A Mission for St. Jude

June 18, 2014 | 26 comments

Whenever I go to eucharistic adoration, I have a little ritual that I follow, something I consider to be a good deed before settling into adoration. I sift through the free devotional literature set out for adorers to use in the adoration chapel while praying, looking for any problematic materials that need to be removed. If I find them, I stuff them in my purse for disposal later.

(Nota bene: I limit this practice to tracts, pamphlets, and other cheap leaflets that the distributors expect adorers to take home with them. Books that are the property of the chapel should not be removed but reported to the pastor if they are unsuitable for devotional reading—although I confess that I have also hidden problematic books behind rows of books on the shelves in hopes they will be less likely to be picked up and read.)

There is one particular type of leaflet I always keep an eye out for, which I always snatch up and trash later, and which I usually find by the stacks in adoration chapels (sometimes a dozen or more copies). I have also found these leaflets in the pews and literature racks in churches. They are copies of the infamous "never fail" novena to St. Jude. Those desperate for St. Jude's intercession are instructed:

The novena prayer, all four parts, must be said six times each day for nine consecutive days, leaving nine copies in church each day. Prayer will be answered on or before the ninth day and has never been known to fail. Make 81 copies and leave nine copies in church for nine consecutive days. You will receive your intention before the nine days are over, no matter how impossible it may seem.

I like to think that St. Jude, a favorite saint of mine, understands and approves of my mission to purge adoration chapels and churches of this superstitious invocation of his name.

Superstition by any other name . . .

Meanwhile, I take a different approach to other popular folk pieties. I generally appreciate Catholic folk customs that involve combining personal prayer with ritualistic actions. When asked, I will offer some perspective and caveats to inquirers because I think some practices can shade off into superstition, but I do not think there is anything inherently superstitious or impious about creating a ritual around praying for intercession for your intentions. In my opinion:

Catholic spirituality is incarnational, meaning that it encompasses both body and soul. Catholics don't just pray with their minds, they pray with their bodies, as can be seen at Mass with the various bodily postures we assume during the liturgy (e.g., standing, sitting, kneeling). Likewise our private devotions can be incarnational. 

In fact, sometimes another form of superstition can enter into play here. Rather than there being a fear that a request for intercession will not be granted unless the directions for prayer and ritual that are given are followed precisely, there can be a fear that freely choosing to participate in personal rituals associated with prayer could prevent the request for intercession from being granted, or could be disrespectful to God or the saint whose intercession is being invoked. Either way, the focus appears to be on the performance of external acts and not on the interior dispositions of the supplicant who acts.

The Church and superstition

Before we go further, let's take a look at how the Church understands superstition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

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 (CCC 2111).

When Christians hear the word superstition, they usually think of secular rituals that people engage in, such as making a wish while pulling apart a bone or blowing out birthday candles. Generally speaking, Christians usually do not consider that Christian devotions can be undertaken superstitiously. But it is precisely Christian prayer done superstitiously that the Catechism is addressing here.

What the Catechism warns against is that we must not suppose that praying certain prayers in just the "right" away will oblige God to answer them according to our desires. Taking our example of St. Jude, praying for nine days for his intercession can be a good Christian act. But attributing a positive response to those prayers to having been prayed "[in] all four parts [of the prayer] . . . six times each day for nine consecutive days, [while] leaving nine copies [of the novena] in church each day" is superstitious. It is not unlike a magician saying a few words, tapping his wand to his hat, and the audience believing that the words and the taps are the reason he is able to pull out a rabbit.

Superstition in the Bible

When you think of superstition in the Bible, does your mind automatically turn to the story of Judah Maccabeus's men, who took charms with them into battle (cf. 2 Macc. 12:39–45)? That is indeed a strong warning against superstition in the Bible, but there is another story I think of when I am seeking to explain how worship of the one true God can take on elements of superstition. 

An inquirer once posed this question:

What the heck did Moses and Aaron do wrong to be punished when getting the water from the rock at the end of Numbers 20? My seven-year-old has become quite a fan of Aaron and he was quite angry with God when Aaron suddenly had to be stripped of his garments and die on top of the mountain. I explained to my child that if we think God was wrong, then we're most definitely wrong because God is always all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-loving. But I could not explain what Moses and Aaron did [wrong]!

I looked up the story my inquirer was referring to. There we read:

[T]he glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord said to Moses, "Take the rod, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water; so you shall bring water out of the rock for them; so you shall give drink to the congregation and their cattle" . . . And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their cattle (Num. 20:6-11, emphasis added).

