“Luck” Has Nothing to Do with It!

A dear Christian friend recently asked me, “Why do Catholics bury statues of St. Joseph?”  Apparently my friend’s Catholic neighbor was putting his house up for sale and along with pounding in a “For Sale” sign in the front lawn, buried a statue.  A St. Joseph statue, as my friend was soon to find out.  And my friend’s inquiry as to why a Catholic would bury a statue of St. Joseph received the alarming response, “It’s good luck!”  As you can imagine, this answer didn’t sit well with my Christian friend, and rightly so.

Good luck?  Do we Catholics believe in luck, good, bad, or otherwise, in such a way that it is part of our faith?  Of course we don’t.  Or at least we shouldn’t.  But are we giving that impression?  Certainly there are the times when the case isn’t an impression so much as a misinterpretation of what we do.  But a Catholic response that says, “It’s good luck!” isn’t a misinterpretation or even an impression.  It is a downright violation of what the Catechism teaches on superstitions and thus very, very bad for the image of Catholics let alone the practitioner of such an act.  And, really, I believe we all ought to care how we present ourselves and our living, vibrant faith to the world.  So today I take umbrage with Catholics who bury statues and tell their curious Christian brethren that it is for “good luck.”

Sadly, too many Catholics today are being catechized by sources such as the secular news, popular magazines, outspoken “conservatives” who must certainly have it “right,” and, with greater impact, New age literature with a thin veneer of Christianity.  Dare I ask how many Catholics purchased Oprah’s latest recommendation or get their daily dose of faith from Joyce Meyer or Joel Osteen?  I would be afraid to truly discover the answer to these questions.  Isn’t our beloved Catechism, hundreds of Vatican documents and Papal encyclicals, and Sacred Scripture enough?  Add to that the works of wonderful, completely unknown Catholic authors who are trying to bring their works of fiction and non-fiction to the marketplace but seemingly find little or no support from the Catholic populace at large.  How can we be over a billion strong and not have the top five, even top ten, spots on the New York Times bestseller lists for fiction and non-fiction?  We could be immersed in our faith, and by our sheer numbers be immersing the world at large, and yet we aren’t.

060708_lead_new.jpgSadly then, when our faith is developed through secular influences and we are indoctrinated in the ways of the world, we are sometimes prone to behavior that perpetuates the labels that outspoken anti-Catholics throw our way.  How often are our dollars supporting ministries that are actually anti-Catholic in nature?  Between our actions of misunderstanding (burying statues for good luck) and our purchases of books, tapes, and CD’s from sources outside of the Catholic Church, we are feeding the anti-Catholic machine.  This isn’t being persecuted for His sake but being persecuted because we err in our ways.  Sadly, even well-intentioned Catholics end up practicing their faith in a manner that is not grounded in the teachings of the Church and then add to this dilemma; thus we have a Catholic who buries a statue of St. Joseph and tell a curious neighbor, “It is for good luck.”  

I believe it is important for Catholics to be cautious of presenting themselves as a superstitious lot making use of what outsiders call “amulets, spells, and incantations.”  Many understand the difference between all these things and the teachings of our faith that encourage us to use the intercession of angels and saints (like St. Joseph), while others think they know enough about our faith to practice and preach it successfully.  Maybe this second bunch is the more dangerous.  I believe we have all spent too much time in this category, often having just enough knowledge to be dangerous.  And for still others, categories are so blurred they have crossed over into practicing our faith in such a way that onlookers might rightly call us “superstitious” or even “idolaters.”  It is alarming the rate in which New Age books and teachings are making their way into our pews.  Mix that with our Sacred Traditions and we have many Catholics practicing a morphed version of Catholicism.

This is undoubtedly why, in a recent interview with Catholic talk show host Teresa Tomeo, she had encouraged Catholics everywhere to know their faith better, more thoroughly.  As she said, this is not accomplished through conversations with others who have been influenced by the secular world’s presentation of the Catholic faith, but by studying Church letters, reading Scripture along with the Catechism, and participating in studies that rely on approved materials.  These are only the tip of the iceberg in regards to ways that we grow and learn as Catholics because, of course, websites faithful to the teachings of the Magisterium offer a wealth of information as well.  But how many other sites are out there, just waiting to pull us in?

