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A Chain Worth Breaking

October 10, AD2013

Birgit - holy waterThere was a time, as I’m confident many of you can remember, when written messages were only received by postal mail. You opened the mailbox to find bills, magazines, letters, bills, greeting cards, bills, and yes, on occasion the dreaded chain letter. Without a return address, the letter, which was most always produced by a faulty typewriter, asked for your compliance in keeping the chain “unbroken.” For those insecure individuals who felt anxiety and torment, they promptly retyped the letter, identified the specific number of lucky recipients, stuffed the envelopes, slapped on a stamp, and rushed to the post office to inconspicuously discard the letters.

Today, thanks to our instant, and quite spontaneous technology, it is our electronic mail in-boxes that are chock full of bills, links to magazines, advertisements, spam, coupons,  messages from family, friends, and yes, the not-to-be-denied dreaded chain email message. Like the disgusting cockroach whose ancestors can be traced back 300 million years, the chain letter has survived and now morphed into the electronic version. Similar to its paper predecessor, the message typically opens with a salutation of some cursory invocation to soften your acceptance. Next, you’re given a brief origin of the message in building interest, followed by the obligatory success story that defines why it is so important that you contribute to the message’s successful history. But just in case you have any reservations about your participation, the chain email lays the  groundwork for guilt, or fear, depending upon your perspective, and defines the consequences of your unwillingness to comply. Then in closing, instructions are provided in how to distribute the message to guarantee the veiled promises of great fortune, or blessings, or prayers answered, if you comply — and promptly.

It’s about this time that I hit the delete button without giving a second thought to my impending doom or consequences. However, recently I’ve taken a more reactive approach. More on that later.

Who are the contributors?

Does it really surprise anyone that this time honored tomfoolery still thrives today? And that it continues to be perpetuated by anyone willing to waste their valuable God-given time practicing superstitious mumbo-jumbo? What should surprise you is that some of the perpetrators are self-professed Christians.

If you profess to be a Christian, whether Protestant or Catholic, and are guilty of creating, generating or forwarding these messages, you are a hypocrite. More importantly, you are in gross violation of the First Commandment, as well as, contributing to sin of others in promoting the violation of the First Commandment. You don’t really believe in God controlling anything. For Catholics, you might as well stop saying the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, and even stop attending Mass for that matter. You obviously don’t truly believe in the precepts of your faith. You believe in the luck of the draw, mere coincidences and the consequences of karma.

When I receive one of these “lucky charms,” as I affectionately refer to them, and it invokes the power of the saints in “granting wishes,” I wonder if the Catholic who sent the message has any clue how his/she is merely further perpetrating the misconceptions about the Catholic faith. It’s not like we don’t have enough uninformed faithful, fallen away Catholics, agnostics, and atheists misrepresenting our faith. All it takes is just one of these messages for someone to say. “Ah-ha, I told you. Those Catholics worship ideals, pray to Mary not God, and they believe in superstitious saint worship!”

Oh, yes, we are doing a wonderful job of spreading the gospel and speaking the truth!

What does the Church say?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states clearly, and unequivocally, regarding the First Commandment: “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” (CCC 2111).

“Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling…”   So when you create, generate, or forward these chain email messages, promoting answered prayers and wishes through a series of terms and conditions, you are not living your faith or professing your faith. You have abandoned your faith in preference of placing greater importance on “magical” results and outcomes.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with sending an email message that shares a beautiful prayer, or reminds you of a feast day, or requests your prayers for someone in specific need of prayer. But a message that sends a beautiful prayer, and then asks you to say it 9 times, send to 9 people within the next 9 minutes, or the prayer will not be answered, is not from God. It is not of God. It is not by God. It is not for God.  As soon as you tag  a prayer request or spiritual message with a supernatural overtone, you have reduced the truth of that prayer, or saint, or ever the Blessed Mother, and falsely represented them as nothing more than a pagan entity.

Someone once chastised me for being “holier than thou” on this issue when I reminded them that these chain  email messages are an insult to God. Their response was this…“But what if God was really using all these messages for a great glory?”

Really? Does anyone really believe that? If chain letters were ever worth their weight in pulp, the disciples would have been issuing chain letters on papyrus in donkey loads. We would have been instructed to use any means necessary to increase our “luck” in having our prayers answered. In a sort of spiritual lottery, we would have been advised, and encouraged, to boost our position in the holy order of prayer by sending out chain letters, chain email messages, to thousands of people across the world. It would have given Christ’s “Great Commission” a whole new meaning.

Shame on anyone who actually believes that these chain email messages are sacred!

