I will say boldly that throughout history Our Lord remains active and vibrant, occasionally painting the sky in yet one more shade of brilliance so that the world may witness His Grandeur, His Call, His Kingdom. He is forever proclaiming that Kingdom through His followers, and for those who wonder just where He is today, I will tell you: He is all around and always has been throughout history (“I am Who am,” Ex 3:14). As we look back through the centuries, we see His works of art in occasional flashes of the blues, reds, yellows, greens, violets and peaches of others’ love, sacrifice, and faith. We see acts of virtue and heroism that impress our soul the way a panorama of beautiful flowers, majestic mountains, peaceful meadows, and rushing creeks impress our senses. On May 30, 1431, the world witnessed one more of those brilliant soul-edifying expressions.
It was on that day that Joan of Arc, the Deliverer of France, was cruelly executed at the stake as a criminal and heretic, though she was innocent. There can be no greater objective in life, and no greater compliment to give another, than that their life is an imitation of Christ. And Joan of Arc’s life so resembles that of Christ’s that we are in awe of His handiwork. Joan carried out her mission with unyielding faith, hope, and love. She was wrongfully accused; she refused to deny her faith and call, and she therefore was unjustly executed as a mere criminal.
The earth did not shake, but many miracles did take place when she died. The cry of “Jesus!” was her last exclamation before expiring, and the name “Jesus” was seen written in the flames. Tough English soldiers repented and confessed on the spot. The executioner testified that her heart would not burn. A soldier spotted a white dove flying out of the flames and toward unoccupied, free France. I am convinced that after that dove circled the hills, valleys, and meadows of the French countryside, it soared through the gates of heaven, bursting on arrival into that brilliant, colorful expression referenced above and then was painted across the sky by the swift and mighty hand of Jesus Himself. That last part is not written in any of the history books, but it is written in my heart.
It would be just over four centuries later when another spectacular light of Christ would come into the world that was a reflection of that same peculiar light from heaven. St. Thérèse of Lisieux was inflamed with a love for Joan of Arc and considered her to be a kindred soul. Joan was a source of courage for Thérèse as she suffered her own cruel death, not by political corruption, but at the hands of the dreadful disease of tuberculosis.
It was Thérèse who taught me about Joan of Arc. I am convinced that Thérèse is the only person who actually can explain Joan to me in a satisfactory manner. Thérèse saw Joan’s life through the eyes of Christ. She saw Joan’s life through the eyes of love, sacrifice, and unyielding devotion to Our Lord no matter the cost, even that of her own life. There is a name for that devotion. It is called martyrdom. Thank you Thérèse, I see it now. And thank you, Joan, for your witness born through that martyrdom and which now shines in that magnificent color in the sky.
It was because of Joan and Thérèse that, metaphorically speaking, I looked up into the sky one day while I sat miserably sick and alone in the Dark Forest. There was a special and marvelous color in the heavens that day. Filthy and afraid, I peered out from the trees and saw these two who smiled and pointed out and upward toward a most marvelous Kingdom in the distance. I made a decision to take their hands, and we have been following a very narrow but breathtaking path ever since. I have not arrived, in fact, far from it. I just run along as best I can. I trip and occasionally fall into deep crevices. Sometimes I even annoy my sisters by running off to the darkness of the Forest again. I’m just that way. However, they will run after me and drag me out again. This is the only difficulty of the path, you see, that I want this Kingdom of Christ’s, yet, sadly, “what I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want but, but I do what I hate” (Rom 7:15). So, then, “what occasion is there then for boasting? It is ruled out. On what principle, that of works? No, rather on the principle of faith” (Rom 3:27). That faith to which Joan and Therese bore witness gives me faith, and off I will go with them yet again. Special needs demand special help.
So, in short, this is what the Feast Day of Joan of Arc means to me. My heart is filled with gratitude for the friendship of these two saintly sisters through whom, together, Our Lord has created that very special color in the heavens.
Let me leave you with some of the last words written by those who knew Joan of Arc and who conducted her trial of rehabilitation to clear her name some quarter of a century after her death. And here I ask one thing of the reader and one thing only. If you care nothing about what is written here so far, if my words have done nothing to pierce your heart, I ask that out of mercy you think for a moment of Joan’s mother, Isabelle, who bore the loathsome weight of a cross for almost twenty-five years because her beautiful, faithful, and heroic daughter had been unjustly declared an apostate and burned as a heretic by impious, corrupt, and partisan clergy. I ask you to think of this mother who carried her maternal duties to the very end of her life by bringing this case forward to see to it that her child’s name was cleared before her country, and indeed before all of Western Civilization. Imagine how tears must have streamed down her cheeks when, after months of deliberation and review of the original condemnatory trial and written record, she heard the following solemnly pronounced by the Archbishop of Reims on behalf of Pope Calistus III in Rouen, the very city where Joan died:
“That although it was abundantly apparent to the aforementioned judges that Joan had submitted to the judgment and decisions of our Holy Mother the Church, and that she was so faithful a Catholic that they allowed the Body of Our Lord to be administered to her, nevertheless out of their excessive zeal for the English, or not wishing to extricate themselves out of fear and pressure, they most unjustly condemned her as a heretic to the pains of fire.”
“That Joan continuously, and notably at the moment of her death, behaved in a saintly and Catholic manner, recommending her soul to God and invoking Jesus aloud even with her last life’s breath in such a manner as to draw from all those present, and even from her English enemies, effusions of tears.”
“That the preceding and other points being weighed, the case and the sentence are both null and most unjust…”
And as the Archbishop’s gavel fell with all the authority and power of a Papal anvil, these words rang through the cathedral in conclusion:
“And so it was and that is the truth.”
At that moment Isabelle must have broken down, shedding over two decades worth of tears. All of Christendom (excluding the mighty Plantagenet house in England) rose to its feet in cheers of joy. But Isabelle cared little for that. She was a poor, simple peasant mother, caring little for politics but much for her child. She had raised Joan a good Catholic, and all Isabelle cared about as her mother was that she died a good Catholic. That is the power of a mother before the eyes of God. Tearing mothers can move the heavens, and, as here in this trial among powerful princes, the earth as well. Isabelle told the devil to go to hell. And not enough credit is given her, on earth at least, for that.
It was this, and much more, that I witnessed when I peered out of that dark and lonely Forest. It was for this, and much more, that I decided to come out. This was the most beautiful color I had ever seen, and it was bursting forth from a Kingdom that I then joyfully understood really existed.
Thank you, Joan. And, by the way, thank you mother Isabelle.