There’s an old tradition that claims if you bury a statue of St. Joseph upside-down in your yard, you will sell your house quickly. It seems this tradition dates back to the 15th century, and originally it was an overt threat to the earthly father of Our Lord. The thinking went something like this: If you wanted to sell some real estate, you buried a statue of St. Joseph and told him, “OK, pal, I’m gonna leave you with your head in the dirt until you sell my house!”
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t strike me as a very effective way to conduct a real estate transaction. Nor does it strike me as a very nice way to treat the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I don’t recall any verses in the Bible telling us that we should blackmail God. “OK, God, listen up! Gimme what I want, or you stepfather will never see the light of day again!”
The tradition has evolved over the years. Now, people no longer blackmail God by threatening St. Joseph with a “dirt nap” until the house is sold. These days a statue of St. Joseph is buried, but it’s done with love and reverence, and the sincere request for Jesus’ stepfather to help sell the piece of property.
Um, all right, I’m still not quite following the logic here. Sometimes we Catholics are accused of going overboard with superstition. I’m reminded of the periodic news stories of someone who claims to see the face of Jesus on, for example, a grilled cheese sandwich, which immediately prompts a throng of people to show up and pay homage. But if you notice, there are never any Presbyterians or Lutherans in the crowd. This St. Joseph statue thing has always struck me as a similar, and somewhat embarrassing, aspect of Catholic devotion.
My wife and I decided to sell our home a few months ago, and I was rather surprised by the number of people who said to us, “You buried a statue of St. Joseph, right?” When we replied, “Uh, no,” most of them were genuinely shocked and exclaimed, “Don’t you WANT to sell your house?!” I should point out that these friends and relatives have never struck me as overly superstitious, so I was stunned by their passion about this subject. Many of these folks began to rattle off a list of people who sold their houses as soon as they buried a St. Joseph statue. The tone of their voices was so urgent, I sort of expected them to conclude by saying, “Afterward, come and worship my divinely inspired grilled cheese sandwich!”
After our home was on the market for many months, with hardly any activity and no firm offers, my wife and I started to wonder. Here are some of the questions we discussed: “Should we do the statue thing?” “What’s there to lose?” “But if we do it, will God be angry because we gave in to silly superstition?” “Or will God be pleased because we trusted in the power of the Communion of Saints?” “Hey, what exactly is the Communion of Saints anyway?” (Answer: How should we know? We’re American Catholics who attended catechism classes after Vatican II, which means we were not taught any Catholic doctrines, but at least we can sing a rousing version of Cumbaya.”)
So at this point, I’m not sure what we should do. We really want to sell our house, and we’d rather not do it by dropping the price down to what we paid for the place 29 years ago. Should we give in, and bury a statue of St. Joseph? I need to give it some more thought. In the meantime, if you’ll excuse me, I have to worship a grilled cheese sandwich.