Hi, Kathleen —
I've re-read the article and I think there might be a misunderstanding. John did not say that saints have no special powers. He said:
Catholics don't believe in magic. Nor are pictures, statues, icons and so forth lucky charms that bring us good luck, prosperity, or what not. That sort of belief is pagan, not Catholic.
These are not lucky charms. The objects have no intrinsic power of their own. They have the power of the prayer of the Church in the blessing.
There is a difference between saying that the Saints in Heaven have a powerful ability to intercede for us (James 5:16) and saying that a medal or a statue will bring us good luck.
One involves faith, the other involves superstition.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church — a very important and official guide to Catholic teaching — defines superstition as follows:
2111 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.
Catholic Church. (1997). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 512). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
The power and efficacy of saints come from God through the merits of Christ. It is from their relationship to and friendship with Christ that the saints in Heaven, when we ask them to intercede with us, are able to obtain favors. It is not a power that they possess on their own, much less is it a power vested in the physical medal or statue; rather, it flows from the saint's faith in Christ and their prayers to him. It's connected to the statues or medal in that these are symbols or reminders.
The point that John was trying to make is that the power is not vested in the medal or statue; rather it comes by the faith of the supplicant united with the prayers of the saint in Heaven to Christ and received by the grace He won for us on the Cross. We must always, when invoking the saints, do so with faith in Christ (what the Catechism calls the interior disposition), not assuming that the power comes merely:
- by performing some act, or
- carrying some object, or
- burying St. Joseph upside down in our yard thinking he'll get our house sold so he'll be freed or some such thing.
It's all about faith and not magic. We can and do ask St. Anthony to find our lost objects, but we do so with love for St. Anthony and faith in our Lord, not as an incantation. We can and do wear a St. Michael medal, not because we think it is magical or that it's some sort of a talisman that wards off danger, but because it's a sign we love St. Michael and want him to pray to Christ for us as we also pray to Christ and trust in Him for his protection.
To make clearer the difference between [magic or superstition] and faith:
Magic assumes that there is a guaranteed outcome: If we do this, then that is sure to happen like God is a cosmic vending machine that has to obey us when we press the right buttons. In a sense, we are imposing our will on God.
Faith, on the other hand, is submitting our will to God, and humbly asking Him to act in our favor, but, not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39).
In the first case, we are attempting to manipulate God; in the second case, we recognize God's sovereignty and ask Him in trust to do what is best for us, as a child asks a father.
I hope this helps clarify the issue.