St. Joseph and the albatross
I kid you not. I could justify my actions by emphasizing that it was my wife’s idea to buy a the little statue of St. Joseph and stick it, head first, into the front yard of a house we had been trying in vain to sell for many months. The house, which Mary bought before I came into her life and convinced her that Atlanta was no place for someone who knows how to appreciate that life, had become an albatross around our collective necks. We recently purchased her family’s home here in Saluda, and found it near impossible to afford two mortgages.
We had lowered our asking price to as low we thought we could go, had a couple of rooms painted, cleaned up the yard and replaced some of the roof, yet as of last Friday, had attracted not a single interested buyer. It’s a charming little bungalow in a great location, but no offers.
So on Saturday we headed down to the big city to perform a little more yard work and clean out the fridge (again). Along the way we stopped at the Notre Dame Book Store in Doraville, Ga., and picked up an honest-to-god “St. Joseph the Worker Home Sales Kit that consisted of the aforementioned icon and an nth-generation photocopy of an accompanying prayer. Total cost, including tax: $8.03.
Did you know that burying St. Joseph upside down in the yard of a property you’re trying to sell will attract buyers? I did not. But then, not having been raised in the confines of the Catholic Church, what I don’t know about such things could fill an entire cable television channel’s schedule.
Within three hours of replacing the disturbed soil above little Joe, our real estate agent called to inform us that an offer had been made. It wasn’t our asking price, naturally, but still, an offer. By noon of the following day, a contract had been signed for a compromise figure that was still lower than we had planned to accept, but still, a contract. Woo-hoo! (Treasure that exclamation mark; I use them, as rarely as I do semi-colons.)
Now, Mary was diplomatic enough not to sing a round of loud praises to St. Joseph in my presence, despite the enormous relief that the contract brought to our lives after so long without so much as a nibble.
For my part, I made a point of not dismissing the coincidence as just that, or trying to explain the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo procter hoc (after the fact, therefore because of the fact) at a celebratory lunch with her family, or getting into the notion that St. Joseph’s effect on the pending sale cannot be proved or disproved, and therefore isn’t worth even a passing thought. And we both know that the buyer saw the property hours before we buried the blessed little guy. (Although I suppose that saints should have no trouble effecting their influence retroactively, not being bound as we are by the unidirectional nature of the cause-and-effect thing.)
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is exactly the sort of thing that explains why so many people put their faith in the power of prayer. Not because it works most of the time – it doesn’t, as studies have shown – but because every now and then, just as probability dictates, success will follow right on the heels of prayer. And the exception that actually proves the rule of non-association is far more powerful that the rule itself.
I am not sure there is any way to shed our culture of such beliefs. Their emotional (spiritual?) impact is clearly transcendent. In the case of our own dalliance with the holy influence of St. Joseph, the worst I can say is it was harmless. I’m not trying to make a point here. I still think there are better ways to spend eight dollars. On the other hand, I can’t prove that St. Joseph didn’t have something to do with the freeing of the albatross.
So I’m not going to bother. I will draw the line, however, at digging him up and installing him in a place of honor in our new home.