But let’s get back, specifically, to burying that St. Joseph statue.  As a Catholic it is important to understand that we do believe in our ability to ask for intercession.  However, unlike other Christian faiths, we are not limited to those who are with us now, in the flesh and blood, but we also rely on those who have gone before us, the whole of the “Communion of Saints.”  We also have what are called “Patron Saints.”

Catholics need only to look to the Catechism (truly an easy-to-read book absolutely filled with every single thing you need to know about our faith) to understand that the communion of saints is that body of Christ that includes the living and the dead; thus, our ability to ask for intercession knows no earthly bounds. 

Patron Saints are those faithful elect who are in God’s presence and are given to us as heavenly intercessors for a variety of specific needs.  For instance, St. Luke is the Patron Saint of Surgeons while St. Rita is the Patron Saint of Parenthood.  And, as you can probably guess by now, St. Joseph was a carpenter, and although he is the Patron Saint of the Universal Church, he is also seen as a Patron Saint of homes and, for the past few decades or more, home sales.  Sadly, I came across a website offering a “Real Estate Spell Kit” that included: 1 Dressed and Blessed Saint Joseph Candle, 1 Statuette of Saint Joseph, 1 Bottle Saint Joseph Oil, 1 Saint Joseph Chromo Print, and 1 Saint Joseph Holy Card. It was actually called a ‘spell kit!’  I can only hope and pray that no Catholic has purchased it.

Now, what does the Catholic Church specifically teach about such practices as burying a St. Joseph statue to sell a home?  Interestingly, the Church in her wisdom understands her own roots and teachings and has great confidence in her people.  Therefore, she neither agrees nor disagrees with such practices.  Essentially the Church says, although these are my words and not hers, “When you abide by the practices of our faith and never cross into superstition induced behavior, it could make perfect sense to bury a statue because it isn’t the act of burying the statue that you see as having value and benefit but, instead, the intercession of St. Joseph, whom you rightly call upon for help.  These things that move you toward a deeper relationship with God and an understanding of His commands can be good for you.  They can help you grow in your faith.” 

But beware!  The Church counts on us to understand her teachings and move forward in wisdom and knowledge so that all we do reflects what the Church teaches us about our faith.  When we are not grounded in the teachings of our one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church, we are vulnerable and might rightly be called to task for our behavior.

So, with summer close at hand and many people putting their homes up for sale, all I ask is this… Should someone approach you about burying a statue of St. Joseph please don’t tell them it will bring you luck!  We Catholics don’t need the bad press.

Cheryl Dickow

By

Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic wife, mother, author and speaker. Cheryl’s newest book is Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Womenwhich is co-authored with Teresa Tomeo and is published by Servant (a division of Franciscan Media); there is also a companion journal that accompanies the book and an audio version intended for women’s studies or for individual reflection. Cheryl’s titles also include the woman’s inspirational fiction book Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage. Elizabeth is available in paperback or Kindle format. Her company is Bezalel Books where her goal is to publish great Catholic books for families and classrooms that entertain while uplifting the Catholic faith and is located at www.BezalelBooks.com. To invite Cheryl to speak at your event, write her at Cheryl@BezalelBooks.com.

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  • Claire

    Excellent article!

  • digitaldeacon

    Many Catholics need to read this article. I am amazed at how many Catholics I have come across over the years that don’t have a clue that to bury a statue of St. Joseph for “Good Luck” is a sin against the 1st Commandment. It is in the same category as Ouija Boards, palm reading, horoscopes and such. I had a woman call once who I never saw at church asking to have her house blessed. When talking to her she said she had her house up for sale and was having difficulty selling it because it was in an exclusive subdivision and the value of the homes were very expensive. I asked her how long she had lived in the house without having it blessed and why would she want to have it blessed now. She said because she had buried a statue of St. Joseph upside down in the front yard with no success and believed blessing the house would bring her luck in selling it. When I told her that doing these things were superstition and a sin against the 1st Commandment and I didn’t want to be part of it she quickly hung up on me. Obviously, it wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

  • amacperkins

    The article is a necessary read for many Catholics. I myself practiced this in the past, though believing that St. Joseph would intercede, I’m sure I gave the impression that it was luck and not a blessing from God.
    I am sad though to see that catholicexchange has advertisements for the same kits that are exhorted in the article! Let’s consider the message we give to Catholics and visitors.

