Catholic Superstitions and Extreme Prayer Claims

animal, art, backlightSuperstitions exist in many cultures, but I don’t think enough has been said about the very superstitious and bizarre things people do in mainstream religions.

A Catholic relative told me recently about something she’s doing to try to sell her house faster, and it reminded me of the many weird things I used to do as a kid, and that I saw my parents doing.

She said, “I haven’t had any offers yet, but my friend told me when she was selling her house, it helped to take a pot of dirt and get a statue of St. Joseph. You put the statue in the pot upside down, and then you put dirt over it, and he helps you sell your house.”

I’m very proud of myself for not laughing at her in that moment. Apparently, this practice is so widespread that there are “kits” for it, sold at various Catholic websites. Here’s one I found at discountcatholicproducts.com

st joseph kit

There’s even a whole website dedicated to this St. Joseph statue nonsense: https://st-josephstatue.com

My parents’ house is full of similar Catholic paraphernalia, and you can find many of these things in the homes of other devout Catholics too.

Scapulars – most notably the brown Carmelite scapular – may promise special priveledges to those who wear them and devote themselves to certain prayers and practices. This one, in particular, is said by some Catholics to keep a person out of hell.

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Brown scapular

 

Relics – these are some of my personal favorite freaky Catholic artifacts. There are 3 classes of relics. A third class relic is an article that the tomb of a saint has touched. A second class relic is usually an article the saint wore or used. I had a 2nd class one for Blessed Kateri, and it was a minuscule scrap of turquoise fabric, so small it was barely large enough to make out the color, encased in a shiny metal relic-holder. First class relics are usually a tiny bone fragment, supposedly from the saint him or herself.  Apparently, Catholicism does not promote or really allow the buying and selling of relics in most instances, however, it is permitted for a Catholic to buy one to “rescue” it and bring it back to Catholic use. This loophole, when you think about it, creates a market where non-Catholics sell to Catholics. As a result, “relics” may or may not actually come from the saint in question, and need to be vetted. This article on Forbes has more information on the sale of relics. Granted, this is from 2008, but a search online for relics today does list some eBay results, so they are definitely still being bought and sold.

 

Prayer cards and prayer candles are also common Catholic paraphernalia, and people like my parents tend to collect a lot of them over time, as they each pertain to a different saint. In Catholicism, different saints are patrons of different things. For instance, St. Lucy, usually depicted holding eyeballs on a plate, is the patron saint of the blind. So if a family member has vision trouble, prayers to St. Lucy for her intercession (in other words, for Lucy to go talk to God on your behalf) are a very normal behavior. You might bring a relic of St. Lucy to someone getting eye surgery if you should be lucky enough to have one, or you might light a St. Lucy prayer candle for them.

 

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St. Lucy

 

When you read into some of the saints’ stories, you kind of have to wonder how people can believe this stuff. Even the Wikipedia page for St. Lucy currently points out that there are several different versions of her story circulating.

 

Novenas are another type of prayer that sometimes come with extreme claims. When a family friend from church was out of work, my parents prayed a special novena (9-day prayer) that was supposed to help her magically find work. This is a common practice you can see recommended on Catholic forums, with people often completely attributing their success to the prayer.

Then there was a special prayer my family always said to St. Anthony while we looked for lost items. (St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost items and lost souls). I can’t write the prayer here because it’s in a lost Italian dialect that’s not a written language, but the only part of it I knew the English translation for was the beginning, where it calls to “St. Anthony, naked.” Not sure why naked is in there, (and who’s supposed to be naked, St. Anthony, or the person praying?) but my family and I would run around the house searching for our cell phone, or missing report card or baseball game tickets, reciting the prayer over and over. When we eventually found it, we’d yell, “Thank you St. Anthony!” As if our searching had nothing to do with it turning up.

Do you have any stories about weird superstitions or religious practices? Feel free to share them.

As always, all opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

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My Secular Wedding

just married_signWedding planning proved to be far more time consuming than I ever imagined, but I’m back, happily married, and planning to return to blogging now that I have actual free time.

