Etsy,the online marketplace for handmade goods, recently announced a change in its policy. Vendors can no longer sell healing, revenge, health, weight loss, or guaranteed love. The new policy says:

In general, services are not allowed to be listed or sold on Etsy. There are a few exceptions noted below that are allowed as they produce a new, tangible, physical item.

Any service that does not yield a new, tangible, physical item is not allowed (for example: tailoring, restoring or repairing an item, photographic retouching or color correction).

Any metaphysical service that promises or suggests it will effect a physical change (e.g., weight loss) or other outcome (e.g., love, revenge) is not allowed, even if it delivers a tangible item . . . 

Sellers of "metaphysical" items (and I nominate this use of the word "metaphysical" as the word crime of the century) used to get around the requirement of yielding a "new, tangible, physical item" by offering a card or a download announcing that you were now the proud owner of a love spell or the capacity to lose weight the metaphysical way (sorry, Aristotle. I'm so sorry); but Etsy has clarified that sellers can no longer promise that any physical change will occur. 

Sellers may continue to sell astrological charts, tarot readings, and other tangible objects, as long as they are not making a promise that object will effect a physical change or other outcome, such as weight loss, love, or revenge.

Naturally, there is a petition to reverse this decision, and many of the signers claim there is some kind of discrimination going on, since Etsy will still allow the sale of Christian items like rosaries and medals.

Seems like a good opportunity to clear up a thing or two. Many Catholics are as confused as these - ahem - metaphysicians about what it is that Catholics intend when they wear a medal or a scapular, pray on a blessed rosary, or use other physical items that are associated with some spiritual truth. To a casual onlooker, it really does seem like Catholics believe that if you die with a scapular, God has to let you into heaven; that if you stick a St. Christopher medal to your dashboard, you can drive like a maniac and walk away unscathed; that if you pray on a rosary blessed by an especially good Pope, or sneak a relic of your favorite saint underneath some sinner's mattress, then whatever you wish will come true.

This is not what Catholics believe. We do not believe in magic, and we do not believe that God is bound to perform for us like a genie in a bottle. 

We do, however, believe that when we pray, we put ourselves into God's hands. To aid us in our prayer, the Church has given us sacramentals, which can be either objects or actions that are intended to "prepare [us] to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1677

A few examples of sacramentals: rosaries, scapulars, medals, and holy water, and also blessings, consecrations, and dedications. The Catechism explains:

1670 Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church's prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. "For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God."176 

In other words, these items and actions do not have any innate power in themselves, and they are not to be used superstitiously, as a way of commanding or controlling spiritual forces. 

EWTN clarifies:

What is the difference between correct use of the sacramental and superstition? It has to do with an inner attitude, for superstition is second cousin to magic. The superstitious person says, "If I sprinkle holy water here, say these prayers and cross myself, I will make God or His saints do this for me." But the person using a sacramental properly says. "I want to be closer to God—to be constantly and effectively reminded of the power of His love and glory, of His protection, forgiveness and mercy. So I will cross myself when I pass a church to remind myself of His passion. I will make a novena to ask God's saints for their prayers. I will do these things, not because I am strong and have the power to make God and His saints do my will, but because I am weak, distractable and forgetful, and need to remind myself of True Reality."

As Etsy's policy currently stands, no rosary, medal, or crucifix is in violation of the standards, because they do not (or should not!) promise to make something happen. 

Occasionally, God sees it fit to make something extraordinary happen in the physical world after we pray or make use of some other sacramental: a cancer patient is inexplicably healed after being blessed with holy water; a sinner abruptly changes his evil ways after he consents to wearing a miraculous medal. These things come about because God wants them to happen, not because a piece of cloth, a shard of bone, or the right combination of words makes Him do them. 

Using sacramentals is a way of putting ourselves and our intentions in God's hands. These sacramentals are often physical things -- water, beads, cloth, a shard of bone -- because we are physical beings, and we can come to understand our relationship with our Creator through the senses He gave us.