Questions and answers
Doctrinal Commission – International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services
A dream is a succession of images, thoughts and emotions occurring in a person’s mind during sleep. We spent a significant amount of our lives asleep, about eight hours out of every twenty-four. Can the Lord use dreams to communicate with us? He surely can, since he often does so in Scripture and in the lives of the saints. Through dreams God sometimes speaks to us in a way that is impossible while we are awake, with our minds busy and in very distracting environments. While we are asleep, God can capture our attention! One amazing example is that many Muslims have come to faith in Jesus after he has appeared to them in their dreams. Scripture says God speaks to his prophets through dreams: “If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream” (Num 12:6). But dreams are not limited to the prophets. Job 33:14-15 says, “God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, while they slumber on their beds.” At Pentecost Peter declared the fulfillment of God’s promise, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh… your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17). There are many examples of God speaking to people through dreams in both the Old and New Testaments. Joseph had prophetic dreams that dramatically impacted the course of his life, his family, and many other people. His first dreams made his brothers angry and jealous, with the result that they sold him into slavery in Egypt (Gen 37:5-8). Later, his prophetic interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, led Pharaoh to store up food so that Egypt and the surrounding nations could have food to survive in the lean years (Gen 41:1- 32). God communicated to St. Joseph through dreams to tell him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife (Matt 1:19- 20). God used dreams to expose the enemy’s plan and to warn Joseph to flee to Egypt to save the Christ child (Matt 2:13). Can someone have a charism of prophetic dreams? The Catechism defines charisms as “graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world” (799). What is important to notice in this definition is that the purpose of charisms is to serve others and build up the Church. This accords with the teaching of St. Paul, who wrote, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7). So if someone has a charism of prophetic dreams, the dreams are given by God to build up, encourage, or warn the community of the faithful. On the other hand, some prophetic dreams are given solely for the benefit of the individual who receives them, and thus are not charisms. While God can communicate to us through dreams, it is important to note that many dreams are not God’s revelation but simply an expression of our unconscious thought world. Sirach warns against giving too much credence to dreams, saying those who believe in dreams are like those who grasp
at shadows or chase the wind. “Unless [dreams] are sent from the Most High as a visitation, do not give your mind to them. For dreams have deceived many, and those who put their hope in them have failed” (Sir 34:6-7). So how do we discern whether a dream is a message from God or simply an expression of our unconscious thoughts? It is similar to the way we discern prophecies. Pray for clarity. If a dream has special intensity and seems to come from the Lord, ask the Lord to make it clear if he is speaking to you through the dream, whether it be for encouragement, guidance, a warning, or promises for the future. Pray for the grace to understand and interpret the dream accurately. Review the dream. What emotions does it provoke? Does it leave you with a sense of peace and draw you closer to the Lord, or does it produce fear or anxiety? The latter would be a sign that it is not of God. Does its content align with Scripture and Tradition? If not, then it is not of God. Listen to God. Sit quietly before the Lord and listen to him. Ask the Lord to reveal his truth to you. Seek spiritual counsel. Take the dream to your spiritual director, prayer group leadership, or trusted spiritual friends. Sharing dreams and seeking the proper interpretation is scriptural. Pharaoh sought counsel from Joseph about his dreams, and Egypt was saved from starvation. Discernment. After you determine the meaning of the dream, discern whether it is meant only for you or for the wider body of Christ. One way would be to prayerfully consider the interpretation of the dream and whom it would impact. This too requires the counsel of others.