A fool for Christ
- Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-LePage
Tomorrow is Joan of Arc's feast day. Here's a little of what James Marin SJ wrote about her in his book, My Life With The Saints ......
There is a late-nineteenth-century painting of Joan by Jules Bastien-LePage hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City .... Increasingly I found myself drawn to this great painting. Joan listens attentively to the voices of the saints, who are depicted as twining through a dense green thicket of trees in her parents' garden at Domrémy. St. Michael, in armor, floats in a tree, holding a sword. St. Catherine, with a garland of white blossoms woven through her hair, prays. St. Margaret is barely visible. Joan stands on the right side of the painting, her wide gray eyes glowing, her left arm held out before her as if awaiting directions. This dark-haired Joan is statuesque, earthy, magnificent.
But it was not these potent visual images as much as the marvelous illogic of her story that beguiled me. Jehanne la Pucelle, a young peasant (who could not read and, later, could not sign her name to her confession - she instead scrawled a cross), hears the voices of not one but three saints, who command her to lead the French army to victory over the English. The saints instruct her to dress as a man, a soldier. She does. She travels to meet the dauphin and, confronting an annoying demonstration of royal persiflage, promptly picks him out of the crowd at court, kneels at his feet, and tells him a certain secret, a secret so profound ( and still unknown) that it immediately convinces the young, weak prince of the righteousness of Joan's cause. Then - added as an afterthought in some blasé accounts of her life - she does lead the army to victory. She prays to St. Catherine for the wind to change during the battle at Orléans. It does. The dauphin is crowned King Charles VII in Reims. All as Joan has said.
But the wind changes again. The new king proves fickle and decides not to lengthen Joan's incredible string of military victories. For her accomplishments, she is excommunicated by the church, which has always been suspicious of her reliance on "voices". The English burn the Maid as a witch. (Legend has it, though, that her strong heart was not consumed by the flames.)
Each saint holds a particular appeal for believers. What is Joan's? Her youth? Her military valor? Her courage in facing her critics and her executioners? For many, it is her willingness to be, in the words of St. Paul, a "fool for Christ". The audacity of her plan, based on directives from heavenly voices, is, centuries later, still breathtaking, no matter how many times we have heard the story.