We Need to be More Mary, and Less Martha

September 24th, 2015

Over the last few days, as the Holy Father was in Cuba, and now is in the United States, I have been hearing and seeing too much of a very sad thing. People have been highly critical of the Pope for what he has said, what he has not said, what he supposedly has said, what he supposedly does not understand, etc., etc.

A good bit of this is, I believe, well intentioned. Much of it, in my opinion, stems from honest misunderstanding. Some of it, unfortunately, comes from people who are in the grips of ideology and cannot see beyond their self-contained categories. Some of it, even more unfortunately, is openly hostile and disrespectful.

I am very, very guilty of second-guessing and fault-finding, and it is a constant refrain when I go to Confession.    I totally understand its attraction — after all, I am always right about everything, and there’s something wrong with people who disagree with me (irony alert!).  Still, it baffles me that so many Catholics are so easily willing to place themselves on the Throne of Peter and proclaim the Holy Father to be wrong about pretty much everything he says and does.  The old joke has come true — there may be a shortage of vocations to the priesthood, but there appears to be no shortage of vocations to the papacy.

I have sworn off reading anything about the papal visit from the media (both Catholic and secular), and am committed to listening only to what the Holy Father actually says, not what people wish he had said, or what people think he has said.  The Holy Father’s actual words are very easily accessible on the Vatican website.

This is not a time for us to be murmuring and complaining.  This is a time for open ears and hearts. In Luke 10, we read:

Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Peter, the Vicar of Christ Himself, has come among us to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our day and age.  The needful thing is for us to set aside our worldly cares and worries.  They will be with us tomorrow, and always.  The good portion is to to sit at his feet and listen attentively.

Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse

September 15th, 2015

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen headlines about a Kentucky county clerk who was sent to jail briefly, because she refused to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples, based on her religious beliefs.

As with virtually every recent controversy on this subject, this one led to an huge amount of rhetoric by people who lack even the most rudimentary understanding of what the laws regarding religious liberty entail.  There is the old adage that “ignorance of the law is no excuse”, and that certainly applies here — the law of religious liberty is really not that hard to learn and understand.

The most egregious example of public, culpable ignorance can be found in a recent article by a physicist, who entitled his piece “All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists”.  I generally couldn’t care less what a militant atheist might say.  But I couldn’t resist commenting on one thing the professor says in his screed, namely:

To what extent should we allow people to break the law if their religious views are in conflict with it?

There’s another old saying, “A man has to know his limitations”.  I am a lawyer, and I know virtually nothing about physics.  I therefore have the good sense not to write a single word about physics, pretending that I know what I’m talking about.  Would that the professor had the same sense, and refrained from pretending that he knew the first thing about the law.

This is really not that difficult.  The laws of the United States — including the First Amendment to our Constitution — are actually quite clear in recognizing that the government cannot easily impose laws upon people when they conflict with the person’s religious beliefs.  In other words, when a person claims a religious exemption, they are not breaking the law, they are merely asserting their basic human rights.  If the government or a private person fails to recognize that exemption, they are the ones who are breaking the law, not the religious believer.

A very clear example can be found in the Hobby Lobby decision, in which the Supreme Court held that the federal government violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by not recognizing that the company was exempt from the HHS contraception/abortion mandate, due to their religious beliefs.  Or in the hundreds of civil lawsuits where employers are required to recognize religious holidays or clothing, cities are banned from restricting street-corner evangelists, schools are prevented from closing religious clubs or newspapers, etc.

And it doesn’t stop with the Constitution.  Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, a law that has been in effect for over forty years, utterly rejects the idea that an employee has to surrender their religious beliefs as a condition of keeping a job.  Instead, it imposes a duty on the employer to exempt employees from work requirements that conflict with their religion, so long as that does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. In other words, for the last four decades, employers are required by law to make reasonable accommodations for their employees, not vice versa.

Similar statutes exist in every state, and in many localities.  Here in New York, our state Human Rights Law has been in existence for about seventy years.  It explicitly imposes on employers a duty to make reasonable accommodations for sincerely-held religious beliefs.  There are also other many other laws that protect religious liberty from government imposition.  Most notable are federal and state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.   One time, I counted the number of religious exemptions recognized in New York law, and managed to find about two dozen.  More legislation is being proposed, such as the First Amendment Defense Act.

