Thank you, St. Jude!

Last summer I drove up to Portland, Oregon to visit my cousin. The melanoma that had apparently responded so well to previous treatment had in fact spread to his lungs.

His type of melanoma was aggressive – typically only about a 5-10 percent survival rate. So he was looking at about a year to live, maybe even less. Like so many others, I just wanted to pay him a visit.

We had a great weekend around the house with family. We even had time to drive out to his ranch in the eastern part of the state. We talked about which saints we’d pray to for healing. A lot of great saints came to mind. We had time for some good reminiscing.

Just after college, I went to Jakarta, Indonesia to help him on a cholera project he was directing. He was the brilliant, yet modest, hard working if sometimes temperamental, American doctor with the exceedingly generous outsized personality. He thought workaday things in Indonesia moved way, way too slow, and his demanding idiosyncrasies sometimes puzzled them.

But everyone loved him, and wanted to be at table with him when the day was done. The Indonesians we worked with good-naturedly took to calling us “ten.” I was on the taller and thinner side, and he was, well, not quite as tall or as thin. To them we looked like a 1 and a 0 walking down the street. We were – it sounds even better in Indonesian – the sepupu (cousins) known as sepulu (ten).

I was so grateful for that weekend together – quality time while he was in good health and good spirits. The day I left was the day he started his treatment, which promised to be brutal – though he was able to enroll in an experimental therapy program that had improved somewhat the chances of survival among the dozen or so people in total who had ever tried it.

Several weeks later I resolved, out of the blue, that I would pray to St. Jude. His name had not come up when we discussed our “go-to saints” together, and I can’t say why I settled upon him. The patron saint of difficult and desperate cases, St. Jude is also known as the “forgotten apostle,” and sure enough, I had forgotten about him. But his feast day was coming up later that month – 28 October [i.e., just this past Friday]. There was a St. Jude shrine not so far from where I live, within a Dominican parish in San Francisco. I would go there, and make a novena.

On the seventh day, I got an unexpected email from my cousin. He reported that tests during his first check up revealed that his tumors had “vanished.” He was elated. The rest of us were all blown away. Only then did I recall hearing somewhere that St. Jude is also known for being prompt with his assistance.

The Apostle Jude by Anthonis van Dyck, c. 1620

My cousin would still need to proceed with the rest of the treatment regimen for the next several months. But what had happened? Perhaps the new treatment worked; maybe it will become standard for those in similar straights. I don’t know. And so many other people were praying for him – people much closer and much dearer to him. Perhaps it can be chalked up to a combination of prayer and medical treatment.

Either way, I was thrilled. But I also found myself in a spot I’d never quite been before.

The development was so extraordinary that I had to take seriously that part of the novena prayer which contains a promise: “I promise you, O blessed JUDE, to be ever mindful of this great favor, and I will never cease to honor you as my special and powerful patron and do all in my power to encourage devotion to you.

So to fulfill my promise, I ultimately decided to commit that grave email sin: I hit “reply all” and told everyone about St. Jude. My cousin responded not only with gratitude, but by telling me that his confirmation name – which I had no way of knowing – was Jude. There were other coincidences like that.

And so I relate this story here, to the family of TCT readers, solely to encourage you and yours to go to St. Jude with any difficult and desperate cases – even ones that may not be so clear cut or life-threatening.

There are times when the gifts we receive by Divine Providence are unmistakable, even for those not accustomed to seeing. We don’t always receive what we ask for, of course. But there is something in the act of asking itself, which, like all the other forms of prayer, properly orients us. It requires self knowledge (we are not God, He is); it involves relationship (we become ourselves through relationships); it anticipates gratitude and nurtures confidence in the God who loves us, and is with us, come what may.

On one of the lesser used pathways down to the Grotto at Lourdes, there is a simple monument donated by a blind Italian woman as an expression of her gratitude. She had come to Lourdes for healing and left still blind – though not unchanged. By the experience. By asking. By seeking and encountering. By learning to trust God. It reads:

Recovering the faith is greater than recovering sight.
(Retrouver la Foi c’est plus que retrouver la Vue).

I think that is why we are enjoined to share the good news.

Matthew Hanley’s new book, Determining Death by Neurological Criteria: Current Practice and Ethics, is a joint publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and Catholic University of America Press.