As we can see from the emphasized passages, Moses and Aaron did not do as the Lord commanded them to do. The Lord asked them to speak to the rock and it would bring forth water. Instead, Moses and Aaron decided to strike the rock for water, which was something they had successfully done before (cf. Exod. 17:5-7). In other words, they decided to ignore the Lord's request and go with what had worked before, which demonstrated a lack of faith (Num. 20:12) and (from the standpoint of the Catechism's definition) superstition. 

Choosing to do what "works" rather than to offer prayer in trust—and, in Moses' and Aaron's case, in disobedience to God's expressed will—is the very essence of superstition.

No guarantees

As a rule of thumb, any time someone promises you that a prayer is never known to fail, or that participating in a devotion will guarantee you salvation, that should be seen as a red flag warning you of superstition. Even when the devotion is otherwise encouraged by the Church, you can be certain that the Church will never sanction "guarantees of salvation."

For example, the brown scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is sometimes promoted with the promise that wearing it will ensure that the person who wears is guaranteed heaven. This guarantee is based on a misunderstanding of Our Lady of Mount Carmel's promise to St. Simon Stock that "whosoever dies clothed in this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire." (In fact, that promise has been so misconstrued, even to this very day, that Carmelites now downplay that promise. My own scapular, made by Discalced Carmelite nuns, does not have the famous scapular "promise" embroidered on it, but instead says, "Behold the sign of salvation; put on the Lord Jesus Christ.")

Love makes the difference

Any prayer said sincerely, with love for God and devotion to his Mother and his saints, may be fruitful for the salvation of souls. What matters is the love and devotion offered by the person praying, not the words of the prayer or the formula of the devotion. Allow me to close where we began, with a story of the intercession of St. Jude.

Many years ago, a young Catholic man was struggling to make a living as an entertainer while raising a family. Nonetheless, he put his last bit of money in a collection basket during Mass one day. The next day he was offered a job that more than repaid his generosity. Over the years, whenever he was in dire straits, he would turn to his favorite saint, St. Jude, and ask for help. In return he promised St. Jude to one day build him a shrine. St. Jude always seemed to come through for this man and his family.

Eventually the entertainer was enormously successful, and he remembered his promise to build St. Jude a shrine. After thinking about the various forms of a shrine that might be built, he settled on the idea of building a hospital to treat sick children—children so ill that their needs could be considered "impossible causes." He wanted the hospital to be a research facility that would work on cures for catastrophic pediatric diseases; that would, in essence, offer hope for families when there seemed to be no hope.

You probably now know the story to which I am alluding. It is the story of Danny Thomas and the reasons why he built St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. To this day the hospital—now a world-renowned pediatric research hospital that provides treatment for all children regardless of ability to pay—bears St. Jude's name and has his image on display. It remains a lasting testament to Mr. Thomas's love for St. Jude and his commitment to honoring St. Jude's intercession for those with "impossible causes."

That is the type of devotion to a saint that we should all seek to emulate in our own prayer lives. And, while there is never a guarantee that our desires will be realized, this seems to me to be the kind of devotion, based upon the kind of faith, that makes miracles possible.


Michelle Arnold is a staff apologist at Catholic Answers. You can visit her personal blog or contact her online through Facebook.
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Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Matthew Cacciatore - Chandler, Arizona

Hi Michelle,

I always love your postings; however, I have to say that I am a little taken back at this one.

A lot of faithful Catholics pour their heart out in the Adoration Chapel. We constantly look towards the Saints to help us. Who are you to remove from the Chapel, what you deem "superstition"? And then you "trash it". Are you the judge of Catholic devotions to the Saints, what is right and what is wrong?

I have a great devotion to St. Jude, and so do a lot of other faithful Catholics.

June 19, 2014 at 7:52 am PST
#2  Larry Anaya - Lake Balboa, California

Matthew, I know exactly what Michelle is talking about and I too do the same thing. When the "Novena" claims you will "get what you want" if you do something in exactly a certain way it is superstition. You are taking a prayer and turning it into a spell of sorts.

God and the saints are not there to do our bidding but assist us in prayers and help us. They don't grant wishes.

June 19, 2014 at 9:18 am PST
#3  Matthew Cacciatore - Chandler, Arizona

OK, so if I walked into the Chapel, and in my mind was convinced that praying the rosary was praying like the pagans (today's Gospel), and superstitious, and I took all the rosaries and threw them away, would I be right or wrong? Many, many, protestants say that Catholics are superstitious praying the rosary. Or, if I thought the book you were reading was not Catholic, and I hid it from you, would that be OK?

