Last week the Church celebrated the feast of Saints Simon and Jude, two of the twelve apostles. Of the twelve apostles, we know little about any of them other than Peter, James, and John who are frequently mentioned by name. Simon and Jude are no exception, but they also have the distinct “burden” of sharing names with other, more recognizable disciples. We must not confuse them with these.
The Saint Simon that we celebrated last week is known to us as “Simon the Zealot” – not to be confused with the Simon whom Christ renamed Peter, and whose feast is celebrated with St. Paul on June 29th. (June 29th is also the anniversary of the launch of Catholic Majority!)
Saint Jude, whose feast was also celebrated last week, is another disciple named Judas (which we shorten to Jude), but is not the same as the disciple Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Christ. In lists of the apostles, they are frequently named tenth and eleventh. In some lists, last week’s Saint Jude is referred to as Thaddeus instead.
What we know about Saint Simon, the Apostle
If what you know about Simon the Zealot (or Simon of Zealots) is based on how he is portrayed in movies, you probably have an inaccurate picture of the saint, and you may even be disappointed. Because he is associated with the word “zealot,” he is frequently misunderstood to have been a member of the Zealot party of Jews seeking Jewish independence, advocating for an overthrow of the Roman occupiers. This is certainly how he is portrayed in the playful (and wonderful, in my opinion) Jesus Christ Superstar. However, there were many groups associated with the term “zealot” in those days, and the Zealot faction that sought a violent overthrow and Jewish independence did not arise until shortly before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD (i.e., approximately 40 years after Christ). So, last week’s Simon the Zealot was almost certainly not a member of this party. This is not to say that he (along with the other disciples) weren’t looking for a new political arrangement. In fact, this is part of what they expected Christ to bring about, as they so frequently misunderstood his words and parables.
So what can we know about Saint Simon, the Apostle? Not much. Essentially, all we know is that he is counted among the twelve apostles. Other than that, any information we have about him is based on legend. In his iconography, he is frequently depicted holding a saw. This is in reference to how he died, according to legend, at the teeth of a saw. (Pretty gruesome stuff.) He is said to have traveled with Saint Jude (last week’s other celebrated apostle) to Persia after evangelizing in Egypt.
What we know about Saint Jude, the Apostle
Mention Saint Jude to just about any Catholic, and they will tell you that he is the patron saint of hopeless causes. Ask any American about Saint Jude, and they might tell you that he is the patron saint of terminally ill children. This recognition of Saint Jude by the general public is the result of the widespread knowledge of St. Jude’s Childrens Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. St. Jude’s Childrens Hospital is an excellent fundraiser, hence the name recognition. The hospital is known throughout the country as the hospital where children with terminal illnesses, and particularly cancer, receive excellent treatment. It is known throughout Catholic school alumni of a certain generation as being the hospital that was the financial recipient of the annual “Mathathon” challenge.
I try not to think too hard about why a children’s hospital specializing in cancer treatment is named for the patron saint of hopeless causes, because frankly that’s just depressing. But the best story of where the attribution of Saint Jude being the patron saint of hopeless causes comes from is entertaining. (The most likely reason is due to miraculous cures attributed to Saint Jude, particularly those where the outcomes seemed the least likely. But that’s not the most interesting story.)
You see, although Jude is mentioned throughout the New Testament and is (mostly) distinguishable at each mention from the other apostle named Judas (Iscariot), the betrayer Judas is the more memorable of the two. In other words, Judas’ infamy is more widely known than the stories involving the Jude under discussion, despite the fact that Jude has his own book in the Bible, and was most likely a brother (or close relative) of Jesus. So when “commoner” Catholics who lacked the theological education that would enable them to distinguish the two Judases used to pray for intercession, most would start with Peter or John or basically any of the better known apostles. When those prayers would seem to go unanswered, they would work their way “down” the chain of apostles, until ultimately they wound up with Jude (which they confused with Judas). The assumption became that he was the go-to apostle of last resort. Hence the patronage of hopeless (or desperate) causes.
Today, ironically, Saint Jude is one of the most popular saints in Catholicism. Believed to be a reliable intercessor, there is no shortage of websites, holy cards, and prayers to Saint Jude. Devotees of the saint are frequently encouraged to publicly thank Saint Jude for answered prayers, increasing his recognition and patronage. (Back when newspapers were a thing, you’d even find them there in the classified section.)
Thoughts on Saints Simon and Jude
There’s something to be said for misunderstood and forgotten saints. Quiet holiness is frequently lacking in our society today. Either you’re “out and proud” as a Christian or you’re popularly considered to be irreligious and ‘may as well be a atheist.’ WWJD bracelets, crosses, bumper stickers, and other outward signs of religiosity are well and good if the intention is to remind yourself of your duties to faith, hope, love, and charity. (I am generous when I count bumper stickers as self-reminders.)
In times likes these, the example of subtle holiness by these “forgotten” saints is desperately needed. “They” should know we are Christians by our love. More commonly, “they” know because we rub it in their faces. Christ had some choice words for people like this. Take a look at these verses about charity, prayer, and fasting from the sixth chapter of Matthew, just before and immediately following the verses where Christ teaches us the words of what we now consider the Lord’s Prayer:
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Prayer to Saints Simon and Jude
So next time you go into your room and shut your door, give this prayer a try. Then, when you come back out and into the world, do your part in spreading the Good News by being a living example of love, charity, hope, kindness, and quiet faith.
Father, you revealed yourself to us through the words and deeds of your Son, recorded by the apostles. In the loud and boastful world of today, you have blessed us with examples of holiness in the lives of your apostles, Simon and Jude. By their prayers, and through their intercession, grant us the fortitude and the courage to live as you desire, as beacons of love and mercy. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.