Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Very Superstitious...Devil's On His Way..."

Poor St. Joseph. He's been buried every which way--upside-down, right-side-up, on his back, on his face, on his side, facing north, under the for-sale sign, etc.--as if a little hunk of plastic has any power over real estate.

Thirteen years ago I worked at a Catholic bookstore here in town, and at least once a day someone would come in looking for a miracle--no, they were looking for magic. I'm still a little disturbed at how many worried about how and where to bury the statue. I felt like a broken record: "It doesn't matter if you even bother to bury the statue. You can put it on your window sill. What matters most is that you pray. Pray and have faith. The statue is nothing more than a physical sign of your faith." One woman actually argued with me that there was power within the image itself. She stormed out in a huff after I called her superstitious.

It's incredible how many Christians--both Catholics and non-Catholics--rely on superstition. Non-Catholic Christians have their own little peccadilloes, but I'll stick with the Catholic end of it for right now. Despite beliefs to the contrary, power does not lie within any object or sacramental.  A rosary is just a string of beads if it's not used for prayer. A medal is just a trinket if there is no faith in or love for what it represents.  The power comes from the Lord, and in our love for Him and for one another. The item is a sign of this love, which is why the item is sacred. This is a very important distinction. Superstition stems from a poorly developed understanding of our world, the supernatural, and our place with regards to both. Superstition assumes that there is power in the object to ward of evil, or that mystery is contained in the object. Superstition, essentially, is idolatry.

I have a statue of St. Francis of Assisi in one of my gardens. There is no power in that statue. It doesn't ward off ghosts, demons, squirrels, stray cats or other scavengers; it doesn't make my flowers bloom better; it doesn't keep my dogs from pooping on the hostas or digging around the yard or destroying the lawn or trampling my daylilies. It doesn't protect my home from intruders. There is no magical power. It's not a conduit to another realm. It has no more power than does a photograph.

That's what it is. It's like a photograph of my great-grandparents. They died before I was born, but I love them. They never laid eyes on me, but they are with me. Does this photograph channel the spirits of my great grandparents? uh, no. The photograph is a physical sign of their love for their family, the family to which I was born, and my love and appreciation to them for this love. I honor them here in the physical world by keeping and displaying their photograph because that's where I exist.

It's the same with St. Francis in my garden. I specifically chose St. Francis because he specifically is a model for my life. He is in my garden as a sign of my faith--a specific kind of belief that I share with St. Francis; his image is saying that I love the person that St. Francis is and believe what he believed so much that I want a constant reminder of him here in the physical world.

Here it is in a nutshell. We are a physical AND spiritual expression of our God who loved us into being. That's what humanness is all about-a being with both a body and a spirit to choose to love our God in return. There is no magical power in any statue, or medal, or picture. The power lies in God's love. Rely on His love, and let these holy items be a physical sign of how much you love Him in return.


Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Wow, it's hard to believe that there really are people who think this way.

Gina said...

Elizabeth, you can't believe what some people believe. I had people bring back holy cards that "didn't work". People who thought rosaries of wood had more power than rosaries of plastic; one woman hammered off the snake under the feet of her statue of Our Lady of Grace, because she stepped on a rubber snake and thought it felt gross, and decided that it was a sign---forget the tradition and symbolism of Mary crushing the serpent, that rubber snake was a sign.

Their hearts are in the right place, but those who cling to superstition are ultimately hurting the faith of others by spreading the errors in their thinking.

Angela M. said...

Gina, great blog and wonderful post!

My son recently returned from Afghanistan. I had made sure to give him a Miraculous Medal, a St. Michael's medal and holy water. He was caught in a blast wave of an IED and injured but not so badly that he had to return home. I caught myself thinking that if he hadn't worn the medals he might have died. Then I chided myself knowing that ultimately everything was in God's hand and that His will would be done - whether my son lived or died. It was a good lesson.

Gina said...

Angela, Thanks so much for reading! I think many of us catch ourselves believing that medals have some kind of magical power, or that it's a catalyst of some kind to channel vibes or something odd like that, but it's so much more than just that.

But the thing is that while a medal (or scapular, or statue, or candle, or holy water...)is just a trinket in the hands of someone with no faith, wearing a medal as a tangible sign of our faith can have a real effect.

Giving your those medals was a very powerful act of your faith. If he wore them on a chain, stuck them in his pocket, attached them to his key ring or just buried them in his foot locker, It didn't matter, because it is your faith & love that is his protection. Hopefully, he cherishes those items as physical signs of your love for him, and Christ's love for him, and that they'll remind him of his faith.

So glad to have you as a reader! My prayers are with both you and your son. God bless you!

Angela M. said...

Gina, thanks for your kind words! I also consecrated him to the Blessed Mother so I give full credit to her love and protection!

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