I am not contesting the Novena, what I am contesting is that you are making yourself Judge of what Catholics should devout their prayer life to.

June 19, 2014 at 10:42 am PST
#4  Michelle Arnold - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Sorry, Matthew, no apologies. The "tracts, pamphlets, and other cheap leaflets that the distributors expect adorers to take home with them" are free for anyone who wants to take them. So I do. What I do with them afterward is my business. I also once found a Watchtower magazine. Should I have left it there on the presumption of not being able to "judge" what belongs in an adoration chapel?

As I said, I do not remove anything that is the property of the chapel. But freebies set out for adorers to take home with them are not the property of the chapel. They are left there by other visitors to the chapel who are trying to *influence* the spiritual lives of Catholics. If that influence is not in line with the Catholic faith, but is instead a promotion of superstition, I do not feel guilty for removing non-Catholic and/or anti-Catholic influences from an adoration chapel.

June 19, 2014 at 10:54 am PST
#5  Larry Anaya - Lake Balboa, California

When it is prudent to do so then yes, we are not talking about what is sanctioned by the Church as chaplets are but what is not. Apples and oranges.

June 19, 2014 at 10:54 am PST
#6  Matthew Cacciatore - Chandler, Arizona

I hope I don't see you in a chapel reading a book that I "don't" approve. I'll take it from you, and go and hide it.

June 19, 2014 at 12:04 pm PST
#7  Michelle Arnold - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Matthew, you are arguing with a straw man. I don't snatch the books (or anything else) from people's hands. As I said in the post "I sift through the free devotional literature set out for adorers to use in the adoration chapel while praying." That means the leaflets stacked on the bookcases for adorers to pick up.

I don't take books, I don't take rosaries, I don't take anything that is the property of the chapel (or the property of individual adorers, for that matter). I *only* take problematic leaflets that are offered "free for the taking" to anyone who wants them.

June 19, 2014 at 12:12 pm PST
#8  Larry Anaya - Lake Balboa, California

Matthew I really don't understand how you don't see the difference between what is approved by the Church and what is not. If you walked into a chapel and saw "novenas" that were contrary to the faith you wouldn't in good conscience remove them? What if there were Jack Chick tracks left in the chapel, would you leave those? What Michelle is talking about is essentially a wolf in sheep's clothing, something that appears to be Catholic but is not.

June 19, 2014 at 12:24 pm PST
#9  Larry Anaya - Lake Balboa, California

"tracts"

June 19, 2014 at 12:24 pm PST
#10  Hans Yunge - Aurora, Colorado

Thanks Michelle for a nice "rule of thumb" for discerning superstition.
Many Christians, both Catholic and non-Catholic have fallen
into superstition and many if not most are heretical. I remember
flipping through the channels and saw on TV an Evangelical preacher telling the audience to "sow their seed" by giving $58 for their 58 blessings. It dawned on me that this was little different than witchcraft as the preacher and his followers attempt to manifest their will through faith in something other than Jesus Christ and God. In this case their faith was in the 58 dollars. Superstition can be subtle and is revealed in our hearts. Thanks for clearing the tracts as well, God forbid I see Atheistic or Satanic ones as well, those groups are becoming bolder each season, bless you for protecting the flock.

June 19, 2014 at 1:06 pm PST
#11  Arturo Ortiz - Anaheim, California

Thanks Michelle for writing this article I agree with various things that were stated but also have some comments to make.

First and foremost Matthew Michelle described that she is simply throwing away or discarding those things that are left for people to take for free. If I myself saw that there was some "pseudo Catholic thing" such as the Maria Valtorta items or some other item such as the rosaries with babies inside the beads "which makes me feel uneasy" I would first tell the pastor that these items should not be promoted or allowed, and I would feel obligated to do my best to take these things out or even hide them as best as I could as Michellle describes in the article.

There are various things that many Catholics do in a superstitious way which is talked about in the article. If God does not will someone to have the thing that is being petitioned, regardless of how much that person pleads, it will not happen if it is contrary to God's will. God would not allow someone to have $1,000 if that money will be an obstacle for the soul or put it in danger.

The last comment I was going to make is in regards to prayers such as "It has never failed" or things of this nature. I pray a prayer to Saint Anthony which states "that it was never known to fail" and I will not stop pray this prayer just because it has been stated never to have failed.

Saint Teresa of Avilla stated her confidence in asking Saint Joseph for assistance. "I know by experience," says St. Teresa of Avila, "that the glorious St. Joseph assists us generally in all necessities. I never asked him for anything which he did not obtain for me."

Look at the prayer of the Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.

Amen.

