When I was 9 years old, I spied an advertisement in a magazine for a plastic statue of St. Jude. I can’t imagine which magazine this could have been, since my parents weren’t in the habit of leaving Catholic publications lying around the house, but apparently the photo of the statue was sufficiently appealing to convince me to drop $3.50 in an envelope. At the time, my greatest pleasure was ordering things through the mail. The cereal boxes that lined our kitchen shelves all boasted small squares on the back to be clipped out, filled in with my address and sent away, along with a dollar bill. A few weeks later a brown-paper package addressed to me would arrive in our mailbox. Few things filled me with more excitement.
While the most attractive offers were featured in comic books, these photos rarely represented what the postman eventually delivered. The “Terrifying Flying Ghost” on the back cover of a Spider-Man comic book turned out to be a plastic ball, a rubber band and a piece of white tissue paper. The “Fake Vomit” looked nothing like the real stuff and the “Monster Tarantula” was rather small. Worse, my six-week wait for “Sea Monkeys,” whose colorful advertisement showed smiling aquatic figures (the largest one wearing a crown) cavorting in a sort of sea city, was rewarded by a packet of shrimp eggs. Though the Sea Monkeys did hatch in a fishbowl on a chair in my bedroom, they were so small as to be nearly invisible, and none, as far as I could tell, wore a crown. (Sea Monkey City was nearly annihilated when I accidentally sneezed on it during my annual winter cold.)
Other purchases were more successful. My Swimming Tony the Tiger toy, whose purchase required eating my way through several boxes of Sugar Frosted Flakes to earn sufficient box tops, amazed even my parents with his swimming skills. The orange-and-black plastic tiger had arms that rotated and legs that kicked maniacally, and he was able to churn his way through the choppy waters of the stopped-up kitchen sink. One day Tony, fresh from a dip, slipped out of my fingers and dropped on the linoleum floor. Both of his arms fell off, marking the end of his short swimming career. I put the armless tiger in the fishbowl with the Sea Monkeys, who seemed not to mind the company.
Even with my predilection for all these mail-order purchases, I can’t imagine what led me to focus my childish desires on St. Jude and spend in excess of three weeks’ allowance on a plastic statue instead of, say, another Archie comic book. My only other obsession at that time was a green pup tent I had seen in the Sears catalogue, but this too was thrown over in favor of St. Jude.
It wasn’t any interest on the part of my family, or any knowledge about St. Jude that drew me to him. I certainly knew nothing about him, other than what the magazine ad said: he was the patron saint of hopeless causes. But even if I had been interested in reading about him, there would have been little to read. For all his current-day popularity, Jude remains a mysterious figure. Though he is named as one of the Twelve Apostles, there are only three brief mentions of Jude in all of the New Testament. Two lists of the apostles, in fact, in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, fail to name him at all. They instead mention a certain Thaddeus, giving rise to the name St. Jude Thaddeus. To confuse matters more, there is also a Jude listed as the “brother of Jesus” in the Gospel of Mark. And though some ancient legends mention his work in Mesopotamia and Persia, the Encyclopedia of Catholicism says candidly, “We have no reliable information about this obscure figure.”
Read the rest here. Happy Feast of St. Jude. May all your hopeless causes be entrusted to the One who provides all hope.