"Hope doth lead from day to day." - Anne Boleyn, Queen of England (1507-1536)
Today is the feast day of Saint Jude the Apostle, one of the twelve biblical Apostles of Jesus Christ. He is sometimes referred to by one of his other names, Thaddaeus. His origins are somewhat confusing, since the earliest sections of the Church seemed to have regarded him as the stepson of the Virgin Mary and as a son born to Saint Joseph's first marriage. Later, it was suggested that he may have been the Virgin Mary's nephew or a distant cousin of Saint Joseph. Either way, he is usually simply referred to today as "a near kinsman of Jesus Christ" or as a "relative of our Lord, Jesus Christ, of Mary and Joseph".
Ancient writers tell us that Jude preached the Gospel in Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia and Libya. According to Eusebius, one of the Christian Church's first historians, Jude returned to Jerusalem in AD 62 and assisted at the election of his brother, Saint Simeon, as the new Christian bishop of Jerusalem. According to Church tradition, Jude was martyred for his faith three years later, when he was executed in Beirut, alongside another one of the original Twelve - Saint Simon the Zealot. Along with another Apostle, Saint Bartholomew, he is usually credited with introducing Christianity to Armenia and he is therefore highly venerated by the Armenian Apostolic Church today.
Saint Jude is, of course, most famous for the fact that in the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions, he is the patron saint of "lost causes and things despaired of." I have a battered prayer card in my wallet that calls him the "faithful intercessor of all who invoke your special help in time of need." Recently, I've had a lot of cause to think about Saint Jude and what his story has meant to me - particularly over the past year.
As someone who was raised a Presbyterian, I'm not really supposed to believe in saints - much less in their intercession. However, I don't believe that life ends at death and, on that basis, I have absolutely no problem in believing in that, either. For my own part, all I can say is that both as a believer and a member of society, I do feel as if my personal attitude has been improved by the examples of the saints and by reflecting on what they did as people and what they mean as figures of inspiration.
This time last year was the beginning of a very difficult time for me, both professionally and personally. It is not in my nature to "over-share" and I tend to be dubious about the hipster-sanctified culture of sharing everything, then hugging about it. To me, that seems to run the risk of substituting good friends for nice ones. (They're not the same thing.) In any case, from one October to the next, I was extremely unhappy. That is not to say that there weren't moments of happiness, but it was impossible to fully enjoy any aspect of my life with the metaphorical sword of Damocles hanging over my head. Then, in June, the professional and the personal hopped into bed together to create a new kind of frustration and a very close friend threw our friendship away for a reason that I, personally, will struggle to forgive for the rest of my life. Needless to say, it did not exactly produce a Bridesheadesque summer of golden memories.
By the middle of August, it did feel as if all hope was more or less gone. I could not see anyway of getting out of the funk I found myself in. Then, in the space of two short weeks, everything changed. It was perhaps one of the few revolutions in history I was happy to see. (Seriously, France?) I acquired a fantastic new publisher, a new cover, a new book deal, three pieces of amazing career-news arrived my way in a very short period of time and I finally felt that feeling that Reinhold Niebuhr talked about - the serenity to accept the things we cannot change.
It would have been impossible to keep going up until then without the unwavering support of a few very close and loyal friends. However, I can also say that, for me personally, it was my faith which kept me going - even when I was unaware of it doing so.
For over a year, I have carried a prayer card to Saint Jude in my wallet - ever since being first confronted by a situation in which I saw very little cause for optimism. Most days I pass Saint Jude's Church on Belfast's Ormeau Road and say a little prayer as I do so. The day I received the best career news to date was the start of the 2012 novena (or prayer cycle) to Saint Jude and today, his feast day, is the day when all my work is, for the time being, finished and I am posting off my new, signed contracts. I believe in coincidences; I don't believe this is one of them.
What message have I taken from the last year of living, sometimes unconsciously, with the message of Saint Jude? Well, in the first place, I've re-appreciated the power of prayer; not just because of its complexities, but because it focuses the mind, heightens our self-awareness and stops us from being so selfish. The second point is that this year has made me appreciate the power of hope. Or, as the current President of the United States might say, the audacity of it.
Legend has it that shortly before she died, Anne Boleyn, one of the figures I admire most from history, left a handwritten note in her prayer-book saying that hope was the force that led people from one day to the next. I happen to believe that's true and, after this year, I believe it even more strongly. Saint Jude is often described as the patron saint of lost causes, but it might be better to describe him as the patron saint of causes that are seemingly lost. One prayer calls him "the Patron of things despaired of." Theist or not, Christian or not, the message of Saint Jude is an inspiring one because it reminds us that hope can shine in even the darkest of situations. Saint Jude's message is a bit like Winston Churchill's most famous quip - if you're going through Hell, then keep going!
The ancient Mayans apparently believed 2012 would mark the apocalypse. 2012 wasn't the end of the world - it just felt like it sometimes. It doesn't anymore and thank God for that. That's not to say that difficult times won't come around again, but I have new faith in being able to make it through them - thanks to myself, the people around me and to the two thousand year-old Apostle to those in Despair.