There are many scenes in the Bible that, at first glance, seem like magic. For instance:
And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go on dry ground through the sea.RSV Exodus 14:13-16
Indeed throughout the Bible God permits human actions to, by his will, be filled with power. God speads the sea, in and through Moses who “lifts up [his] rod” and “stretches out [his hand].”
Even today priests and lay Christians raise their hands in blessing, engage in rituals and carry sacramentals. Which begs the question: what is the dividing line between grace and magic, between faith and superstition?
One of the key dividing lines is this: when we pray we open ourselvses to God’s grace by ultimately trusting his will and not our own will to be done. The Bible and the philsophical arguments of well-grounded theism depict a God who is all-powerful, radically in control of the universe such that everything can happens is, in some sense, the will of God.
Something may be God’s will actively (it is a good thing God wills to happen) or it may be in God’s will permissively (something that is allowed to transpire in light of a greater good). When it is taken seriously that God is the very ground and source of all being there can be no chaos for magic to manipulate. To be a monotheist is to cease to desire for there to be a chaotic universe in which something like magic can make sense. Magical systems often presuppose that either that the gods are not in full control of the universe or that somehow we, who are flesh and dust can impact reality itself. Magic is about control, prayer is about surrender.
Those times where God creates an extraordinary means of Grace (such as a sea dividing or a miraculous healing) are invitations to trust in that surrender. While extraordinary means of Grace happen, they are indeed rare – grace unlike magic usually prefers to work quietly. God will never accomplish by a miracle that which a human working with virtue can accomplish.
It is true that God governs the universe in such a way that we have authentic free will, that we can make our own choices and that these choices can have impacts. However we realize that no one can trully “lift themselves up from their own bootstraps.” God is the one who gave us our talents, gave us our mentors that helped us along the way, and who ultimately gave us the grace to persevere. Whatever good we do, it is the Lord’s.
So by all means carry a brown scapular or a crucifix, just so long as these are reminders to surrender to God’s will, not devices aiming, foolishly, to contort it. When we pray God will always answer, just usually not in the way we expect.