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Catholic Spiritual Direction

Can God speak to me in my dreams?

December 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Mystical Experience

I never had dreams like this before. Only now that I have grown closer to Him in recent months God speak to me in my dreamsHe has spoken to me in other ways like at prayer. And He often confirms what I heard in prayer by people, articles, etc. If these dreams bring me closer to Him then surely they are from Him right? They have been such wonderful sources of consolation for me! Oh please enlighten me!

Surely “if these dreams bring you closer to Him” then, absolutely, they can be welcomed as Providential gifts. So you can be at peace! In fact, God has often used dreams in the lives of his faithful. This appears in both the Old and the New Testaments, and also the lives of the saints (see for example the dreams of St. John Bosco). Nevertheless, two other thoughts may be of use to you. First, we should reflect on how you can determine whether or not they are truly bringing you “closer to Him.” It is easy to be misled. Second, we should mention some warning signs and things to avoid in this arena – after all, we fallen human beings have a penchant for turning good things to bad use.

Discerning Experiences

Coming closer to God is the essence of spiritual growth. But sometimes things that make us temporarily feel closer to God are not actually bringing us closer. Feelings of consolation or emotional tranquility, or even enthusiasm, can accompany spiritual growth, but the core of spiritual growth lies elsewhere. It consists of becoming more united to Christ. This entails becoming more like Christ in our attitudes and behaviors. We can grow in humility, wisdom, and love for neighbor, for example, even in the midst of great suffering and feelings of confusion and dryness in our souls. In fact, sometimes the periods of greatest spiritual growth occur precisely during the seasons of greatest emotional aridity.

And so, in reflecting on how these dreams are affecting your spiritual life, you need to periodically reflect on the same questions that we would use to evaluate spiritual growth in general. Do they encourage me to participate more frequently and more consciously in the sacraments? Do they motivate me to deny my own tendencies to self-indulgence and self-righteousness in favor of serving my neighbor mercifully and gracefully? Do they empower me to hold my tongue, control my anger, think well of my neighbor, and forgive the faults and offenses of my loved ones? Do they increase my thirst for prayer and for a deeper knowledge of Christ’s teachings as offered to me by his Church? Do they strengthen me to obey the moral law and the precepts of the Church?

If dreams, or any other powerful experiences, were to push you away from those objective reference points for spiritual maturity, then they would be suspect.

Some Warning Signs

Another warning sign would be if you find yourself actively seeking out those dreams, consciously trying to make them repeat themselves instead of receiving them as gifts of God’s Providence. This can happen even with consolation in prayer, or with the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. God sends them in order to build us up spiritually. But we, weak as we are, can sometimes become attached to those gifts as ends in themselves. When that happens, we forget about the Giver of the gifts, and fall into a kind of mercenary spirituality, where we seek to reproduce certain states of soul through prayer and spiritual disciplines, instead of seeking to glorify God and receive his grace.

In this sense, fascination with dreams and dream-experiences can lead us very far astray indeed. Some strains of the New Age movement, for example, encourage the intentional development of techniques for “lucid dreaming.” This is often linked up with the invocation of some kind of spirit guide who can aid the person in astral traveling. At first, the experiences obtained through these practices seem thrilling and energizing. But they can easily become a kind of idolatry, and can even be coerced by demons. The person following these practices may continue to seek more and more intense experiences, regardless of whether or not they can bring the soul closer to Christ and contribute to moral and spiritual growth. This can make them more vulnerable to subtle and not-so-subtle spiritual attacks.

Avoiding Over-Emphasis

Finally, it is possible to give too much importance to what happens in a dream. Although God can speak through dreams, that doesn’t mean that everything that happens in our dreams comes from God. The psychology of dreams is complex and confusing. The interpretation of dreams is not an exact science, by any stretch. And although God can certainly speak to the soul through dreams, he will never contradict himself; he would never inspire someone in a dream to disobey his commandments or abandon the duties of their state in life, for example.

