When you believe in things
Then you suffer,
Superstition aint the way.
-“Superstition”, Stevie Wonder
The Marciniak ranch is well known as a center of culinary excellence in the Western New York region. Born of a need to cater three meals a day for eleven and the magic of Food TV, techniques have developed and flavors previously unknown have been vaulted to the forefront of contemporary cuisine from our humble and inadequate four-burner stove. Greats such as Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, and the grossly underweight Giada de Laurentis have seen their exquisite recipes, albeit tweaked to reflect Buffalonian modesty, presented to eager children with hypersalivation issues at regularly scheduled intervals. That being said, when there’s a few rubles in the coffers, we make a bee-line for the China Star, purveyor of fine Oriental take-out.
After the delectable cartons of General Tso’s chicken, shrimp lo mein, mei fun noodles, and such are exhausted of their high-cal, sodium-enriched contents and the satisfying release of gastric air is complete (forcefully if you are male, by our experience), the obligatory fortune cookies are dispensed. It is a tradition repeated often at Sterling Avenue estates, and shared with many, both the lay and ordained. Fr. Dennis Mancuso, an aficionado of (in his words), “vast quantities of Chinese food” (spoken with a definitive Monty Pythonesque accent) has shared this epicurean explosion more than once and can verify that the experience is just shy of gluttonous. Nonetheless, if gluttony is achieved, he is more than happy to offer the sacrament of reconciliation at a moment’s notice. After a few more dumplings. Others of lesser fortitude have run from our home clutching their offended, weak stomachs while vowing a return to boxed macaroni and cheese and to never stray. Not the Marciniaks. We’ve got gullets of steel. Szechuan’s not Szechuan unless it leaves welts on your tongue.
Of all the possible difficulties of these events (perforated ulcers, colonic inflammation, barking at the sidewalk), only one has emerged: fortune cookies. One guest is offended by them. As the children crack their little cookies tasting faintly of flour and corrugated cardboard, she looks suspiciously at the my wife and I. She relates the messages, such as “Industriousness will mean success” or “Happiness brings long life” on the tiny strips of paper baked in the cookies as on par with tarot cards, palm reading, and black magic. To our westernized American kids from an age marked by technology, unprecedented information access and a window on every corner of the world via the simple act of typing on a keyboard, this attitude is seen as relevant as Greek mythology. Our guest, an Eastern Catholic (a tradition that, in personal interpretation, has been known to express itself occasionally in superstitious practices) has grown to believe that the insidious nature of the occult as expressed in superstitions is never innocuous and to be avoided even in its most benign forms.
As sure as our bodily death is, our eternal life is another matter…the God of our fathers has given us an example, a guide and comforter, and a mother. Jesus, whom we emulate, the Holy Spirit who guides and encourages, and mother Church in combination with our Blessed Mother’s gentle hand can lead us to salvation. Superstitions cannot. They deny the power of God and place undue regard for meaningless objects and actions. Satan loves that. Why, then, do we have them? Why do we adhere to superstitious practices in direct opposition to the reality of God’s saving grace? Perhaps it all comes down to trust. We just don’t have enough. We need concrete assurances that God just doesn’t seem to provide; places like Lilydale, New York, crawling with “seers” and psychics and, unfortunately, Catholics seeking their assistance, rely on our lack of trust for their livelihood. So does Satan.