This is not superstitious. It truly has never been proven that Mary has ever left anyone unaided. She might not give you exactly what you want, but she will never leave you unaided.

I myself were the brown scapular and I pray the Rosary as well. I often buy and hand the pamphlets that contain the 13 promises that come from the rosary and I believe in them. Of course it has to do with true devotion and love but in "essence" I believe these promises to be true

June 19, 2014 at 3:35 pm PST
#12  Tom Runkel - Weirton, West Virginia

Michelle, Let me make sure that I understand what you wrote. The article is about prayer that is superstitous, which is against what the church teaches. It is not really about taking that which does not belong to you. You are just fighting the tendencies of some to make their prayer a coin put into a vending machine. God and the saints are not vending machines that return something for the insertion of a specific thing.

June 19, 2014 at 4:44 pm PST
#13  Michelle Arnold - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Tom: Correct.

June 19, 2014 at 4:46 pm PST
#14  Usulor Kenneth - Lagos, Lagos

Grateful!!!
It is high time we fought and stopped all those nonsense in our true and pure worship of God! 14 years ago or thereabout, I was handed a paper which contains some prayer called "chain prayer". The instructions therein contained said I should make 24 copies of it and distribute them to others who will in turn do the same. Probably that was why it was called chain prayer. Again it claimed that the message was popular Fr. Mbaka and that failure to say the prayer attracts punishment. Before that it mentioned some famous people (among whom was George W. Bush) who either complied or failed to comply to say the prayer and were blessed and punished respectively. The same paper was given to me ten years later though with some modifications. In the main church as well as in the Chapel such-like prayer leaflet are freely dropped. A priest once made an announcement that people who drop such things should stop it. In fact it is very bad.
Thank you for this article.

June 20, 2014 at 4:28 am PST
#15  Jim Ross - portland, Oregon

I agree with the person who said the tone of this article is a bit superior. I would refer the writer to read Father William Most's article on the Brown Scapular.
To compare the St. Jude stuff, which has been denounced for years as superstition with the Scapular Devotion is irresponsible. It is part of the Fatima message after all.
As for screening junk at the Blessed sacrament Chapel, if it's really heretical, fine. If not, who appointed you as Grand Inquisitor?

June 21, 2014 at 9:56 am PST
#16  Larry Anaya - Lake Balboa, California

Jim, I take it you have never come across the items Michelle is talking about and I think we are forgetting who Michelle is. Albeit no one is perfect and she may not be right about everything all the time or might need correction here and there, but her purpose is to defend the faith. So maybe not Grand Inquisitor but it's her job as it is all of ours to defend the faith. If that means removing items of heterodoxy then so be it. Why leave something we know(not items we think or are unsure of) to be contrary to the faith. If we want to read another religions view on Catholicism that's what their church or Library is for. We go to Catholic Churches and Chapels to be surrounded by items of our faith.

June 21, 2014 at 11:06 am PST
#17  Jim Ross - portland, Oregon

Larry Anaya,
( And Michelle ) I regret the "Grand Inquisitor" remark. Still, I am also a member of an Adoration group in St, Mary's Irish Dominican Church in Estoril, Portugal. We too have a large collection of devotional materials in English and Portuguese. I am not fond of some of it but I leave it alone as different folks have different styles of devotion.
What really got my ire up was the stuff about the Scapular. The same attitude could also be extended to the First Friday or or Saturday Devotions that have promises attached to them.
Even if the Carmelites are embarrassed by the devotion their forebears pushed for centuries, the Feast of O.L of Mt. Carmel is celbrated in the entire Catholic world. The Scapular has been endorsed by Popes and is heavily indulgenced. St. Alphonsus Ligouri's scapular was found intact although his body had decomposed when they opened his coffin.
Of course, if someone wears it and lives alife of sin with a presumptuous attitude, that's not good. But how many people do that? I would be trying to get folks to wear the Scapular rather than downplaying its promises. Remember, the Pope that gave permission to wear a medal in lieu of the cloth sacramental said he believed in all of the Scapular devotion including the Sabbatine Privilege.
Lot's of guys get tattoos of Mary. My nephew included has O. L of Guadalupe run from shoulder to elbow. Is the Scapular any better than a tattoo? Why? If the promises are bunk, I would rather have the tat than the little brown things.
Oh, and by the way, Danny Thomas was a big pusher of the Masonic Lodge too. He may have had a devotion to St. Jude ( my Confirmation saint ) but he sure wasn't concerned about the Church's condemnation of the Lodge.

