Pope Francis spoke out recently about those who place their trust in astrology and fortune-telling.
It is a mark of the times when religious belief seems to be on the decline and churches are closing but such superstitions persist. And persist they do. Just today, while walking back from Holy Mass, I noticed a sign in a seemingly reputable ladies’ hairdressing salon: ‘TAROT CARD READINGS WHILE YOU WAIT’. Presumably, this enticement is to find out more than simply if anyone will like your new look.
It is sobering to be reminded that such superstitious practices exist and that they have never been, and never will be, compatible with the Catholicism. As section 2116 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear:
All forms of divination are to be rejected... practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.
Our faith is one in a loving Father who has a plan for each soul: as opposed to a fortune-teller with a guess and an invoice.
Many years ago, when young and wayward, I met a fortune-teller socially. Of course, I couldn’t resist. She told me I would be fabulously wealthy and die young. Now, well advanced into middle age and far from rich, by any measure she has been proved wrong. But I was wrong, too, in succumbing to the temptation to play the game of ‘knowing the future’. As Benjamin Franklin memorably pointed out the only sure things in life are death and taxes. Extreme, perhaps, but he had a point. We do not know what the future holds and, maybe, that’s no bad thing—well, at least to some extent. At the church I had left that same day, the priest had told the congregation of a young mother of four children who, on account of cancer, had been given only days to live. The knowledge that her end was imminent, he said, had been a grace both for her and her family; all concerned were preparing now for the Transitus. Fortified by prayer and the Sacraments, and conscious of the love of those closest to her, she goes forth into the arms of a merciful Father.
In modern Britain, people rarely ask to what religion you belong. The question is of no relevance and, indeed, has no application to most of its citizens for they do not profess any belief that could be described as religious. Of course, many claim to be ‘spiritual’. Tarot Cards, astrology, and the like appear to fall into this category of ‘spiritual’. Over the years, however, I have never heard of anyone visiting a fortune-teller who was told that they were going to give a large sum of money to charity, or make a good act of contrition, or forgive an enemy. All reports of clairvoyant prophecies, of which I have heard, have been of riches untold and of meeting the ‘man of one’s dreams’—yes, all of those I’ve heard speak of fortune-telling have been women. And, to the best of my knowledge, all those to whom I talked are still at the day job, dreaming of Mr. Right who appears to have problems following the star to their door.
As a sure predictor of the future, astrology is particularly bogus. And, especially so as peddled in the mass media, ask anyone who, in days gone by, started working at a newspaper. Often the job for any new arrival was to write such columns. At least it was an exercise in creative writing compared to more mundane tasks such as selling advertising space. Nevertheless, a number of attempts have been made to legitimize astrology. In 1979, the French astrologer, Michael Gauquelin, offered free horoscopes to any reader of a Paris magazine as long as they would respond by sharing how accurate they found the chart. The same profile was sent to hundreds, announcing that it was a personal star chart. Of the first 150 replies, 94% said the chart offered an accurate description of their personality and temperament; this was corroborated by 90% of their friends and family. In fact, the chart that had been sent was purportedly the horoscope of a long dead mass murderer. Of course, it was just cleverly written. And yet, people pay large sums for this type of ‘character analysis’.
The crime of astrologers and fortune-tellers is not so much the stuff they hawk as ‘truth’—there are many ‘snake oil sellers’ among us – but that they take money from gullible, sometimes desperate people while distracting them from the only thing that really helps any of us face the future. What we all need is not someone gazing into a crystal ball or to the stars but time spent in front of the Blessed Sacrament, not asking what will happen next but, instead, repeating over and over: Fiat.
Last year there was a headline in a British newspaper. It told of the ‘unexpected passing’ of one of Britain’s most famous astrologers. Needless to say, the unexpected nature of the passing spoke volumes on that science of prediction.
In Britain today you may not be asked to what religion you adhere, but there is another question that comes up time and again. When next at a social gathering, or at work minding your own business, you are asked by someone with a seriousness that is unnerving: ‘What “star sign” are you?’ May I suggest a reply? Look your interrogator in the eye and state simply: ‘The Star of Bethlehem.’
What will happen next, as with all things, I’ll leave in the Hands of the Almighty. Nevertheless, I predict the look you get back shall be priceless.