  • AnnaMarie53

    While I agree with everything in this excellent article, I think we get too excited by little things such as burying a St. Joseph statue. Catholics definitely need to be better catechized in order to explain such things. But who is to blame? I can’t remember hearing anything about reading the new edition of the Catechism from the pulpit. Especially here in Alabama, where I live, it is vital we know what we are doing and why in order to explain it to our friends and relatives who are not Catholic. But, I can tell you, because I am going to be selling my house soon, I will bury a St. Joseph statue, and ask him for prayers.

  • janml

    I agree with this article. And I especially want to agree with amacperkins’ comment regarding the inappropriateness of the advertisements for the St. Joseph kits at the end of the article.

  • mkochan

    These are keyword ads from Google. I am going to block them. It will take several hours for the block to take effect. I trust that our readers who navigate the internet everyday have enough sense to be able to ignore stupid advertisements.

    Also, one of these ads is for a legitimate Catholic company that sells statues and prayer cards of St. Joseph but explicitly warns against superstitious use of them while praising his true role as an intecessor. So that ad will remain.

  • tuus8

    A terrific presentation. Only one quibble: re the quote, “amulets, spells, and incarnations”, I believe this third item should read ‘incantations’.

  • mkochan

    Right you are and the editor takes full responsiblity for letting this slip by. I have also fixed it.

  • jcstab143

    As a Catholic REALTOR, if a client asks about the St. Joseph statue and the “luck” that it brings, I make it a point to educate them about it not being luck, but a blessing.

    St. Joseph was the head of the Holy Family on earth. His responsibility was to provide for Jesus and Mary, and that included housing. We call him the patron saint of home sales, for the very reason that he himself sacraficed as needed to provide for his bride and savior.

    I advise all my clients to use the St. Joseph statue, but never buried, but in a place of prominence in the home, watching over the home and family, as he did for the Holiest families of all.

    Go St. Joe!
    Watch over us.

  • Cooky642

    I can’t tell you how overjoyed I am to see this article! Thank you, Cheryl, for writing it; and thank you, Mary, for printing it! This is a battle I have been fighting with Catholic friends! for years! I have a ready-made response for all those emails going around about send-this-to-10-people-in-the-next-5-minutes-and-you’ll-have-good-luck-tomorrow! I not only refuse to fwd them, but I write back explaining that, as a Catholic Christian, I don’t want or need “luck” because I have a loving Father Who has promised to meet all my needs and loves me passionately. Unfortunately, with my response only going to one person at a time, it’s slow going. But, I have no intention of giving up: I’ve read “the end of the Book”…..and WE WIN!

  • SolaGratia

    Let’s not throw out the blessing with the bath water, for St. Joseph’s sake!

    I have been removing St. Jude novena papers from our parish reading rack for many years. The St. Jude novena is a good & worthwhile prayer that should be encouraged & propagated. Unfortunately, that little tagline about passing it on, publishing it, etc. so that you are guaranteed to get your prayer answered from the holy vending machine is what ruins it.

    The tradition of burying the St. Joseph statue, from the little bit that I have researched, grew from St. Teresa of Avila burying medals of St. Joseph on property that she was praying to acquire for her convents – he never failed her. BUT not because she buried his medals in the ground – rather that act was part of her faith in his intercession AND her spiritual relationship with him.

    Why should we give up any of our beautiful prayers & traditions (like All Halloweds’ Eve aka Halloween) just because of ignorance? Better to educate and inform, isn’t it? Otherwise, we will end up having to give up our scapulars & other sacramentals & prayers like the Rosary because those are sometimes used superstitiously and scandalize other Christians who don’t understand them either.

    Unless the St. Joseph kit ads being promoted are actually guilty of encouraging the superstition, I don’t understand then why they should be blocked?

