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.
Sadly 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.