Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Suspicious Superstitions?

"Suspicious Superstitions?" by Elizabeth at Startling the Day
"Guest Post: Scapulars are Distractors from What’s Really Important" by B.

The "Bright Maidens" were originally three from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. Now, we all take up the cross to dispel the myths and misconceptions. Welcome!

I never realized how superstitious Italians and Irishmen are. They are also very proud people, so I'll be clear: I get to say this because I'm both Irish and Italian (with German, for good measure).

Italians will not drink with out clinking glasses and you must take a sip from the glass before setting it down after clinking. It's an involved process and must be handled with care. One must never toast with a glass of water in this exchange, however, because that is bad luck and will have a table-full of nervous Italians trading glances.

The Irish believe that a deceased aerospace engineer has it out for them. Edward Murphy, Jr., they say, preys on the Irish through his rule, Murphy's Law. "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." There are many other superstitions involving bad omens that prey on the Irish. For instance, did you know women with red hair are most unlucky?
Is she unlucky? Or just unwise...

That is, as they say, the luck of the Irish.

Though I think superstitions are mostly silly and pessimistic, many stress that they can be dangerous if one truly believes the minute act causes a rip in the universal order of "luck." If superstitious people honestly think that having red hair or toasting with water in one's goblet will result in misfortune, they excuse a certain amount of faith in God and natural order.

This is what makes people so uneasy about the idea of a scapular. The item resembling a necklace, if worn at the time of death, is said to be a "ticket to Heaven." Using this kind of language closes the proverbial door on discussion because it seems obviously superstitious.
"Take, beloved son, this scapular of the order as a badge of my confraternity and for you and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant" -Our Lady of Mt. Carmel to St. Simon Stock, 16 July 1251
I once wrote it off as superstitious and if I had worn a scapular anyway, I wonder if that would have been sinful. If I'm wearing it with false faith, I'm not really wearing it as a "badge of confraternity," and I'm therefore trying to avoid the pain of hell without the desire to be in union with God.

A scapular played a triumphant role in my reversion, but that's another story. When I wore it that day, I wore it with a profound faith that Mary would not have lied if she had made this promise. I was trying to turn back to God and my faith was in faith alone, though I was holding on by a thread.

I understand why people would object to the practice of wearing a scapular. As Catholic Christians, we believe, as the Bible explains, we will be judged for our faith and works (Romans 2:6, etc). It seems almost "unfair" that someone would bypass the system when it seems their only motivation is to avoid hell in the easiest way.

I argue that wearing a scapular with the believe in Mary's promise is an act of faith, and is therefore an expression of both faith and works.

What other ways do we believe lead us to Jesus' merciful judgment to bring us into Heaven? We believe our job as a spouse is to bring each other to Heaven. We believe parents are meant to lead their children to a path to Heaven. We believe that absolution of sin heals us as much as we can be healed on Earth, and in effect, if we were to die immediately after leaving a good confession session, we trust we'd go to Heaven.
"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'" -John 14:6

It all comes down to God's mercy and we should never presume we can limit it by determining we know who goes to Heaven and who goes to hell. We can have faith that our loved ones are in Heaven, but absolute statements about those going to hell take on God's role.

Discern it, reflect on Mary's words, and listen to see if God is calling you to wear an outward sign of faith. Perhaps wearing one will be a reminder to behave more like the person God created you to be.


Liesl said...

The hair is definitely unwise. Eeeep!

I wear my cross necklace every day (except today, I seem to have been in a rush this morning) as an inward and outward sign of faith. Can I get a guaranteed free ticket to heaven? That would be wonderful :)

Tony Rossi said...

My German-Hungarian grandmother believed that sitting at the corner of a table (with the corner pointing directly toward your chest) means you'll wind up with a bad mother-in-law. I'm still single so I can neither confirm or deny.

Libby said...

My grandma gave me a scapular when I was pretty young (probably nine or ten) and tried explaining to me its significance. Alas, my overactive imaginiation got the better of me and I somehow morphed the outward sign of faith (as you so nicely put it!) into an "oh man, I think my grandma is trying to tell me I might die soon" kind of superstitious symbol, and needless to say, it stayed tucked in a dresser drawer for a few years (ah, to be young once more, haha). I bought an O.L.M.M. medal last year at a shrine close by where I live and I wear it everday. Before I bought it, though, I remembered back to the scapular ole Grams bought me, and I was intrigued to do a little research on the topic! Always fun to be reminded of another beautiful aspect found in Catholicism. Thanks to you and the other Bright Maidens for the refreshing read! :)

Paige said...

Tony, it's true. Being the smallest person in my family, I always got squeezed into the corner seat and guess what....?

Joseph K @ Defend Us In Battle said...

I am surprised you didn't touch on the accompanying requirements of the "promise" involving faith and works. The enrollment and subsequent devotional prayers that attach to the wearing of the Scapular are what connect the "superstition" to the practice of the faith.

I think the Scapular is a prime example of how the secular world picks and chooses what it wants to believe about the faith in an effort to discredit it.

I think you said it best when you said that wearing the scapular IS an act of faith. Awesome!

Tony Rossi said...

Duly noted, Paige. I guess grandma's are usually right:-)

Julie Robison said...


Erm. Ahem, ahem. Great post E! I especially loved the last graf- well said!

Fire of Thy Love Catholic Blog said...

Wearing a scapular is not superstitious it's super-ambitious!

Liesl said...

If only I had known I was 999, I would have commented twice to be #1000!!!!!

Christine Falk Dalessio said...

well put. It's so important to realize the weight of personal devotion is not nearly as serious as the sacramental signs of the Church as a whole, but that still personal devotion is an expression of relationship - and Mary is a powerful aid for us all to remember what is means to be Church, and how to approach God, who is merciful.

Anthony S. Layne said...

Julie beat me to it. I was simply going to note that, judging by her skin color, she was a "suicide redhead" — dyed by her own hand.

Yes, we Irish regard redheaded women unlucky ... but mostly for the men that marry them. Red hair is associated with strong, forceful personalities and hair-trigger tempers. You look at the great battle-queens of Irish history – Granne O'Malley, Maeve, Brigid – and they're usually pictured with red hair.

Oh, wait a minute ... this post was about scapulars! Sorry for the rabbit hole, Elizabeth! I've read both your post and Trista's but I still haven't come to a conclusion about them. About the only thing I'm sure of is that it shouldn't be worn as an amulet or get-out-of-Hell-free card.

Jake said...

That's really nice that you've canonized your loved ones. Was it hard?

Elizabeth said...

Aw Jake, thanks for giving me an excuse to reread an old post. Have a great day!

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