To answer this, we first must ask “What is a superstition?”
Superstitions presuppose a supernatural world that interacts with our world. These interactions cause both positive and negative effects on our life. Moreover, through superstitions, we can in some way control these interactions to make them work more favorably for us.
So, for instance:
I wear my lucky tie to an interview and I land the job that I want. The lucky tie, in my view, was a factor (perhaps even a major one) behind my getting this job. Had that tie been ruined at the cleaners the previous day, and I had to wear another tie and didn’t get the job, that spot of “bad luck,” might have contributed, or even been decisive, at least in my view, of why I didn’t get the job.
This approach to the supernatural is contrary to how the Church tells us how we are to approach God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses that we are to bring our petitions before God: “The vocabulary of supplication in the New Testament is rich in shades of meaning: ask, beseech, plead, invoke, entreat, cry out, even “struggle in prayer.” Its most usual form, because the most spontaneous, is petition: by prayer of petition we express awareness of our relationship with God. We are creatures who are not our own beginning, not the masters of adversity, not our own last end” (CCC 2629).
The Church affirms that we do not have any claim of power or authority over the supernatural, only the ability to ask God to intervene in our life.
In the example above, the thought that the tie that I wore had any bearing on God’s intervention in the interview or the decision-making process of the hiring runs counter to a proper understanding of how God works in the life of a Christian person. We can’t command God to act, we can only ask, knowing in faith that our God will give us what we truly need.
So lucky ties and the like are not good for us. But what about praying a novena or practicing some devotion for a specific intention? These are good things to do, if we keep in mind that we approach God in a spirit of trust that He will intervene in the best way for us. Some prayer books or people will make claims that this prayer or this medal will work in the way we want every time we use it. But remember, God is not one we can command with certain words or gestures. As Jesus says, “Ask and you will receive” (Luke 11:9).
Finally, Catholics are certainly to avoid superstitions such as viewing horoscopes, visiting a medium or a psychic or attempting to contact the dead. Such practices are specifically mentioned in Deuteronomy: “Let there not be found among you anyone who … practices divination, or is a soothsayer, augur, or sorcerer, or who casts spells, consults ghosts and spirits, or seeks oracles from the dead. Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).
This column appeared in a previous edition of the Review.
Father Mayo is pastor of St. Raphael Parish in St. Louis.