This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On Dreams and Their Meaning

This will be the last theological teaching I do for 2014, and I wanted it to be something significant so I decided to deal with something that has been on my mind for a while.  What inspires this is the fact that over the years I have had some significant dreams, and some of them I truly feel were messages I was receiving from God about specific things.  As I began to look into it more, I understood that through the centuries God has spoken to people through dreams - we see it all through the Bible, and as Catholic Christians we are well aware of Church Fathers and saints who have received illumination through their dreams.  However, this has been a subject which many Christians, including many pastors and theologians, have chosen not to touch for a variety of reasons, and perhaps the best one is one I want to address now.

Much of what you hear about dream interpretation comes unfortunately from one of two sources - either it is New Age/occultic or it is Jungian pop-psychology.  Much of what is in those two systems is contrary to the Word of God and to the teachings of the Church, and this fact alone has caused many Christians to eye the practice of dream interpretation warily.  However, what is important to note is this - many occultic practices are corruptions of things God intended man to use for his own benefit, and what originally was a gift of hearing and discerning God's voice has been twisted by occultists to be a form of divination - since dreams are portals to the spirit realm, it makes sense that demons can screw with people's spirits also and cause them to receive false revelation.   That is why it is time to tell Christians that dream interpretation is not in itself evil - every human being on the planet has had dreams at some point (probably many times!) and the Bible itself bears witness to the fact God speaks in dreams to people.  However, it is also imperative for Christians to use wisdom and discernment when exploring this, as it is important to also remember that 90% of your dreams are not messages from God at all; most dreams just reflect things in our subconscience, and there are things to be learned from that as well.  Therefore, I am hoping to give you a balanced and brief lesson here about dream interpretation, and hopefully you can use it responsibly and with proper discernment.

There are at least three different categories of dreams people have, and they are the following:

1.  Plain, regular dreams - These are the dreams we have the most, as they are just manifestations of our subconscious thoughts that sort of mesh together and create their own scenario.  These dreams usually reflect our innermost desires, fears, memories, anxieties, and other such things, and although they cannot be said to be from God obviously, they can reveal a lot about ourselves.  In my own case, I have had many dreams, for instance, about familiar places, but they are places that don't exist - they contain parts of different places I have been that sort of collide together to create their own little world - for instance, I have had dreams of places that look like my native West Virginia, but such a place may also have palm trees like where I now live in Florida, or I may have a dream about some place we used to live being located in another place we used to live at one time.  Never worry about these dreams, as they are just part of who you are.  Nightmares and erotic dreams sometimes fall into this category as well; if you have dreams like that, then I would suggest not eating spicy food before bed or watching too many episodes of Baywatch!

2.  Attacks and deceptions of demonic entities - These type of dreams can take on a number of forms.  Some years ago, for instance, my wife Barbara dreamed she was being choked in her sleep, and it was a demonic attack; she spoke the name of Jesus, and it stopped instantly.  Also, these dreams can be sexually-motivated, prey on some of your fears, or you may actually see demonic beings in your dreams.  If these are a regular occurrence, you may need to seek spiritual counsel from a priest or pastor who can pray over you.

3. Actual messages from the Lord - These are rare, but you will know them if they happen!  Dreams like this have a lot of symbolism in them, and you may notice vivid detail, specific numbers, and even some actual visions of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, angels, etc.   A dream like this will also stick with you for a long time, and if you can't get it out of your mind, perhaps it is time to talk to someone because it is highly possible that God is communicating to you.   Joel 2;28 talks about this as being an eschatological phenomenon too, as he prophesies that "old men shall dream dreams," and being I have had several dreams like this over the years, perhaps I am an old man!  One such dream I had a couple of years prior to this writing was actually a sort of vision of hell, and I can still remember it to this day.  In this dream, I saw an underwater lake, and although the water was crystal clear to look at, it also appeared inky black and would spontaneously combust.  I remember warning some people in the dream not to drink the water lest it cause them peril of some sort, and although a bit bizarre, I had no fear myself about it.  I truly believe what that dream represented was a vision of what hell is possibly like, a "lake of fire" in a rather mysterious sense.  And, there was a message there for me too - I was to tell people that something they are partaking of is in reality damnation to their souls, although it looks refreshing initially (could it be a heresy I was to warn about?  Who's to say!).  In another dream I had earlier this year, it was a little different.  In it, I was visiting one of our parish churches in our diocese (which is called Good Shepherd, in Palm Bay, FL).   The altar of the church faced the east and the ocean, and while looking out a window I noticed a large fish that resembled a goliath grouper stranded in shallow water, and in the distance was this huge crocodile stalking it.  After looking into the symbolism of that, I realized that God was giving me a message for Fr. Lock, the rector of the parish over there whom I had recently met at our diocesan synod.  The message was that there was some sort of growth (spiritual possibly) that was taking place at such a rapid pace that the church was outgrowing its current position - that was the grouper in the shallows.  Soon there would be some sort of adversity that would threaten the church (the crocodile) but the church would be delivered from it and move into the place God wanted it (the fish breaking free of the shallows and finding deeper water).   I later contacted Fr. Lock about this dream, and he understood its significance, which leads to another point - if you have a dream like that you believe to be from the Lord, be sure to first talk to your spiritual shepherd (priest or pastor) about it, and then share it with the person or institution dealt with by the dream.  This establishes accountability to discern the true source of such a dream too.

