Superstition of the Faithfulby Andrew Sciba
Superstition is a pagan spiritual practice that is subtle enough and versatile enough to infect religions like a cold virus. Because of this, it spans many religions and even secular culture. Since it is based in fear, superstition is essentially the attempt to compel the cosmic forces (whatever they may be) to act according to the will of the person actually performing the ritual.
A simple and common ritual is tossing a handful of salt over the right shoulder upon hearing a possible provocation of evil omens, such as someone saying at the revelation of bad news, “What next?!?!” It can’t be the left shoulder – only salt flung over the right shoulder has the capabilities to neutralize any negative consequence that could come from such a question. And it certainly can’t be sugar.
“I’m not superstitious. But I am a little stitious…”
Christianity has a habit of evangelizing the world around it. In welcoming those lost out in the cold, some practices from the secular world tend to get tracked in the door and baptized in the process. Granted, not every instance of this is as foul as others. For example, the wedding ring originated as a simple dowry and the tradition of wearing it on the left ring finger is a remnant of the belief that the vena amoris ran from that finger straight to the heart. Currently, wedding rings are sacramentals and serve as a common token of love and affection.
There are, however, less benign practices within the Catholic population that stem not from basic tradition but from the desire to move God’s will according to their own. Take for instance, the St. Joseph Home Sales Kit. The common practice is to bury the statue of St. Joseph upside down in the front yard of a house that isn’t selling. Though topsy-turvy, St. Joseph must actually be facing the house and, for those living in Italy, the practice must include the daily act of tickling his feet.
Even within the burial instructions included in the kit is an explanation saying that the “‘tradition goes back from [sic] what is called the ‘degradation of the saints.’” It was during the medieval period when the faithful would threaten images of the saints in order to coerce their intercession. And, as legend would have it, the sacrilegious practice escalated to casting relics into the street and flogging them during times of severe drought or famine.
This type of thinking tapers off quite a bit, but still occasionally finds its way into church lobbies and adoration chapels, pasted at the end of novenas promising the fulfillment of any desire if completed. While novenas are a fantastic method of prayer and devotion, they are like any other prayer, ultimately requiring the person to resign their will to God’s. Even promises assuring immediate admission into Heaven for anyone wearing a brown scapular at the time of death smacks of imputed righteousness. An indulgence may indeed be attached to wearing the scapular faithfully, but as with any indulgence, it is the life of faithfulness (especially brought through a devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel), contrition and total detachment from all sin that merits the remission of temporal punishment through the graces won upon the cross by Christ for His faithful.
What I think all this boils down to is the issue of control; acknowledging that we have none of it and God has all of it. Certainly, we can petition our Father through our own prayers as well as asking for the intercession of the saints, but if we trust that God will only allow to happen that which is of most benefit to our salvation, then our desire to control is disarmed and we rest in the peace of His providence.