Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Syncretism, Superstition and the Occult
Last week, Newsday featured an article on a highly placed individual in the government of our Nation. This
individual had just published a new autobiography. Among the bullet-points in the article highlighting the
personal details in the book, the one that assuredly disturbed us all stated that: “She is a religious Catholic,
and writes about her own astrological signs and handed out a New Age positive-thinking book to her staff.”
Quite unfortunately, this prominent individual is far from the only Catholic who engages in syncretic
behavior, which seeks to reconcile Christianity with the powers of darkness. If one believes in Jesus Christ –
God the Son; the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity; Savior of the world – and is a member of His Body –
the Holy Catholic Church – there is no place for horoscopes, New Age fancies and the like. Engaging in such
practices is incompatible with and injurious to Christian faith and our relationship with God, and can expose
our souls – and those of our loved ones – to the machinations of the Evil One.
The first commandment forbids honoring gods other than the one Lord who has revealed himself to his
people. It proscribes (prohibits) superstition and irreligion. Superstition in some sense represents a perverse
excess of religion; and to irreligion (tempting God, in words or deeds, sacrilege, and simony).
Superstition is the deviation of r eligious feeling and of the pr actices 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 (effectiveness) of prayers or of
sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is
to fall into superstition. For example, attributing powers to a medal, a relic, or to the repetition of prayers,
rather than to God. The throwing salt over the shoulder; avoiding ladders or stepping on cracks or black cats
or the number 13, are a few of the most common, long-standing superstations. Athletes follow many
superstitions in attempts to positively control the outcome of the game. I would suspect that most of us have at
least a couple of small superstitious practices in our daily lives that we may not even be aware of. If we
believe that our day is going to go wrong if we omit or don’t do something properly or fail to follow a precise
sequence of procedures in our morning routine … we are guilty of it!
Idolatry: The fir st commandment condemns polytheism (the belief in many gods) and it r equir es man
neither to believe in, nor to venerate, other divinities than the one true God. Scripture constantly recalls this
rejection of "idols, (of) silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes,
but do not see." These empty idols make their worshippers empty: "Those who make them are like them; so
are all who trust in them.” God, however, is the "living God” who gives life and intervenes in history. Idolatry
not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing
(making to be God) what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in
place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, Satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the
state, money, etc. Jesus says, "You cannot serve God and mammon.” Many martyrs died for not adoring "the
Beast"; refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore
incompatible with communion with God.
Human life finds its unity in the adoration of the one God. The commandment to worship the Lord alone
integrates man and saves him from an endless disintegration. Idolatry is a perversion of man's innate religious
sense. An idolater is someone who "transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God."
Divination and Magic: God can reveal the future to his pr ophets or to other saints. Still, a sound
Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it. Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of
responsibility. All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Occult practices, consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the reading of tarot cards, the use of Ouija boards, 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.
All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called “traditional cures” does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity. (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #s 2110 – 2117)
Santaria (a perversion of true religion that mixes the veneration of the saints with elements of witchcraft and ancestor worship), crystal-ball gazing, lucky charms (i.e.: rabbit’s feet, lucky horseshoes, etc.); “mojo” items; the cornuto, corno, or cornicello (a.k.a. “Italian horn”) worn to “protect” against the “evil eye” and/or to promote fertility and virility; numerous other pagan amulets of various cultures… the list goes on… all of these are incompatible with the Christ who suffered, died, and rose from the dead to save us from sin and everlasting death. There is no such thing as “white (good) magic,” which is opposed to “black (evil) magic.” Witchcraft, witch doctors, and the adherents of thousands of religious movements and cults are out there looking to lure people away from true religion and salvation. If practitioners of any of these (and there are too many to mention them all) do not ascribe all praise, power and glory and honor to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, run away from them with all haste.
There are some people who are indeed gifted by God with the ability to see and know things that most others are not able to (as mentioned above about prophets and saints; a number of examples may be found in Sacred Scripture). Hopefully these individuals use their gifts as God wills.
However, many of those who are mediums and fortune tellers are either profit-driven charlatans preying upon those in states of desperation – or even worse – are in consort with Satan and his minions. Yoga, reiki and myriad eastern practices have become extremely popular these days. I honestly do not claim to know much about them and have no interest in exploring them. All the spiritual and meditative treasures I need are in the tradition of the Catholic Church. I do not want to invite evil to walk right into my life. Be very wary when approaching these things, so that you are not led into praying to false gods or letting yourself be “channeled” by entities other than those that come from the living God. May the Holy Spirit of God, our Blessed Lady, and our Guardian Angel keep us in the ways of the Lord always.
CATECHETICAL SUNDAY: Today is Catechetical Sunday. At the 9:30 Mass our catechists and students will all be blessed. Sincere gratitude to Brother Joseph Bellizzi, S.M., our Director of religious Education, and Mrs. Louise Shannon, our Faith Formation Administrator, to all our grade coordinators, catechists, aides and staff. May God bless those who teach and those who learn.
Look to the star of the sea, call upon Mary…in danger, in distress, in doubt, think of Mary, call upon Mary. May her name never be far from your lips, or far from your heart…If you follow her, you will not stray; if you pray to her, you will not despair; if you turn your thoughts to her, you will not err. If she holds you, you will not fall; if she protects you, you need not fear; if she is your guide, you will not tire; if she is gracious to you, you will surely reach your destination. – St. Bernard of Clairvaux
In Jesus and Mary,
Monsignor James F. Pereda