Friday, October 28, 2022

The Patronages of Saint Jude

Georges de La Tour, "Saint Jude Thaddée," 1620

Saint Jude, who shares a feast today with Saint Simon the Zealot on October 28, is also called “Thaddeus” (the Brave One) in the New Testament. Jude was one of the original twelve Apostles and probably the brother of St. James the Less. It is also speculated that he was the nephew of St. Joseph and hence the legal cousin of Our Lord, one of those blessed few who were considered the “brethren” of Jesus (Matthew 13:55).

Jude is also the author of the fifth-shortest book in the Bible and one of the seven “Catholic Epistles,” so called because they address a general audience and not a specific person or congregation (like St. Paul’s letters). In his 461-word Epistle, Jude warns the faithful about false teachers who have infiltrated the Church and are spreading a loose morality that disregards the authority of apostolic tradition. This brief admonition is strongly worded and pulls no punches: it calls these false teachers “sensual men” and “grumbling murmurers” who are “clouds without water which are carried about by winds; trees of the autumn, unfruitful, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; [and] raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own confusion” (Jude 12).
Jude also mentions in his Epistle the curious detail that St. Michael the Archangel and the Devil fought over the remains of Moses and that rather than risk blasphemy, Michael said to Satan, “May the Lord rebuke thee” (Jude 9). Some speculate that the Devil had wanted Moses’ body to be given a grand monument to tempt the Hebrews into idolatry, but Michael hid it instead.
Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard, "Michael and Satan Disputing about the Body of Moses," ca. 1782
Little is known of what happened to Saint Jude after the first Pentecost. He is believed to have preached the Gospel first in Mesopotamia and then in Persia, where he teamed up with Saint Simon and “begot numerous children to Jesus Christ and spread the faith among the barbarous inhabitants of that vast region” before suffering martyrdom. According to an Armenian tradition, however, Saints Jude and Bartholomew introduced the faith to that nation; the ancient Monastery of Saint Thaddeus in northern Iran was once a part of Greater Armenia.
Understandably, Jude is a patron of Armenia, but he is most famous for being the patron saint of desperate or hopeless causes, possibly because his name was so similar to that of the traitor Judas Iscariot that people would not pray to the “forgotten apostle” unless all else had failed! The patronage itself is relatively recent, dating back to 1929 when a Father James Tort encouraged the devotion among his parishioners in southeast Chicago, most of whom were laid-off steelworkers. The devotion grew rapidly; on the final night of a solemn novena held on St. Jude’s feast, there was an overflow crowd outside the church. The next day, the stock market crashed, and soon more Americans were turning to St. Jude during the Great Depression and World War II.
Father Tort also organized the Police Branch of the League of St. Jude in 1932; to this day, Jude is the official patron of the Chicago Police Department. And because, it is conjectured, many a person feels desperate or hopeless when hospitalized, Jude is also the patron of hospital workers and the hospitalized. Either that, or because of another client of St. Jude, to whom we now turn.
Danny Thomas, 1957
Amos Muzyad Yaqoob Kairouz was a faithful Maronite Catholic, who is better known as the actor and entertainer Danny Thomas. Thomas was down on his luck when he remembered how a stagehand had praised St. Jude for miraculously curing his wife of cancer. A devout Catholic who went to Sunday 6:00 a.m. Mass on his way home from performing all night in a New York club on Saturday night, Thomas prayed to St. Jude and promised him that he would do “something big” if St. Jude helped him out. Jude kept his end of the bargain, and so did Thomas, founding the world-famous St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee in 1962. It was the first fully integrated hospital in the American South, and it has gone on to transform the treatment of child cancer around the world. Thanks in large part to the physicians and scientists of St. Jude, the overall survival rates for childhood cancers have gone from 20% when the hospital opened to 80% today. “Help me find my way in life,” Danny Thomas had prayed to St. Jude, “and I will build you a shrine.” Thanks to Thomas’ gratitude and the patronage of the forgotten Apostle, some hopeless causes are looking less hopeless.

An earlier version of this article appeared as “Who is St. Jude?” in the Messenger of St. Anthony 122:10, international edition (October 2020), p. 37. Many thanks to its editors for allowing its inclusion here.

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