Don’t bury St. Joseph

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My husband and I recently sold our home after several months of it being on the market. In the process there were a lot of people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, who asked if we were going to bury a statue of St. Joseph in our yard.

Simple answer: no.

Now, I don’t want to mislead you: there were times when I was frustrated that our house wasn’t selling and we seemed to miss opportunities. But when I look back on it all I can so clearly see the Hand of God, holding some things back and moving other things around so everything would be better than we could have ever hoped for. During it all, even with my worries, I still had a strong feeling that it would all work out. That peace and confident trust were really important to me and so I want to share with you.

There’s three things we did in our hope to sell our home:

1 – We trusted in God’s goodness, not superstitions. Burying a statue of St. Joseph because it’s supposed to make your house sell is nothing but a superstitious act. As Christians we don’t believe in superstitions – we believe in God. I know that Catholic stores sell Home Selling St. Joseph kits. I know that there are even nuns who make and sell these kits. That doesn’t make it right. It is one thing to place St. Joseph on a piece of land or a home you wish to buy, to use St. Joseph to claim the land, and to put it under his patronage. It is another thing all together to bury his likeness in the ground because doing so is supposed to give you the results you want. God is our loving Father and He wants what’s best for us. It is good to remember that and to trust in His timing and His perfect ways.

2 – We placed the intention in Mary’s capable hands. When our home went on the market for the first time I was preparing to do a consecration to Mary using the book 33 Days to Morning Glory. During that time I entrusted Mary with my hopes that our home would sell to a nice family who loves God, and that we would find the perfect home for us to raise our kids in – a place we could all be happy for a long time. I asked her to pray for me, to talk to her Son about my intentions. When I became  frustrated I would tell her, “I have no more wine!” which was my code word for: Fix this, please! When I started to doubt (in her prayers, in God’s faithfulness, whether we would ever move) I would ask her to untie the knots in my life. With her on my side I never doubted for long.

3 – We placed an image of St. Joseph in a place of honor in our home. To most people it would have looked like just another Catholic decoration, but every time I passed that image of St. Joseph I would ask him to find someone to buy our house. I spent a lot of time thinking about how St. Joseph had to find so many homes and shelters for Mary and Jesus, from the stable in Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth. I know he’s good at finding homes and so I asked him to also help us find a perfect home for our family.

Later this summer, when we are settled in our new home, we plan to have a housewarming party and also consecrate the house to the Holy Family. Then, when I get to Heaven, I want to thank the Holy Family for all that they did in helping us sell our house and buy a new one. I don’t want to have a conversation with Jesus about why I buried his foster father upside down in my front yard.

Now,  it is definitely true that sometimes burying St. Joseph is a tradition prayerfully done by the Catholic faithful, and in those cases I cast little to no judgment. But even if it is a prayerfully done tradition that hasn’t been forbidden by the bishops that does not mean it is the best way to honor St. Joseph and include his intercession in the selling of your home. It also does not mean that we should be okay with the cultural practice of anyone and everyone burying an image of St. Joseph, aka Mary’s husband, aka Jesus’ foster father, aka the man who God chose to raise His Son, our Savior.

Bonnie Engstrom

Bonnie Engstrom

Bonnie Engstrom is a cradle Catholic and stay-at-home mom. She married her dashing husband in 2006 and they now have five children: one in Heaven and four more wandering around their house, probably eating pretzels found under the couch. Bonnie lives in central Illinois and gets excited about baking, music, film adaptations of Jane Austen books, and the Chicago Bears. She was a cofounder of The Behold Conference and she blogs at A Knotted Life.

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40 thoughts on “Don’t bury St. Joseph”

  1. The author doesn’t seem personally arrogant, quite the opposite. She seems devout, very faithful and wonderfully devotional… And yet this post is the worst kind of elitism… to dismiss, out of hand, long standing traditions going back generations… It’s pompous and it’s manifestly wrong.

    A superstition is, by definition, “a widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief.” All of Christianity can be dismissed as superstition… Placing the crucifix above the door, inscribing the lintel with blessed chalk, having the rosary blessed… these are all traditions which have proven to be effective. The rosary itself – heck all of the prayers that come to us from the saints – have been tested by time and proven to be effective. Many – the rosary, “consecration to this or that saint” – could well be described as superstitions.

