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St. Joseph: to bury or not to bury, that is the question

July 21, 2009

As some of you may know, I will be moving shortly to begin my doctoral studies. Therefore, I am trying to sell my house, and being that I live in a heavily culturally Catholic area, nearly everyone I talk to encourages commands me to bury a St. Joseph statue outside the house. If I do, the house is guaranteed to sell in no time.

I have consistently dismissed the notion as superstitious. Nevertheless, my mother recently bought and delivered a St. Joseph Home Sellers Kit, just in case I changed my mind. Out of curiousity I opened the small box and inside were two cards, one with instructions and another with the history behind the tradition. Still curious, I read on…

The solemn tradition of burying Saint Joseph in the earth can be traced back hundreds of years to Saint Teresa of Avila. She was a nun who prayed to Saint Joseph because he was the protector of the Holy Family and the patron saint of homes. When her nuns needed more land for convents she encouraged them to bury Saint Joseph medals in the ground and pray as a symbol of their devotion.

This prayerful practice was probably brought to this continent by the Blessed Andre of Montreal, Canada. Through prayer to Saint Joseph he was able to build a great shrine on Mount Royal in Montral in honor of Saint Joseph. He secretly chose a spot on the mountain, buried a medal of the saint and prayed for his intercession.

The practice eventually evolved from medals to statues where one can pay honor to Saint Joseph afterwards by placing the statue in the new house so he can continue to bless you.

All that being said, I still think it is superstitious. I’ve found a few sources that support the alleged tradition. Snopes seems skeptical to say the least. Jimmy Akin agrees.

Personally, I still think it is superstitious. It feels like by burying that statue people believe they have some control over what God is going to do. It seems to be less about faith and more about, “well…. it works, so you might as well try it.” I have no desire to try to control God’s will (or anyone else’s) by planting a statue. I will ask St. Joseph to intercede and pray for God’s will to be done and for the grace to accept. But that’s just me.

What do you think ?

13 Comments
  1. July 21, 2009 8:32 am

    Yeah, using a statue of St. Joseph as a guaranteed real-estate marketing technique is an example of a superstition.

  2. July 21, 2009 5:38 pm

    I’m tempted to agree with you, Josh, but then I wonder . . . what about wearing scapulars? What about vocalizing our prayers instead of simply saying it in our heads? What about praying at the bedside of a sick person rather than praying for them at church? What about laying on hands during confirmation and ordinations rather than just writing a letter of approval? What about eating the Eucharist instead of simply adoring it from one’s home?

    Material acts must have more meaning that being simply symbolic.

    It makes me wonder about sacramentals:

    http://www.usccb.org/catechism/text/pt2sect2chpt4.shtml#art1

    All in all, I wouldn’t bury poor Joseph! 🙂 Maybe put him on the roof?

  3. July 21, 2009 9:13 pm

    Look up Avila’s website and see if this is true. Maybe blessing the house and burying medals would be a good idea.

    I stopped wearing scapulas after a time because it did seem supersticious that if you died while wearing one you would be whisked off to heaven.

    St Joe’s intercession is good either way. If you bury it now and the house sells ppl will say “I told you so” but if you buried the statue two months ago and it was still on the market what would ppl say?

  4. July 21, 2009 11:28 pm

    Thanks for your responses. Nate, you bring up good questions, to which I don’t have great well-researched answers, but Kyle’s and V*’s responses get to the difference between sacramentals and superstitious acts. To pray, is to ask. We can ask God’s blessing, favor, etc. through the intercession of the saints, but as soon as we believe that our action guarantees us something, then it becomes magical, superstitious.

    I could probably legitimately bury the statue in petition, although I’m not sure how the burial makes sense, but most people who have recommend this to me, want me to do it because “it works.” As V implied, wearing a scapular will not get to heaven, living a holy life, which a scapular is supposed to remind you to do will get you to heaven, but you know that already😉

  5. July 21, 2009 11:31 pm

    Nate – I don’t think Josh is saying that all “materialist” Catholic practices are superstitious. Only the ones that attempt to “control” God in a “magical” way. This does not apply to the examples you mentioned.

  6. July 21, 2009 11:32 pm

    Josh – Looks like we wrote our comments at the same time.

  7. July 22, 2009 10:39 am

    To pray, is to ask. We can ask God’s blessing, favor, etc. through the intercession of the saints, but as soon as we believe that our action guarantees us something, then it becomes magical, superstitious.

    Thanks, Josh. Good clarification.

    I’ll instinctively say a prayer and light a candle to St. Anthony after Mass (what can I say? — “patron saint of hopeless cases”); but as for those pamphlets instructing one to ‘say a Novena and distribute X copies, and your wishes will be granted — eh.

