Since the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, wrote his famous work, “On the Interpretation of Dreams,” the sense and meaning of dreams has been forever reshaped in western society. 

Contemporary psychologists debate the meaning and interpretation of dreams and even raise the question as to whether or not dreams have any meaning whatsoever. Most of us do not remember our dreams at all, or at least not with any frequency. It is interesting, then, that dreams play such an important role within the Bible and certainly in the Gospel passage for the feast of the Epiphany.

In the pre-Freudian world, and especially that of the ancient Middle Eastern cultures, dreams were understood to be avenues for a deeper understanding of a person’s relationship with God.  It was through dreams that God revealed himself to many of the patriarchs and prophets in the Old Testament. In the Epiphany Gospel, we hear of the revelatory dreams to Joseph as he discerns God’s will for Mary, Jesus and himself.

While we tend to be suspicious and skeptical when people claim to have had a dream or a particular revelation from God – and indeed we ought to be – nonetheless such dreams when properly discerned and interpreted can offer to us important insights into our own relationship with God and can assist us in understanding God’s will for our lives.

As Catholics and Christians, we do believe that God communicates his will for us. The question isn’t whether or not God communicates the real questions are how do we discern that communication and separate it from the cacophony of noise that competes with his will for us.  How do we know that what we have sensed or dreamt or felt is the movement of the Holy Spirit within us as opposed to just an affirmation of our will for ourselves or, as Scrooge puts it upon encountering the ghost of Marley, “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato?”

Discernment of God’s will is not always easy. Sometimes people seem to too readily ascribe to God will their own intentions, desires and beliefs. This can make for some very awkward and at times very destructive attitudes and decisions. While we must all be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, none of us has a direct pipeline of communication from God to us.  Those very few people in history who have been graced with the occasion to receive unusual revelations from God, such as  Abraham, Moses, John the Divine, Juan Diego and Bernadette Soubiroux, face much opposition and skepticism before they finally are able to show by their suffering and the authenticity of their message, that indeed that have been so blessed.

Though none of us ever expect to rank among the aforementioned, we nonetheless all seek to discover what God’s will is for us. For most of us this comes gradually over time and is revealed to us through our experiences in prayer, spiritual direction and our encounters with other people.  At the same time we are all also capable of discernment to some extent through the power of personal insight and personal realization. While such must also be tested and proved, we do still have the grace of such encounters.

What we first need is a heart and mind that is open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and then we need the humility to discern whether what we hear is indeed God’s will for us.  A prayerful attitude and a meaningful relationship with the Word of God as revealed through the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church are necessary for developing such an attitude of openness and humility.

St. Joseph stands before us as a clear example of the necessity of careful and prayerful discernment of God’s communication to us through the most ordinary experiences of our lives. 

Jan. 13 | Through our Baptism, we enter new life in Christ

It is not unusual for us at times to be looking for the right thing but still looking in the wrong place or the wrong direction. The people of Israel in the first century were hoping for the coming of the Messiah.  There were many reasons why this was so, but most certainly they were prepared by the prophets and the signs  that God was stirring things up and was about to act in a dramatic way in their history.

Most of them did not agree, however, on what they wanted from the messiah. While there were those who longed for a spiritual renewal and a reordering of the temple worship which had been corrupted by political ambitions, they seemed to be the minority. More of the people longed for a strong Son of David to emerge on the scene and restore the proper political order and finally shed the yoke of oppression under which the Jews had lived for over 600 years. 

John the Baptizer stands as a fascinating character. He clearly attracted the attention of those who longed for spiritual renewal. He called people to reform their lives and to accept a symbolic cleansing as an external sign of their recommitment to the mandates of the law. At the same time, he boldly took on the political establishment, challenging even the tetrarch Herod Antipas for his illicit marriage to his sister-in-law. He was an enigma, and yet a fascination.

While his followers hoped that it was he who was the messiah, John offered the people no false hope that it would be he.  John understood his role as precursor of the Messiah and clearly demonstrated his concern that the people be ready and open to the work of the Messiah when he would finally arrive.

John adapted what appears to be an ancient Egyptian ceremony and used it to express the transformation of the lives of his followers. Jesus quietly enters into the waters of the Jordan River to be baptized. His Baptism was not that of repentance, for he was without sin. Indeed, here in Luke’s Gospel, it appears that even John himself was not present at the Baptism of Jesus.  Jesus was instead baptized by the pronouncement of the Father – “You are my beloved Son.”

From this moment on the nature of Baptism changes forever. No longer can Baptism be merely a symbolic gesture of the change of life or a recommitment to the law. Instead, Baptism is itself the life changing event and not the sign that a life-changing event had previously occurred.

By virtue of Jesus’ own Baptism all those who are baptized in the name of Jesus are baptized “with the Holy Spirit and fire” as John had promised his hearers. In this way, John prefigures not only the ritual of Baptism itself, but also the Paschal Mystery and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost.

Baptism itself makes us new people claimed by Christ for eternal life. We participate through Baptism in the very messianic mission of Jesus. So while Jesus is the Messiah in the sense of fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament, each of us is anointed with the Oil of Catechumens and the chrism of salvation, sharing in the tripartite mission of priest, prophet and king.

We look to the moment of our Baptism as the moment of our rebirth and entry into eternal life.  The life that we live now is really not our own, for we have been claimed by Christ – bought and paid for – through his Death and Resurrection.

We ought to live our lives as people who carry on with the messianic mission of Jesus Christ to the world.

Rev. Mr. Garry Koch is a transitional deacon serving in St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake. He expects to be ordained a priest in the spring.