Saints and Superstitions

Prodigal Daughter – Meredith Gillis (Cara Smith/AQ)

Sometimes being Catholic involves asking and answering questions about beliefs and practices the world finds a little strange. Near the top of the list would be saints and their ability to intercede in the world.

I was asked to try to write this column with humour, but as anyone who has ever told a joke around me knows, I have very little sense of humour. It’s a little unfortunate, but I’m only funny when I don’t intend to be, and even then it’s frequently at my own expense.

Anyway, saints and superstitions.

Recently, I heard about a trend in the Fredericton and Saint John real estate markets. People are buying statues of St. Joseph to bury in their yard so their house will sell.

I subscribe to the whole saints deal and I thought this was weird.

But, being open minded and always curious to know more about my faith, I pulled out my copy of the catechism to find out what it said about saintly intercession.

In a nutshell, saints are your wingman or wingwoman when you need a little extra help from Jesus. You pray to the saint, they pass the message along and then if Jesus is cool with it, they give you a hand. (Paraphrase of the Catechism of the Catholic Church 956)
I also did some Googling to find out a bit more about how this statue-burying was supposed to work.

You don’t just bury a statue. You pray a novena too.

For the non-Catholics and the not-totally-clear-on-what-a-novena-is-Catholics: a novena is any prayer prayed over nine days/weeks/months. You dedicate the novena to the saint and to God and pray it for your intention – in this case selling the house.
I asked a priest friend of mine about all of this. He said people should just pray the novena to St. Joseph, because the buying and burying of the statue is superstitious.

I was confused. Praying a novena in hopes of saintly intervention not superstitious, but buying a statue of the saint is? What’s wrong with superstition anyway?

Back to the catechism.

Praying to the saint for their intercession isn’t superstitious because of the wingman factor. You’re still asking God for whatever you want or need, but you’re asking the saint to ask for you too. Buying and burying a statue is superstitious if you’re attributing the sale of the house to the burial of the statue instead of as a result of prayer.

It’s the same thing with crucifixes, crosses, amulets and bracelets with images of saints. If I think wearing it is going to protect me from something, I’m being superstitious. If I’m wearing it to remind myself to pray and to try to live a Christian life, I’m okay.

The problem with superstition is it takes away from the mindset and habits we’re supposed to be developing. (Paraphrase of the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2111)

Crossing myself when I hear an ambulance go by is okay if I’m saying a prayer for whoever is inside. It’s not okay if I’m doing it to protect myself from death.

The Catholic Church tends to get a lot of flack for things people think are superstitions. Having taken the time to look in to it, I’m comfortable saying we’re really not a superstitious bunch. Frankly, I think the increase in superstitious practices like buying this statue of St. Jospeh says more about the difficulty of the times we’re living in than it does about the church.

Bottom line is faith is reasonable, superstitions aren’t.

It should be noted that explanations of Catholic beliefs are sometimes written the way I explain them at my most irreverent. Deal with it. If you need further clarification look it up yourself, ask a priest, or ask me and I’ll ask a priest.

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