The wedding happened recently this summer, and it was completely nonreligious. I was still somewhat worried going in about how my family would react to the lack of religiosity. God was not mentioned even once in the ceremony, and our officiant happened to be a woman (we didn’t specifically look for a female officiant, she was just the person we happened to like best after we talked to a bunch of local officiants). We generally tried to be ourselves in every aspect of the wedding planning from food to music. We had a “first look” and took some photos before the ceremony. We also finally said “fuck it” and moved in together a few weeks before the wedding.

I have no regrets. The wedding was beautiful, and generally a good time. If you are considering getting married in a nonreligious ceremony despite having religious family and friends, my advice is, if you are out about your non-religiousness, go ahead and have whatever wedding you want.

Contrary to my fears, I’ve had no complaints about the lack of religiosity, even from the most religious people who were there. The comments we received were wholly positive. Our family and friends appreciated how personal the ceremony was, and I think it was a treat for some of them to experience a wedding outside of a church setting. We were told our ceremony was beautiful over and over again, and I think for the relatives who don’t know us as well (we had some slightly estranged folks come), the personal touch made it that much more special. One aunt actually came up to me afterward and said she loved that we were married by a woman rather than a man.

The ceremony was short and sweet. My parents both walked me down the aisle. The content was about us as a couple. Our officiant talked about how we met and said some generally pleasant things about love and marriage. She talked a little about the tradition of wedding rings, and she kept it light yet personal. My husband’s brother read a quote from Bob Marley. My cousin gave another reading about love. I’d say the ceremony took 20 minutes maybe, including the time for the procession, which I really appreciated because it didn’t drag. We didn’t have to stand for a crazy long time, and our relatives didn’t seem bored since we didn’t have to listen to an awkward homily or participate in an hour of sit-stand-kneel -communion-kneel-sit-stand as you do in a Catholic wedding.

Maybe the reason it was all received so positively is that weddings are celebrations, so our guests came expecting to have a good time. Then again, maybe people who disagreed with the way we did things just kept it to themselves. I’m fine with that too. I had a wonderful time.

For those of you who followed my posts in the past year or so, few and far between though they were, I have decided to change my last name after serious deliberation. Now I’m getting ready to start that crazy process, so there’s that.

If any of you have wedding stories, secular or religious, feel free to share them in the comments.

Happy thinking,

Nancy

 

 

Christian Blog Says Close Friendships Are Bad

brunette, fashion, friendsI’m still Facebook friends with a lot of my former homeschooling friends and acquaintances. Sometimes they share articles and posts that I have a hard time not saying something about, so I write about them here instead.

Someone I knew from a homeschooling organization shared this post in all seriousness with a comment that went something like, “Yes! This is me! This is extremely important.”

In short, the post she shared argues that friendships that get too close can be a problem. I think what the author is trying to say is that God should be number 1 in a person’s life, and friendships can become such a big part of one’s life that a person can rely on the friendship in times when he or she should turn to God.  But the way she goes about saying it sounds a little different. At the beginning of the post, she gives examples of friendships in which women are so close to each other that they can’t imagine making decisions in life that would put that friendship at risk or make it more difficult for them to spend time together.

I understand how that could potentially hold someone back from making big life decisions. But none of the friendships she gave in her examples sounded toxic to me. They sounded like close, sisterly bonds. Like women offering each other their unwavering support and companionship as partners for life in a purely platonic way. The way this post nonchalantly devalues human relationships is something I haven’t even thought about much in relation to religion, but I suppose when your goal is to be in this supposedly incredible relationship with your creator, if you compare that relationship to human friendships, you’ll end up devaluing those human friendships in the process.

I do understand where this is coming from, at least to a point. God is supposed to be number 1 in a Christian’s life. Anything that distracts one’s focus from God is considered an idol or false deity. As a kid, I was told these were things like television and video games.  I always thought for adults a major false idol was often money. However, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Christian make this point about friendship before.

