The Holy Apostles: St. Jude

St-Jude-9Today’s saint is the feast-day buddy of St. Simon from last week.  He’s called “Jude” in the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles, but “Thaddeus” in Matthew and Mark.  Thus, lots of people in the Church simply refer to him as “Jude Thaddeus” to cover all their bases.  He was probably actually “Judas”, but that was shortened in order to avoid confusion with another Judas who you might have heard of.  Tradition holds that he was the son of Mary and Clopas, and so was the cousin of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Other than his name, there is no direct reference to him anywhere in the Gospels.

We pick up St. Jude’s story after the Resurrection…or we would, if there were any reliable texts.  Tradition holds that St. Jude went to Judea, Samaria, Syria, and Mesopotamia.  Supposedly, he and St. Bartholomew were the first to bring Christianity to Armenia on their missionary journeys, and so are venerated as patron saints of the Armenian Church to this day.  In fact, there is a monastery in northern Iran (formerly part of Armenia) where a church was present even as early as 68 AD!

St. Jude and his partner St. Simon are spoken of in the famous story, the Golden Legend.  The legend speaks of the apostles’ martyrdom by a group of enchanters/magicians who belonged to the court of King Abgarus of Edessa (in Armenia).  St. Jude had been preaching to the king, and after his conversion, the magicians had been sent away, so in their anger and jealousy, they attacked and killed the two apostles.  In iconography, St. Jude is sometimes depicted holding an axe to symbolize the way he was martyred.  Today, his relics rest in St. Peter’s Basilica alongside his partner, St. Simon.

St. Jude has become one of the most popular Catholic devotions, even in our own parish.  He is usually pictured with a small flame atop his head, symbolizing the presence of the Holy Spirit, and wearing a pendant of the face of Christ, representing his missionary work of holding Christ in his heart and bearing him to others.

Somehow, the tradition developed of him being the patron saint of hopeless causes, although to be honest, I’m not sure why.  There have certainly been numerous powerful miracles through his intercession, even from the early days of the Church.  One example was the life of famous 40’s and 50’s comedian Danny Thomas.  Early on in his career, he was very near starvation, but was so moved by a homily on Sunday that he gave away all he had in the collection basket – except he didn’t realize it!  When he discovered that he had nothing left, he prayed that St. Jude would protect him and help him be successful, and sure enough, it happened!  Danny Thomas became extremely successful and pledged to build a hospital in St. Jude’s honor, which now stands in Memphis, Tennessee.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that even when things fall apart around us, when we have a strong faith, nothing is impossible for God.  St. Jude surely learned that in his time following Jesus, and he lived it out in his preaching and ultimately sacrifice.  Let’s pray that we would have hope, and that through St. Jude’s intercession, God would accomplish the impossible through us!

The Holy Apostles: St. Simon

morattiSimonWell, with nine of the original twelve apostles down, that brings us to St. Simon the Zealot.  St. Simon is referred to as the “zealot” to distinguish him from Simon Peter, but really, there’s not a whole lot known about him from the Gospels.  A lot is extrapolated from that little nickname!

Some Church Fathers identified St. Simon as being from Cana in Galilee, although many modern scholars seem to think a mistake in translation led such Fathers as St. Jerome to make this assumption.  Some Easter Christians hold the tradition that St. Simon was the bridegroom at the wedding feast in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine, and that he was so moved by the miracle and so “zealous”, that he left his new bride to follow Christ.  Sounds like the beginning of a great romantic comedy!

Other traditions hold that the title “zealot” indicates that he was a devout and zealous follower of the Jewish Law before he met Jesus.  Still other traditions take that a step further and suggest that his devotion to the Law actually drove him to be a member of the Jewish revolutionary group known as the Zealots.

The Zealots tried to stir up the people of the Roman province of Judea to rebel against the Empire by force of arms.  We might consider them to be the spiritual successors to the Maccabees, who did the same thing against the Greeks 160 years before.  Their belief was that only God was the king of Israel, and the Law of Moses was their only law, and so the Roman occupiers were not only politically harmful, they were also spiritually desecrating Israel by their rule.  This all came to a head in the Great Jewish Revolt from 66 to 70 AD, which ultimately resulted in the Temple being destroyed by the Romans.  If St. Simon was part of this group, it is assumed that he gave this part of his life up when he began following Jesus.

After the Resurrection, St. Simon’s life is just as foggy.  Most traditions hold that he did his missionary work with St. Jude Thaddeus (who we will discuss next week).  Unfortunately for historians, pretty much every region of the world claims St. Simon preached to them (zealot indeed!), although the most likely destinations are Egypt, North Africa, Persia and Lebanon.  One of the more popular Church traditions is that he was named Bishop of Jerusalem for a time, and was martyred doing missionary work in that region.  Often times, he is depicted in art holding a saw, which supposedly was the instrument of his martyrdom!  Intense!  Today, his relics are believed to be entombed alongside St. Jude’s in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Maybe the most important quality that we can take away from what little we know of St. Simon’s life is what he is known for – his zeal.  Generally speaking, zeal is a great enthusiasm or energy which drives one toward a cause or goal.  In the case of St. Simon and many of the saints, his zeal was a zeal for souls, spreading the Gospel to all the nations, just as the Lord had commissioned him.  It’s so easy to put other needs and concerns ahead of our faith, but the example of St. Simon and the saints is that all of the affairs of our lives ultimately continue to direct us toward our most important goal – Heaven.  Let us pray through the intercession of St. Simon that we might have his zeal in every aspect of our lives!