We of “a certain age” remember all too well the Beatles’ famous song, “Hey, Jude.” Be careful! Some of the lyrics may escape you, but the melody is addictive. It can easily become “stuck in your head.” I can hear it this very moment playing on neurons that first fired forty years ago.
Was the song about the same Jude – the Patron of Hopeless Causes – whom we honor today? I was a teenager when I first heard the Beatles’ “Hey, Jude” in the late 1960’s (UGH! THE SIXTIES!!!). I remember thinking, at age fifteen, that the song was about St. Jude, Hope for the Hopeless. I liked the song, and even took some comfort from it for that very reason. It sounded like a prayer, and it seemed fitting that the Beatles, whose popularity edged toward idolatry – like a lot of the 1960’s – might pray. Prayer or not, it has been sung like one since:
“Hey Jude! Don’t make it bad. Take a sad song, and make it better. Remember to let her into your heart, then you can start to make it better!
And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain – don’t carry the world upon your shoulder. For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool by making the world a little colder.” (Paul McCartney and John Lennon, 1968).
Emmy Award-winning television journalist, Liz Trotta agrees with me. In her superbly iconic book, Jude: A Pilgrimage to the Saint of Last Resort (Harper Collins,1998) she wrote:
“There is an ESP quality about it all, as though people vaguely connected to hope – to Jude. Was it by accident that the Beatles turned that perception into the biggest-selling single of their fabulous career, ‘Hey, Jude’? Mention the saint to anyone who doesn’t know him, and prepare to hear a few bars of this unforgettable tune, an anthem to hope.” (p. 13).
For years when I heard the song, I thought that the “her” Jude had to let into his heart might be Mary, Mother of the Lord. The Beatles denied any such connection, but two years later they wrote an unforgettable ode to Mary that fixed my belief about “Hey, Jude” in stone. That song was “Let it Be”:
“When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, ‘Let it be.’
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me, speaking words of wisdom, ‘Let it be.’
And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer, ‘Let it be.’
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see. There will be an answer, ‘Let it be.’ ” (John Lennon and Paul McCartney, 1970).
Oh, great! Now they’re both stuck in my head! I have no doubt that “Let it Be” is a prayer – at least it replays in my head as a prayer – but I may have been wrong about any conscious connection between “Hey, Jude” and Saint Jude.
It turns out that Paul McCartney wrote the song for John Lennon’s son, Julian. The original title was “Hey, Jules!” It was first recorded in 1968 at Abbey Road in an old clothing store the Beatles converted into a studio. According to Liz Trotta, someone had whitewashed the studio window and another someone scrawled the words, “Hey, Jude!” on the window, perhaps mishearing the lyrics. Liz Trotta explains:
“Shopkeepers went into an uproar, scenting anti-Semitism, and someone smashed the window with a brick. Never mind. Two days later [the Beatles] did a revision in one take, seven minutes of hope set to music. The song was released on August 30, 1968. McCartney was afraid it wasn’t any good, but it became a hit within two weeks.” (Trotta, p.14).
The song was now “Hey, Jude.” Who knows, in the end, what McCartney and Lennon had in mind? Sometimes inspiration is as much in the listener as in the composer. Lots of people still think the song is an ode to St. Jude, charged by millions of believers – Catholics and non-Catholics alike – with the task of taking our sad songs and making them better. It matters not the outcome of our songs. Happy endings matter not. Hope is its own reward. Hope IS the happy ending!
Jude is rarely anyone’s patron saint. No one names their kids after him. I know no Judes – none whatsoever. Yet universally, Jude is popularly proclaimed to be the Apostle to those without hope, the saint of last resort. None of us likes to see ourselves or our situations as hopeless. Hopelessness is more felt than thought. I’ve had my share of it. It feels awful.
That’s why virtually every Catholic prayer book has a novena to St. Jude. I get a lot of holy cards in the mail with prayers’ to St. Jude. I got one just a week ago. In a recent e-mail message, a young woman in college wrote to promise me a novena to Pope John Paul this month. Pope John Paul prayed often to St. Jude. No doubt, they now pray together.