Consider this — in all the messages delivered to us in the apparitions of the Blessed Mother, not once did she say in any language, in any location, under any circumstances, “Hey, if you want guaranteed results, you can increase your odds of answered prayers exactly like you want them, by sending out chain letters and remind people to respond quickly or they will suffer dire consequences.”

Let’s review the facts.

• Are chain letters and chain email messages a sin?

Yes! They violate the First Commandment: “Thou shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:2-6

• But I didn’t write the message, I just forwarded it.  Am I still sinning?

Well, duh, yes. If you watch someone commit a crime and do nothing, you indirectly imply that you agree with their actions. You are just as guilty as the perpetrator. If you forward a chain letter, or email message, you are just as guilty as the author of the message, because you are implying that you agree with the message by forwarding.

• If the message is inspiring, and it prompts people to pray, what’s the real harm?

The real harm is that you are placing the importance of a message on its guaranteed outcome. You have taken away the importance of God’s ability to answer our prayers in whatever way He feels is in our best interest. God answers all prayers, but not necessarily in the way we wish. He will never answer a prayer in a way that detracts from our eternal glory.

Also, by forwarding, you are causing someone needless anxiety. What if the person who receives this message is having a difficult time in life. Then, they receive this message telling them that if they don’t do exactly what the message asks, some horrible misfortune will befall them. Is that what you really want for that person? Is that the love and compassion that Our Lady talks about to the visionaries at Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe and Kibeho?

Furthermore, you are contributing to the sin of another person. That’s right! You are asking someone to basically denounce their faith in God and place their trust in a superstitious alternative. Is that what you intended do to?

• Blessed Pope John Paul II told us, “Never lower your guard! It is necessary to live in the Truth.”

Do you know what the Truth is?  Are you living that Truth?  Or are you seeking alternatives in hopes of receiving guaranteed results?

The truth is plain and simple. Read 1 Tim 4:7-12.  Then re-read 1 Tim.4: 7-12.

Avoid profane and silly myths. Train yourself for devotion,  for, while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. For this we toil and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the savior of all, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.

Recently, I began a conversion campaign. In genuine love and charity, I’m someone who just can’t sit quietly by and watch as a spectator. If something is contrary to Scripture, or the Church, I have to speak up. But my testimony is not always appreciated. So, when I receive one of these chain  messages, I response with this gentle poem. You are welcome to share, but please, respect the author (me) and give credit. No plagiarism, please.

A Christian’s Request

Thank you for thinking of us, but we hate to complain.

This message you sent is inaccurate and profane.

Prayers are not answered with conditions and terms.

They are answered by God as Scripture affirms.

Saints don’t perform magic, as some might infer.

It’s their intercessory prayers; to God they defer.

And novenas are not mantras to chant as a charm;

Promoting a practice falsely does damage and harm.

Such misrepresentations serve no purpose than prove

To atheists and agnostics – why God should be removed.

So, if you are faithful in thought, word and deed,

And believe in God’s power that  in prayer supersedes;

Simply ask us to remember your needs in our prayers,

And we’ll pray faithfully to Our Father who cares.

Amen.

© 2013. Diane McKelva. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Recognized as the former Editor in Chief, Diane McKelva is now the Editor Emeritus of Catholic Stand. You can learn more about Diane and her work here.

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  • Gage

    Oh yes, sometimes we easily find ourselves into this “trap”. Before taking any further action, think hard and pray hard!

    GageM
    http://www.SayitwithGodsWord.com

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  • Diane — great points.

    I’d suggest changing one of the lines to your poem:

    “Saints don’t perform magic, as some might infer.”

    …Since messages imply, and readers infer. But imply wouldn’t rhyme with defer.

  • Howard

    Bingo! Though I think many people do not recognize a chain letter with religious superficials AS a chain letter. If we are not supposed to say that followers of Judaism are all going to Hell because we can’t judge their individual culpability for failing to accept Christ, we surely can’t judge the actual guilt of individuals who pass on chain letters!

  • NurseTammy

    I agree with you and I also dislike such foolishness that misdirects our trust. I often refer to them as “Jesus and sparkly butterflies” there are too often wing flapping butterflies in the images of these stupid messages and I’m near certain that Jesus would NOT like them!

    I once heard Scott Hahn speak out against “prayers” that were more about luck, talismans and superstition than any genuine prayer…ones that offer a sure answer if you just ____.

    In reality, we can ask for this as we wish but Gods ways are not our ways and He has reasons (maybe fully obscured to us now) for what He does and I am free to ask in a respectful way that doesn’t attempt to hold God hostage by some foolishness.

    As a convert, I will share that you are right…to Evangelicals, these sorts of ill advised tangents make Catholics took misguided. We have a treasure of wisdom to tap into that the world may benefit from…lets spread THAT instead.

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