  • Flopos

    As a European Catholic I was completely ignorant of such a practice, which seems to be a purely American “tradition” (I might be wrong, though). It would be interesting to study whether such a weird practice does not come from some ancestral pagan cults.

    Actually, it seems to me not enough to ban the word “luck” and to use the word “blessing” instead, which sounds less superstitious without solving the problem. I agree with what you write about the communion of Saints. However, what’s the link with “BURYING” a “STATUE”? That it has something to do with superstition or casting a spell is really the most sensible understanding.

    Isn’t it obvious that statues of Saints are not made to be buried, but to be honoured, not for themselves but as concrete signs of who they represent? To help people’s prayer. True, there are a lot of cases in Church history where statues have been buried, but generally speaking it was not for any special “blessing” but to protect them from destruction, in the hope that later it will be possible to put them again where they belong: in a dignified place where prayer is welcome.

    So where does the burying thing come from?

    PS My words are probably not precise enough (English is not my native language), however I guess you get what I mean.

  • CherylDickow

    SolaGratia,

    The point of the article is NOT to throw out the blessing with the bath water for the sake of the statue but, rather, to understand what we do as Catholics has to do with our belief in intercession of saints and not luck.

    In fact, as I point out towards the end of the article, using my own inadequate words speaking for our beloved Church, I say, “When you abide by the practices of our faith and never cross into superstition induced behavior, it could make perfect sense to bury a statue because it isn’t the act of burying the statue that you see as having value and benefit but, instead, the intercession of St. Joseph, whom you rightly call upon for help. These things that move you towards a deeper relationship with God and an understanding of His commands can be good for you. They can help you grow in your faith.”

    I hope that clarifies my pleas that we continue to grow in our knowledge of the rich traditions of our faith and not get caught up in new-age thinking, thus, a St. Joseph Home Sale Kit that actually uses the word “spell” is something to avoid where one that encourages our relationship with the communion of saints would be perfectly suitable for a Catholic to purchase and use.

    Peace and grace,
    Cheryl

  • mkochan

    I’m not sure about the burying idea. I heard a priest speak against this as being a disrespectful way to treat a statue of saint. In the same talk, he equated it with people who will turn a picture of saint to the wall or lay it on its face as a way of letting a saint know they are disappointed with how long they are waiting for an answer to a petition. (At the same time, there is something really human about this “I’m not speaking to you or looking at you until you come through for me” thing that speaks pretty eloquently to a sense of the communion of saints!)

    Also, I am familiar with the practice of burying blessed items that are worn, or burying medals as a kind of prayer. A couple of weeks after my daughter died in a car accident, I took some medals and scapulars that we were saving for burial and buried them as close to the spot where she had died as I could. I also sprinkled the spot with holy water, since I could still see the police chalk line outlining where her car had been. That was an act of prayer, not superstition.

    The same is true for what she and her sister did while they were young girls who had to spend the weekends with their father, a Jehovah’s Witness. They took some miraculous medals and buried (hid) them around the property and building of the Kingdom Hall where he would take the girls. Again this was accompanied by prayer and by belief in the sacramental reality that grace is ministered into the world by the Church and through material objects.

    I went round a bit with Cheryl on this subject — about whether burying the statues was wrong in itself or only wrong if viewed as “good luck”, and in the end I let the article stand as she wrote it. Both Cheryl and I, as I am sure is true of all of you, are open to being corrected on these matters and having our understanding refined. That’s the purpose of having a “Catholic exchange” with you on the matter. And it is certainly my privilege as an editor to bring you the work of fine, conscientious authors like Cheryl to prompt these discussions.

  • SolaGratia

    Mary,
    I appreciate your clarification & your candor. Your daughters’ efforts remind me of the Green Scapular practice of hiding one in the living quarters (frequently the pillow or bed) of someone for whom you are praying to be converted. That’s another tradition that would raise more than a few eyebrows in certain circles!

    Cheryl,
    I’m sorry – I was rather generally responding to the comments following your article. I did not actually see the google ads for the kits which is why I was wondering if they were being blocked because of what they were or because of how they were being promoted? I did not intend to make it sound as if you were suggesting that such traditions should be abandoned or that the ads be blocked. I believe I am in agreement with your article which seems to suggest both caution & education of self as well as others rather than necessarily abandoning the practice.

