By: Emma Smith
While researching potential confirmation saints, I learned that Joan of Arc had a “notoriously volatile temper.” This caught my attention as, if there is one thing I’ve struggled with, it’s my temper. Thus, learning that Joan of Arc, now my patron in Heaven, had a temper was of some consolation. However, learning that one can get to Heaven even with a temper was merely the beginning of what Joan of Arc had to show me about being a saint today.
We all desire the “big call.” People love the romance of leaving everything behind, traveling to foreign lands, abandoning our homes. There is something timelessly romantic in the notion that God could physically call us away from everything that makes us who we are. You can thank Hollywood for that in part, but in part you can thank the human existence. We understand that we were made for greatness and having a “big call” that asks those “huge sacrifices” of us makes us feel as though we’ve attained the greatness we strive for.
In that sense, Joan of Arc speaks to all of us. At a young age, she left all she knew behind to lead an army and was killed for her response to God’s call. That is no small calling. However, Joan also seems very distant from us. None of us (or not many of us!) will be asked to gallivant off across the globe for Christ’s kingdom. Her story is inspiring, yet we are unable to relate to it.
In our glorification of Joan’s work and martyrdom, I believe it becomes a temptation to gloss over the Joan of Arc who was tried before being burned at the stake. The Joan who was taken to trial is the Joan we should — and can — aspire to be, because the Joan at trial was incredibly human.
During her trial, Joan’s human weakness and frailty came out in incredibly real ways. The close proximity of evil and the inevitable pain it would cause allowed Joan’s human weakness to overpower her several times. Accounts vary, but one account reflects a time when Joan had to be removed from the court because she was so nervous that she was unable to speak clearly and kept recanting her statements. Further, when faced with burning at the stake on May 24th, Joan signed an abjuration document regarding her male clothing, visions, and call from God.
Her fear is understandable, and makes her less of an icon and more of a person to us. She shows us that trust in God is difficult at any moment in life, but when alone and faced with a torturous death, it is near impossible. Joan’s human weakness, then, points not to our own human existence, but to God’s faithfulness and mercy. On May 28th, Joan recanted her previous abjuration. Having been visited by saints overnight to encourage her, she gained strength from Christ and was able to say “yes” one more time to our Lord. She faced her death with composure and peace on May 30th, 1431.
That is the true romance of Joan’s “big call.” She waged the war, not without, but within, and won. God didn’t merely ask her to lead an army to victory — that was the relatively easy part. Rather, God asked her to abandon herself — her fears, her pains, her human terrors and weaknesses — and place herself squarely and firmly in His care. He was faithful to her, and she accepted His love and strength, thus being faithful to Him as well. By overcoming herself and allowing her human frailty to decrease, Joan was able to allow Christ to increase in her, and do the very thing that we celebrate her for today: she died for the glory of God so that His will could be done.
Joan’s story remains incredibly relevant today. Millennials especially have the unique opportunity to be modern day Joan of Arcs. We are called to wage a war that is, in many ways, very similar to Joan’s. Instead of a physical army of English swarming our lands, we are faced with a cultural war. As radical feminism, gay marriage, and the abortion debate swarm our cultural landscape, we are faced with the call to go out and lead our nation back to greatness.
Just as Joan’s work was only fulfilled in her martyrdom, in her total gift of self to Christ, so too will our cultural war only be won when we truly die to ourselves and leave ourselves solely in the care of Christ. When we die to our fears and temptations, when we decrease our own importance, we allow Christ’s hope and strength to increase. We are called to overcome the temptation of mediocrity and the fear of death (physical, social, or otherwise) by dying to ourselves so He may increase in us. Only when we successfully turn ourselves over to him do we become vessels for His glory, making His will present and witnessing to His goodness, just as Joan was finally capable of on the fateful day 583 years ago.
If we want to win the culture war we must wrestle with the very real possibility that we will be “burned at the stake”. We should look to The Maid of OrlÃ©ans for guidance in turning to Christ and accepting His mercy and inspiration for those times when we fail to trust in Him. She can help us to win the war within so that our fight for beauty, truth, and goodness may not be lost without. May she be an inspiration to us to accept our fate with the same joy with which she finally bore her own Cross. In seeking her aid and learning to die to self, we may defend ourselves against the same evil Joan faced as it attempts, once again, to take over our land, nation and culture for its own.
Credit to Emma Smith of CatholicExchange.