In short, the law protecting religious liberty is well-established, and can be easily accessed and understood.  Certainly a person who opines on the law in a public forum should be expected to inform themselves of these basic facts.

So it’s hard to chalk these kinds of statements and arguments to good faith ignorance.  Rather, it seems more likely that the person is inveterately hostile to religion, and, due to this animus, will not even consider the facts or arguments that stand against their position.

I think, if you were to consult a dictionary, that would be a pretty good definition of bigotry.


Mercy for Everyone Involved in Abortion

September 3rd, 2015

[I was asked to contribute to an online forum about what the Church has to say to those involved in abortion. This is an expansion of my contribution]

When Pope Francis announced, as part of the preparation for the Jubilee of Mercy, that he was granting all priests around the world the faculty of forgiving the sin of abortion through the Sacrament of Confession, many people were confused. Some of the questions included, “Don’t priests already have that authority?” “DOes this mean that women who previously confessed, weren’t really absolved?” The news coverage, as usual, was embarassingly amateurish, and awful.

Fortunately, some sane voices offered explanations. Cardinal Dolan made clear that the priests of the Archdiocese of New York (like those in most, if not all dioceses of the United States) have long had this authority, and that people involved in abortion should rest assured that the mercy of God was always available to them.

One thing that I found interesting in all the discussion, was that people were speaking as if the only people involved in abortions were the mothers in crisis who sought them out. But there’s another group of people involved as well — abortionists, and the people who work in abortion clinics.

Over the past few months, we have seen the undercover videos that have exposed Planned Parenthood’s ghoulish trafficking in the body parts of aborted babies. We are naturally appalled, and angry. Our first impulse is to condemn, not just the ideologies that led them to act this way, but also the persons themselves.

This is where the Church — and through her, Jesus himself — enters the conversation.

Pope Francis’ has consistently stressed several basic Gospel messages — the call to encounter and accompany people, and the notion that realities are more important than ideas.

Too often we think of abortion situations through a particular frame — whether it’s the ideology of “reproductive choice” or pro-life principles — that keeps us on the level of ideas and can even de-humanize those we are dealing with. But we are not dealing with abstractions, but with people — not just the woman in crisis who entered that clinic and her vulnerable unborn child, but the clinic workers as well. And we must encounter them all as real human beings , including those who are performing abortions.

From this perspective, the Church can invite clinic workers and abortions to embrace what they really need deep down — a softening of their hearts through the mercy and love of God.  They can be led, perhaps by our compassion and prayer, to a conversion of heart so they can encounter the women and unborn children who come to their clinics as people, and not as clients or as raw biological materials.  If God’s grace can can bring them to that point, we can then accompany them on their path, offering prayer, love and practical help. Former clinic worker Abby Johnson’s ministry, And Then There Were None, is a very good example of this.

The message of the Church to those involved in performing abortion is the simple message of Jesus himself — an offer of mercy and an invitation to conversion: “You don’t have to be that way. There is another path, one that leads to happiness and peace. The message of mercy and a new life is for you too. We’re all on that same path. Come walk with us.”

Knowing and Caring

August 4th, 2015

In the last few weeks, there have been a series of news stories about the horrific practices of the group I like to call the Temple of Moloch because of their devotion to the destruction of children — Planned Parenthood.

The videos were taken by a man who assumed a false identity so that he could meet with staff members of Planned Parenthood, to gain information about their practices of “harvesting” fetal tissue from aborted children. As an aside, I have previously expressed my opinion that these “undercover” tactics involve immoral acts of lying to the Planned Parenthood staff: see here  and here. The immorality of the undercover operation, however, does not affect the truth of what was exposed.

The videos expose yet another ugly face of abortion. The Planned Parenthood staff members coldly and callously discuss how they “harvest” organs and other tissue for use in experiments, and how they carefully maneuver to barely avoid violating federal laws against the sale of human tissue. If ever we wanted proof of the corrosive effect of sin on the human soul and character, these videos would be Exhibit One.

Many pro-lifers are hoping that these new revelations will be a landmark event, providing the public with irrefutable evidence of the evil of abortion and the humanity of unborn children. This, they hope, will turn the tide against the Culture of Death. I wish with all my heart for that to be true, but in order for that to happen, there’s one essential step that has to be taken.

