Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
The Question Box
by Father I.J. Mikulski
(From the Aug. 19, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
Q. I like to think of dreams as a kind of communication with God. Dreams have helped me make decisions that explained my purpose in life as I now understand it. But is there some point at which my dreams might be considered wrong or sinful or at least compromising?
A. The interpretation of dreams has people in psychological sciences on all sides of the issue. Some say yes, some say no, some say just the opposite. Theologians, who have never met an issue they could not sub-divide, agree it’s not sinful and gladly leave further debate to dissenting experts in psychology.
The belief that dreams are a means of divine communication or foretelling the future was common in the ancient world. People consulted professional “dreamologists” who had extensive collections of reference books with the right combination of formulae for interpreting dreams. Dreams as a medium of divine communication are found only in a few passages of Scripture that might also be regarded as a bit of folklore narrative rather than genuine Biblical belief. The Joseph story in Genesis has a series of dreams.
In the New T., dreams with divine connection occur only in Matthew and Acts. Pilate’s wife was frightened by a bad dream. The visiting magi were really dream responders.
Dreams could be direct line communications, like cell phones to God. It wasn’t a case of who called whom first. They had a direct connection on line for life.
Can God communicate through dreams? God can communicate any way he wants. Does God communicate through dreams? Why not, if it’s effective?
It would wrong to become obsessed with dreams or to let them dominate life’s decisions as though there’s something extra-terrestrial about them. That’s just borderline superstition.
Q. In our new Bible class we got stuck on the message of Elijah. He was important as a prophet who awaited the Messiah, but he wasn’t sure he would live to see him. Was John the Baptizer like Elijah in disguise?
A. You’re getting close to the heart of the trouble that Scripture scholars call “the synoptic problem.” Follow this response closely and you will impress your fellow students and perhaps the teacher, too.
Who wrote first? Matthew, Mark or John? Who borrowed what from whom, and why?
Matthew’s Gospel is more than twice as long as Mark’s because Matthew, writing for the Jewish community living in Jerusalem, never misses a chance to present his case that Jesus is the long-awaited messiah. He’s familiar with the writings of the Hebrew prophets. He knows the prophet Malachi said (3:23) that Elijah must return before the Messiah arrives. Here’s the evidence, he says.
Mark gives a plain, no-frills report of the mountaintop experience. Matthew embellishes that account by explicitly stating that John the Baptist was Elijah revived. In the light of controversy between Jews and Christians in the primitive Church, Matthew makes a strong statement.
Mark wrote his gospel for the infant Christian community in Rome. Matthew addressed his narrative to the Jewish converts in Jerusalem. Luke wrote his more detailed account for the Christians in Asia Minor. John’s Gospel is so different it doesn’t fit in with the synoptics.
Context is important. We need to know who borrowed what from whom, and why. This is the greatest story ever told so we need to know those facts.
Good Scripture scholars go about their work like detectives.
Q. Would you say something about the proper attire of ushers, both male and female, when they appear at Mass? At least show some good taste. In this parish they’re embarrassing. I’m asking for your help.
A. Good taste is in the eye of the beholder. Some folks have it and some do not.
To say appearance doesn’t matter because it’s what’s inside that matters is obviating the question. A person’s appearance says a lot about what a person thinks of himself.