Many Catholics today are desperate to hear words of encouragement and direction from the bishops, the successors to the apostles. But what if I told you that we have such words from an actual apostle?
The Epistle of St. Jude is written by the most obscure of the New Testament writers. The letter itself is also obscure, tucked in the New Testament between the Apostle John’s three letters and his Book of Revelation. It is never included in the Sunday readings in either the Ordinary Form or Extraordinary Form calendars, and it is included only once every other year in the weekday readings in the Ordinary Form (the Saturday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time in Year II, if you’re wondering). So you’ll be forgiven if you are not familiar with the epistle.
Yet St. Jude’s short letter reads as though it was written by a concerned bishop today addressing our present crisis. And in one sense, we can say it is, for all Scripture is timeless, and the Holy Spirit inspires it in such a way that it is always applicable to our times. We can see that this mystery is abundantly clear in the case of the Epistle of St. Jude.
1Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: 2may mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. 3Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. 4For admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
St. Jude doesn’t waste time getting to his point in this short letter. It appears he originally wanted to write a more theological letter, but the circumstances necessitated instead that he urge his audience to “contend for the faith” against enemies he calls “ungodly persons.” This faith is not something of his own invention; rather, it was “delivered” to the Church. In other words, we cannot change or mold the faith into our own image, but must fight to protect the revealed Deposit of Faith.
This is today’s struggle as well. Forces are overwhelming the Church calling for the rejection of teachings delivered to us, and we are called to contend for the faith against them.
Importantly, the danger St. Jude is warning against comes not from outside the Church, but from within. It is members of the Church, who have “secretly gained” admission (but are “designated for … condemnation”), who pose the clear and present danger. How have they become dangerous? By “pervert[ing] the grace of our God into licentiousness.” In other words, they flaunt God’s mercy to excuse all forms of immorality (sound familiar?). By doing this, they “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
5Now I desire to remind you, though you were once for all fully informed, that he who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. 6And the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by him in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day; 7just as Sodom and Gomor′rah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
As Ecclesiastes tells us, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). Throughout salvation history, until the Lord returns, there will be those who deny Him and seek to undermine His people. Yet what St. Jude wants his audience to keep in mind is that God will intervene. And God’s intervention can be harsh; those who oppose Him will face a “punishment of eternal fire.” Although in our day, many people recoil at such language, it should be a comfort to those who fight for God to know that in His time, justice will come to those who reject Him.
8Yet in like manner these men in their dreamings defile the flesh, reject authority, and revile the glorious ones.
The ungodly persons who have infiltrated the Church “defile the flesh.” This is a clear reference to sexual immorality, which is always in vogue, although there are times (such as St. Jude’s and ours) in which it is pervasive in the culture. Today it is manifested in widespread homosexuality among the clergy, including horrible crimes of abuse by many priests and even bishops.
Likewise, the ungodly persons “reject authority.” Another translation can be “flout” or “despise” authority. In other words, they do not respect the authority of God or His ministers. And in cases in which they are His ministers, they flout that God-given authority and abuse it for their own designs (and abuse God’s authority, too). Today’s bishops who fail in their duty to defend and promote the faith are rejecting the very authority they are charged with.
These ungodly persons also “revile the glorious ones.” They are not content only to endorse immorality; they mock and insult those who are faithful to God. Perhaps they call them “rigid” for adhering to God’s commandments?
9But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”
How can we resist these ungodly persons? Turn to the Lord. St. Michael the archangel, who fought the devil, did not trust in his own power (as considerable as that was) to defeat Satan, but first called upon the Lord to rebuke him. Likewise, our first move when facing ungodly persons in our Church shouldn’t be to jump on social media to argue with them; we should turn to prayer and mortification, calling upon the Lord’s help. But remember that in the end, St. Michael did fight Satan, so prayer and mortification are not the final step, but the first step in battling our enemies.
10But these men revile whatever they do not understand, and by those things that they know by instinct as irrational animals do, they are destroyed. 11Woe to them! For they walk in the way of Cain, and abandon themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error, and perish in Korah’s rebellion.