This post literally discourages people–especially women, if you read between the lines–from having best friends. I sincerely hope that most women who read this don’t take it to heart.

According to the post, there’s a reason these too-close friendships are forming these days: it’s because LGBT people exist, and are being acknowledged by the community at large.

The disintegration of the family and blurred lines of gender and sexuality have left our society with less and less stability. What can you rely on if your sexual preferences continually change and marriage and family relationships become increasingly unreliable? Under these conditions, friendship becomes crucial. In fact, the world’s model BFF is, by all accounts, a functional savior — someone who rescues you from the instability and trials of life, someone with whom and to whom you belong, who is committed to you “forever.”

So um–because LGBT people are gaining awareness and rights, straight people suddenly started becoming best friends? I highly doubt that the prevalence of close friendship is a development of the last 50 or so years.

After that gem about how LGBT people somehow fit into this, the post seemed to discuss these close “friendships” in ways that don’t exactly sound platonic. For example, in the list it includes of 15 ways to know if your friendship has gone too far, 5 of them sound like they’re describing something a bit more serious than even best friendship:

  • Do you experience jealousy when your friend spends time with others? Do you feel a sense of possessiveness toward her?

 

  • Do you prefer to spend time alone with your friend, and are you easily frustrated when others join in?

 

  • Do you have frequent sleepovers, often preferring to share the same bed?

 

  • Do you operate like a couple? Do others see you as inseparable?

 

  • Are you more physically affectionate toward this friend than other friends? Are you physically affectionate in a way that makes others uncomfortable?

Not gonna draw any conclusions about the author from these, but seriously, this is uncomfortably homoerotic for a clearly homophobic blogger.

The conclusion of the post killed me, though. This is some sad stuff. She writes:

A Christian friend understands that, ultimately, she has nothing irreplaceable to offer you and that you have nothing irreplaceable to offer her. Instead, you can link arms together with the goal of pushing each other toward the wellspring of Christ.

Can you imagine how you’d feel if your closest friend said something like this to you? Rather than say that human relationships are good, but a Christian’s relationship with God is greater–a point most Christians would agree with, and that up until now I would never expect anyone to take to this extreme–this post says that human relationships are replaceable. I guess grieving people can rest easy now. Their loved one can be replaced like a dead goldfish.

Have you encountered anything like this before? I’m curious, and a bit concerned that these ideas might be popular among some groups.

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

Pope Emeritus Benedict tells Catholic Priests to “face East”

Priest Holding HostiaA friend of mine shared this article on Facebook in all seriousness, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the headline alone. Here’s the headline and a link to the article:

“Pope Emeritus Benedict reiterates call for priests to ‘face East’

Yup, it says exactly what it sounds like it’s saying. Benedict says, “In the liturgy’s orientation to the East, we see that Christians, together with the Lord, want to progress toward the salvation of creation in its entirety.” The article describes this step as an “ecumenical instrument.” Basically, it’s a way of unifying the [Christian] worship traditions of the East and West. This does not appear to be a mandatory command, but it is a serious recommendation from a man who is well respected by the Catholic community as a whole.

In Catholicism, the word ecumenical refers to efforts to promote unity between Christians of different Christian worship traditions, and does not include reaching out to non-Christians. However, I see a bit of tension in the ideas of this article–and this is what made me laugh. I can’t help but think to myself, from the headline alone, “Seriously, in what religion does prayer orient towards a specific direction?” Sure, there are probably some Eastern Christian Churches that do this, but come on now, where have I heard this before? Yes, that’s right. I’m talking about Islam.

As Catholics tend to do whenever they’re suggesting a new tradition, they have to make it seem like it’s just an old thing they used to always do, and they’re just going back to their roots (here, they talk about the Latin rite, which yes, did have the priest facing away from the congregation).

But I don’t think that’s what’s really going on in this situation. The question to ask is always why go back to the way things were? The Catholic church is very good at staying the same despite the many valid reasons there may be to change. I think, ultimately, it has to do with the way Catholics see themselves interacting with other religions, particularly Islam.