That being said, let me briefly touch on symbols in dreams, as imagery plays a pivotal role especially in spiritual dreams which God may be communicating with us.  Symbols are those things which, to use a liturgical/sacramental understanding, which point beyond themselves to a deeper meaning.  These symbols take on a number of attributes in dreams, and here are some of them:

1.  Numbers
2.  Colors
3.  Objects
4.  People
5.  Places

As a sixth thing, I would also mention sensory perception, as yes, you can smell, taste, touch, and hear things in dreams too!  These elements are present to a degree in most dreams we have, but they become more significant and enhanced as we dream things that may have a message - for instance, the other night I had this really interesting dream about a place called Three-Finger Canyon, and upon doing some research, I found out it is actually a real place in Utah I didn't know about, but the dream had nothing to do with Utah.  Upon looking into it further, there are three parts of the name that have significance - the number three, the symbolism of fingers, and the symbol of a canyon.  I went to several sources, both psychological articles and Christian sites, and putting it all together it came to this - a canyon always is part of a river, which represents life's journey.  In the dream, the place of the name was a trickling branch-off of a larger river, and when a river slows to a trickle, it means a melancholy or disappointment in life.  The number three is always associated with tradition (a good thing in this case) or completeness, and a finger means discernment and instruction.  A green directional sign pointed the way to this Three-Finger Canyon in the dream, and we were heading east but turning to the left and north - East is the direction of blessing, while a left turn symbolizes a spiritual change.  North, on the other hand, symbolizes judgement.  So, as I look at this, what I was able to put together was this - I am going the direction of blessing, but need to spiritually examine myself in the light of the three-fold instruction of Church, Tradition, and Scripture (makes me think of von Balthasar's "Threefold Cord of Catholicity!") and proceed in that direction in order to prepare for the blessing - the road will seem disappointing at first, but later in the dream I came to a railroad track which I ended up living in - it was a LONG train, and at the front of it was a house.  Railroads are another thing that stresses the right path of tradition.  The house was old at first (established tradition) but was later remodeled (spiritual renewal) with an elevator (symbolizing God bringing to a new place). The track headed back to the eastbound road, and at the other end of those long cars was a sitting-room with blue carpeting.  As I started to really comprehend how all this fit together, it was a retrospective dream, as over the past 17 years that has been exactly what has happened - it was as if God was telling me he had to re-route me as a form of loving judgment to purge me of some things while instructing me in the right ways (which had its agonizing and disappointment too), and upon doing that I was then to proceed upon the road he intended for me.  The hope and inspiration in that dream was something I had been needing, and it ministered to my spirit.   This is the sort of thing God will speak to you in a dream, and it will always be a message that conforms to historic teaching and the clear teaching of Scripture too.

The final thing I wanted to stress in this discourse about dreams is this - be sure to keep a record of all your dreams!  It is a suggested practice to write them down immediately upon waking, as the details are still vivid and fresh, and the best way to do that is a regular journal.  Journaling in recent years has become a sort of new thing that many church leaders and others advocate, and it is not a bad practice to get into.  Not only with writing down dreams, but the recording of all aspects of your life that are relevent will be a sound historical record that will be a valuable resource one day for those of your family (or you even) for doing a family history or an autobiographical narrative.  I have journaled personally for almost 20 years, and it is now a regular habit - you don't have to do it everyday, but it is a good practice to get into regardless.  And, especially with dreams - even if they are not something clearly conveying a message of the Lord, a dream can be something that reveals your own inner thoughts and can later help you to make sense out of some things.  I also recommend resources such as Perry Stone's excellent book, How to Interpret Dreams and Visions (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2011), as well as The Secret of Dreams: The Only Serious Catholic Guide to Understanding and Interpreting Dreams by Sj, Pedro Meseguer, which is a good sound book on the subject from a Catholic perspective.  There are also scores of websites, but be careful - make sure to research who they are, because some of them may come acrosss as Christian but may actually be occultic.  Again, dream interpretation is a tricky thing to research, and it requires sound and mature discernment.  