These ungodly persons “revile whatever they do not understand.” They do not understand the beauty of mortifying the flesh; they do not understand the freedom that comes from submitting to legitimate spiritual authority. So they revile it. We see this today in the constant insults and condemnations against practices and beliefs that have been held by Catholics for centuries, as if these things that were once praised by the Church can now be rejected by her.
What is Balaam’s error referred to by St. Jude? St. John tells us in Revelation that Balaam tempted the sons of Israel to “eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality” (Rev. 2:14). Such actions continue today, with high-ranking members of the hierarchy tolerating, perhaps even participating in, pagan idolatry at the Amazon Synod, and rampant sexual immorality among the clergy. Balaam’s error was not confined to Balaam. St. Jude says they will be like Korah, who rebelled against Moses and was consumed by divine fire (cf. Numbers 16:1–40).
12These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they boldly carouse together, looking after themselves; waterless clouds, carried along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved for ever.
At the time of the writing of this Epistle, the “love feast” was a communal meal among Christians that likely included the celebration of the Eucharist. St. Jude is thus condemning his opponents for being highly irreverent during the Sacred Mysteries. Sadly, irreverence is common in the liturgy today, with the Sacrifice of the Mass becoming a time of telling jokes, treating the rubrics with disinterest and even hostility, and general disrespect for the mysteries.
14It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads, 15to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness which they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own passions, loud-mouthed boasters, flattering people to gain advantage.
Although it might not appear as such, the Lord will “execute judgement” on all who oppose Him. No act of ungodliness will be forgotten, and all will receive their just reward. When we see corruption and immorality at every level of the Church, we also know that God is not blind to it.
St. Jude’s description of his opponents’ various vices sound familiar:
- “Grumblers, malcontents”: Those who grumble against the “hard” teachings of the Church, wanting to relax divine commandments to satisfy earthly pleasures.
- “Following their own passions”: Witness the prevalent homosexuality in the clergy.
- “Loud-mouthed boasters”: Even though they reject natural law and divine revelation, they speak in flowing theological language without shame.
- “Flattering people to gain advantage”: They court favor with the powerful of the world, eager to be accepted by them. How many cocktail parties does the average bishop attend with pro-abortion politicians without one word said in protest?
17But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; 18they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”
In times of crisis, it can seem as if the Lord has forgotten his people. Yet Our Lord warned that these times of trial would come. When we see clerics and prelates scoffing at traditional Catholicism and embracing the world’s mores, we can know that this is not a case of God abandoning us, but a time of testing and trial.
19It is these who set up divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.
If there is one thing true about the state of the Church today, it is that it is divided. By mocking traditional beliefs and practices, God’s opponents set up divisions in what the Creed calls “one” Church. They treat those who are faithful to the Deposit of Faith as pariahs, unworthy of even having a platform, thus dividing the Church more deeply.
20But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
Again St. Jude returns to what we can do in the face of heresy and corruption in the Church: “build yourselves up on your most holy faith” through prayer and love of God. The situation can seem hopeless, but with God on our side, there is always hope.
22And convince some, who doubt; 23save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.
Although there are some ungodly persons who reject the Church’s teachings, there are also many whom they influence and cause to question the Faith. With these poor people, we need to work to assuage their doubts so that they can be saved. The rank-and-file Catholics are not the “ungodly persons” that St. Jude is warning about — they are the ones we need to save from the misery caused by the ungodly.
24Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.
Finally, in all things — including trials — we must give glory to God. In our present crisis, God has allowed in His permissive will for corruption and heresy to run rampant. But we must remember two things: (1) this is not a new situation — the faithful have always been on guard against wolves within the flock, and (2) even in this situation God is glorified, in that we are given an opportunity to be perfected in our faith through trial and tribulation.
In today’s troubling times, we can look for advice from St. Jude to guide us as we contend for the Faith against ungodly persons, rejoicing that through these trials we may, by His grace, grow in holiness.
St. Jude, pray for us!
Eric Sammons, a former Evangelical, entered the Catholic Church in 1993. He is the father of seven children and author of seven books, including The Old Evangelization: How to Spread the Faith Like Jesus Did.