    Flopos,
    Your English is excellent – nothing to apologize for! In addition to the history about St. Teresa burying the medals of St. Joseph, there is this about Blessed Andre Bessette – a simple, holy Canadian man with an incredible devotion to St. Joseph [http://saints.sqpn.com/sainta65.htm]: “For many years the Holy Cross authorities had tried to buy land on Mount Royal. Brother Andre and others climbed the steep hill and planted medals of Saint Joseph on it, and soon after, the owners yielded, which incident helped the current devotion to Saint Joseph by those looking to buy or sell a home. Andre collected money to build a small chapel and received visitors there, listening to their problems, praying, rubbing them with Saint Joseph’s oil, and curing many. The chapel is still in use.”
    ——————————————————————————————————————————————

    Burying a statue of St. Joseph is not necessarily disrespectful – after all, we are told to bury holy articles rather than throwing them in the trash so the act cannot in itself be disrespectful. It must be the intention that is the determinant. BTW, it should also be mentioned that if you do sell your house, you are supposed to dig St. Joseph back up and put him in a “place of honor” in your new home.

    One website mentions a quote from Fr Bryan Houghton, that the problem with our times is not superstition – believing beyond what is of faith – but infrastition – believing too little. I’m sure we can all agree that such is the greater problem in our world today. I trust that those holy souls who began, or at least contributed to, actions whose meaning has since been lost, were acting with true devotion rather than superstition.

    Believing that the act of burying a particular statue in a particular way will sell your house is certainly superstition, however, stepping out *in faith* that doing something you don’t understand but trust will help you because you trust the source is not much different from Naaman humbly submitting to his seven baths that made no sense to him, is it? I believe that is the virtue of Hope in action.

    Here is our St. Joseph the Realtor testimony – it’s a little different:
    When we put our house on the market 8yrs ago, we immediately began praying for the intercession of St. Joseph. I bought a statue, but did not bury it because at the time I did not understand the practice & was concerned about being superstitious. So instead I put it on a display shelf in the house as a reminder to pray to him frequently in addition to our ongoing novena. I was confident even back then that St. Joseph would honor the intentions of our heart.

    The housing market was good at the time & our house was complimented by many realtors on its “looks like a model” condition. Everyone said it should sell right away – definitely in less than 2 mos. Four months later we still hadn’t sold & were about to close on our new house – we needed that money for the downpayment and were told that we would have to take out a 2nd loan to cover the possibility that the money would not be there when we needed it. I was working very hard to trust & not get upset – we kept praying faithfully.

    Then we had 2 families give us an offer at the same time. Because this is already long, I won’t go into details, but we actually decided to go with the family that was only just able to meet our reduced price – even though we could have had the other couple pay more and get more money from the sale. Everything was working out fairly well, but then their loan officer started getting squirrelly about the loan arrangements. We were praying even harder – we had a week to go till we closed on our new house.

    We still don’t know what the game was with their bank, but the lady involved sabotaged the closing of the sale so that it took place two days AFTER we closed on our new house rather than the day before as had been planned. We were forced to take the 2nd loan to put up as a downpayment.

    We calculated what we would have paid for temporary housing & storage of our things till the new house was finished & realized that we actually came close to breaking even. We did lose a little on the sale, but paid off that 2nd loan within 1 wk so we did not pay any interest – all in all, it did not significantly hurt our finances & we were blessed later in a way that more than recouped our losses. BUT, our realtor told me later that the couple who bought our old house were overjoyed – they had been praying for a nice house because they couldn’t afford that much & God had answered their prayers more generously than they had hoped.

    I won’t know this side of heaven why everything happened as it did, but God very kindly – and generously – let us know that we helped Him answer someone else’s prayers by trusting in the intercession of St. Joseph and following his spiritual guidance in the matter (having to do with the rather complicated reason we chose to accept that couple’s offer to buy rather than the one that would get us more money).

    So St. Joseph took care of us – not in the way that we had hoped, but certainly in the way that we needed!

