The parish secretary came back to the office after having taken a longer than usual lunch break. She appeared to be visibly shaken and hurried to take a seat behind her desk. She looked at me and I knew instinctively that she wanted to tell me something.
“What is it Carol?” I asked.
She bit her lower lip and paused before answering. “Father, I just had a luncheon engagement with Eileen Scan— and it has left me unsettled. Poor thing, I have known her for years, it is so hard to see her suffer so.”
“What’s wrong with her?” I inquired. It was not unusual for the elderly to suffer from one thing or another. The so-called golden years are anything but. They are afflicted by a hosts of debilitating diseases and pain becomes a regular companion in the twilight of life. Compounding this cross is the modern phenomenon of families forgetting their parents and other aged members. It was my hunch that Eileen’s struggle was within this framework. I would be proven wrong.
“I don’t know if she is crazy or what? All I do know is that she is desperately afraid. She claims her apartment is haunted. She spoke so convincingly that I began to believe her.”
“Oh,” I said, “well, such fear can be a contagious thing. What exactly is going on?”
Carol game me a run down of the midday events. They had spent much of their lunch in the hallway. The old woman was afraid to stay in her apartment. She said it was filled with mischievous little people. Invisible to everyone else, they mocked her and interrupted her home life. They broke her things, awoke her from sleep, and laughed at her. “Father,” added Carol, “I don’t know if there is anything you can do, but I am sure that she would love a visit from you.”
It only took a few minutes to reach the apartment building in Northwest Washington, D.C. I called ahead to make sure that the old woman expected me. Just as the parish secretary predicted, I found Eileen standing just outside her door in the hallway. She was looking away from her rooms and was biting her nails. The image was pathetic. She was bent over with thinning white hair, wearing a long house dress and slippers.
“Hi, Eileen!” I greeted.
She eagerly turned to me and smiled. “Hello, Father! Thank you for coming to see a poor old woman like me. I am at a lost as to what to do.”
“Let’s go in, Eileen” I directed.
She hesitated but led me into her apartment. I sat beside her on the couch. There was nothing visually unusual about her residence. The furniture was sparse, although next to the small dinner table was a shelving unit filled with ornate mugs and cookie jars, the kinds which have faces sculptured on them. Considering why I had come, the faces disturbed me. It was as if they followed me with their eyes. Like I had told Carol, fear is contagious.
“So Eileen, what’s going on? I hear that you are spending hours in the hall and are afraid to be alone in the apartment.”
“I know Father, you probably suspect that I am just an old woman losing her marbles. But, I assure you, I am not. The pixies, at least that is what I call them, they are real and they are making my life a misery.”
“What do they look like?” I inquired, humoring her, or trying to convince myself that they were a mere illusion.
She then began to recount the plague of pixies in her apartment. “They are very small, maybe a foot or so in height. Their clothes are quite old fashioned, the kind they wore in the end of the last century. I suspect that they really look like something else, but have made themselves appear as such for me. Sometimes, they merge their faces into those of guests and make facial contortions, playing with people’s features. I am sure they do this to frighten me. There’s one right there, across the room sitting on the table. He is pointing at you and sneering. Sometimes, at night, they sit on my chest as if trying to smother me. When I try to say my prayers and the rosary, they go into a frenzy, trying to distract me.”
A chill went up my spine. This was all a very elaborate business, maybe more so than what any crazy old woman could conjure up. Could it be? Might there be something here?
“Eileen,” I said, “I am here to help you. What I will do is bless your apartment and beseech God to keep it free from any evil invasion. Okay?”
“Thank you, Father. Something needs to be done. Oh my,” she jumped, “a couple of them are quite agitated right now. One of them is staring at you almost eye to eye. They are not happy.”
I took out the ritual book and the holy water sprinkler. A secular world might think what I was about to do was as silly as this old woman’s invisible pixies. However, everyone needs some form of faith. Even the scientist sometimes works back from effects to things which the eye cannot see, and maybe not even the microscope. Christians knew the truth of the Gospel by the evidence of the resurrection and the nurturing of his Spirit in the Church throughout the ages. No matter whether it be illness or spiritual combat, I had confidence in Christ and his lordship over all the visible and invisible powers and principalities. I began the prayer.
“Peace be with this house and with all who live here.” I had barely uttered these words when a thunderous banging came from the direction of the wall separating the kitchenette from the living room.
“That’s them, Father,” whispered Eileen.
I continued the prayer and with every blessing and sprinkling of holy water there came another thunderous blast. “Lord Jesus Christ, with Mary and Joseph you formed the Holy Family: remain in this home, that Eileen may know you as her guest and honor you as her head.” BANG! “Lord Jesus Christ, through you every dwelling is a temple of holiness: build those who live in this house into the dwelling place of God in the Holy Spirit.” BANG! “Lord Jesus Christ, you became flesh of the Virgin Mary: grant that your presence may be known always in this home.” BANG! BANG! “Lord Jesus Christ, you appeared to the frightened apostles and said, ‘Peace be with you’: grant that your abiding peace may remain with Eileen.” BANG! BANG! BANG! “Lord, we rejoice in the victory of your Son over death: by rising from the tomb to new life he gives us new hope and promise. Bless all the members of this household and surround them with your protection, that they may find comfort and peace in Jesus Christ, the paschal lamb, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.” SILENCE.
I looked up from my book toward the old woman. She was smiling.
Several weeks thereafter, because of her declining health, we helped to move dear Eileen to Sacred Heart Catholic nursing home. There she could be properly watched and enjoy the Mass on a regular basis. She was quite happy to make the move. While the problem in her apartment had been successfully treated, the memories of what had happened were still disturbing. Now she could start over with the loving care of the good sisters.
The Catholic ritual is taken from the BOOK OF BLESSINGS (ICEL, 1989). It may be that only madmen and saints see the dark spirits behind evil; may we find true peace in the Holy Spirit.