Saint Jude advises three ways of correcting sinners

Statue of St Jude at Faversham

Many good Catholics know St Jude as the patron saint of hopeless cases. His shrines are popular places of devotion. In my own Archdiocese of Southwark in England, we have the National Shrine of St Jude at Faversham.

We should remember that St Jude also wrote an epistle (of just one chapter) which is found in the first nocturn of Mattins for today’s feast. It is regarded as an obscure epistle, difficult to interpret. The apostle refers to Henoch, whose books are not included in the canonical scriptures, and he refers to a cosmic battle of St Michael against Satan, contending over the body of Moses. St Jude tells us that St Michael did not presume to pronounce judgement on the devil, but said Imperet tibi Dominus!, “may the Lord rebuke you”, an appeal which forms part of the prayer to St Michael which we say after Low Mass.

In verses 22 to 23 the apostle teaches us of three ways in which we ought to respond to sinners and the faithless, depending on their dispositions. He says to reprove some because they are already judged. These would be people obstinate and haughty in their error and sin, whom it is our duty to oppose. In this connection, we might think of those who torture and kill Christians for their faith, or those closer to home who utter blasphemy and obscenity deliberately to offend or shock Christians, or those whose campaign for abortion treats it as a kind of sacrament.

Others, he says we should pull out of the fire; in other words we should rescue those who are heading on a bad path and pull them back from running headlong to hell. This reminded me of St John Henry Newman’s remarks on conscience in his “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk.” He points out that conscience is the internal witness of the existence and the will of God, but that nowadays when people speak of the rights of conscience, they have no thought of God at all, but simply mean the freedom to act as they feel like doing. He continues,

"They do not even pretend to go by any moral rule, but they demand, what they think is an Englishman's prerogative, to be his own master in all things, and to profess what he pleases, asking no one's leave, and accounting priest or preacher, speaker or writer, unutterably impertinent, who dares to say a word against his going to perdition, if he like it, in his own way." (Chapter 5, page 75)

St Jude speaks of a third group, saying that for them we should, “have mercy, in fear, hating also the spotted garment which is carnal.” These are people who have been led astray through ignorance, false teaching or bad example, compounded often by habits of sin. We should be kindly to them while hating the actions and sinful lifestyle to which they have become attached. As it is often summarised: hate the sin, but love the sinner. Never acquiesce in their sin or make excuses for it, but show mercy to those who are spiritually weak, ignorant and suffering from the bad teaching and example of others.

This is especially necessary in our time. People who have a bad lifestyle of one kind or another, often want us to approve of their doings, to agree with legal recognition of immoral relationships, or to treat them as though their sinful life is acceptable and understandable. When we do not do this, we may well be accused of hating them personally, though this is an excuse given by those who cannot imagine fighting against the temptation to sin in ways that have perhaps become habitual and seem compulsive.

But we do not hate them, we hate what St Jude calls the carnal spotted garment which can be cleansed by the sacrament of penance. We hate the sin, we love the person made in the image and likeness of God, the person whom Our Lord can heal and raise to a life of grace and an eternity of glory.

We pray that the God will give us the prudence to consider the three courses of action proposed by St Jude and discern which is most likely to bring about the salvation of the other. Especially we ask for the assistance of the Holy Ghost in finding the right words to speak to others on whom we can “have mercy in fear”, may the Lumen Cordium, the light of our hearts give us the courage to speak when we need to speak and to do so with words that will open the way for God’s will to be done.

If this sometimes seems to us completely unrealistic, then we should remember to pray to St Jude in his other popular role, asking for his help to do the impossible.

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