People need to start caring.

It has been evident for many years, and certainly since routine ultrasounds for pregnant women, that people are either well aware of the humanity of the unborn child, or they are culpably blind to that fact.  The truth of what abortion does is clear for any to see, especially since the major debate over partial birth abortion two decades ago.  With the advent of the internet age, all the facts are out there, as easily accessible as a quick trip to Wikipedia.  Our lawmakers certainly know what abortion is and what it does — the various methods were even explicitly described in blood-chilling detail in a famous Supreme Court decision.

The problem really isn’t that people lack sufficient knowledge.  It’s that people just don’t care enough for things to change.

Our modern society is built on a foundation of sexual liberation.  Contraception, with abortion as a back-up method, is an essential component of that.  And the sad fact is that a majority of the American people are so committed to sexual liberty that they are willing to tolerate a massive number of abortions — almost 1 million each year.  They are also willing to provide massive amounts of money — over half a billion dollars of taxpayer money — to support Planned Parenthood, which kills over 300,000 children every year.

This can change.  People can declare that “enough is enough”.  They can show compassion for every human child, and for mothers in difficult situations. They can decide not to support legalized killing of children.  They can elect representatives who will change our laws.  They can reject death as the easy answer to all of our problems.

We already know all that we need to know.  We need to care.

The Mission is Always Outwards

July 8th, 2015

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage, there has been much introspection among the faithful about the way forward on marriage, religious liberty, and the role of faith in the public square.  Perhaps because we’ve been fighting this battle in New York for so long, these are familiar discussions to us, and I’ve written about them before.

From what I’ve seen so far, there are many calls to civil disobedience, although very few people have actually engaged the question of how that will be done and how extensive it will have to be (which will be the subject of a future post here).  Others have called for what some are terming a “Benedict Option”, modeled after the founder of the great monastic order, in which a groups of the faithful draw away from the general society in hopes of laying the seeds of reforming it.   Others emphasize the inward path of conversion of our own hearts, so that in our private lives, we are good witnesses to our faith.  Some have even advocated for shaking the dust of the world from our feet and leaving it on the path to its own destruction.

None of these is an adequate answer to the situation we find ourselves in.  Surely, we need to come together with like-minded people, to strengthen our faith communities and provide mutual support.  Our lives are always in need of conversion, and the best teachers of the truth are always those who witness to it in their everyday lives.  We undoubtedly will have to resist unjust laws, and bear the consequences.  All of that has merit, and each of us will have to find the path that the Holy Spirit is calling them to.

But in searching for our plan of action, we have to make sure that we don’t keep our focus only on ourselves.  If we do that, we will lose sight of a crucial point. In the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20), Our Lord gave the Church a very clear mission to the world:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

The mission of the Church is never to pull away from humanity and turn inward, nor is it meant to be in a state of defensive warfare with the forces of power in the world.  We are not meant to practice our faith only in our private lives, indifferent to the state of society.  Pope Francis said it very well in The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium):

… no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. Who would claim to lock up in a church and silence the message of Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? They themselves would have found this unacceptable. An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed “the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics”, the Church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice”. All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world. This is essential, for the Church’s social thought is primarily positive: it offers proposals, it works for change and in this sense it constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ.  (183)

These are difficult times, similar to those experienced by the Church in many prior ages, and in many places in our own time.  But we should always remember that the mission of the Church — and each one of us — is always to change the world, to transform it in light of the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our mission is outside.

The Despotism of an Irrational Oligarchy

June 26th, 2015

In 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to a prosperous merchant, in which he discussed his views about the proper role of the judiciary in the American constitutional system.  In his letter, Jefferson made a famous observation:

You seem … to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions;  a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.

In his first inaugural address in 1861, Abraham Lincoln echoed these sentiments, in reference to the Supreme Court’s infamous decision in the Dred Scott case:

… the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court… the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.

In 2015, it is now more clear than ever, that Jefferson’s and Lincoln’s predictions have been fulfilled, most recently with the latest ruling on the redefinition of marriage.

The Supreme Court’s impatience with the democratic process is well-established, and it has long arrogated to itself the presumed authority to substitute its political judgement for that of the people or Congress.  One need only recall the astonishingly arrogant passage from the Casey abortion decision, in which the Court claimed almost sacred significance to its own lawless decisions:

Where, in the performance of its judicial duties, the Court decides a case in such a way as to resolve the sort of intensely divisive controversy reflected in Roe and those rare, comparable cases, its decision has a dimension that the resolution of the normal case does not carry. It is the dimension present whenever the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution calls the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution.

