Our Realtor Who Art In Heaven

February 19, 2014 | 9 comments

A friend of mine who is a Jewish convert to Catholicism was startled a few years ago to find a statue of St. Joseph in the curio cabinet of Jewish relatives and asked about it. They shrugged and said that when they were in the process of buying their new home that their real estate agent had given them a St. Joseph home-selling kit. The instructions they were given included displaying a statue of St. Joseph in the newly purchased home once St. Joseph's "mission" was complete, so they did.

No one really knows why or how St. Joseph became the patron saint of real estate sales. The urban legend investigator, Snopes.com, offers some theories. The practice is widespread enough that we here at Catholic Answers get questions all the time from inquirers wondering if it is okay to bury a statue of St. Joseph in their yard in hopes of buying or selling a house. One inquirer was particularly incensed at a practice she considered disrespectful to St. Joseph:

Every Catholic bookstore I visit has St. Joseph kits to help sell a house. It contains a St. Joseph statue with the instructions to bury the statue of St. Joseph upside-down in the backyard but it also says the person using it can choose where and how to use the kit. This to me is the seller's way of diverting any "bad" feelings any desperate homeowner may feel during this offensive practice.

How in the world can St. Joseph, the father of our Lord, head of the household in the Holy Family, be treated with such blasphemy? I tell the owners of the Catholic bookstores that this action is wrong and they ignore me. Can you try to justify this disrespect? Why is this allowed in places where we search for knowledge, hope, and instruction? I now prefer to visit any Christian bookstore over our Catholic bookstores. They are to me sacrilegious pits!

I sympathized with her outrage, but perhaps she was being overly harsh toward Catholic bookstores, a harshness that evidently had her preferring Protestant bookstores where the materials sold are even less compatible with the Catholic faith.

Catholic spirituality is incarnational, meaning that it encompasses both body and soul. Catholics don't just pray with their minds, they pray with their bodies, as can be seen at Mass with the various bodily postures we assume during the liturgy (e.g., standing, sitting, kneeling). Likewise our private devotions can be incarnational. If a Catholic chooses to bury a statue of St. Joseph as a form of physical prayer to the saint for his intercession in selling a house, there is nothing wrong with that. It is not blasphemous or sacrilegious, but an authentic form of Catholic folk piety. St. Andre Bessette, as but one example, once buried a medal of St. Joseph on the site where he hoped to one day build an oratory in St. Joseph's honor, a prayer that was answered.

That said, such a practice can shade off into superstition. If the person burying the statue thinks that the very action of burying the statue (or burying the statue in a certain position) will guarantee a positive result, that is not an authentic expression of trust in God and St. Joseph's intercession, but is instead superstitious:

Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It 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 (CCC 2111).

It should go without saying that it is all the more superstitious for a non-Christian to take up the practice of burying a statue of St. Joseph simply because there is an assurance that the act will "work." It cannot be called a form of Christian prayer for someone who is not a Christian to engage in the external act alone absent any kind of Christian faith. Of course, culpability for superstition can be mitigated by a lack of knowledge and a willingness to treat a Christian devotional item respectfully (as was the case with my friend's relatives), but it is still a more clear-cut case of superstition when a non-Christian buries a statue of St. Joseph in hopes of gaining a house.

I think that some manufacturers of these kits do encourage a superstitious use of the statue. This is a fair point to make to Catholic bookstore owners. But perhaps a gentle, positive attitude and constructive suggestions for change (e.g., stocking inexpensive St. Joseph statues that can be used for a multitude of devotional purposes instead of prefabricated kits that "guarantee" results) would be more likely to influence change than the dismissal of a Catholic bookstore as a "sacrilegious pit." Even when the offensive words are not used, a contemptuous attitude can color a presentation of concerns and undermine the possibility of success.

St. Joseph is not the only saint whose image is treated in this fashion. I have heard claims from some Catholics that the way to find lost items is to take a statue of St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost items, and put him in the freezer until your lost item is found. Then, once you have regained your lost item, you are supposed to give a donation to the poor (of whom St. Anthony is also a patron). Presumably, St. Anthony will be so desirous to be released from deep freeze and for money for his peeps that he will quickly return to you whatever it is that you lost. And, it is supposed, more quickly than he otherwise would had he not been frozen and bribed.

