May 31, 2016
Yesterday was the anniversary of the martyrdom of my favorite saint — she called herself Jeanne the Maid (“Jehanne la Pucelle”), but we know her better as Joan of Arc. She was a beautiful person, simple, humble, devout and strong. She rose from total obscurity in the backwater farm country of France, and accomplished one of the most remarkable feats in human history. Hers is such an amazing story that it sounds like fiction — an ignorant seventeen-year-old girl, with no military experience whatsoever, leading the army of a defeated and demoralized nation to impossible victories, restoring the true king to the throne, only to end in tragedy.
But her military accomplishments aren’t the most important thing about her, even though they remain astonishing and unmatched in history. Her entire mission was not intended to glorify herself, but was carried out in humble obedience to the will of God, communicated to her through visions of Sts. Michael, Catherine, and Margaret. She never wanted anything more than to return to her home, yet she obeyed God and set aside her own desires, in order to bring peace and justice to her homeland.
The price she paid for this devotion was appalling. After all her triumphs, she was betrayed by the same king whom she raised to the throne, abandoned by her comrades in arms, persecuted by hard-hearted enemies, tortured and condemned by corrupt Churchmen, and cruelly put to death in one of the most painful ways imaginable.
Jeanne’s beauty of soul and her sterling faith shone through it all, even in battle and even in the darkest days of her cruelly unfair trial. Here is what she said at the trial, when asked about who carried her standard (i.e., her flag): “It was I who carried the aforementioned sign when I charged the enemy. I did so to avoid killing any one. I have never killed a man.” She wept over the loss of life in battle, strove to minimize it, insisted on sparing prisoners, and comforted dying enemy soldiers. At her trial, Joan offered a statement that sums up her character, and could have been her battle cry: “I came from God. There is nothing more for me to do here! Send me back to God, from Whom I came!”
Jeanne rejected worldly honors, and refused to accept titles for herself. Serving God was the entire purpose of her mission and her life, not personal glory. As a sign of this, she wore only one piece of jewelry, a simple gold ring, a gift from her mother, with the plain engraving “+Jhesus+Maria+”. As she was suffering at the stake, she had a cross before her eyes and she died with the name of Jesus on her lips. Those who witnessed her death finally understood that they had condemned a saint.
She is, in my opinion, the most outstanding example of a brave and Christian warrior, whose love of God inspired all that she did, whose nobility of character inspired deep love and devotion among the hardened soldiers who followed her, and whose courage under persecution is a shining beacon of purity and virtue. Her life continues to inspire biographers to this day, and even the cynical Mark Twain, who wrote a beautiful novelization of her life, considered her to be the most remarkable person who ever lived.
Back in 2011, Pope Benedict presented a series of reflections on the great female saints, at his regular Wednesday address. One of those he spoke about was Jeanne, and he said this: “Her holiness is a beautiful example for lay people engaged in politics, especially in the most difficult situations. Faith is the light that guides every decision”.
She is a saint for the ages, and she is particularly important for this age. The Church and people of faith need holy warriors now more than ever, people who are willing to stand for the truth, for God's will, and for the sanctification of their homeland. I pray to Jeanne every day, and in times of trial I feel the strength of Jeanne’s patronage. I ever make it to heaven, she will be one of the first saints I seek out and thank for her help.