When my daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia in second grade, she was already fighting an uphill battle with reading. The way in which she was being taught at school was not working. And by the time she entered tutoring, she essentially had to start over.
She was an extremely hard worker, so the progress she made over the next few years was astounding. It was inspiring to watch. Thankfully, she had a wonderful support system that enabled her to believe in her ability to succeed.
But as I watched my daughter grow in her reading skills and in the virtues of diligence and industriousness, I also saw weariness creep in from time to time. She often asked, “Mom, why is something that is so easy for others so hard for me?”
A Holy Card Introduction
One day, I found a lovely holy card of Saint Joan of Arc. I admit, I knew very little about Joan, but I was drawn to the image on the front. Then, I read the prayer on the back, and I knew I had just met the perfect intercessor for my daughter.
I purchased the holy card and gave it to my daughter, introducing her to this warrior Saint who would pray for her and fight alongside her. My daughter quickly latched on to Saint Joan, and she has remained her saintly friend ever since.
That was six years ago. This year, my daughter chose Joan to be her Confirmation Saint, and they continue to have a close connection.
A Warrior Saint
Saint Joan of Arc is well known for her bravery. Just as she fought for the Church and her country of France, she now fights for my daughter and for anyone facing a personal battle.
All of us could use a little bit of Joan’s warrior prayers, couldn’t we?
She remains a beautiful example of someone who stands up for what she believes in, yet abides perfectly in God’s Divine Will.
Unfortunately, there is a long history of misconceptions about Joan. While French Catholics adopted her as their patroness, along with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, she has remained controversial in the political realm. Yes, the French love her, but the English do not (Shakespeare even portrayed her as a witch and whore in his play Henry VI).
Due to her courage and willingness to fight for something she truly believed in, she has been dubbed a hero by radical feminist groups that fail to understand the fulness of Saint Joan of Arc.
Yes, women need to “Joan up” from time to time—to speak our minds and raise our voices over injustice and the reality that the world is fallen and sinful. But there is a context in which to do it. And that context is known and pursued in the Truth of our Catholic Faith.
Saint Joan knew this well.
The Life of Saint Joan of Arc
Joan was born into the peasant class of France in 1412. She could not read or write. Yet she knew her Catholic Faith well and her relationship with Jesus was profoundly deep and personal.
Before any heroic activity she accomplished in her teens, she was first and foremost a daughter of God. Her love for Jesus came first, and out of this love came gifts of deep faith and incredible strength. It was her relationship with the Lord that fueled everything she did. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI likened Joan to “the holy women who stayed on Calvary, close to the Crucified Jesus and to Mary his Mother.”
From a young age, she had visions of Saints Michael the Archangel, Catherine of Alexandria, and Margaret of Antioch. At first, the messages were personal, but when she was 13 years old, the Saints asked her to fight the English army from French territory and bring the Dauphin to Reims for his coronation. The image mentioned above depicts Joan during one of these heavenly visits.
As Benedict describes, “her immediate response, her ‘yes’, was her vow of virginity, with a new commitment to sacramental life and to prayer: daily participation in Mass, frequent Confession and Communion and long periods of silent prayer before the Crucified One or the image of Our Lady.”
This interior preparation led her to two intense years of public mission. She petitioned to visit the French Royal Court and she convinced the army to let her be by the king’s side as it was the Lord’s will. She predicted outcomes of the war and continued to persuade officials that she was necessary for the war’s success.
Facing False Accusations
Ultimately, during the Hundred Years War, Joan led French troops against the English. Her recapturing of Orleans and Troyes allowed Charles VII to be crowned king in Reims.
Joan was captured the following year and sold to the English. Later, she was placed on trial and falsely accused of heresy and witchcraft. She was condemned for wearing men’s clothing, yet her only reason for wearing it was to protect her virginity.
The judges were French clerics, who were on the politically opposite Joan. She attempted to make an appeal to the pope, but it was denied. According to Benedict, “this Trial is a distressing page in the history of holiness.”
On May 30th, 1431, at the age 19, she was burned at the stake. She asked that a cross be held high, that she “may see it through the flames.” As she was being burned, one English soldier heard Joan’s screams and her repeated invocation of Jesus’ holy Name and he later lamented:
God forgive us: we have burned a saint.
Twenty-five years later, her verdict was nullified, and her innocence and perfect fidelity to the Church were restored. She was beautified in 1909 by Pope Saint Pius X, and on May 16th, 1920, Pope Benedict XV canonized her.
A Saint Who Keeps Them Guessing
Saint Joan of Arc invites us to a high standard of Christian living: to make prayer the guiding motive of our days; to have full trust in doing God’s will, whatever it may be; to live charity without favoritism, without limits and drawing, like her, from the Love of Jesus a profound love for the Church. // Pope Benedict
As Saint Joan becomes increasingly popular, it is important to know who she truly was. We need to understand what it truly means to “Joan up”:
- Joan was illiterate. But she knew God and her Faith exceptionally well.
- She was strong. But went to extreme measures to protect her virginity and remain pure of heart.
- She was brave. But she was also respectful.
- She was a warrior. But she was also obedient to the teachings and tenets of the Catholic Faith.
- She took action. But only after listening to the voice of God.
Saint Joan of Arc did amazing things. She saw through the confusion and chaos of her times, making her a perfect role model, intercessor, and advocate for our times. But before she did anything, she first and foremost loved the Lord. Only out of that love could she know the Faith and see the Truth with a purity of heart. This is why she was victorious and why she will always fight for those who seek her intercession according to the Will of God.
A Prayer to Saint Joan of Arc
Saint Joan of Arc, patron of France, my patron Saint, I ask you now to fight this battle with me by prayer, just as you led your troops to victory in battle. You, who were filled with the Holy Spirit and chosen by God, help me this day with the favor I ask [say intention]. Grant me by your divine and powerful intercession, the courage and strength I need to endure this constant fight. Oh Saint Joan, help me to be victorious in the tasks God presents to me. Amen.
This was originally published on the Blessed Is She blog.