Awhile back, some readers responded to a blog post I wrote on why I pray to Bl. Teresa of Calcutta for parking spaces with instructions that I should instead pray to St. Frances Cabrini—not with my own words, but with the formula "Mother Cabrini, Mother Cabrini, please find a spot for my little machine-y." Given that the blog post included a caution that "we should never forget that the saints are not heavenly bellhops who respond to summons," it was ironic that I was advised to summon Mother Cabrini with a rather sophomoric bit of doggerel.

Why do people do things like this?

I think part of it is a desire to find a surefire way to get what we want. I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten questions from people frantic because they are afraid they have prayed a novena "wrong." Or they want to know why the Blessed Virgin has not delivered on her promise not to leave unaided those who pray the Memorare.

Of course, the wording of the Memorare is not intended to oblige the Blessed Mother or God to answer prayers in exactly the manner specified by the supplicant—anymore than it is St. Joseph's obligation to be a real estate agent, or St. Anthony's obligation to find lost items, or St. Frances's obligation to find parking spaces. Prayer of any kind is supposed to be a statement of utter trust, said with the knowledge and faith that God, the Blessed Mother, and the saints will always answer the prayers of the faithful, even if the answer given is not the one for which the supplicant hoped. St. Therese of Lisieux said this about prayer:

For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.

Sometimes we don't get the exact answer to prayer that we hoped for. In such cases, it is possible that the saints did help in a particular trial, even though we may not have recognized their assistance. Perhaps the saints obtained the grace to carry a burden with courage and patience. Perhaps they even obtained the grace for someone to delve more deeply into the Catholic faith and find out how to pray in a more devoted manner. By all means, we should continue to pray to the saints for specific intentions. But we should also remember Jesus' own example of prayerful supplication for the relief of trials:

Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done (Luke 22:42).


Michelle Arnold is a staff apologist at Catholic Answers. You can visit her personal blog or contact her online through Facebook.
An Introduction To The Devout Life
As no sensible person would make a long road trip without first consulting a map, so the person intent upon gaining Heaven should first resort to a competent guide to reach that Goal of all goals. And no better guide to Heaven exists than An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), Doctor of the Church. It is at once easy to read, being laid out in short chapters, yet thorough, authoritative, reliable, kind and gentle a mirror of its author. It is a book, moreover, for all, because all are called to the devout life. True devotion to God, the author points out, adorns every vocation. The devout life, moreover, is a lovely, a pleasant, and a happy life.

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  jack hughes - bristol, Bristol City of

The Problem Ms Arnold is that SO MANY purported private Revelations such as St Faustina's alleged revelation of the Divine Mercy, the Nine First Friday's of the Sacred Heart or Five First Saturday's of Fatima PROMISE that if one prays in a certain way then the prayer will be answered in the matter one desires or that a certain even will happen. Now logically there are only certain possible responses (taking into account that one cannot ask for logically impossible things, things that are inherently bad).

a) God Lied (which St Thomas says is logically impossible)
b) The Saint/s in question lied
c) The Saint in question was hallucinating and should be disregarded as a source of useful information.
d) we didn't do it in EXACTLY the right way (funnily enough this is never specified)

Now I speak as someone who in Good Faith begged promptly at Three O Clock for a particular intention for months, when the people who were in charge of the decision changed their yes to no, it not only shook my trust in the Church Hierarchy but also my Faith in the power of Prayer.

I didn't treat God as a cosmic bellhop, but after reading several articles on 'unanswered prayer' I basically came to the conclusion that 'Ask and it shall be given to you' is not a promise I can trust. Heck the 'obstacles' to having one's prayer answered in the affirmative seem not be something that one can measure; at least at Cruft's (a British dog show) the competitors on the obstacle course can at least SEE what they are up again. It is standard practice these days for collage professors to give student's feedback on the coursework papers when they release the grades.

February 19, 2014 at 12:48 pm PST
#2  Michelle Arnold - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Jack, I'm afraid that what you've just described is the very thing I warned against. Whenever someone thinks that the external action of saying a prayer "guarantees" a result, or that God or the saints are "obliged" to respond in the exact manner specified by the supplicant, that is superstition.

For example, "begg[ing] promptly at Three O Clock for a particular intention for months" indicates that you believe that just because you prayed at three o'clock that God had to give you whatever you were asking for. There seems to have been more dependence on three o'clock than there was a willingness to accept whatever answer God gave (or did not give) to the prayer. That is why I ended this blog post by reminding readers of Jesus' prayer: "Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42).