    I would recommend the author consider the Pauline method of testing before dismissing… Consider exorcisms… I know a number of exorcists. They’ll tell you that odd things matter. Using the Latin text is more effective than using the English text in an exorcism. Using Holy Water blessed in the traditional form is more effective than water blessed using the modern form. Everything from the gestures of the priest to which specific saints are invoked can be measured by some super-intellectual reality. Point: We don’t have the intellectual capacity to define by sheer force of determination what is or in not meaningless superstition.

    The St. Joseph Statue house selling tradition may appear superstitious to the author – but it is grossly offensive to determine that a tradition is merely superstition because she doesn’t understand it. Very offensive indeed.

    1. All due respect, Fr., but I disagree. I think the author has made a valid point. The glossary in the Catechism defines superstition as: “The attribution of a kind of magical power to certain practices or objects, like charms or omens.” A person who has no devotion to St. Joseph, who does not intend to pray for his intercession, and who is simply putting a plastic statue in the ground upside down because “that’s supposed to work,” is attributing a magical power to it. I don’t believe anyone would knowingly do so, but they should be made aware of the difference.

      The author did acknowledge that sometimes this is a practice that is done with prayer and reverence. In that case, it would be the prayer accompanying the display of devotion that the person would be relying upon, and therefore the providence of God.

      Placing a crucifix above a door reminds me of my Lord’s sacrifice for me. A chalk inscription invites and beseeches God’s blessing, and reminds me to pray for such. Blessings of water, rosaries, etc., effect a real, spiritual change in the objects, through the grace and providence of God and the ministry of generous priests like yourself.

      I understand that from a pastoral point of view, we need to be careful not to speak too harshly about these sorts of practices, but I do believe that it is important to help people to imbue them with spiritual meaning, and perhaps by so doing to help them grow in their relationship with the Lord in love.

    2. Bonnie Engstrom

      Father, I would argue that inscribing a lintel with blessed chalk, using any item that is blessed (rosary or otherwise), placing a crucifix anywhere, any and all of those traditions can be done in a superstitious manner. However, they are generally not done by the mass population. You *can’t* go to a store and buy blessed chalk with packaging that tells you to “Use this to draw this sign on your door frame and you’ll get exactly want you want!” You *can* do so with St. Joseph statues and home selling kits.

      I do understand what is going on here. Perhaps you haven’t spoken with enough cultural Catholics or non-Catholics who are burying St. Joseph because the act of doing so will make their home sell, but I assure you that this tradition has been twisted into a superstition by many, many people.

      It’s too bad you read my wanting to educate the culture and promote a sincere devotion to Jesus’ foster father for the benefit of eternal souls and misunderstood it as being grossly offensive, arrogant, and sinful.

      1. Bonnie Engstrom

        Sorry to pop in again, I want to make sure everyone understands that my tone in the last paragraph above is not snotty. I really do think it’s too bad that my intentions and writing were so horribly misunderstood.

      2. Hi Bonnie. I appreciate the larger argument, which is that we ought not to treat sacramentals as taboos or totems. And on that we agree 100%. My concern is that anyone, myself included, ought not to dismiss some practice which may be misconstrued as wrong just because it can be abused.

        I know that this was only a small part of your larger argument, but it’s also the title and so I felt compelled to chime in.

        I’m sorry that the conversation has become an ad hominem attack against you – that’s not fair. As I said in my first post, I don’t think you intended to be anything other than a faithful Catholic calling all the rest of us – laity & clergy – to be faithful Catholics. All the same, thanks for your measured and civil reply!

      3. Bonnie Engstrom

        Thank you, Father, for the response.

        I don’t mind a little back and forth in the combox. That’s what makes blogging interesting.

        The title was supposed to draw people in – I guess it did that!

      4. Bonnie. I found your response to be well expressed. Being a Priest does not automatically confer right thinking on his part. I also agree with you on your points of burying a St.Joseph statue devolving into a superstition with no hint or intent of devotion TO St.Joseph himself. Priests are not inflatable. In fact, he was the one being “offensive”. I saw no judgementalism in your article.

      5. I know when I am looking to understand the finer points of Theology, I always look to a random blogger with no formal philosophical or theological training. It’s a much safer bet than trusting an orthodox priest who spent 2-4 years getting a bachelors in Philosophy and another 4 getting a graduate degree in Theology.

        Thank God for ill-informed bloggers.

