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St. Joan of Arc’s Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

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Stephen Herreid - published on 01/23/14 - updated on 06/08/17

Outside of our core dogmas, the marching orders of the Church are never satisfactory to those who desire a full and definitive set of orderly rules, once for all etched in stone so that, for goodness sake, we can finally get to work neatly and rationally “building the Kingdom” of God on earth. That sort of orderliness has always been left to voluntary associations within the Church, such as those who gathered under the Rule of St. Benedict. When the Franciscan Spiritualists emerged from such an association to declare that poverty was the universal rule of Christianity, the Church pronounced their view heretical. Even when popes called for crusades they did not do so by authoritatively minting a permanent class of Catholic knights to police the world. Rather, when popes made political moves they did so as politicians, out of their own private judgment and that of their advisers, not with the authority of the truth-giving Church. Such Catholic political action has sometimes been cynical, usually heartfelt, but always fallible, and often wrong.

And now we come to St. Joan, as I promised above. One Catholic political mission that was not wrong, and which the pope did not call for, was St. Joan's effort to free France from English rule. This mission was initiated by private revelation and, when England would not agree to her terms, carried out by an army that answered directly to the Maiden herself, not Rome. Her mission was motivated by a deep and heartfelt compassion for the poor and oppressed in France. As Pope Benedict said, “The compassion and commitment of the young French peasant girl in face of the suffering of her people became more intense because of her mystical relationship with God.” And “one of the most original aspects of the holiness of this young girl was precisely the connection between mystical experience and political mission.”

You may ask what all this has to do with “heartless thinking” and “thoughtless love.” Well, exactly. To a purely rational mind or a totally irrational heart, the history and tradition of the Church and the best examples of sainthood within it are as uncomfortable as appeals for charity money were to Ebenezer Scrooge. Joan of Arc, like the military saints who came before her, was sensitive to the painful realities that only the heart can sense and only intelligent action can address. Unlike the cruel and calculating members of the Catholic “charity” organization, and the church-goers who give their money to them but give no thought to the real harms they cause to the poor by handing them over to the secular state, Joan was neither an emotivist nor a rationalist. Rather, her heart was moved by the real sufferings of her neighbors and, in obedience to God's commands, she did all of the difficultrationalwork that was required to relieve them. (For a passionate 17-year-old peasant who couldn't read or write, becoming a military strategist was surely no easy task.)

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