Saturday, January 16, 2016

Joan of Arc and Everyday Courage

I recently saw this painting of St. Joan of Arc on Facebook with the following quote attributed to her:
Joan of Arc, Michael C. Hayes (c) 2010

“It is better to be alone with God.
His friendship will not fail me,
nor his counsel, nor his love.
In his strength, I will dare and dare
and dare until I die.”

Well, of course, we all know that she did dare until she died, and keeps on daring us -those who have followed her -to follow the steep path she cut for us.

When I saw this painting, I was struck by how young she looks. My daughter, just barely out of her teens, looks older than this young girl. Joan is my Confirmation patroness. I fell in love with her after reading Mark Twain's biography of her when I was in 7th grade. She has a way of beguiling people, writers like Twain and George Bernard Shaw, admitted to having fallen in love with this peasant girl from the middle ages. I didn't stand a chance. My son saw me meditating on the picture and knew immediately who this was, exclaiming, "Oh, Mom, I just love her!"

What is it that draws us to this young woman who was, by all reports, a simple girl who could neither read, nor write? She was not gently reared, nor was she well-spoken. She heard voices and donned men's clothes and dared to go to meet a very powerful man and tell him what he ought to be doing. And all of this before the age of 19. People were certain she was crazy and forensic psychology experts have posthumously diagnosed her with bipolar disorder. Well, maybe she was crazy, but that doesn't lessen her achievements and it doesn't take away her holiness.

When Joan first left home, she was 14 years old. When my son came upon me staring at my screen in awe of the piece of art you see above, I was actually thinking about what I was doing at 14. I was involved in marching band, choir, and theatre. I was very busy complaining about having to work to pay my way through Catholic high school and having to watch my two youngest siblings. I regularly whined about how much power I didn't have and how lost I was in the world. If you were looking for me, you were likely to find me lying alone on my bed and daydreaming about being anywhere but where I was. 

Joan, on the other hand, had set out on a journey to save her country. She was sleeping on the ground and armoring for battle. She went to find a man who just wanted to play, just to tell him that God wanted him on the throne of France and she was going to put him there. She led an army - and they won against great odds at Orleans against the English. While she followed God's plan for her life, she succeeded, but when she deviated from it, or tried to bring glory to herself or someone other than God, she failed. 

It's in interesting contrast. And in retrospect I believe I had much more in common with the Dauphin than I did with Joan, and still do. Most kids at 14 are a lot more like I was. What made Joan different was her trust - her faith and her willingness to go where she was led. Her fearlessness, even in the face of certain death, was a powerful witness not just to teenagers, but to all of us. She absolutely trusted that God would care for her. No matter what anyone did to her body, her soul would live in eternal peace with the one who knew and loved her best. 

When I am faced with things I don't want to face - loneliness, confronting my own weaknesses, taking a stand for what I believe to be right in the face of great odds -I am going to remember my patroness: young, simple and so full of trust. Then, I'm going to get up and do what I must.

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