      6. Bonnie Engstrom

        How is this a finer point of theology? I’m not discussing the Trinity, I’m saying that in our American culture people bury St. Joseph with no reverence and there are better ways of getting your house sold than relying on a tradition that has lost much of whatever meaning it originally had and for many people who practice it is nothing more than magic.

        Also, who up votes their own comments?

      7. You are right, it isn’t a finer point of theology, but I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. The problem with your post is not in what you say you were trying to say, but in what you DID say. You say “Burying a statue of St. Joseph because it’s supposed to make your house sell is nothing but a superstitious act.” That is an objectively false statement, as Fr. Ryan has pointing out. Since you have no idea what the original intent of the tradition was, you can’t claim the act itself is superstitious, only that people can take it in a superstitious way.

        Wrong: Burying a statue of St. Joseph because it’s supposed to make your house sell is nothing but a superstitious act.

        Right: Burying a statue of St. Joseph because it’s supposed to make your house sell can be a superstitious act if done without any true devotion to St. Joseph.

        Oh, and Dr. Zoidberg up-votes all his own posts.

      8. Bonnie Engstrom

        I’ll say this:
        Right: Burying a statue of St. Joseph because it’s supposed to make your house sell is nothing but a superstitious act.
        Wrong: Prayerfully burying a statue of St. Joseph because you wish to invoke his prayers in the aid of selling your home is a superstitious act.
        I stand by what I wrote – especially because I acknowledged that people can do it in a way that is not superstitious.

      9. Your claim is objectively false. If it is objectively false, then to stand by what you wrote is simply being stubborn in the face of the truth. The mistake you make is that your claim says nothing about the state of the person committing the action, it speaks only to the action itself. The fact that you admit that someone could bury a statue of St. Joseph in a non-superstitious way is precisely what falsifies your own claim.

        Let’s lay out your claims and see if they make any sense as a logical syllogism:
        1) Burying a statue of St. Joseph because it’s supposed to make your house sell is nothing but a superstitious act.

        But
        2) Burying a statue of St. Joseph because it’s supposed to make your house sell can be done in a non-superstitious way.

        Conclusion:
        3) Burying a statue of St. Joseph because it’s supposed to make your house sell is not a superstitious act.

        Remember, your sentence is talking about the act of burying a St. Joseph statue, not the intent or state of the person burying the statue. This is what makes your statement wrong, objectively speaking. The way you have stated your position, it would actually be a formal logical fallacy (modus ponens).

      10. Bonnie Engstrom

        The problem here is the word “supposed.” I would say that your “But” statement is not true because it has the word “supposed.” Please see my above comment for clarification as I was intentional in my word choice.

        In the end, we shall agree to disagree. I hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. God love you.

      11. As St. Augustine said, the road to Hell is paved with the skulls of men with quite extensive education in Theology and Philosophy. And Laymen are quite capable of coming to a well thought out position while disagreeing with a Priest. Priests are not infalable. And some, God bless them, are occasionally boneheaded. I feel a hint of sycophantism in your sarcastic hit on Bonnie.

      12. So first, St. Augustine never said that. Second, if you are going to make the point that laymen are capable of a well thought out position, you should probably spell the word “infallible” correctly. Third, you completely missed my actual argument.

        All in all, you made my point way better than I ever could have. Thank you.

        Also, Dr. Zoidberg is incapable of sycophancy as my false-flattery valve has been functioning poorly.

      13. Auto correct is also not infalable, but thanks so much for the spelling correction. What a well thought out response.

      14. ZoidbergsGhost

        Hey, thanks man. You might want to report that bug to whoever publishes your mobile platform. As both a doctor and a mobile developer, I have never seen any mobile platform that auto-corrects a word that was correctly spelled to an incorrect version found in no dictionaries.

        I bet it was written by laymen…

    3. One thing that distinguishes the, shall we say, relatively uncontroversial sacraments and sacramentals is the principle of grace perfecting nature. It makes sense that baptism, which washes away sins, resembles natural bathing. It is appropriate that bread is used for the Eucharist, because it’s something like a natural miracle how plant seeds become bread to begin with, to say nothing of the fundamental role of bread as human food. It is likewise appropriate for wine to be used. It requires no explanation why statues of Mary are crowned with flowers. It is appropriate to bury or burn broken rosaries and chaplets or torn Bibles, as an alternative to tossing them in the trash.

