Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Catholics and Superstition


Q - I would be interested to see what you think about the Texas A&M tradition of leaving pennies at the statue of Sully, as good luck on tests. 


A - Thanks for the question. Before giving an answer, I will give some background on this situation for our non-Aggie readers.

Lawrence Sullivan Ross (aka - Sully) was a former president of Texas A&M University in the 1890s. It is said that he helped save the University from being closed down. Aggie tradition states when he was president of the University he would tutor students and ask a "penny for their thoughts". There is now a statue of him in the main plaza of the University where students put loose change at his feet to ask for "luck" on their exams.

Many current students probably don't know that this is a very new tradition at A&M. We never did it in my days in school, from 91-95, and it is still not listed on the Universities website as an "official" tradition.

Now, as to whether this practice is wrong. I would propose it could be superstitious, depending on the person's intent. The question could be generalized - should Catholics participate in any actions that are superstitious? This way we get away from the particularities of the situations at hand.

This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
2111 Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices 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 of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.
I think it all depends on intent. Many people say "good luck" to others. They aren't being superstitious in doing so, but rather, they are just in the habit of doing so. It is a colloquial expression used commonly, with no superstition attached to it.

So, I would say that if someone ever ascribes any kind of power outside of God to a superstitious practice - or does it habitually - then it could become superstitious and be wrong. But, if it is done knowing that no power could come from it, then it is most likely not a bad thing to do (as long as the practice isn't inherently immoral).

For instance carrying a crystal in the pocket for "luck" would be superstitious. Carrying a crystal in your pocket you found while rock-hunting with grandpa to remember him by is a good practice.

Furthermore, some might think it is "lucky" when we get rain after a dry period. To go even further, why pray for rain if we can't change God's mind about it? What is the point? Prayer may not change God or the weather, but it reminds us of our total dependence on God's providence. So, it CAN change us. These kind of prayers don't have anything to do with "luck".

So, putting a penny at the statue of Sully for luck is bad. Doing it because you think it is a fun tradition at A&M is not.

Still, we should be cautious about any action that could lead to superstitious practices and not take them too lightly.

I hope this helps.

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