Before delving into the question at hand, let us first investigate what we know about St. Jude. Unfortunately, Sacred Scripture does not provide many details about the life of St. Jude. Most importantly, he is listed as one of the twelve apostles called by our Lord, Jesus: “At daybreak, He called His disciples and selected twelve of them to be His apostles: Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter, and Andrew, his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who turned traitor” (Luke 6:13-16; confer also Acts 1:13). In both the Gospel of St. Matthew (10:2-4) and Mark (3:16-19), the name “Judas” (i.e. Jude) does not appear in the list of the apostles, but rather the name “Thaddaeus.”; some speculate that Thaddaeus was used to distinguish Jude from the betrayer Judas Iscariot. (Please note too that “Judas” is the Greek form for the English “Jude.”) Nevertheless, both names, Jude and Thaddaeus, refer to the same person, and oftentimes one will hear St. Jude Thaddaeus. Our liturgical tradition also reflects this point: The Latin text of Eucharistic Prayer I in the Mass uses the name Thaddaeus, while the English text uses the word Jude in the listing of the apostles.
Traditionally, St. Jude was the author of “The Epistle of Jude,” found in the New Testament. Some scholars in recent times have disputed whether the Apostle St. Jude was in fact the author Jude of this letter. Rather the plunge into all of those arguments, let’s recount briefly the traditional evidence supporting St. Jude as the author. The Muratorian Fragment (c. AD 155) provides one of the earliest listings of those writings which could be read at Mass because they were of apostolic authorship and free of heresy or error. These works would later be included in the canon of the New Testament. The Muratorian fragment lists The Epistle of Jude as one of those accepted writings, thereby attesting to the authorship of the Apostle St. Jude.
However to accept this point stirs up another question: Why then does the author of the epistle identify himself as the “brother of James” (Jude 1), referring to the Apostle, St. James the Lesser? In the listing of the Twelve Apostles cited above, Jude is identified as “the son of James,” and St. James the Lesser is identified as “the son of Alphaeus.” The problem lies in the translation from the Greek text of the gospel into English. Returning to the original Greek text of the Gospel of St. Luke, one does not find the word son either in reference to “James son of Alphaeus” or “Judas son of James”; rather, the literal translation would be “James of Alphaeus,” and “Judas of James.” (The same is true of the Latin Vulgate text.) So what are the actual relationships?
The “James” referred to in the Letter of Jude is St. James the Lesser (not the brother of St. John), who was a cousin of Jesus (Matthew 13:55, noting brother used as an all-encompassing term for any male blood relation). Since in the listing of the Apostles in the Gospels of St. Matthew and Mark, the name Thaddaeus follows immediately that of “James, of Alphaeus,” the traditional conclusion is that Thaddaeus and James are related. Thaddaeus remember is the other name for St. Jude. Therefore, the author of the epistle is the same Jude who is the brother of James the Lesser. For good reason then, the Douay Rheims Bible correctly translated the listing in Luke 6:13-16 as follows: “James, the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who is called Zelotes, and Jude, the brother of James.” Another reason St. Jude identified himself as “the brother of James” at the beginning of his epistle may be because the Apostle St. James the Lesser was the well-known Bishop of Jerusalem; therefore, the relationship attests to the apostolic authorship of the epistle and dispels any confusion with Judas Iscariot.
Now that the reader probably knows more than he ever wanted to about why St. Jude is the Apostle, the brother of St. James the Less, the cousin of Jesus, and the author of the New Testament Epistle of Jude, we can continue with answering the question.
St. Jude does have one recorded spoken verse in the Gospel of St. John. At the Last Supper, he asked Jesus, “Lord, why is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22). Our Lord then spoke of how anyone who loves Him will be true to His word, in turn His Heavenly Father will love him, and together they will send the Holy Spirit.
The Epistle of Jude is similar to the Second Epistle of Peter. Some scholars date the letter to about AD 70. St. Jude encourages the community to “fight hard for the faith,” and warns against false teachers. He challenges the early faithful: “Grow strong in your holy faith through prayer in the Holy Spirit. Persevere in God’s love, and welcome the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ which leads to life eternal. Correct those are confused; the others you must rescue, snatching them from the fire” (v. 20-22).
There is a tradition which holds that after the resurrection, St. Jude Thaddaeus retrieved our Lord’s burial cloth, which many believe to be the Shroud of Turin. He eventually brought it to Edessa in present day Turkey. From there, he traveled into the area of Armenia. The Armenian Rite traces its origins to St. Jude Thaddaeus.
St. Jude then preached the gospel in Mesopotamia where he was joined by St. Simon. From there, they did missionary work in Persia, where they suffered martyrdom. St. Jude was beaten to death with a club; St. Simon was sawed into pieces. Their feast day is October 28th.
So why is St. Jude Thaddaeus the patron saint of desperate causes? The traditional reason is rather simple: When one hears the name Judas (Latin and Greek) or even Jude (English), one immediately thinks of Judas Iscariot who betrayed our Lord. Therefore, a person had to be desperate to invoke his name. Being so seldom invoked and reverenced, St. Jude is ready and waiting to hear the prayers of those who call upon him. Ironically, he is probably the Apostle who is invoked the most in prayer, and the most memorialized in churches with statues or other artwork.
A prayer distributed by the National Shrine of St. Jude in Chicago reads as follows:
“Most holy Apostle, St. Jude, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, the Church honors and invokes you universally, as the patron of hopeless cases, of things almost despaired of. Pray for me, I am so helpless and alone. Make us I implore you, of that particular privilege given to you, to bring visible and speedy help where help is almost despaired of. Come to my assistance in this great need that I may receive the consolation and help of Heaven in all my necessities, tribulation, and sufferings, particularly (state request) and that I may praise God with you and all the elect forever. I promise, O blessed St. Jude, to be ever mindful of this great favor, to always honor you as my special and powerful patron, and to gratefully encourage devotion to you. Amen.”