      In some sense, it makes a perverse sense also that worshipers of different gods left treasures like the Gundestrup cauldron, along with human sacrifices, buried, or left to be buried, in bogs. This needs little explanation; the demons they worshiped delight not in the perfection of nature, but in its perversion.

      If you have a real argument why obtaining a perfectly good statue for the purpose of burying it in the ground fits in more with Catholic practices we agree are authentic, rather than with its pagan equivalents, you might as well actually give that argument. Heck, the supporters of the very dubious apparitions of Medjugorje are willing to do that much.

      Yes, Christians are often accused of being superstitious. We are even more often accused of being “very offensive indeed”. It’s not a winning argument. It never has been.

    4. Dear Father, I have an incident to share here, and also ask for your opinion in this. My husband and I bought a house 2 years back in New Jersey. In March/2017 while I was preparing the garden after winter, I dig out a statue from the soil. I didnt know what this was, since I belong to another Asian religion. So by mistake I asked my husband to discard this somewhere outside our property in a trash can. Within 2 weeks he lost his job, and our financial downfall has started. He is a well educated man with more than 20 years experience in his specialty but even then he still is not able to find a job, and it is very difficult to pay mortgage and we are in a bad financial situation. After May,2017 I thought about this statue again, and wanted to find out more about this. I searched internet for many days and found out that it was St. Joseph’s statue. One of our previous owners might have planted it in the garden for easy sale. Now I am very scared, is it because we throw the statue that we are facing all the financial difficulties? Is there anything I can do to ask forgiveness and pay my worship to St. Joseph so that he will forgive us and bless us ? Could you please help me in this..I am feeling very miserable. I didnt know it was St. Joseph’s statue.

      Thank you

      1. YesBee – I don’t think any faithful Catholic would assert that your accidental disposal of an image of a saint is likely to confer any kind of curse or hex upon you. The image is, after all, not a totem or magic object – it’s merely a tangible expression of faith. I’m so sorry that you’re experiencing some difficult moments, but I can assure you that they are not the result of the statue or your actions with it. I will certainly keep you and your family in prayer as you endure them.
        God Reward You
        FrR

      2. Thank you so much Father, for your kind words. May God bless us all. I was worrying a lot thinking about this incident. You opened my eyes. Thank you.

    1. Sometimes. There are people who treat it as a funny, quirky thing… But it’s not just a lark. It does take time and cash to buy and bury the statue and follow all the rules of the tradition (which ends with the statue of St. Joseph being prominently displayed in the new home). Surely, for some, it’s a totem. But it’s also something a lot of the most devout of my parishioners take very seriously as an act of devotion to St. Joe… Some of them even bring their small St. Joe statue to the St. Joseph Altar for blessing.

  2. FatherMatt Baum

    As I read through the article, I’m somewhat surprised by the tone that seems to be taken. The author clearly stated that there’s potentially nothing wrong with burying a statue of St. Joseph, but that we must be careful when doing so. Without proper reflection, it can easily turn into superstition. Although, to be more accurate, it’s more about magic, which is essentially, an effort to control God.

    With all due respect to past commentators, It’s not a fair comparison to equate placing a cross over the door, inscribing the lintel with blessed chalk, or holy water, or even latin in the text of exorcism for one simple reason. In all of those cases, we are dealing with humanity vs. spiritual evil.

    Selling a house is a neutral act. We pray for God to “deliver us from evil” but to “give us this day our daily bread.” Should we sell or not? For how much? Each of those are prudential decisions that, as long as we are fair and just in our practice, we have the freedom to act in any way we see fit. On the other hand, with moral acts, there is a clear right and wrong.

    Blessing, or calling down the presence of God to defends us from evil, is a different matter than asking God’s guidance on prudential matters. Of course God will provide either, but the problem I see with the St. Joseph tradition, as I think accurately described by the author, is that it does not leave room for God’s input. “Do this and it will sell.” Well, what if God’s answer is….no, not yet? We would find ourselves rejecting God and not listening. In the case of selling a house, or any prudential decision, it is a time to discern God’s will.

    In the case of sin, moral evil, or spiritual evil, the choice is clear, run to the refuge of Jesus Christ, the all powerful king. There is no need to discern if God wants us to do evil or not, we know the answer. It is there that we search, not so much for discernment, but for protection. So there, all of the sacramentals are meant to convey the power of God.

    Two side notes, First, it’s always important to remember the most powerful way God is present is ALWAYS the sacraments. They far outweigh any other avenue. While other traditions are often good, they never rise to the level of sacraments.

