Over the past few days, I've been thinking about Catholicism's superstitions. They're often closely related to the various popular devotions out there. There are devotions to Mary (the Rosary, the brown scapular, the seven sorrows). There are devotions to Jesus (the Divine Mercy, the 5 wounds, the Sacred Heart). There are even devotions to various saints (St. Jude, St. Rita or St. Peregrine come to mind). Many of these devotions have "promises" attached for such things as answered prayers or even salvation.
Novenas, for instance, are prayers said over days or weeks a certain number of times (to Jesus, Mary or a Saint). If done while in a state of grace, these prayers are said to yield a certain measure of indulgence. If done correctly, this method supposedly NEVER FAILS & can help shave time off or even excuse an ever accruing sentence in purgatory. I don't know much about indulgences or purgatory because my particular parish doesn't consider them relevant. I happen to agree. All these things smack of superstition to me. Do this thing & you'll receive a reward: Turn the doorknob once to the right, once to the left, twirl in place & pray 3 Our Fathers, 3 Hail Marys & 3 Glory Be's at 6am, 12pm & 3pm for 9 days. Great! Now you're one step closer to heaven! I cringe at anything that offers a no-fail formula for prayers answered, let alone salvation. The rules of superstition are often too difficult to navigate & just too good to be true.
So how can I avoid becoming a superstitious Catholic? The answer is not in avoiding the devotions & novenas altogether. The answer is in the motivation. If my motivation is to get an answer to prayer or an all expense paid trip to heaven, then I'm missing the point. For instance, the point of a devotion like the Rosary is to meditate on the life of Christ. The point of a novena is not about what I seek to attain. Its more about how I seek to maintain my relationship with Christ by committing to set time aside for prayer each day. The power is not in the time of day or repetition of the prayer, its in the acknowledgement of & dependence on God for my needs. Its not so much about what I might end up getting, but what I end up surrendering of myself. Its my opinion that superstition is self-seeking... even the very antithesis of the salvation it pretends to offer.