Some of you may be thinking, "I stay away from all that paranormal stuff. I only read and listen to Catholic things, so I'm safe from being duped." Of course, even God's own house is not safe from superstition and false beliefs that believers must guard against. One doesn't need to look far to find online novenas that are "guaranteed" to grant any prayer intention, or Catholic prophets who claim to know the future based on a private revelation from God.
How can Catholics protect themselves from erroneous or dangerous beliefs that appear to be Catholic? By judging these beliefs in light of the public revelation God has provided his Church. According to the Catechism, superstition occurs when one attributes "the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand" (CCC 2111).
A novena that will grant any petition the person desires is a spiritual vending machine that is condemned by James 4:3: "You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." Belief that the act of saying a prayer, or leaving nine copies of it in the church vestibule, will guarantee a certain outcome defeats the entire purpose of prayer.
Similarly, the practice of burying a statue of St. Joseph upside down in hopes that God will sell your home faster (because St. Joseph is irritated to be in such a position and would like it ended immediately) dishonors God. These superstitions put us in the position of trying to manipulate God to do our will instead of honestly praying to God and being willing to submit to his will, even if that involves God not granting our petitions.
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About the Author
“C’mon, Trent. Why do you have to spoil things for everyone? Why can’t you just let people believe?” The answer is because I care too much about people to let them be deceived. Jesus says, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). God didn’t create us for blissful ignorance; he made us for holiness and knowledge of him. Furthermore, how can nonbelievers take us seriously if they think Catholics will believe any idle tale or superstition that sounds interesting or plausible? Being a skeptic doesn’t mean rejecting everything; it means only rejecting those things that lack good evidence.
Catholics do not follow cleverly devised myths (cf. 2 Peter 1:16) but instead believe in wonderful things we know to be true. We don’t worry about the future and consult psychics, because Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and our futures are safe with him (cf. Hebrews 13:8). We appreciate private revelations, but we measure them against the trustworthy public revelation God has entrusted to the magisterium. We don’t need psychics, horoscopes, Ouija boards, magical statues, guaranteed novenas, or any other superstition because, as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “God’s grace is enough.”
After his conversion to the Catholic faith, Trent Horn pursued an undergraduate degree in history from Arizona State University. He then earned a graduate degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in philosophy from Holy Apostles...
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