Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Catholic Piety vs. Superstition

A friend of mine (a former Roman Catholic) recently told me about the practice of burying a statue of St. Joseph in your yard when trying to sell your home. By burying the statue upside-down in your yard, your house is suppose to sell more quickly. You can even buy “St. Joseph Home Sale Kits” from Catholic Supply stores as well as read online testimonials from those who have used this practice “successfully”.

I have noted before that the majority of Roman Catholics (especially those I know in real life) are quite different than the online Roman Catholics I have met who tend to be more well-versed in their Church’s doctrines. Certainly this practice of burying a St. Joseph statue in your yard to sell your house would be frowned upon by well-catechized Roman Catholics, I thought.

So I was surprised to find the following excerpts on the Catholics United for the Faith website:

“The custom of burying a statue of St. Joseph for the purpose of selling one’s home can be in harmony with the teachings of the Church when grounded in prayer for St. Joseph’s intercession. At the same time, the Church cautions against superstitious beliefs such as attributing some power to the act of burying the statue.”

“Burying a statue of St. Joseph for the purpose of selling one’s home is an action similar to wearing a saint’s medal or a scapular…an external sign of their trust in St. Joseph as a powerful intercessor.”

“The Church neither encourages nor discourages this practice. She recognizes that different forms of piety and popular devotion can be beneficial to believers, helping them to grow in faith, trust, and personal holiness.”


However, Jimmy Akin disagrees with CUF as stated in his article on the same topic:

“While it is reasonable to ask St. Joseph for his intercession in helping buy or sell a home… the idea of burying a statue of him upside down has no plausible connection to any patronly interest he might have in housing.

Because an efficacy is attributed to a religious act that has no apparent rational basis, the act qualifies as superstition or a perverse excess of religion. The Catechism notes that "Superstition in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion" (CCC 2110).”


However, some of Akin’s commenters disagreed with him. So who is right?

Apparently this is an area of uncertainty for the Roman Catholic since there is no infallible judgment by their Church and an area of general disagreement as to whether the practice would qualify as “superstitious” or not. On the surface this doesn’t sound like a big deal until you realize that the catechism paragraph that Akin referred to (CCC 2110) deals with the first commandment and keeping the commandments is necessary in Roman Catholic soteriology (CCC 2068).

That leaves the Roman Catholic walking a thin line between honorable Catholic piety and potentially damning idolatry. Despite their possession of an infallible authority to provide certainty in matters of faith and morals, the only thing the Roman Catholic is left with in determining whether the simple matter (with heavy implications) of statue-burying is superstitious or not is their own private judgment.

Funny how that works.


On an interesting side note…in the post by Jimmy Akin, one of his commenters had this to say in response:

“Jimmy, I fear that your Protestant background has coloured your response to this person's inquiry. This practice is not necessarily superstitous, if by it the worshipper is simply intending to visibly manifest his prayer to Saint Joseph.”


If you have ever been the target of online Catholic critiques of your personal motives, you may find Akin’s reponse back amusing:

“You need to be careful in the kind of attributions you make regarding others' backgrounds. I understand the temptation on the part of some to ascribe anything you disagree with that a convert says to his prior religious background, but this is a very dangerous and unreliable thing to do.

It also won't win you friends as nobody likes having their motives psychologically deconstructed as a way of ignoring the arguments they've made.”

15 comments:

pilgrim said...

Yes, Roman Catholics will surprise you. And each other.

There is a certain elasticity to Roman Catholic practice that seems to allow for all sorts of traditions--this can make it hard to have a discussion sometimes, and why it's best to stcik to official teachings as much as possible--although in one on one settings you can narrow in on their individual beliefs and practices...

L P Cruz said...

“Burying a statue of St. Joseph for the purpose of selling one’s home is an action similar to wearing a saint’s medal or a scapular…an external sign of their trust in St. Joseph as a powerful intercessor.”

There is sophistry illustrated for you.

From a contradiction, you can prove anything.


LPC

James Swan said...

I want to know why the statue is placed upside-down!