Of course, the Court’s rulings in its abortion cases have no basis whatsoever in the actual Constitution, or the tradition of American law, much like their bizarre rulings that essentially re-write acts of Congress to better suit their preferred result (e.g., the Affordable Care Act cases, NFIB v. Sibellius and  King v. Burwell).  Just so with the series of Supreme Court decisions relating to the radical redefinition of marriage — first in United States v. Windsor, and now with Obergefell v. Hodges.

Little needs to be said about this latest decision by the Court. This Court has a propensity to make things up as they go along, to satisfy their policy preferences or to follow public opinion.  Reasoned legal argumentation really has no great sway over the Court on these issues, so there’s no reason to treat their decision as if it had anything to do with law at all.

There is no question that over the past few years, public opinion has shifted strongly in favor of redefining marriage.  But the resolution of such a weighty policy argument should not be left to the least democratic branch of the government.  It should be hashed out in the rough and tumble of politics.  That is what was happening, prior to the Supreme Court’s first usurpation, in the Windsor case.  But democracy is apparently no longer an option, when the post-modern Zeitgeist of sexual liberationism demands its way.

And so, we should really stop pretending.  When it comes to certain important issues about the nature of the human person and our society, we really no longer have a rule of law or of reason, but a rule of lawyers — a majority of five, to be precise, all of whom attended a few elite Eastern law schools.  Jefferson’s fear of the despotism of an oligarchy has fully come true.

A Return to the Original Plan for Creation

June 20th, 2015

“From the beginning, it was not so” (Matthew 19:8).  With those words in response to a question about marriage and divorce, Jesus recalled to our attention that the world has not turned out as God originally intended.  But he also held out the possibility that, with the help of grace, we could return to the original plan and live as God created us.

These words immediately came to my mind as I read the Holy Father’s new encyclical, Laudato Si.  The secular media has generally portrayed it as the Pope’s “climate change encyclical”, or more accurately as his “environmental encyclical”.  But this misses the most significant point in the Holy Father’s contribution to the Church’s rich social teaching.

More than any prior Church document, Laudato Si calls us to a personal and social conversion of heart, so that we can return to God’s original plan for humanity and all creation.

This central purpose of the encyclical is evident right at the beginning, when the Holy Father points out that the harms to our material world come from the sin in our hearts.  And he notes that we have forgotten the fundamental truth that we are an intrinsic part of creation, formed from the “dust of the ground” (Gen 2:7), and that our lives depend on the material bounty of the Earth.  This is evident to us, not just from divine revelation, but by a reasoned contemplation of nature itself.

The theme of returning to God’s original plan is then woven throughout the encyclical.  Again and again, Pope Francis comes back to the idea that the troubles of our world are the result of our sinfulness, particularly our loss of a sense of the universal moral law and the abuse of our freedom.  We see this in the underlying causes of environmental and economic exploitation and degradation —  a utilitarian and technocratic way of treating each other and the absence of solidarity between people.

All these problems rest on a faulty understanding of the nature of the human person, which the Holy Father analyzes with great care and detail.  Although he does not use this phrase, Pope Francis sees clearly that our modern world considers humanity to be “homo economicus” — a being whose entire existence is determined by self-interested material needs and pursuits, centered only upon themselves.   In fact, much of the criticism of the encyclical that we have seen from conservatives rests on this very assumption.  The Holy Father calls this an “excessive anthropocentrism”, a failure to understand our true place in this world, particularly our interlocking relationships with creation, or fellow beings, and our Creator.

It is in his discussion of these relationships that we see most clearly the Holy Father’s true Christian anthropology, and his perception that God’s original plan is the antidote to our modern world’s problems.  In Chapter Two of the encyclical, Pope Francis sets forth an extended exegesis of the Scriptural passages that reveal God’s intentions for creation.  The key passage, paragraph 66, is so important that it needs to be quoted in its entirety:

The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself.  According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual (cf. Gen 3:17-19). It is significant that the harmony which Saint Francis of Assisi experienced with all creatures was seen as a healing of that rupture. Saint Bonaventure held that, through universal reconciliation with every creature, Saint Francis in some way returned to the state of original innocence.[40] This is a far cry from our situation today, where sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature.

