Spring is upon us and the home selling season as well.
Did you know that St. Joseph might be able to help you sell your house?
Just mention that you’re selling your house and strangers will suggest this: “Bury St. Joseph in your yard.”
They don’t mean the saint, of course, but a statue of the saint whose feast as “St. Joseph the Worker” is marked on May 1.
Started in the late 1970s, this practice of burying a statue of Joseph has become well-known to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Even realtors know about it. Google “St. Joseph Home Sellers Kit” and you’ll find over 150,000 sites ready to tell you more or sell you statues of Jesus’ earthly father. Most are Catholic supply houses, but there are even individual websites, like buryjoe.com, ready to offer help and materials.
For example, Phil Cates, a mortgage broker, started stjosephstatue.com about 20 years ago. Today, he says that 40 percent of his business is to real estate professionals. Here’s one of the many testimonials from his site: “Thank you for the opportunity to share my comments. I sold my home in 95 days at full price. I placed St. Joseph at the front walkway and prayed every day.”
The various sites selling statues and kits — including a prayer card, instructions and a bag in which to bury the statue (to keep it clean, since you are not supposed to leave it underground forever) — cite St. Teresa of Ávila or St. André Bessette (or both) as inspiration for this practice.
St. Teresa (d. 1582), founder of many Carmelite convents, was said to have buried medals of St. Joseph in the ground of land she hoped to purchase for new convents.
St. André Bessette (d. 1937) had a great devotion to St. Joseph. In 1904, he began to build a small chapel in Montreal, which is now the large basilica known as St. Joseph’s Oratory. He, too, was credited with burying St. Joseph medals on the land on Mount Royal, where he hoped his chapel would eventually stand.
Today, medals have been replaced by statues. The common practice is to bury Joseph’s statue upside down in the front lawn. If you don’t have a lawn — because you own a townhouse or condo — you can bury the statue in a flower pot. There is a prayer asking for St. Joseph’s help — some people actually pray a novena of nine different prayers, one each day. Once the house sells, you unearth the statue and set it in a place of honor in your new house. (Or give it to a friend who needs to sell a house.)
So, is this devotion or superstition? Freelance writer Toby Welch asked that question of Catholic author Stephen J. Binz, who wrote “St. Joseph, My Real Estate Agent: The Patron Saint of Home Life and Home Selling” (2003, St. Anthony Messenger Press).
Binz, a biblical scholar, answered: “I believe God can work in people’s lives in all sorts of ways without our really understanding them.”
He added that there is often “a fine line between faith and superstition,” but noted that faith is based on generosity, while superstition is self-centered.
“In other words,” Binz said, “if we put a statue in the ground and we expect our home to sell just because of some action or mandatory verbal formula, that’s superstition. Really developing a relationship with St. Joseph, really asking him to help us in our need and with the situation, and asking him to intercede with God on our behalf are all expressions of faith.”
Can a statue buried in the ground do any good?
About home selling, who knows? God works as God wills.
But in terms of new evangelization — or bringing people closer to God in their everyday lives — that’s another thing entirely. Consider this testimonial at the catholiccompany.com website: “I purchased this for a friend who is trying to sell a home. … It is very important to make sure that we focus on the prayer part of this tradition, as well as the burying of the statue. Incidentally, the day after my friend buried her statue and prayed to St. Joseph, she received a good offer for her home!”
There’s nothing like sharing your faith with a friend — as long as, as the writer noted, you keep the right focus.
And why St. Joseph? Because of St. Teresa and St. André?
Go back further in our history and look at what Joseph did:
- He served as the head of the household for Mary and Jesus;
- He took Mary into his home when she was found to be pregnant;
- He put shelter over Mary and Jesus in Bethlehem, found lodging in Egypt and, finally, a house in Nazareth where Jesus grew up.
- He knew about houses and probably even helped to build them.
Good human work — including selling a home — was raised to a new level by Joseph. As St. John Paul II noted about Joseph: “If the Family of Nazareth is an example and model, … work too has been taken up in the mystery of the Incarnation, and has also been redeemed in a special way. At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of the redemption.”
St. Joseph, patron of families, workers and builders, shows us how God cares for and is present in everyday life. Honoring Joseph — maybe not by burying his statue, but by seeking his help — pleases God and draws us closer to Jesus.
Sources: “St. Joseph: Superagent in real estate” in “The New York Times;” realestate.aol.com; fisheaters.com; stjosephstatue.com; Aggie Catholic blogspot; [email protected]; “Redemptoris custos” at vatican.va; snopes.com; ewtn.com; “Can the St. Joseph statue help you sell your house?” at suite.101; catholiccompany.com; and stjosephsite.com.
Kasten is the author of “Linking Your Beads, The Rosary’s History, Mysteries and Prayers,” published by Our Sunday Visitor Press. Her newest book, “Making Sense of Saints,” is available through Our Sunday Visitor Press.