I know this was a bit of an odd discourse, but I felt led to discuss it with you, and hope it will help some of those reading this who may be struggling with why they are having unusual dreams about things and if there is a reason behind it.  God bless until the next teaching. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Philosophical Reflections on Reasons for God's Existence

This will be the last deep theological post I will be doing for 2014, and it is something I felt like I needed to do based on what my first year at Franciscan University has taught me, as I have a new appreciation now for the relationship between Philosophy and Theology, and that is what I wanted to talk about.  As I am writing this, I am midway through a Metaphysics class I am taking, and one thing we are discussing is how the idea for the existence of God can be proven philosophically.  It is this idea I want to share some thoughts on, so let us begin.

First, it must be understood that there is even a certain amount of truth within pre-Christian schools of thought, including the Greek philosophers.  This is one proof, I truly believe, for the validity of God's literal creation of the universe, in that many people have a certain amount of truth, although over many generations it has become corrupted - mythology, for instance, has at its foundation some fact, but through both corrupt limited human nature and the deceptions of demonic forces, the story has gotten twisted over the centuries.  And, it still happens today - for instance, I watched a documentary recently about a scientist named Juris Zarins, who (rightly) believes the Garden of Eden was a real place, although his theories on its location are limited.  While Zarins correctly noted the Flood stories, etc., and their universal significance, he also made a grave error - Zarins believes the Biblical account was hijacked by the Jews from the Babylonians and Sumerians.  Problem is, Zarins has it backwards - it is in reality the Biblical account that is correct, while the other mythologies have corrupted it.  This same fallacy is also evident in many Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle, regarding the fact that an ultimate "Good," which Aristotle correctly identifies as God, exists and that all things emanate from it, but unfortunately Aristotle's "God" is also a corruption of the facts, based on much of what he derived from Plato, who in his Republic presents a very monistic idea of God.  We'll be discussing that more at length shortly, but I first wanted to make another point before we proceed.  The fact about Greek philosophy and its values to civilization is that it actually was on the right track - it asks the right questions, and it explores the answers.  However, it falls far short of the truth in many aspects as well because it is incomplete knowledge, and it took Christian theologians and philosophers such as St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, and in recent times Romano Guardini and others to sort of fill in the missing pieces.  And, that is what we are going to be talking about here.  My spiritual mentor, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, correctly noted in one of his writings that both Jews and Greeks were greatly blessed of God, and noted that the Greeks were equipped with both a language and a philosophical system that was best suited for expressing ultimate metaphysical reality (Stephanou, Eusebius, "The Orthodox Church and Israel," at http://www.stsymeon.org/articles/28-the-orthodox-church-and-israel {accessed 10/16/2014).  In short, God in his infinite wisdom orchestrated things in such a way that according to Romans 8:28 and the principle it embodies the Greek language and culture were in place at just the right time to aid in the propagation of the Gospel.  It doesn't mean that Greek philosophers were perfect by any means (which is quite obvious!) but it does mean that just maybe God gave the Greek people of the time that desire to know higher truth and thus they gave a foundation upon which the theology of the Church could be built.  This therefore lays the foundation for my discourse now I wish to share with you here.

We start first with Plato, and the Republic.  In this classic philosophical text, Plato spends a lot of time writing about what he called "the Good," and in Book II he describes this "good" as a beneficial cause of all good things - this "good," he elaborates, is a "god" who alone is responsible for the minimal amount of good things that happen but not the bad (Plato, The Republic Book II in Grube, p. 55 {Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1992}, 379c).  This would substantiate a Biblical premise in Genesis 1;31 - "Then God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good."  However, let us keep in mind that Plato was also a pre-Christian pagan philosopher too, and although he was on the right track, his premise in the Republic has two flaws.  First, by asserting that only "the Good" can only create good and that bad things come fron another source, Plato espouses a radically dualistic cosmology.  Second, Plato has a monistic view of the universe in that his theory of forms and substance involves a central mobilizing factor (formal causality) and that all substance emanates from it and is part of the form.  This is classic pantheism unfortunately in that Plato believes that all is "god" and although there is a core "form" to this "god", all else emanates like apendages from that "form" as substance.  Again, this is where some corruption happened in the original truth, for indeed everything does have a single creative force (or person, whom we as Christians know as God) but at the same time the creation is distinct from the Creator.  Also, the good and bad in reality happen in life, and sometimes bad things are used by God to accomplish his purpose too, although sin and wickedness are not something that are part of his attributes.  Therefore, the radical dualism factor present in Plato's idea - which itself evolves from what I would theorize is a root Indo-European concept that shows up also in both Zoroastrian and Hindu belief systems as well - would not be compatible with the Christian message in that Plato equates good and evil as somehow coexisting equal forces with different origins - evil is never equal to good in classic orthodox Christian soteriology.  However, Plato does have some rudiment of a truth that probably goes back to mankind's creation - that an ultimate source exists that was the cause of all that exists.  As Christianity began to come onto the scene, many Church Fathers were used of God to build upon the basic premise of Plato in completing the missing parts of Plato's premise, and what we have then is the beginning of what is called the ontological argument for God's existence.  Now, let us talk about some of that a little bit.

