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“Ask a Priest: Is Predicting God’s Plan a Kind of Superstition?”
Q: What are your thoughts on superstitions, such as humans predicting God’s plan for them? -N.C.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: First, it is good to mention that superstitions, by definition, are faulty. “In some sense,” says the Catechism in No. 2110, superstition “represents a perverse excess of religion.”
No. 2111 adds, “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.”
Now, there are different forms of “predicting” God’s plan for a person.
Some forms are not licit when it involves things akin to fortunetelling. The Catechism in No. 2116 says, “All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.”
Other forms of “predicting” can be legitimate forms of what we call discernment. For instance, a young man is interested in the priesthood. So he goes to talk with a vocations director. The director asks questions and tries to learn as much as possible about the young man in order to see whether he might have the right stuff for the priesthood. The vocations director is trying to predict the suitability of the young man for the priesthood. All this is a kind of prediction that isn’t superstition but rather an exercise in research and prudence.
There is another type of predicting, a kind of middle-ground approach. Someone might try to predict whom God wants Joe to marry. Or someone might try to predict whether God will help a person get a certain job. Some of this might be just expressions of hope — which are legitimate manifestations of religion.
If someone does a novena expecting God to fulfill a specific request, then that might be a case of presumption. If someone buries a statue of a saint in their front yard, thinking it will sell their house faster, then that could border on superstition — and thus should be avoided.