June 21, 2014 at 12:50 pm PST
#18  Larry Anaya - Lake Balboa, California

I understand your point and I can't quite argue the promises of the Scapular or any misunderstandings they may be for or against it, I'll leave that for Michelle if she checks the thread later. I will however continue to defend her issues with "novenas" I say novenas with quotes because they differ from novenas that aren't superstitious. Like I said (as far as the novenas go) she was not arguing about something Catholic (as true novenas are) but items that look Catholic but are not. If you haven't seen one then you might not understand. Saint Jude or any other saint is no more bound to comply with a "novena" just because it's said in a specific way and because you printed precisely 81 copies and left them in precisely 9 churches "or it wont work"... really? "or it wont work" Has St. Jude become the patron saint of Catholic chain mail?

June 21, 2014 at 2:35 pm PST
#19  Christopher Travis - Huntsville, Alabama

I think it is just plain silly for prayer pamphlets to be any where near an adoration chapel. People need to remember where they are, IN THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST, and remember, He knows our needs before we do. Just kneel and SHHHHHH, listen!!! Prayer pamphlets only belong in the back of the Church or in gift shops. Great job Michelle!!

June 21, 2014 at 9:22 pm PST
#20  Jim Ross - portland, Oregon

I am still waiting for someone to justify wearing a scapular over the tattoo. If both are merely sign of a devotion, what's the difference.
The scapullar is a bot irritating, always getting tangled up and never stay hanging correctly.

If obeying the commandments and frequenting the Sacraments saves us, what is added by the scapular.
I can't believe Mary appeared to St. Simon just to tell him to do what all other Catholics do.
The scapular is a sacramental. Not a sacrament for sure. But how does this sacramental stir up devotion in a person if there are no special promises or a special message attached to it.
And what about those Carmelites who pushed the promises for a very, very long time. Were they fibbing?
While we are debunking our sacramentals and devotions, let's move on to holy water and blessed salt. How do material things ward of evil spirits?

Again, what about the 5 Saturdays and 9 Fridays?
You know, there are plenty of Protestant sites out there that mock the scapular.They would love to see that the Carmelites are now saying, "oops!". How about an article from Michelle telling us why we should wear our scapulars.

June 22, 2014 at 10:59 pm PST
#21  Arturo Ortiz - Anaheim, California

Jim

I see the point you are trying to make. Overall I think that Michelle did a good job on making this article (it needed to be written) since there truly is a lot of superstituious rituals that are made in the name of the "Catholic" faith. This is true of people putting Saint Joseph upside down in order to sale your house as an example. Not only is this mere superstition but is quite blasphemous and disrespectful in my opinion.

However I agree with your input on devotions such as the Brown Scapular and I will add the "rosary" as well. There has been quite a downplay on the supernatural since the Enlightenment and with modernism that various Catholics have fallen into. Downplaying devotions such as the promises and graces that come forth from the Brown Scapular and the Rosary does not help at all. Various people for example don't believe that the Rosary was truly given to Saint Dominic by the Virgin Mary. They say it was a mere "gradual" development of prayer beads. Sacramentals like Holy Water and the Brown Scapular and downplayed.

This particular downplaying of the Brown Scapular is the only thing I found upsetting in this article, everything else was pretty good.

June 23, 2014 at 3:51 pm PST
#22  Jim Ross - portland, Oregon

http://www.ewtn.com/library/scriptur/scapular.txt

Here is a good article from EWTN on the scapular.

And an even better one from the same author.

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/most/getwork.cfm?worknum=166

June 23, 2014 at 7:05 pm PST
#23  Jim Ross - portland, Oregon

Hmmmmm?

Maybe you can't click on the links.

No problem. Just google, "Is there infallible salvation for us too?"
by Fr. William Most.

June 23, 2014 at 7:07 pm PST
#24  Berry Logan - ca, California

****

June 24, 2014 at 10:41 am PST
#25  Michelle Arnold - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

I have answered questions about the brown scapular in an essay published at my personal blog, "Peace, Joy, Pancakes." It may eventually be published here on the Catholic Answers Blog as well; but, in the interim, you can read my explanation of the history and significance of the brown scapular at this link:

http://michellearnold.org/2014/06/24/the-carmelites-and-their-scapular/

June 24, 2014 at 12:14 pm PST
#26  David Biddulph - Fredericksburg, Virginia

I'd like to comment on Moses and Aaron in Numbers - seems to me that verse 10 holds the reason why the Lord was displeased:

"Hear now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?"

Seems to me that claiming credit for bringing the water forth instead of crediting the Lord is a much bigger offence than tapping the rock instead of speaking to it.

June 28, 2014 at 7:07 pm PST

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