Yesterday, at his regular Wednesday address, the Holy Father continued his series of talks about great female saints by commenting on St. Joan of Arc.
Jehanne the Maid, as she called herself, is one of my favorite saints, and I love her dearly. 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 astonishing.
She did this not 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.
The price she paid for this devotion was appalling. After all her triumphs, she was betrayed by her own king whom she raised to the throne, persecuted by hard-hearted enemies and corrupt Churchmen, and eventually put to death in one of the most painful ways imaginable. Of course, the world could not really recognize her, much as the world never recognized Our Lord. As the Holy Father noted, her judges “were fundamentally unable to understand her, to see the beauty of her soul: they did not know they were condemning a Saint”.
Joan’s beauty of soul 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 also wept over the loss of life in battle, strove to minimize it, insisted on sparing prisoners, and comforted dying enemy soldiers.
She is, in my humble opinion, an 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. I feel the strength of her patronage, and if I ever make it to heaven, she will be one of the first saints I seek out.
Joan 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+”.
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!”