All of us long to know God. It’s been said that there is a God-shaped hole in the hearts of men. I believe that’s true. We seek Him out — in His scripture, in His Church, in the beauty of creation, and in one another. And if we truly and humbly search for God, He never disappoints us. Lately, I’ve been reading about people who claim to have encountered God in their dreams, in visions, and through His angels. This can be a confusing journey full of hazards and dead-ends. Thankfully I’m blessed to have guidance along my way in the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.
The Church teaches (and has taught for many centuries) that the public revelation of God ceased upon the death of St. John, the last living Apostle. Jesus Christ was and is the complete and total revelation of the living God. Nothing can “add to” to the Word of God in His beloved Son. As the Catechism states,”….no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ”(paragraph 66). So do Catholics believe that God no longer reveals Himself to us? Of course not. We come to know God throughout our lives in and through our prayerful participation in the Church He left for us. We enter into His family at Baptism. We encounter the grace of His mercy in Confession. No more intimate knowledge and experience of Christ exists than in our communion with Him in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. Our Confirmation infuses us with the gifts and guidance of the Holy Spirit. God reveals Himself to us in our reading of Sacred scripture and in our prayer life which is a true fount of His love and grace. The Holy Spirit inspires and teaches us in the Sacred Tradition of His Church. God is always reaching out to us and pulling us closer to His Sacred Heart.
Throughout the centuries, people have claimed to have received private revelations from God. From the very first years after Christ’s Ascension, the early Church fathers taught that private revelation should always be approached with great prudence. Men like Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Augustine all taught about the proper limits of private “knowledge” of God that persons might claim to have received in dreams or visions. And yet the Church has always been open to the workings of God in the lives of His children. “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good”(I Thess. 5:19-21). The testing and retaining is part of the authority that Christ gave to His Church and so this process is rightfully one left to the pope and bishops. St. John spoke of this authority: “We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who doesn’t belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit” (I John 4:6). Catholics believe in miracles and our Church is open to them. At the same time, any true mystic or visionary will readily submit themselves to the investigation and scrutiny of Christ’s Church because the Church acts with His authority. She is, after all, His spotless Bride.
Private revelation is never necessary for salvation. A person’s visions or writings can never “correct” or surpass the revelation of Jesus Christ. If anyone claims otherwise, he or she is in error, even if their “revelation” gains a large and popular following. We see this everywhere today. In the final analysis, either there is a Church whose authority was given it by God, or there is not. If there’s not, then anything goes and your religion is just as valid as anyone else’s religion. From the writings of Mohammed and Joseph Smith, to all the new-age mystics and seers and prophets, we have more than 33.000 different religious denominations on the planet today. Someone has a vision or a “word of knowledge” and the next thing, they start their own church. We have splintered the Body of Christ by rejecting the authority He gave to St. Peter and his successors. Surely God weeps that His family is so estranged from one another. If we are followers of Christ, we must pray and work together to come back under the same tent, to kneel together at the same altar and to profess our faith in the one, true God, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“…I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”