world tour before selling it and donating the money to charity--'Virgin Mary' toast fetches $28,000 © BBC MMVI [To see the Holy Toast, click on the link in this quotation]

If Catholics ever build a church or cathedral dedicated to Our Lady of the Old Cheese Sandwich, I do hope that I will be able to visit it.

All the above-mentioned reports offer pictures. Just by visiting them, one might see what the BVM looks like as a tree stump, a pile of chocolate drippings and an old cheese sandwich. Wow!

Some might judge that these so-called apparitions were manifestations of deep faith held by Catholic faithful who longed to draw near to their Redeemer. I say that they were nothing more than childish imaginings of people who have no real connection to the Lord other than the fantasies they had learned at the knee of Mother Church. Jesus Christ is God, Second Person of the Trinity. He is seated at the right hand of the Father (Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3&13, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2 and 1 Peter 3:22). I am aware of nothing in Scripture that tells of Him, or any heavenly visitor, appearing as a shadow, knot, oil stain or any such thing. We do know that such visitors sometimes do appear in human forms visible to observers (Genesis 18; Numbers 22:22-23, 31; Matthew 17:3-4; Matthew 28:2; Luke 1:28-29). Often, God and other heavenlies spoke to men in dreams (Genesis 20:3; 1 Samuel 3;). Sometimes, God speaks through created beings or things (Exodus 3:2; Numbers 22:28-30). Sometimes, He communicates to prophets in visions or other ways (Isaiah 1:1, Haggai 1:1).

In every communication of heavenly beings with men that I have discovered in my reading of Scripture, there is a clearly understandable message. Try as I may, I am aware of no understandable message having been discerned in a shadow on a garage door, a knot on a tree, or an oil stain on a shop floor.

Scripture demonstrates that, when God wants to make something known to mankind, He often communicates that message to selected men or women and charges them to pass it along in prophetic announcements. Sometimes, He sends angels to communicate with prophets or others to whom He wants to send a clear message. He used Moses and Aaron to express His wishes and threats to Pharaoh.

God is not limited in how He might choose to express Himself to man. Certainly, He could deliver a message Himself, or select some created being to spread the word. I cannot imagine that He would elect to send a message to man in the form of a turnip, or stain on a rug or the burn pattern on a heated flour tortilla without at least providing a clue as to how that message is to be interpreted. I cannot imagine that He ever would use a creation of human fantasy to deliver an oracle.

Naptime is ended, folks. Wake up to reality and set your pious fantasies aside. God does speak to humanity, but not through silly things like stains or smears or the whisperings of impressionable children. He communicates to us in His written revelation, the Bible, and directly through the Holy Spirit Who indwells every believer. Seek Him there.

Those who prefer ghost stories to reality might like to read The Canterville Ghost online. To do so, just click here.

Ron searching for an image of Catholic Mary
in the burn pattern on a flour tortilla.

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