Readers of a certain age will remember receiving chain letters in the mail: anonymous accounts of how some recipients cashed in big time and had other good fortune after sending the letter on to 10 other people. Those who broke the chain not only missed out on the money, but risked having various other problems.
The chain letter appealed to greed and fear at the same time. It’s now history, but its electronic cousin is alive and well, especially those bearing a quasi-religious message. Hardly a week goes by when I don’t receive one, telling me what great blessings will be mine if only I pass the e-mail along to 10 others.
I automatically threw the old chain letters directly into the wastebasket, and I go for the delete key every time I receive an e-mail version. But where’s the harm? you might ask.
Catholics should always be willing and able to pass on true blessings whenever they can. But messages such as these are more steeped in superstition and even the occult than in true religion. Consider a recent e-mail I received. It informed me that if I would send a Hollywood-style picture of Mary on down the line, “your troubles will go away.” That was the first tip-off.
Messages that fail the test of reason and/or sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church should immediately be consigned to electronic outer darkness. As for seeing my troubles disappear, that would come as news to Jesus, who assured his followers, “In the world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
Most of the e-mails of this type include a picture of a religious object, which is said to possess special powers. This is more the realm of superstition, magic and charms than sound Christian practice. Many such messages invoke the name of our Blessed Mother. Some Catholics seem to believe that if Mary’s name is attached to it, it must be okay. Not necessarily.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses this particular aspect: “Superstition in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion” (No. 2110).
Unfortunately, superstitious belief among Catholics is not limited to the Internet. Consider the widespread practice of burying St. Joseph statues on property in hopes of getting a buyer. “St. Joseph Statue Spell Kits” are a hot item on the Web. Whenever you see the word “spell,” know you’re in dangerous territory. Witches cast spells. Christians should have nothing to do with such occult activities.
Yes, many Catholics will testify as to how quickly they sold their houses after burying St. Joseph. Interestingly, the statue is not simply to be buried: He is to be buried upside down. One explanation I read maintained that St. Joseph doesn’t like being placed in the ground this way and would therefore speed the sale of the property so he could be dug up and righted.
This is superstitious nonsense. Anyone having a serious claim to the Catholic faith should disavow such practices out of hand. Actually, we’re talking about something here that goes a step beyond superstition and is much more dangerous.
When Satanists engage in black magic, an upside-down crucifix is part of the ceremony. Think there might be a connection here? The devil doesn’t mind using his influence to help sell your house if that leads you away from sound religious belief and deeper into superstition and the occult.
A Protestant pastor in our town who owns a Christian bookstore recently wrote a newspaper column in which he remarked about the large number of Catholics who come into his store seeking St. Joseph statues. Even though they are a big moneymaker, to his credit, he refuses to carry them. Isn’t it sad that the only Catholics this pastor might encounter are those looking for a plastic statue to bury?
Do you sincerely desire the aid of St. Joseph in selling your home? Then do it the right way. Respectfully ask for his intercession with God (the primary ability that saints possess) on your behalf. No burying, no spells, no charms.
The Catechism is emphatic in cautioning Catholics against any involvement with the occult: “All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service … are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion” (No. 2117).
When God brought his chosen people into the Promised Land, he warned them against such activities. For the subject at hand, one line will suffice: “Let there not be found among you … [a] charmer … or caster of spells” (Deuteronomy 18:10).
This refers to good-luck charms and other objects believed to possess magical qualities, which is a form of sorcery. The misuse of the St. Joseph statue belongs here, as do all religious items on the Internet that are alleged to bring good luck.
“Luck,” by the way, is an expression that Catholics would do well to strike from their vocabularies. The Church doesn’t trust in luck; it trusts in God’s divine providence, which orders all things toward their proper ends. “Luck” denotes a random, hit-or-miss element, which can be either good or bad. That’s not the way of the God in whom we place our trust.
F. Douglas Kneibert writes from Sedalia, Missouri.