Later, in a very profound passage, Pope Francis explores how the nature of creation reflects the image of the Trinity itself.  He cites St. Bonaventure, one of St. Francis of Assisi’s greatest followers, saying:

The Franciscan saint teaches us that each creature bears in itself a specifically Trinitarian structure, so real that it could be readily contemplated if only the human gaze were not so partial, dark and fragile. In this way, he points out to us the challenge of trying to read reality in a Trinitarian key….  The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures. In this way, they make their own that trinitarian dynamism which God imprinted in them when they were created. Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity.

It is certainly important to view Laudato Si as a document intended to address the environmental and social problems of our day.  But I believe that its true significance will only be known when we begin to absorb the Holy Father’s extraordinary treatment of Christian anthropology.  This encyclical is a call to all of us to try to recapture the remnants of God’s original plan for humanity, so that we can live as God intended, in peace and harmony with all creation.

“From the beginning, it was not so”.

Men and Women Without Chests

June 1st, 2015

If one wishes to understand the predicament our society currently is in, I would recommend reading C.S. Lewis’s classic work, The Abolition of Man.  The book is a collection of lectures Lewis gave on the problems he saw in modern education.  He was particularly alarmed about the ways in which it was undermining belief in objective moral truths, and the danger this posed to society.

The first chapter of the book has the strange title, “Men Without Chests”.  Lewis saw that modern education was subtly teaching people to view moral questions as being mere statements of feelings that are entirely subjective, with no connection to truth.  It was also leading people to deny that human feelings can be true or false, depending on whether they conformed to objective values.  These two trends would have the inevitable effect of producing “men without chests”, unable to have genuine feelings that connected them with trancendent realities.  To Lewis, this reductive subjectivism was very dangerous for individuals and society.  He said that “Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism”, and we would become little more than “trousered apes”.  Even worse, “The practical result of [this] education… must be the destruction of the society which accepts it.”

All this came to my mind when reading an article from the Washington Post, entitled “How to break free from monogamy without destroying marriage”.  This morally corrosive piece depicts a married couple who, because the wife was feeling “faintly bored”, have decided to have open adulterous affairs, while still considering themselves to be happily married.  It features a repellent person who has founded a website to facilitate such sins.  And it contains a plethora of half-truths and outright falsehoods about the state of marriage and even Biblical teachings on adultery.

But what really struck me were two quotations in the article that carried much deeper meanings than, no doubt, the speakers intended.  After somehow convincing her husband to consent to what she called “ethical non-monogamy”, the adulterous wife put the following in her online profile to entice other adulterers:

“I’m into building deep and loving relationships that add to the joy and aliveness of being human.”

You couldn’t ask for a better example of a self-delusive statement by a person who unfortunately has been taught that there are no objective moral truths that have meaning beyond her momentary subjective feelings.   Without that essential connection, there are no boundaries, no limits, and both words and feelings lose their real meaning.  “Being human” is equated with, in essence, the worship of self.

The second is from an anthropologist who works, not coincidentally, at the Kinsey Institute (yes, an institute dedicated to the study of sex, founded by the bizarre and evil Alfred Kinsey).  Speaking about modern rejection of the notions of monogamy and chastity, she said:

“That’s all sliding away from us.  We’re… returning to the way we were millions of years ago.”

Yet further evidence that “progressive” morality actually means reversion to pre-moral, primitive, animalistic behavior — “trousered apes” with an internet connection.  Our society has now destroyed sexual complementarity, fidelity, permanence, and fertility, leaving only selfish pursuit of pleasure — yet they still dare call their arrangement “marriage”.

This very sad article truly shows what happens when society brings up men and women “without chests”.  And yet, there is a very interesting point alluded to in the article.  The adulterous couple declined to identify themselves by their real names, and they don’t intend to tell their children about their arrangement.  Somewhere, deeply buried beneath the narcissism and hedonism, is a truth that refuses to be silenced, that calls these poor people back to the truth that they are unwilling, or unready, to face.  The truth about human nature and human love can never be extinguished.  There is always hope.

A Holy Warrior for Our Time

May 30th, 2015

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.