“The custom of burying a statue of St. Joseph for the purpose of selling one’s home can be in harmony with the teachings of the Church when grounded in prayer for St. Joseph’s intercession. At the same time, the Church cautions against superstitious beliefs such as attributing some power to the act of burying the statue.”


Catholic custom is indeed a blueprity for anarchy- they do what they want to do, regardlesss of what other Catholics do. This is another example of the disunity of Catholics (while they claim to be unified).

Carrie said...

I want to know why the statue is placed upside-down!

I'm not quite sure but it may have to do with motivation.

On Akin's blog he talked of some people placing the statue in the fridge when things weren't working out well, but I can't find a source on that one.

theo said...

Pilgrim wrote in part:
"There is a certain elasticity to Roman Catholic practice that seems to allow for all sorts of traditions--this can make it hard to have a discussion sometimes, and why it's best to stick to official teachings as much as possible..."

Dear Pilgrim:

As a life-long practicing Catholic I can affirm your observation, and we Catholics will do well to take heed and stick to official teachings as much as possible, ourselves.

The great license we see when looking at these quasi-Catholic traditions (For those keeping score, I use the small letter "t" here.) is due in part to the vast cross-cultural spread of Christianity over many centuries where human communities were relatively isolated.

Thus, as Carrie pointed out in her post regarding piety vs. superstition, we sometimes see an infusion of cultural behavior into Christian practices over time. In some cases these included superstitions modified to adapt to the new Christian teachings.

This is not to say that because a secular or even pagan practice had been appropriated and Christianized the resulting Christian practice is automatically inappropriate: in fact, that is one meaning of appropriate: to render the inappropriate, appropriate.

On the other hand, neither does this give us freedom to simply dress paganism or superstition in Christian clothes and call it Godly. Any truly Christian practice in the final analysis, must be truly Christ centered.

I sympathize with my Protestant brothers and sisters who are frustrated by what must appear to them blatant abuse of license in many instances. Yet in the end, Jesus alone judges all. For now we must tend the Master's fields while at the same time we are charged to patiently await the removal of the tares at the time of harvest.

In the meanwhile, if you correct a brother and he repents, you have won him over.

I humbly pray that we all may be guided by the Holy Spirit into greater imitations of Christ, that our lives' deportment might reflect the true glory that is God in all we do. Whether it is our work, our recreation or our worship, let it be sacred. Let it be Christ-centered.

Humbly, and by grace I remain your servant and brother in Christ,
--Theo

Thos said...

While admiring the sincerity and seriousness of Theo's comment, I must observe the less-serious and slightly humorous:

The 4" statue of Joseph is CLEARLY only 3.5 inches tall - how cheap!!!

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

theo said...

Carrie wrote in part:

"That leaves the Roman Catholic walking a thin line between honorable Catholic piety and potentially damning idolatry."


I humbly disagree. Evem were we to assume this practice is always mere superstition (Frankly, I find it hard to imagine otherwise, but that's not my point.), we should still remember that practicing superstition as a supposedly pious act displays ignorance of genuine piety; however it is neither damning nor idolatry--unless the practitioner actually worships something or someone other than God Almighty.

Catholics are not alone in having members who practice what could be taken as superstitions.

Do you know brides who wear white? Superstition. Do you know someone who tossed rice or bird seed at a wedding party? Superstition. But those were easy, and nobody takes them seriously as petitions to a higher power.

Do you know someone who prays "I plead the blood of Jesus" when petitioning God for some urgent need? Consider: is that a righteous prayer or a superstition? One might wonder. Is it idolatry? Is it being used as some sort of incantation?

If we as human observers set ourselves up as the judges of others, we soon begin to get into grey areas--and often personal indictment--faster than one might expect.

Humbly submitted as one who is ripe for judgement himself, and therefore also in awe, fear and wonder at God's power and mercy displayed; I remain your servant and brother in Christ,
--Theo

Carrie said...

Do you know brides who wear white? Superstition.

