In times of deepest depression and desperation, my thoughts and heart invariably turn to God. I’m not sure God appreciates the foul-weather friendship, but the habit is one that was formed for me many years ago by my very devout parents, and it’s not one that’s likely to go away any time soon.
As I set up my new apartment and attempt to find comfort in myself, my heart has still been broken, and I would do anything to mend it. Historically, I try to avoid emotional pain like the proverbial plague. I used to drink to mask those emotions; these days, there’s not much standing between me and the specter of loneliness that’s always beside me the minute I close my front door.
In times of pain, what can one do? Cry. Wait. Watch old movies. Make and drink tea. Cry some more. Try to sleep. Work, meet with friends, go through the motions. But the loneliness doesn’t go anywhere; it’s always right there, waiting for the latest distraction to wear off or come to a close.
St. Jude is the patron saint of desperate cases and helper of the hopeless. Feeling that my particular case was certainly edging toward desperate (getting out of bed is becoming the exception rather than the rule), but not being particularly religiously devout (for a rather complicated set of reasons), I did a bit of online research on St. Jude and how one might enlist a saint’s help in times of spiritual need.
Interestingly, the opus surrounding Saint Jude is as complicated as my own religious history. Some Catholics condemn novenas to Saint Jude as heretical and cultish. Still, scores of prayers and many novenas to St. Jude exist. I noted with chagrin the several versions of “A Mother’s Prayer to St. Jude,” as I know I’ve given my mother plenty of cause to pray over the years.
Here’s the funny thing about prayer: Even if your prayers aren’t answered, even if you don’t understand why or to whom you’re praying, it often helps. It’s a release; you’re admitting you don’t have much control and that you wish you could change the situation but can’t. You’re asking — God, the universe, St. Jude, whomever — for help, or at least for closure and clarity. Prayer is, if nothing else, a psychological exercise in acceptance. You throw your words at the ceiling, and whatever happens, happens. Then it’s up to you to accept and internalize the outcome.
So today, I began praying a novena to St. Jude. Nine prayers each day for nine days.
St. Jude, glorious apostle, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, the name of the person (who betrayed our Lord) has caused you to be forgotten by many, but the true Church invokes you universally as the Patron of things despaired of. Pray for me, who is so miserable; pray for me, that I may finally receive the consolations and the succour of Heaven in all my necessities, tribulations, and sufferings, particularly (my personal request went here), and that I may bless God with the Elect Throughout Eternity. Amen.
That gets followed by three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys, and three Glorias. During the first prayers, I cried like a baby the entire time. Admitting that I’m miserable and that I desperately long to be healed, saying those words out loud was like busting up a dam.
I don’t know if God’s there; if s/he’s there, I don’t know if s/he can hear me. If s/he can hear me, I have absolutely no idea whether or not my prayer will be answered. But I do know I’ve done as much as I can on my own, and I’d rather talk to the ceiling like a crazy person than lie in bed in dumb despair for one more day.
The final part of the novena is that you have to promise to publish your prayer and/or thanks (if the prayer is answered), and you have to encourage devotion to St. Jude. So here’s my (admittedly ambivalent) encouragement: If you’re hopeless, yourself, why not? In the worst case, nothing happens; in any other case, you’ll likely learn something about yourself along the way and perhaps be blessed by your own positive thinking.
And who knows: St. Jude, God, and the universe might even conspire to answer your prayer.