  8. Dale Price permalink
    July 22, 2009 12:53 pm

    Good point, Joshua. I recall reading somewhere (since lost in the mental clutter) that the hard line between magic and faith is that the former involves notions of control and entitlement whereas the latter does not.

    That’s something I keep in mind when the “word-faith” shills appear (very, very briefly) on my television screen. There’s more than a little element of magical thinking at work there.

  9. July 22, 2009 3:01 pm

    I see what you’re saying about controlling God versus asking God in faith. That opens up a whole slew of questions, for me, about what prayer actually is, and why we pray for things at all.

  10. July 22, 2009 11:52 pm

    Nate,🙂

    You don’t disappoint! As I was writing my previous comment I realized it brought up those very questions and made a mental note to return to the topic. Unfortunately I am in the midst of moving and won’t be able to put decent time into a post for at least a week, probably two.

    Anyone else care to jump in for me ?

  11. G-Veg permalink
    July 23, 2009 6:00 am

    Do the borderline “magical” practices actually hurt us?

    I am thinking of those everyday practices of culture such as crossing oneself when passing a graveyard, tossing a pinch of salt over one’s shoulder, hanging crosses over windows and doors, etc.

    These things seem to be bring comfort to many, even though the idea that they “work” relies upon a level of compelling God.

    I suppose, what I’m asking is whether we should employ a bright line between faith and magic in our practice or some sort of a balancing test that allows for the comfort that the practice provides.

  12. July 23, 2009 8:42 am

    Crossing oneself near a graveyard, is that so the dead don’t turn into zombees and eat you? We’ve been instructed to pray for the dead. Change the reasoning behind why something is done.

    The crosses an images in my home remind me to make my life a prayer.

    Salt over the shoulder? I believe that is supersticious straight up.

    Perhaps intentionality is the difference. Remember the scripture that described two sons, one who Said he would do his father’s will and didn’t and the son who said he Would Not do his fathers will and did? Or the man praying loudly on the corner versus the man praying quietly in the corner? Or the people with the coins and the widow who “gave the most” because she gave what she had, not from her surplus?

    With prayer there isn’t a placebo effect! God answers prayers no matter where we stand (inside or outside of the church or right infront of the crucifix, prostrate sobbing loudly!) Candles don’t bring our prayers to heaven either but it does make us feel nice to light them.

  13. Colonel4God permalink
    July 23, 2009 7:27 pm

    St. Joseph is a powerful intercessor. Prayers for his intercession would be great. Even honoring him with the statue in a prominent place in the house (might freak out potential buyers) would be great. Those particular “traditions” mentioned were to receive new lands and not sell old houses (not that your house is old). It’s a minor point, but it’s worth at least one thought.

    As regards prayer, wow, that would take much more thought and a bit of reading. Off the top of my head, I would say this. As Catholics, we don’t have a doctrine of double pre-destination, in other words, our are actions are already chosen for us and we blindly follow along. Free will is a very important concept. The Catechism in 2738-9 says, “The revelation of prayer in the economy of salvation teaches us that faith rests on God’s action in history. Our filial trust is enkindled by his supreme act: the Passion and Resurrection of his Son. Christian prayer is cooperation with his providence, his plan of love for men. For St. Paul, this trust is bold, founded on the prayer of the Spirit in us and on the faithful love of the Father who has given us his only Son. Transformation of the praying heart is the first response to our petition.” and later in 2740-1 “The prayer of Jesus makes Christian prayer an efficacious petition. He is its model, he prays in us and with us. Since the heart of the Son seeks only what pleases the Father, how could the prayer of the children of adoption be centered on the gifts rather than the Giver? Jesus also prays for us—in our place and on our behalf. All our petitions were gathered up, once for all, in his cry on the Cross and, in his Resurrection, heard by the Father. This is why he never ceases to intercede for us with the Father. If our prayer is resolutely united with that of Jesus, in trust and boldness as children, we obtain all that we ask in his name, even more than any particular thing: the Holy Spirit himself, who contains all gifts.”

    By praying we are transformed. The more we are transformed the more closely our prayers are united with the prayer of Jesus and from this a great efficaciousness. It might be that the “traditions” spoken of earlier were not because of burial of statue but because of the holiness of those praying.

    In my experience, many who bury St. Joseph statues only bury the statue. Prayer does not enter into the picture. The action of burial might even be irrelevant in the economy of salvation if the prayers of those who buried are united to the pray of Christ.

    To me, the problem comes in when the gift of a sale of a house is attributed to a buried statue rather than prayers united to the prayer of Christ.

    This might bring more questions than answers. Oh well.

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