Written by: Raph Ma
The apologetic answer to the title is fairly simple. The Church defines superstition as:
“the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.” [CCC 211]
If you have no intention whatsoever to communicate with God at all when you pray, but rather think that if you do X, Y, and Z in a particular way, you can make God do things for you, ok, then maybe you do need to have a look at whether or not you’re being superstitious. But, I think it is a safe assumption to make that no one reading this article is falling into this error. However, I think there is a deeper lesson to be learned here, because growing in holiness is not mainly about struggling against obstacles outside us like misinformed critics of the Church, but rather against the obstacles within us, that separate us from a closer, deeper, truer love of God. Because superstition, like occult practices described just a few paragraphs later in the Catechism, are rooted in a desire for power – “over time, history, and in the last analysis, other human beings. In other words, it is rooted in Original Sin and its effects, and that, unlike the possibility of superstition, is something which applies to us all.
When I came across Galatians 6:8 on Day 114 of Read the Bible & Catechism in a Year, it reminded me of one of my assigned readings from class. It’s an article containing an interview with an Augustinian Friar who is talking about St. Augustine’s commentary on Cain & Abel in St. Augustine’s book The City of God.
St. Augustine admits it isn’t easy to know what the exact reasons are for why Abel’s offering was pleasing to God, but Cain’s wasn’t, however he notices that the first letter of John says something about that:
“and not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:13).
St. Augustine interpreted this to mean that Cain indeed gave to God something of his, but he didn’t give himself to God, he gave himself to himself. Likewise, all those who follow not God’s will but their own, that is, while not living with an upright but a perverse heart, nevertheless offer a gift to God by which they think to make God help them – not to cure their evil desires, but to satisfy them. In offering something to God, Cain did not really intend to serve, but rather to make use of God. This interpretation of St. Augustine’s is relevant to us, because it shows us just how ambiguous religious feeling can be for Christians as well, which can still be felt when we are not making an offering of ourselves, but of self-justification.
A general principle that the Friar in the interview pointed out was that St. Augustine shows that the good, that is the people who inhabit the city of God, use the world to enjoy God, whereas the bad, that is the people who inhabit the earthly city, try to use God to enjoy the world.
A friend of mine went on a come & see weekend several years ago, and while he didn’t end up going to seminary, he told me that it did bring up one question for him which he hadn’t thought about before – “What or who am I living for?”
And that is the same thing that St. Paul is saying to the Galatians, when he warns them that:
“For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the spirit will from the spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8).
Here “sowing” stands in for any action, whether apparently in the service of God or not, and St. Paul is asking the Galatians, and us today, to consider just whom or what we are living for.Catholic Living, by Catholic Chapter House.