And so, just as we can be grateful for dreams that encourage us in our relationship with God, we should not allow ourselves to be overly distracted by dreams that cause turbulence in our souls. That being said, even good Catholic psychologists will admit that intense and repetitive dreams can sometimes give clues to minor or major psychological disturbances. But they are never sufficient for a complete diagnosis all on their own.

We are members of Christ’s Church, enlightened by grace and renewed by the New Covenant. As a result, we have been given God’s own self-revelation in Christ. This provides us with objective reference points of doctrine, of truth. We find these in the Bible, in the Tradition of the Church, and in the official teaching of the Magisterium (for example, the Catechism). These sources of knowledge should always be our primary guides when we are faced with decisions or dilemmas.

May God continue to bless you with his abundant love and grace, and draw you closer and closer to his Sacred Heart.

 

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published four other titles: "Seeking First the Kingdom", "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions", "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", "Inside the Passion"--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation".

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  • judeen

    as a walk with God spiritually.. – john if one sees everything earthly or sees everything spiritually… so many times gifts of the spirit are put down… whether good or bad.. we are told to ignore them… flee from them.  but they do tell us something about our selves.. our weakness , our temptations.. our strenghts. our wounds….
               dreams was something i did not seem to get.. with imagination.. wound to the head  … seemed to cut this off.. so when I did start to dream it was such a gift…    and when I saw things I would remember them and see a picture or the person I saw in a dream… or even the host in adoration.. later reconizing the mosterance at some church…
            if we seek a spiritual life.. we need to pause , and look at what we dream spiritual too.. why did I dream that and put it on the back burner… for future. refrence…    all of who we are is from God.. even our dreams… if it was devil influnced.. then we seek God for the virtues and graces we need to over come that weakness… ignoring spiritual things… is like putting ones self very earthly… is it not?

  • Becky Ward

    Great Advice…as usual Fr. John!

    When dealing with dreams, visions, images, locutions, and things like that I frequently remember St. Joan of Arc……..God told her that he would deliver her from her enemies.  I don’t think she understood that this would be by being burned at the stake!

    In our human-ness we often do not have the ability to understand what God means to communicate to us – through dreams and things of this nature – and we may grasp onto what our limited understanding allows us to see. St. John of the Cross explains this very well in Ascent to Mt. Carmel.

    This is one reason spiritual direction is so very important we must expose things like this to someone who is trained to help us keep the proper perspective in regard to gifts of this nature.  The devil likes to remain in the shadows….and exposing all that is happening in our soul to a director or confessor shines light on the experiences……exposes the deceptions of the evil one, and allows us to humbly thank God for the gifts that truly come from Him….for His greater Glory and the salvation of souls. 

    We must also remember that ALL gifts are from God….and are for the good of the whole Church. 

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Well said Becky

    • http://www.marythedefender.wordpress.com MariaGo

      Thank you for this great advice!

  • Guest

    I echo Becky 313…..A truly splendid Advice, Fr. John…we need to always remember to seek the God of Consolations and not the Consolations of God…. and a Spiritual Director is invaluable……and if he is also one’s Confessor, it is a double blessing indeed.  We also need to maintain a healthy self-doubt and cultivate humility and Purity of Intentions

    • patricia

      This is so true! I am blessed to have a spiritual director and a confessor all in one. It is a huge blessing.

  • Kephas

    Amen.

  • Genny

    very informative. Thanks for that!

  • Jgeneroso3

    Thank you for this very profound explanation about DREAM. Surely the same questions we reflect on to evaluate our spiritual growth would be the best determinant of the value of dream in our spiritual life.

  • Ralyge

    Do you have a good book recommendation for the analysis and  interpretation of dreams in relation to the spiritual life?

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Rachel – I would contact the folks at the Institute for Psychological Sciences to see what they might recommend. There is far more bad information on this than good…

  • Anonymous

    I had a dream just a few nights ago. I remember only that a holy person was speaking with me, no real details remained when I awoke. As I sat up, I thought Jesus was standing  there by my bedside. Almost instantly I realized it was light coming through the window and reflecting in the mirror. I felt disappointed, but a calm feeling stayed with me. I had been watching “The Footprints of God” on EWTN right before I went to sleep and attribute my dream to that. In any case it was a positive experience.