I see genuine tension right now as Catholics realize how quickly the Muslim world is growing. I think Catholic leaders are afraid of having people abandon their rigid religion for a more extreme, more rigid one. They’re also afraid that their religion isn’t growing fast enough to compete with others. They’re dealing with the fact that the Muslim world is having more kids than the Christian world. Just google birth rates in Europe and North America and compare them to birth rates in the middle East:

us-birth-ratesaudi-arabia-birth-rate-chart

birth-rate-italyiraq-birth-rate

Granted, these are from 2012, but seriously, there were more than 4 births per woman on average in Iraq while Italy, home of the ultra-conservative, anti-choice, anti-birth-control pope and cardinals and other old white men, has 1.4 births per woman. I suspect the anxiety over this is just all the more reason for Catholics to continue crusading against abortion and birth control-heck, even pulling out is a no-no in Catholicism. (I’ve probably shared this three or four times by now but Monty Python anybody?)

But maybe Benedict has managed to break the cycle of thinking about birth rates and babies. If that’s the case–and I suspect it is–he’s trying to give Catholics something in common with people from one of the largest religions in the world. It’s symbolic and does nothing to address real-world issues facing the Muslim world like the Syrian refugee crisis and, you know, ISIS, but I mean, it’s cute.

This is the best Catholicism has to offer, and to me, that’s hilarious.

As always, feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

The Bizarre Halloween Controversy

creepy, graves, gravestonesEvery once in a while as a kid, I’d encounter other children whose parents made mine look lenient and laid back. There were only a few instances like this in my childhood, but when they did happen, they were always a surreal surprise. Halloween was one of those instances.

My parents never expressed any qualms about “letting” me celebrate Halloween by dressing up and trick-or-treating. Their only stipulation was that I couldn’t wear “dark, evil costumes.” Basically, anything dead or supernatural in an evil way was off limits. No sheet ghost costumes or horny devils for me. I didn’t usually find that terribly limiting. Over the years, I went as a fairy, a surgeon, a wrapped present, and Padme from Star Wars.

In high school, it was a big deal that after years of begging, my mom allowed me to dress up as a witch. (The reason she let it slide was primarily that I wanted to go as Elphaba from Wicked, who’s technically not an evil character.)

I thought this was pretty strict. Until I heard about my friend’s parents.

I didn’t really encounter this much with the Catholic kids I knew, but some of the kids I knew from other forms of Christianity were completely forbidden from celebrating Halloween. I remember trying to invite a friend trick-or-treating and being told she wasn’t allowed to celebrate Halloween AT ALL. No costumes. No candy. No jack-o-lanterns.

Years later, while I was in college, I used to tutor kids at an after-school program at a local church. Halloween was coming up in a week, and one of my classmates asked if she could bring in Halloween themed treats to celebrate: lollipops decorated to look like ghosts. The woman running the program said it was OK, but my classmate was still a bit anxious. On the ride back she said, “I just want to respect their faith. I know some parents are really not OK with Halloween.” All this after she was told it wasn’t a problem. Clearly, for this classmate, Halloween had been as controversial a subject as Harry Potter was for me growing up.

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While, again, my Halloween experience wasn’t terribly restricted, there was still this restriction on “dark, evil” costumes, and the more I think about it, the more I think I know why.

I wasn’t allowed to watch the Halloweentown movies as a kid because there’s a scene in the first one that briefly features a pentagram. My mom saw it and freaked out. It’s a kids’ movie on Disney Channel, but according to my parents, it could lead me to “the occult.”

I don’t see a lot of people talking about this, but Christianity supports belief in many supernatural creatures. Catholicism is just as guilty of this as other denominations because Catholics do believe in possession by spirits, and Catholic priests can and do perform exorcisms.

