Friday, September 12, 2008

Stuff Catholics Like

Burying Saint Joseph

Hey my name is St Joe
got a house you need to go

Plant me in the ground down deep
and your house you wont have to keep

(set to a hip-hop beat)

Ok here's the deal for those of you Catholics who don't know about this practice. You non-Catholics might never get this one. Actually I'm not sure I get this one either but it's one of those things, like hair-shirts, the inquisition and indulgences, that makes being a Catholic cool.

When you want to sell your house you take a statue of St Joseph and bury it in your backyard, upside-down and facing the direction you want to move. Once you sell the house you are supposed to dig up good St Joe and take the statue with you to your new house and place it on the mantel or some other place of honor.

Here is a brief overview of where this custom came from:

The custom hearkens back at least to the great St. Teresa of Avila (A.D. 1515 - 1582), foundress of the Disalced Carmelite Order. As her Order spread, a new convent had to be built, and in order for a new convent to be built, land must be had. When the nuns found a particular piece of land that was perfect for their purposes, they also found that their coffers weren't full enough to purchase it, so they decided to ask the intercession of St. Joseph, burying medals imprinted with his likeness in the ground of the desired property as a sign of their prayers. It worked.

It also worked for Blessed Brother André Bessette, who was able to get the land on which he built the Shrine of St. Joseph of Mount Royal, in Montreal, Canada by praying to St. Joseph and burying a St. Joseph medal on the grounds of the future site as a sign of his prayers.

Now, both of these events deal with acquiring land, not selling it, and they deal with St. Joseph medals, not St. Joseph statues. Nonetheless, over time, the folk custom came to be for sellers of homes to bury a statue of St. Joseph as a sign of prayer asking to find a buyer and hasten the sale.

I wonder just how many plastic (the spotted-owl kissers aren't going to like that) statues are buried in backyards all over the country?

Sam and I owned a Catholic Bookstore from 1990-2000. We sold 100's of St Joseph statues, especially during the housing slow-downs. At first it bothered me when I found out what people were doing with them - particularly when it was people without faith being all superstitious like - but it was either let people buy them for that purpose or not sell any St Josephs at all. Which hardly seemed fair to others with legitimate devotions.

So I did what any good American Capitalist would do, I found a supplier of cheap small St. Joseph statues (made in China and painted with lead-based paint of course) and marked them up real good. Of course if I knew the person and they wanted the statue for, how should we say, more purposes they got a more normal mark-up.

My favorite were the old Jewish Lady Real Estate agents who came in looking for a St Joe statue to help them sell houses. They would buy them by the case.

A close second were the people who didn't know exactly which saint it was they were supposed to drop in the ground like so many tulip bulbs. Someone would come up to the counter with a St Jude or St Anthony statue in their hands, all excited because their house was finally going to sell. Me? I just kept my mouth shut and ringed-up the sale, Cha-Ching! Hey it's not my fault if they don't know which saint to ensconce (ensconce is my word of the day - it's fun to have a word) in the dirt.

So would that be a sin of omission on my part or just damn funny? 8 years later I'm still not sure but I'm going with the latter.

A priest friend of mine is pretty sure that if I'm lucky enough to squeak into heaven (obviously after a long stint in purgatory) that I'll be greeted by good Saint Joseph and he'll peg me with a well deserved dirt-clod. Fair enough.

This is not to suggest in the least that St Joseph isn't a powerful intercessor, he is. But maybe having a statue IN the house, and a candle in front of it and trying a novena might just be a better way to go about it.

Try this one or this one.


the Mom said...

A haiku for you
just because you asked for it
come and read it now

Cassie said...

We buried St. Joseph, but we also say the Novena every night. Does that make it better? My real estate agent is bringing over a contract to look at tonight. It was probably more the Novena than the burying! Ha ha!

Catherine said...

I 've never heard about this practice. But I think I would never have buried the statue of any Saint. By superstition, maybe?!