Issue: What does the Church say about the custom of burying a statue of St. Joseph for the purpose of selling one’s home?
Response: The Church teaches that the faithful should pray to the saints for their intercession. The custom of burying a statue of St. Joseph for the purpose of selling one’s home can be in harmony with the teachings of the Church when grounded in prayer for St. Joseph’s intercession. At the same time, the Church cautions against superstitious beliefs such as attributing some power to the act of burying the statue.
Discussion: St. Joseph—patron saint of the Universal Church, patron of workers, and protector of virgins—is also the patron saint of the family and of household needs. Many have trusted in him as a powerful intercessor.
The origin of burying a statue of St. Joseph for the purpose of selling one’s home is uncertain. Some say the tradition can be traced back hundreds of years to St. Teresa of Avila, who invoked St. Joseph’s intercession in order to obtain land for new convents. According to this tradition, St. Teresa encouraged her companions to bury their St. Joseph medals as a symbol of devotion. Over time, the practice of burying medals evolved into that of burying statues. Today, some organizations promote this practice and have developed complete “Underground Real Estate Agent” kits. Many home-sellers and real estate agents nationwide continue this tradition.
Burying a statue of St. Joseph for the purpose of selling one’s home is an action similar to wearing a saint’s medal or a scapular, having religious art in one’s home, or placing a statue of a saint in one’s yard—it is an outward sign of an inward devotion. Ideally, people who turn to this custom do so as a symbol of their devotion—an external sign of their trust in St. Joseph as a powerful intercessor. They demonstrate their faith in the power of prayer and the communion of saints. The individual consecrates the ground in the name of St. Joseph and asks him to intercede with God the Father on his or her behalf for the sale of the home.
The Church neither encourages nor discourages this practice. She recognizes that different forms of piety and popular devotion can be beneficial to believers, helping them to grow in faith, trust, and personal holiness. While such practices do not replace the liturgical life of the Church, they do extend it (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1675). The tradition of burying a statue of St. Joseph is rooted in the practice of intercessory prayer, which in turn is rooted in the mystery of the communion of saints. Asking for the intercession of the saints is a healthy discipline that the Church promotes. The Scriptures state: “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (Jas. 5:16). The saints in heaven surpass the faithful on earth in righteousness; they have been perfected by God’s love and their prayers are powerful indeed. To ask the saints to intercede on one’s behalf affirms one’s belief in the communion of saints and trust in God’s love.
At the same time, to bury a statue of St. Joseph is not a recipe for guaranteed success in selling one’s home, nor is it a totem that will magically produce the desired results. To perform the outward signs without inward devotion can reduce the custom to superstition. The Church warns against the dangers of superstition. The Catechism tells us that superstition
can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition. (no. 2111)
If a person’s decision to bury a statue of St. Joseph rises from superstitious belief, it can be detrimental to his or her faith. Devotional practices must be in harmony with the life and spirit of the Church and should always lead to a deeper understanding of the mysteries of Christ (see Catechism, nos. 1674-76).
The faithful can benefit from following the custom of burying a statue of St Joseph so long as they are careful not to fall into superstition or attribute success to an improper source. The Church encourages practices that prioritize prayer, foster devotion to the saints, and draw people closer to God. This custom has the potential to help the faithful do all three.
Holy Bible (Catholic edition)
Catechism of the Catholic Church (Paperback and Hardback available)
Vatican II Documents
Hahn and Suprenant, eds., Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God
Leon Suprenant and Philip Gray, Faith Facts: Answers to Catholic Questions
Ted Sri, Mystery of the Kingdom: On the Gospel of Matthew
Leon Suprenant, ed., Servants of the Gospel
Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, Without a Doubt: Bringing Faith to Life
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• All in the Family: The Communion of Saints • Holy Things to the Holy: Sacred Things, Places, and Times • Signs and Symbols • St. Joseph: Patron of the Universal Church & Co-Patron of Catholics United for the Faith • St. Mary Magdalene: A Model Penitent • St. Nonna: Patroness of Information Services • St. Patrick: The Apostle of Ireland • St. Thomas More: Co-patron of Catholics United for the Faith • Ss. Peter and Paul
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