No, that is a cultural tradition. Bride's don't wear white to get some saint to accomplish a task for them.

we should still remember that practicing superstition as a supposedly pious act displays ignorance of genuine piety;

Of course. Almost every Catholic "rule" can be overcome by the old ignorance clause.

Of course all of this is your own personal opinion and conflicts with the other Catholic opinions I listed in this post. Just another example of Catholic disunity and ambiguity despite the possession of an "infallible" guide, and all we are talking about is burying statues.

kmerian said...

So Carrie, no one at your church practices any kind of superstition?

Honestly, the practice of burying a statue of St. Joseph is a silly superstition. I never even heard of it until about 6 months ago, and I have been a Catholic my whole life!

The Church does not rule over our entire life, you clearly do not understand the concept of the infallible church. I do not get up in the morning and go to the Vatican website to get my beliefs for the day.

Catholics do have free will, and sometimes people do silly things with it.

Carrie said...

Catholics do have free will, and sometimes people do silly things with it.

Again kmerian, you miss the point.

When Protestants disagree on non-essentials, Catholics blame their rule of faith (sola scriptura) as the cause. But when Catholics disagree on anything, it is simply the Catholics fault, not their rule of faith (infallible magisterium).

It is a double standard which invalidates the Catholic argument.

It also goes to show the disunity of Catholic interpretation of their infallible rule of faith. Having an “infallible” magisterium has not provided certainty you all claim for it.

theo said...

Dear Carrie:

I humbly suggest you misunderstand.

From our perspective (as best as I see it) when Protestants disagree on essentials, we Catholics tend to blame the individuals' rebellion or misunderstanding as the cause. We then point to sola scriptura as it is practiced as a major reason such disagreements are not authoritatively resolved. Thus if one Protestant leader preaches (for example) that abortion is a sin and another preaches that it is not, nobody is in a position to correct either. They merely toss "proof texts" at one another and increase in discord.

When Catholics disagree on essentials, we still tend to blame the individuals' rebellion or misunderstanding as the cause. We then point to the dogmas of the Church to settle the issue. We actually say, "This one is right. This one is not." Thus, it is without a doubt that when even a Bishop of the Church should teach that abortion is not a sin, any practicing Catholic can rightfully say, this teaching is wrong. If the Bishop repents, he is won over. If he persists, he is removed from office. If he persists preaching after this, he obviously does so with the knowledge that he is in open rebellion against his formerly professed authority. As a result he then he excommunicates himself. He becomes a schism unto himself, where both he and the Church acknowledge the separation. Thus, unity is maintained, even in the midst of resolving discord.

This is, from my view at least, not a double standard, but the very same standard. Nevertheless,
I understand how to you, this might seem so in light of the fact that you and I will likely not even agree on what is essential.

I can easily imagine how internal Catholic disagreement on anything might seem essential to you, and thereby demonstrate what you think is a double standard.

As always, I hope and pray that my writing clarifies more than it muddies.

May Jesus our one and only Lord bless you. May His peace descend upon you and remain with you forever and ever.

I remain your servant and brother in Christ,
--Theo

kmerian said...

Carrie you are comparing apples to oranges. We are not talking about a difference in opinion on a official doctrine or practice of the Church.

We are talking about a silly superstition. The Magesterium does not have to have an "official infalible" teaching on every single little thing. Presenting it as a doctrine of the church and then criticising Catholics who do not agree with it is ridiculaus. It is a silly superstition. I would not argue a protestant having a "lucky rabbits foot" on their keychain proves that their beliefs are false.

Carrie said...

We are not talking about a difference in opinion on a official doctrine or practice of the Church.

Still missing it.

The disagreement was whether or not this practice would qualify as superstition or devotion based on different Catholic’s interpretation of the Church’s teachings. This isn’t about defiance of the teachings, it is about differing interpretations.

reality said...

Carrie said
"still missing it"

You said it.


Great choice for blogger on all things Catholic James! What's next? Will you add Jack Chick as your expert on bible versions?

Leo said...

Carrie, what denomination are you?