Today is the feast day 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, devout and strong. She rose from utter obscurity to accomplish one of the most remarkable feats in human history. Just consider it — a seventeen-year-old girl, with no military experience whatsoever, leading the army of a defeated and demoralized nation to impossible victories. Biographers to this day — even cynics like like Mark Twain — find her to be one of the most remarkable people who has ever lived.
But her military and political 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 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 humble home, yet she obeyed God and set aside her own desires to wage war 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 and 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, 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.
Jeanne rejected worldly honors, and refused to accept titles for herself. She never lost sight that serving God was the entire purpose of her mission and her life. 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.
She is, in my humble 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.
Back in 2011, Pope Benedict was presenting 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. I feel the strength of Jeanne’s patronage, and if I ever make it to heaven, she will be one of the first saints I seek out.
Jeanne la Pucelle, priez pour nous.