Q. Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream in the Bible. Many religious have visions in their dreams. Is my dream just a brain activity or does it have any meaning?
Jerin Vakayil, Bangalore, India
God used dreams and visions to communicate to His people, and to reveal His will and plan of love for all humanity in the sacred scriptures, recounts Dr. Anthony Lilles (Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Theology at St. John’s Seminary, California). The Old Testament accounts for the vision of Abraham and God’s covenant with him. Abraham was reminded that he would have a son and be the father of many nations (Gen. 15: 5ff). Joseph of the Old Testament interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh (Gen. 41: 1ff), and the Book of Daniel, speaks of many dreams and visions of Daniel about the future of the people of Israel (Dan. 2, 7, 8, 9, 10-12). In the New Testament, the dream of Joseph is noteworthy (Mt. 2:20). The entire book of Revelation is a vision recorded by St. John. It is true that several men and women in the history of religious life have experienced dreams and visions, which assisted them in their personal lives as well as the Church.
According to Catholic theology, there are two types of revelations in dreams and visions: public and private. The public revelation from the scriptures and tradition is binding on all Christians, of all times. The Church teaches that all public revelation ended with the death of St. John, the Apostle (CCC 66). Whereas, private revelation continues to this day, and it is only binding to the person who experienced it. Certainly, it has to be consistent with what is already revealed in scripture, tradition and the magisterium of the Church. Further, Catechism teaches that there have been private revelations all through the ages, and some were recognised by the authority of the Church. Yet, they don’t belong to the deposit of faith. ‘It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive revelation but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history’ (CCC 67). There are instances of private revelation that have served to build up the Church, such as the visions of St. Teresa of Calcutta.
The Church also invites us to discern dreams and visions – whether they are from God or not. Spiritual masters like St. John of the Cross would tell us that it is almost impossible to interpret dreams and visions on our own. One must seek the guidance of a spiritual guide or confessor for proper discernment of them. In any case, following questions would help us to discern their meaning: Do they increase my desire for prayer and a deeper knowledge of Christ’s teachings as offered by the Church? Do they encourage me to obey the moral law and the precepts of the Church? Do they motivate me to deny the tendencies of self-indulgence and self-righteousness in favour of serving my neighbour? Do they encourage me to forgive the faults and offences of others? It is significant to keep in mind that God would never inspire someone to disobey His commands or abandon the duties of their state of life.
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