  • Cooky642

    I have to agree with the poster who mentioned turning the rosary into a superstition. There’s plenty of that, to be sure (along with the St. Jude prayer). While I think that anything that draws our attention to “luck” and “wishing”, and away from a firm trust in the God Who Loves us has to be criticized, I agree that we can’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. We have a plethora of beautiful traditions that LOOK like superstition to “out-siders”. I think the recognition of this problem should be a wake-up call to ALL of us to learn the reason behind what we do in order to be able to explain it—hopefully in more respectful terms that “luck”!

  • SolaGratia

    mkochan,
    I posted a reply earlier today & nothing came up. When I tried to post again, I got a screen saying that I had already posted it. Any idea why my response didn’t get posted?
    Thanks!

  • http://roaming-catholic.blogspot.com Roaming Catholic

    Thanks for the article. As an evangelical looking into the Catholic Church, I’ve been puzzled by Catholics who not only don’t know their faith, but who also follow practices like this and only have a superstitious understanding of what they’re doing. Often they don’t go to Mass regularly, but then still encourage non-Catholics (and sometimes non-believers) to bury St. Joseph statues or other things that I know can’t be in alignment with what the Church encourages the faithful to do. I’ve found it frustrating that I as an evangelical know more about Catholic teaching than many Catholics I encounter, and that at points I’m having to tell them what their own Church teaches me. I think more articles like this need to be out there and somehow the Church needs to do a better job at teaching its own people correct doctrine and practice.

  • qhrpfu

    I agree with all the great comments about important distinctions of faith made by all the posters, and I agree with the article as written. We could take the discussion deeper into various areas of benefit to our protestant brethren, such as intercessory prayer and the power of the saints, or sacramentals. I have many times over the years discussed with people this practice and others when the use is superstitious. I had a repugnance and an aversion to it. Nonetheless, I offer my testimony to St Joseph for your consideration. I have grown to love him, because he is so faithful.
    I must report my own experience with St Joseph in selling our first home. I certainly did not and do not believe in a superstitious approach to our Faith, but we were trying to sell our home back in 1993, in a bad market, as I recall, and had been praying to St Joseph all winter, spring and summer with no bites. I was getting a little perturbed with St Joseph and finally were desperate, and I went to my local St Jude Shop and bought a small St Joseph statue, said a prayer and buried the statue right in front of the house one evening. My wife thought I was silly or an idiot, and I did too, but I told St Joseph that we needed this now, and if doing this was an act of humility, making me feel silly, then it was ok with me, but we would continue praying. But I also had faith in the power of sacramentals, and if he required this somehow then I didn’t want to be too proud to ask. And I told him that of course if it didn’t sell soon I wouldn’t hold it against him. Of course, I attribute the results to my wife’s prayers, because God always answers her prayers and takes care of her in spite of me, and she was and has been very faithful to St Joseph.
    Within a week, we had a buyer. Later, I asked the couple after the sale was complete what made them buy our house. They were getting married, and were just driving around looking at houses, happened to turn down our street on their way somewhere else and as they passed by our house, a twin hidden by trees, they said both their heads turned and said, why not that house? We moved to another city from there, and when I called our real estate agent for a final thank you, because we had had some differences in how to do things throughout the sale, like fixing things up on the house myself instead of giving unlimited credits to the buyers, she said to me, do you know how many houses sold in Lansdowne this past summer? Yours is the only one. Really? I said. Think of that. But luck had nothing to do with it. And no one was more surprised and delighted than I.

  • http://arkanabar.blogspot.com Arkanabar Ilarsadin

    SolaGratia:

    there is a problem with merely removing those St. Jude novenas with the “Publish and your prayers are GUARANTEED to be answered!” It makes whoever fills that rack think they’re highly desired.

    You also must discuss your concerns with your pastor and whoever you know that participates in the administration of your parish. Encourage them to find different tracts with those St. Jude novenas, but without the language about how you have to publish it to get answers to your prayers.

  • MaryRose

    Unfortunately, the Catholic Church is not united enough. Your comments against St. Joseph’s prayers seem very biased.

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