The Great Apostle, Part I

Statue of St. Paul St. Peter's Square
Statue of St. Paul
St. Peter’s Square

And we’re back! This week’s saint is St. Paul, known as the Great Apostle. St. Paul wasn’t one of the original apostles, but we might consider him an apostle by adoption, an apostle by grace, or an apostle by influence. We know so much about him because of his epistles. In fact, 14 of the 27 letters in the New Testament are attributed to him. This is incredibly important, because not only does he pass along to us the understanding and teaching of the Church from its first days (which is quite thorough already!), but he tells us much about himself in the process. In fact, we know so much about him that I’m going to have to write this segment in two parts. Also, this will keep these shorter, and might keep the secretary from getting too mad at me…

Paul’s father was a Roman citizen, and of a certain class that his citizenship passed on to Paul as well. He was likely part of a devoutly Jewish merchant family, as Tarsus (where he was from) was one of the largest trade centers in the Mediterranean. Originally, his name was Saul, possibly after the original King Saul, who like him, was of the Jewish tribe of Benjamin.

St. Paul spent much of his childhood selling tents, which later came in handy to fund his missionary journeys. I mean, people in the ancient world loved tents! He was very educated, and steeped in the Jewish faith as a member of the Pharisee class. He studied under Gamaliel, one of the most famous rabbis in history, but he also learned Greek and studied the Greek philosophers as well, which his writings clearly reference. He was so zealous as a Pharisee that he persecuted the early Christian community, and was even present at the death of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen.

"The Conversion of Saint Paul" by Luca Giordano
“The Conversion of Saint Paul” by Luca Giordano

Of course, his conversion on the road to Damascus is well documented, so much so that it has it’s own feast day in the Church calendar. Along the way, St. Paul was blinded, knocked off his horse, and heard a voice crying out, “Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” It was indeed Jesus, who felt the persecution of his Church as his own. Christ told Paul to go to Damascus and meet Ananias, another Christian, who would teach him the ways of the faith, almost like a primordial RCIA program. Good thing our RCIA team doesn’t have to heal blindness too often, eh?

The dramatic conversion of St. Paul calls us to our own continued conversion as well. It shows us that anyone, even someone like Paul who threatened and persecuted and killed the early followers of Jesus, could be saved by God’s grace. Even when we might think that we are too sinful and shameful to receive God’s forgiveness, he reaches out to us through the Sacrament of Reconciliation to bring us mercy and conversion of heart. And then, like St. Paul, he sends us out to give thanks for his mercy and courageously and joyfully live as a witness to the world. But we’ll save that part until next week. Stay tuned!

St. Jude: More Than Just a Hospital Charity

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. 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!

By the way, if you’re interested in donating to St. Jude Hospital, you can do so here!