My parents have believed in ghosts–yes, dead-people-roaming-around ghosts–for as long as I can remember. Case in point, when we moved from my old house to our current one, they found out that the family that lived here before us had lost a daughter very young. I don’t know how it happened, I just assumed it was to some kind of illness. My parents swear to this day that they saw the little girl roaming around the house as a ghost. They went to a priest for advice, had the house “blessed,” and the ghost “left.” Part of the process of getting rid of this ghost was naming the little girl. I think they named her after a virtue like “Hope” or “Grace” or something. Anyway, she’s “gone.”

If you believe in this stuff, then it’s a scary part of your reality. It’s supernatural. It’s hard to understand or control, so you want to protect your children from it, the same way you’d try to restrict their viewing of violent or sexual images. So you ban things that talk about it, except from a Christian perspective. C.S. Lewis is as overtly Christian as it gets in his supernatural stories, so The Chronicles of Narnia are OK, but Harry Potter? It paints a pleasant image of magic and witchcraft. What if it makes children try to get involved in this “very real” thing?

Fortune tellers and psychics were always off limits for me when I was growing up, not because they’re scams, but because those people “could be communing with evil spirits.” I was told as a child that if I were to touch an evil object owned by a psychic, I could become possessed by a demon.

Yep, demons. It’s incredible my parents don’t have shotguns filled with rock salt.

Were you allowed to celebrate Halloween? What are your thoughts about the holiday? I’m especially curious about how you feel about the holiday in relation to religion.

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful of others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Wedding Officiants and a Life Update

Macro Photo of Flowers in Wedding VenueMy fiance and I just selected a venue for our wedding. (One of the big reasons why I’ve been posting less frequently has been just wedding stuff.) After that, the next big order of business will be something I’m pretty nervous about: finding an officiant. My fiance and I have decided that we want a secular wedding ceremony, which means we’ll need to find an officiant in our area who can do that, and figure out whether or not using a secular officiant affects the legal side of things. Does our state care who the officiant is?

That’s not even my biggest concern.

Having a secular wedding means a lot to us as secular people. For me personally, it means saying my vows in a setting that reflects my personal beliefs and worldview rather than just those of my family. It’s the couple making the promise after all. I think it’s important for the promise to be in a format that we personally find meaningful, but for our families, it may be a source of confusion or even conflict.

For many people, a wedding is simply always a religious ceremony. In Catholicism, it’s  a sacrament, so it may be difficult to explain to our religious relatives that we’re not having a priest or minister perform the ceremony.

We might even have a female officiant. (Not that we have to. I’m just very open to the idea.) But in Catholicism, since women can’t be priests, women just don’t marry people. That means something as unimportant as the gender of our officiant could really weird out some members of my family. It would be absurd to them. What if that makes my parents think my marriage isn’t valid?

Maybe these fears are unfounded though. Secular weddings are increasingly common now. How many popular TV shows have had a friend of a couple marry them? Like Barney performing the ceremony for Lily and Marshall in How I Met Your Mother or several friends officiating at Howard and Bernadette’s wedding in The Big Bang Theory–it’s kind of a cool thing to do. My parents have seen some TV weddings like this. Maybe the idea of a nonreligious officiant isn’t as foreign to them now as it would have been a few years ago.

Only time will tell with this one. I’ll probably end up sharing more about our secular wedding experiences, so if you’re interested in any specific details be sure to let me know and I’ll try to reply or maybe even bring them up in a future post (once we’ve made those decisions. We’re still not that far in the wedding planning process yet).

Have any of you been to secular wedding ceremonies in the past? Maybe even had one yourself? I’d love to hear about your experiences. How did family and friends respond to a nonreligious ceremony?

All opinions are welcome! Just be respectful of others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Divorce and Catholicism

Printer Paper Cut With Orange ScissorI’ve been toying with drafts of a post about divorce for a while now, but I didn’t feel like I had the material to really back up the opinion I was trying to express. Then the other day I saw this video from Adam Ruins Everything about why divorce is actually not a terrible thing. I definitely recommend checking this video out. It gets to the heart of why it’s important to have legal divorce be accessible. One fact from the video that I’d never heard before is that by some estimates, the availability of divorce reduced the female suicide rate by 20%. Considering the fact that domestic violence didn’t used to be considered grounds for divorce in many places, and that marital rape wasn’t even legally considered rape until more recently than you’d think depending on the state, the availability of divorce was definitely a source of hope for many people, especially women.