Over the centuries, there have been two basic arguments proposed for establishing God does exist, and they are these:

      1.  Ontological - begins with a single idea (God in this case), and establishes that God exists as a              real being from beginning.

      2. Cosmological - Establishing God exists from evidence of effect (meaning the order of the                   natural world authenticates God's existence).

The first was an idea that was first articulated by St. Anselm in the 12th century, based on this Platonic premise of the "good" that was ultimate source of good things, which he developed into a doctrinal truth based on sound theological premise.  St. Anselm, in his Monologion, notes this idea by filling in Plato's gaps and clarifying some things when he says this: "Furthermore, not only are good things good through the same thing, and all great things great through the same thing, but it seems that all existing things exist through some one thing." (Williams, Thomas, trans.  St. Anselm: The Monologion and Proslogion {Indianapolis:  Hackett Publishing, 1996} p. 12).  He also notes further down the chapter that nothing exists through nothing, but rather that the logical conclusion is that all things exist through one thing that exists through himself (God).  God, therefore, for St. Anselm, is the Good.  Albrecht Ritschl develops this further by saying that the Good and the Holy are in fact synonymous, as Jaroslav Pelikan notes in a book I don't really agree with yet does have a value in this premise - Ritschl's theory of the Holy and the Good is based on the premise that moral dimension exists to confront a dead orthodoxy and make it vigorous by applying it to one's life of faith in a practical way (Pelikan, Jaroslav. Fools for Christ {Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1955} pp. 60-61).  Although I don't agree with where Pelikan goes with this (he almost canonizes Nietzsche as a saint, as does Merold Westphal and similar postmodernist writers like him) an important point is made - the "Good," by virtue of our assumption that it signifies God, is by nature also the "Holy" too, and although not in the monistic sense Plato subscribes, we as creatures of this ultimate "Good" source contain within us some attributes of that ultimate "Good" (God) and we live them out in a practical way by our behavior, etc.  This is where we start getting into more cosmological argument, because then if we look at it that way, our reflection of the root nature God gave us - in particular the moral aspects of it - authenticates where it comes from.  So, what then do we do with this?   Let me now give my perspective on it.

I want to explain the proof of God's existence by reconciling what normally would be two different schools of thought - by causality, God exists, but by effect his existence can be authenticated.  What on earth does that mean??   Well, in Genesis, God is affirmed as the ultimate source of the universe - it is he who created it with a mere word (rhema) he imagined and spoke forth - that is ontological in the truest sense.  But, at the same time, the order of creation has the imprint of its creation upon it in so many ways, which is also cosmological.   Therefore, the case for God's existence is for me ontological cause with cosmological effect, simple as that; they are both right!  And, that is exactly what orthodox Christian teaching affirms, and again we go back to von Balthasar's Three-Fold Cord of Catholicity - the Word Celebrated (the Holy Eucharist), the Word Proclaimed (Holy Scriptures), and the Office which authenticates both (the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church).   The microcosm of the Church reflects as well the order of creation in a cosmological sense too - the spoken word of God (ontological cause) is authenticated in the order of His creation (cosmological effect).   And thus, we have a basis for a doctrine of creation!

This short teaching was unfortunately more brief than I wanted it to be, but I hope to develop it further later, as this only serves as both a summary of what I have learned in reflection, as well as an introduction to a bigger subject.  May God bless us all as we continue to grow and comprehend the immeasurable riches of God's Word, for as again St. Anselm would say, "We don't understand to believe, but rather believe to understand."  And, coming from that direction, it will begin to come together and make sense as we grow in our spiritual walk.  Thanks again for allowing me to share, and will see you all again soon.