St. Jude the Obscure, as Liz Trotta called him, has a very low profile in Scripture. The enormity of Catholic belief in his role in our spiritual lives is in inverse proportion to his opaque presence in the story of Christ, the Gospel.
The name, Jude is among the list of Twelve Apostles mentioned in only two places, the Gospel of Luke (6:16) and Acts of the Apostles (1:13). In the Gospels of Matthew (10:3) and Mark (3:18), he is called “Thaddaeus,” but there is little doubt this refers to the same individual. The name, “Thaddaeus” appears to have its origin in the Aramaic word “thaddai” meaning courageous.
Apostolic succession began with men chosen for having the hearts of lions.
One of the reasons for Jude’s obscurity is the confusion of the saint’s name with that of the most notorious of sinners in the Christian tradition, Judas Iscariot. Of the few (very few!) Scriptural references to Jude the Apostle, one of them – John 14:22 – takes pains to point out that this Jude “was not Iscariot.”
The Letter of Jude is the shortest book in the canon of the New Testament – barely a page. Its author – whose identity is disputed among scholars – identifies himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” The Oxford edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible affirms that it is likely that the author is just who he says he is, Jude Thaddaeus, kinsman of Christ. The letter is dated to between 70 and 80 AD, and may have been set to writing by a follower of Jude as the Apostolic Age came to a close.
For someone with such a low Scriptural profile, St. Jude’s popularity is astonishing, and it endures through the ages. It seems that the more twisted the world becomes, the more our technology distances us from our souls and each other, the more people require an advocate of hope.
Yesterday in the prison library, I looked at three local newspapers. In two of them I found petitions to St. Jude, little boxes in a corner of some back page assuring the Saint of publication if he puts some extra effort into his intercession. They both ended with “this prayer has never been known to fail.” If the prayer is for hope, then it can’t fail. That’s Jude’s special grace.
Liz Trotta is right about Jude the Obscure. In two thousand years in the life of the Church, there is little scholarship on St. Jude. In the three-year liturgical cycle, the Letter of Jude is not included in a Sunday Mass reading, and a small portion of it is read in only one weekday Mass in the cycle.
Legend and pious belief fill in what history failed to record about Jude. According to tradition, Jude was martyred in Persia with St. Simon, also one of the Twelve and just as obscure. True or not, there is a belief in some parts of the East that the martyred body of St. Jude was taken to Ephesus in modern day Turkey. In the Byzantine calendar, St. Jude “fell asleep” on August 21. The fourth century apocryphal “Acts of Thaddaeus” has his body buried with great honor on that day near Beirut,Lebanon. In one ancient Byzantine legend, the Archangel Michael descended to drive out evil spirits after St. Jude prayed for strength against his foes.
In depictions of the Apostolic Saint, Jude is usually wearing the Mandylion, an image of Christ of unknown origin. Some accounts suggest that after the Ascension, Jude brought the miraculous Mandylion to Edessa where it healed the king of leprosy. One tradition believes that the Mandylion carried by Jude is really the Shroud of Turin folded so that only the face of Christ was shown. A legend dating to 569 AD describes the image as “not made by human hands.”
We all owe a debt of thanks to Liz Trotta. In an era when many secular Western journalists devote their time to mocking and undermining Christianity, this Emmy Award-winning journalist put her formidable skills to work to bring us Jude: A Pilgrimage to the Saint of Last Resort. Her 1998 book is a masterpiece, and a gift to the People of God.
The origin of St. Jude as an intercessor for desperate causes is as obscure as the Apostle himself. It arose not from any Church teaching, but out of the “sensus fidelium, the belief of the faithful spread over time to define it into an almost universal tradition. Surprisingly, it seems to have its roots in modern times. An early reference appears to be a Spanish novena to St. Jude dated to the early 18th century. The Acta Sanctorum of 1863 refers to an “amazing” devotion to St. Jude arising “in certain regions” (Trotta, p. 15). It seems the more modern we became, the more distant our connection to the historical Christ, the more hopeless we felt. Thus comes Jude!
“Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen” (Jude 1:24-25).