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Like so many writers and artists before me – religious and otherwise – I’ve nurtured a fascination for the 15th-century teenage St. Joan of Arc for many years now. It’s her Feast Day today (though the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity takes precedence this year), and while there are countless reasons to admire Jehanne – the name given to her by her parents, Jaques d’Arc and Isabelle Romee, peasant farmers from the village of Domremy – the way Joan dealt with her enemies has been inspiring me a lot lately.
The Catholic writer Louis deWohl describes her as riding astride a white horse, waving her flag of Jesus and Mary, and yelling at the English: “Go home to your families, and God bless you!”
He goes on to explain how “In 1931, on the 500th anniversary of her death, the English Cardinal Bourne, Archbishop of Westminster, praised the saint who had fought so valiantly against his country, recalling that she had never hated her enemies, but wished them well.“ (DeWohl, Saint Joan: The Soldier Girl, p. 165)
[Historical sidenote: While Joan of Arc took an arrow to the chest; miraculously survived a fall from a great height and was injured a few other times on the battlefield, she never purposely engaged in physical combat during her heroic stint in the One Hundred Years War between France and England. To this day, there is still a debate as to whether she was more of an inspirational figurehead or an actual military leader; one thing everyone seems to agree upon is that her remarkable presence changed the course of the war for France.]
Joan of Arc told her enemies the truth in a really loving way. She faced confrontation boldly, yet with profound tenderness.
DeWohl’s account also depicts her weeping for the opposing army’s dead after the battle of Saint-Loup; it describes how she would inquire as to whether the English soldiers were able to hear Mass or be confessed before they died. (DeWohl, p. 88)
For these reasons, Joan of Arc has always reminded me of the many souls I’ve observed on the front lines of the Right to Life movement. I once saw a man offer to adopt a woman’s unborn baby as she walked into an abortion clinic. The young mother changed her mind that day.
Heroes who are striving for sanctity don’t lose sight of the God-given dignity residing in every human being – even if the person is on the “other side” of their particular battle line.
No wonder Joan of Arc is the patroness of soldiers, as well as France. Joan of Arc, pray for us!