If you’re reading this on the day it came out, HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY! Today is the feast day of a Catholic Saint! It also happens to be a holiday celebrated by many in a way that has nothing to do with the Saint himself. Many drink, some eat corned beef and cabbage. It’s common to wear green so that you don’t get pinched. (Advice: people are getting tired of covid precautions, so don’t rely on the 6ft rule to protect you this year) In my mind, though, one of the greatest images for this holiday is the shamrock.
The term “shamrock” has been used to refer to a number of different plants throughout the years. Most of the time people use the term to refer to wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) or white clover (Trifolium repens). When I think of being younger and the patches of clover I searched through for a four-leaf clover, I think of white clover.
White clover’s scientific name is Trifolium repens. “Trifolium” comes from the Latin words for three (“tri”) and leaf (“folium”). These little plants are actually a part of the Fabaceae bean family. It is native to Europe, the British Isles (including Ireland), and Central Asia, but it is now also found in North America and New Zealand. For this plant, many clovers/flowers sprout from a single stem which is why you can commonly find them as a large mat of greenery.
A four-leaf clover isn’t a special variety of this plant; it’s just an unusual mutation of a three-leaf clover. Although it is a mutation, the relative rarity of this mutation (1 in 10,000 clovers) makes it difficult to study and thus figure out the cause of the mutation. It could be because of a recessive gene that occurs at a low frequency, or a mutation of the cells caused by the environment, or maybe an interaction of several genes in that particular plant. As I’ve said, the rarity of its occurrence makes it difficult to study. It is that same rarity that make people think they are lucky. Many believe that if they happen upon one of these mutations, because it is so rare, that this must mean that some supernatural power is smiling on them which will then grant them continued good fortune.
Although this practice may seem harmless to many, the Catholic Church unequivocally is against the belief in luck. The Catholic Church lumps this together with astrology, superstitions, karma, etc. All of these beliefs in some other power is exactly the type of “other god” that the first commandment forbids.
Often when we think of the 1st commandment, we think of choosing one god instead of the Christian God. OR we think it means to not make an idol out of something in our lives to where we value it ABOVE our God. Both of these are true, but in the context of the Israelites, and the original meaning of the commandment, it’s not the entirety of the point God was making. In those days, the Israelites were “henotheists”, that means they worshipped one main god, but also a number of lesser gods just so they could cover all of their bases. This is exactly what we are doing when we put stock in these other “gods”. You might believe the Christian God is the one true God, but your actions of trusting the “power” of luck/karma/astrology specifically takes away from the power of God.
Astrology is probably one that you’ve heard more about, but then there are the lesser talked about ones like luck/karma/superstition. This is where a lot of us don’t really think about it, but we fall prey. This time of year, during March Madness, many of us are donning our lucky socks/jersey or making sure that we sit in our lucky seat so that our basketball team will win the big game.
We fear not doing so because we don’t want to be the jinx that costs our team. Some of us just do these things because it’s what we’ve always done. I can almost guarantee I’ll be wearing some KU attire this Saturday, but some people really believe that what I do in Houston has a real impact on what happens on the hardwood in Indiana. This type of belief can be very dangerous, as the CCC put it, in taking away “the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.” (CCC 2116)
Maybe you’re not a sports fan, but there are plenty of religious superstitions as well. Sometimes people tout certain novenas as “guaranteed” to answer your prayer 100% of the time like a spiritual vending machine. This type of belief is strictly condemned in James 4:3, “You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” This can be a dangerous practice. Another common Catholic superstition is to bury a St. Joseph statue upside down outside your house to help you sell your house quicker. This isn’t in itself a prayer, and I rather doubt that St. Joseph enjoys his statues being placed upside down. This is a superstition, and it is not good. It would be one thing to pray for St. Joseph’s intercession in your desire to sell your house, burying him isn’t that.
A lot of this can sound fairly harmless, but the truth is that it is not good practice for Christians. I’m not saying wishing someone good luck on a test is a sin, that would be silly. I’m saying it’s not okay if you truly believe that you not wishing them luck will be their downfall and they’ll surely fail. There’s a difference. It’s become a common phrase to wish people good luck, it’s a kind way of hoping that good things come their way. It’s always a good thing to hope for the good of your neighbor. It’s when we take this one step farther, listening to horoscopes, believing something happened because of karma, or relying on a lucky rabbit’s foot or a four-leaf clover to change our life, that it becomes something else.
On St. Patrick’s Day and during this time of March Madness, it’s important to remember that there is one God. It’s important to remember that He alone controls the universe. It’s important not to fall into these earthly traps. I invite you to take this week to really think about the power God has. Think about how much He accomplishes for us each and every day. Think about why you would possibly ever need any other god or powerful entity besides this one, true, all-powerful God. (Answer: you don’t!)