Feeling nervous on Friday the 13th? Here’s why Catholics aren’t superstitious
It’s Friday the 13th—a day that strikes genuine fear into the hearts of many people who consider themselves otherwise rational. But if you run into a Catholic who is faithfully following the teachings of the Church, you won’t find them in distress today. That’s because Catholics have found something that far surpasses any superstitious belief: the truth of the Gospel.
Superstitions have long been a part of human history and our shared cultural experience. Among the reasons for this, two are dominant. First, there is much about the world that we do not understand, and superstitions have cropped up to try to explain natural phenomena. Second, many people have a longing for control, and superstitions create the appearance of giving people control over circumstances, events, and the world around them. Because of this, people have participated in practices like carrying around a rabbit’s foot for good luck. But superstitions can be framed in a negative way, too, leading people to do things like avoiding black cats—and being afraid of Friday the 13th.
The Catechism says that superstition is “the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes” (2111). In keeping with the first commandment, it goes on to describe “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” as “gravely contrary to the virtue of religion” (2117). If we engage with the occult or other expressions of superstition, what we are really revealing is a lack of trust in God’s goodness. The desire at the root of superstition is control over one’s destiny. If we wish to control our own destiny and will do whatever it takes to do so, then we do not truly trust in God’s loving plan for us.
Unfortunately, superstition is not limited to the secular world. Even though the Church is firmly against superstitious practices and beliefs, some Catholics fall into a superstitious use of sacramentals and prayers. As the Catechism explains, “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” (2111). If I wear a cross every day, for example, I will not be magically protected from harm—nor will I invite harm if I forget to wear it one day. A cross necklace is not a good luck charm, but a constant reminder to live as Christ’s disciple. The physical object consistently brings my interior disposition to the front of my mind so that I can always try to conform it more closely to Christ. Similarly, I cannot pray a novena to try to force God’s hand into a result. God wants us to ask for what we need in prayer, but ultimately, we need to be detached from the result that is God’s holy will.
If you have fallen into superstition, do not fear. Most of the time, this happens unknowingly. The important thing is to begin again. Go to confession and ask for the grace of a pure trust in God’s loving plan for you. There is no story for your life that you can create that is better than the one to which God is inviting you.