February 19, 2014 at 2:37 pm PST
#3  jack hughes - bristol, Bristol City of

Well Ms Arnold did not St Faustine write that Jesus had told her "This is the hour of great mercy… In this hour, I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me in virtue of My Passion.” (diary 1320)?

Now again (given that God cannot lie, we cannot ask for logically impossible things or anything which is inherently bad) which of the three remaining options applies? St Faustinia never said that there was a specific way to make a request in virtue of the passion so I can't be blamed for not performing the ritual correctly, it only seems that either she was lying or hallucinating.

February 19, 2014 at 2:53 pm PST
#4  Michelle Arnold - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Jack, such promises need to be read without presumption. As the Catechism states:

"There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God's almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit)" (CCC 2092).

In short, presumption in prayer entails the idea that your wish is God's command. There must be an openness to being told no, to continuing in darkness without consolation because one hopes for the light, and to accepting that God's will and one's own will may not be the same. Anything less than that is superstition, and superstition negatively "affect[s] 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)" (CCC 2111).

February 19, 2014 at 3:38 pm PST
#5  Addie Thibodeaux - Eunice, Louisiana

Jack,

All prayers are answered. Some of them are "no" but for good reasons we can't see ourselves. It's good to remember that God can see what is best for our salvation. We may desire something totally innocent and good, but we may not see that it may not be the best thing for us personally. It may be good, but God has a much greater plan for our salvation in mind.

But here you quoted it yourself! "In this hour, I will refuse nothing to the SOUL that makes a request of Me IN VIRTUE of MY PASSION."

This sentence is chock full of the gospel. Christ said all this already. Whatever we ask for our SOULS (which would be graces) will never be denied. The answer for graces to get to heaven will NEVER be "no." What he was saying to Sr. Faustina was that he will be very close to the person at the hour of death. And what we ask for in the virtue of His passion: Why did Christ suffer for us? His Passion was for our salvation! So anything we ask Him that is best for our salvation He will NEVER deny.

Check Matthew 7:9-11
"Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"

So following this logic, God will never give us anything bad for us or anything that will not be our best route to heaven. God doesn't give us just anything that will lead us to heaven, He gives us the very BEST things that will get us to heaven with Him.

So maybe that intention was a really good one, but God saw something that you or no one else could have seen at that moment. He is calling us to trust in these moments when things don't go to our liking. Usually when we do trust Him, He shows us proof of His love so much more than we ever thought! There's always a surprise joy with the Lord.

So if we should desire anything alone, it should be His will, then we will always have an underlying happiness and trust that events took a specific turn only because of the Father's love for us.

Hope this helps!

February 19, 2014 at 4:13 pm PST
#6  jack hughes - bristol, Bristol City of

*****

February 20, 2014 at 1:18 am PST
#7  jack hughes - bristol, Bristol City of

Ms Arnold

I'm just tired of being kicked around by God, by everyone else, I just want to feel some affection, to know that I'm wanted. Everyone I know has their prayers answered but I'm left out in the cold.

February 20, 2014 at 2:20 pm PST
#8  Michelle Arnold - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Jack, you're not the only one who thinks his prayers are not answered:

http://www.catholic.com/blog/michelle-arnold/conversations-with-god

But perhaps it might be more constructive to try to discern other ways in which prayer is answered (see the link).

February 20, 2014 at 5:55 pm PST
#9  Patrick Burke - Akishima,

Jack,

The bit you cite from the Sermon on the Mount--about how God loves us more than an earthly Father and knows how to treat us better--has a bit of a twist. It doesn't say that God will give us whatever we want, Jesus said that He'd give us His Spirit. It's also clear that God will give us what we need--but it's His Spirit that He promises to lavish on us.

Job didn't get what he wanted on His time schedule either. He got better than that but on God's time schedule.

It takes trust to believe that when we pray, God is giving us what He wants us to have and its for our own good and for His glory. Sometimes periods of dryness, etc, are a sign that God thinks a lot of us. Sometimes, though, since He's been carrying us so long we are surprised and feel abandoned when He lets us try to walk on our own. No good human father wants his child to crawl forever. In order to teach a baby to walk, they need to stand on their own feet and fall down sometimes. While that happens, though, the good father is right beside him cheering him on.

I think that you might find "The Principle and Foundation" of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius useful. That really blew me away the first time I read it.

February 21, 2014 at 12:33 am PST

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