    Second, most of the research I’ve seen shows that it’s not really an ancient tradition, but one made popular around 1979 and the early 80s….perhaps it has some older roots, but there does not seem to be a single origin story of the tradition, which makes me rather skeptical of it’s authenticity.

    1. Bonnie Engstrom

      Thanks for sharing about the origins of the tradition, Father. My husband and I tried researching it and found nothing particularly convincing.

      If anyone does have some firm facts I would be very interested in seeing them! Thanks in advance.

    2. We’ll put Father. As to superstition, even prayer can be misused with superstitious intent as those prayer chain letters. It seems more like human intent on controlling an outcome. I sense nothing holy in the usual use of a statue of the Father of the Holy Family as a good luck charm.

  3. One part of the tradition that is forgotten: When the house is sold, your suppose to unbury Saint Joseph and place the statue in a special place in the new home.

    1. Bonnie Engstrom

      You know I *just* learned that the un-burying is even a part of the tradition. I can see how this is a good part when done by pious Catholics. Sadly, many a St. Joseph statue has been left in the ground or just thrown away when the house sells.

  4. Mark Thompson-Kolar

    Bonnie, I appreciate your article. Addressing the non-Catholic aspect of your piece, my many Protestant friends find this practice blatantly superstitious on its face, and it gives them further reason to doubt the Truth of the Church. It seems clear that this folk practice is very easily misunderstood as superstitious — no matter what the doer’s motivation. We should take into account Paul’s admonitions in 1 Cor 10: 23 that we should not undertake actions that can be misunderstood by other believers or potential believers: “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. … 27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours.”

  5. Dear Father Ryan,

    When did burying a statue become a tradition?

    Over 25 years ago, we tried to sell our house to no avail. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law buried the St. Joseph statute and sold their home rather quickly.

    I asked my very faithful father about us burying the St. Joseph statute, and he told me most emphatically that if I bury that statute I may as well be praying to that pole outside our home. So we did not bury any statute, but waited on God’s timing.

    My dad was right. We remained faithful, and my husband’s malignant melanoma has not returned in 32 years. On the other hand, our relatives have had nothing but serious problems in their family.

    God has blessed us abundantly. This is an awesome article and very, very true.

  6. As an owner of a Catholic gift store I can tell you first hand I have sold hundreds of small St. Joseph statues and as I always tell my customers this is all about trust and the prayer that goes with it. Many people just put the statues in a place of honor in their home to be sold or bury him (not upside down) on their property. I also give them a prayer card with the famous 1900 old prayer which I am personally attached to as it is so very powerful and it is my own personal way of giving St. Joseph my thanks for help in my own business. People tell me over and over that it works. The house always sells in the most perfect time for them and always the people who buy it have found their perfect home. No superstition just a tradition that brings people closer to our beloved St. Joseph. Many are not Catholic and it stirs in them a curiosity of our Catholic faith. I see nothing wrong or superstitious about this practice.

    1. Bonnie Engstrom

      If you did as an act of devotion and prayer then I’m sure it wasn’t a superstitious act. Please read the article – I stated as much above.

  7. Well I for one have asked our Bookstore to remove these so called Home Selling traditions. If it is tradition in particular countries that go ages back, and you want to keep that, that’s fine, but in our day in age, people use these holy images for the wrong purpose (such as wearing the rosary as a necklace – it is a tradition in some countries, but not in the US). I think it’s blatant disrespect to the Foster father of the Redeemer and as my name sake find it personally offensive.

  8. Also to Add where the tradition came from:
    When St.Therese’ of Avila was opening convents she
    would strike out with her nuns in a wagon carrying the bare necessities
    and their beloved patron, St.Joseph. On one trip they had no idea if
    they would even be able to find a place for a convent in a certain town
    and when they arrived they found a piece of land for sale. They
    petitioned St.Joseph to intercede for them, and while waiting for the
    prayer to be answered, they had no where to stay or no place to keep
    St.Joseph so they buried him on the land that they were praying about.
    The reason they buried him was because if they left him exposed, they
    were afraid that he would either get stolen or smashed.

    Through his intercession, the land was purchased and a convent was built for
    them, all the while St.Joseph statue still buried. When the convent was
    completed, they retrieved the statue and made him a place of honor in
    their Convent. That is where the practice was adopted from.

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