In Catholicism, however, there is simply no such thing as divorce. Marriage, in Catholicism, is permanent. This means if a Catholic couple gets a legal divorce, they are still considered married in the eyes of the church. That can be OK at first. As this Catholic website explains, legally divorced Catholics are still considered full members of the church as long as they’re in good standing (basically if they go to mass and participate in the sacraments, especially communion and confession, and generally follow church rules). They don’t begin to run into trouble until they meet someone else, and decide they’d like to get married again.

Keep in mind that to the Catholic church, a divorced person is still in their first marriage. So to the church, this is a married person asking to also marry someone else. That’s definitely not allowed! The horror! But there is an option to proceed, and it’s called annulment.

Annulment is a process by which Catholics who are legally divorced (or who would like to be) can appeal to a church tribunal (basically a church court) to get a declaration of nullity, stating that one of the major requirements for  valid marriage wasn’t present on the day of the ceremony. These are the requirements for a valid Catholic marriage that would be examined for an annulment:

For a Catholic marriage to be valid, it is required that: (1) the spouses are free to marry; (2) they are capable of giving their consent to marry; (3) they freely exchange their consent; (4) in consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children; (5) they intend the good of each other; and (6) their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister. Exceptions to the last requirement must be approved by Church authority.

This list comes from an FAQ page on this website about annulments. Feel free to check it out for more information.

The thing that strikes me the most about this list is that if these are the criteria that the tribunal looks at to determine if the marriage can be annulled, why don’t they include any details from the actual marriage itself? The relationship after the wedding. A wedding is just a big party with some vows and a contract. That’s not the meat of the relationship. What if it’s an abusive marriage? What if even though both partners genuinely mean to be faithful when they say their vows, there is cheating down the road? What if they just grow apart? Find themselves coming to incompatible conclusions about life and the world around them that put a painful strain on their relationship? It can and does happen. I think those are all valid reasons for couple to consider divorce. But according to the church, only the events of the wedding itself and the intentions of the couple on that date are supposed to be examined.

I have been assured by my Catholic parents that of course the church would never force a couple to stay in an abusive marriage, and would gladly grant an annulment. I would like to believe them, and I imagine that in most cases the tribunal would take that into account. But if that is the case, why doesn’t this site say the tribunal will look into anything about the relationship after the wedding day? In that vein, one particular frequently asked question on the same web page about annulment makes me uneasy:

How can a couple married for many years present a case?

The tribunal process examines the events leading up to, and at the time of, the wedding ceremony, in an effort to determine whether what was required for a valid marriage was ever brought about. The length of common life is not proof of validity but a long marriage does provide evidence that a couple had some capacity for a life-long commitment. It does not prove or disprove the existence of a valid marriage bond. [Italics mine]

I’m concerned about how they will define a long marriage. Is two years long? Twenty?  Long isn’t a very specific word. Also, it’s not uncommon for people to stay in abusive relationships for a pretty long time, even though they know it’s dangerous. The psychology of abuse is complicated, and abusers are often very sweet and loving in between spurts of hurtful language or violence, making victims question whether their abusers are really that bad, only for the cycle to occur again.

I’d like to see the church change its position on divorce. I’d like to see the long annulment process completely eliminated. If the church wants to do a divorce ceremony that’s up to them, but the current legality of divorce is an important right that may be saving the lives of some women. The antiquated view the church has on divorce only creates social stigma, which can erode the support system a struggling person might need to get back on their feet after such  split. The Catholic church is very good at creating stigma, at making certain things taboo. I’d like to see that change.

What are your thoughts on divorce, annulment, and Catholicism? Do you have any experience with the Catholic annulment process? I’d love to hear your story. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy