Angels in the life of Saint Joan of Arc
St. Joan of Arc (1412 - 1431)
Joan of Arc is a strong contradiction in our Church and our world. She was abandoned by the country she had fought so hard to protect; she was condemned by a corrupt bishop of the Church to which she pledged undying loyalty. After her death, that same country made her into a heroine; that same Church made her into a Saint. She is now, with St. Thérèse of Lisieux, co-patroness of France. She was the Little Flower's heroine during Thérèse's lifetime. Little did Thérèse realize they would someday share the same title as Patron Saint of France. And although Joan lived some 460 years before St. Thérèse, she was only canonized five years before the Little Flower.
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Joan of Arc was illiterate. She could not read nor write. Yet her story is so fascinating that great authors of the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries, George Bernard Shaw, and Mark Twain, have both written about her. She was not stupid by any means, only unschooled.
There is such an amazing scope to this teenage saint, we cannot get into it in this book, because this is a book on Angels in the lives of the Saints. Our next book will be Saints and Other Powerful Women in the Church, Part II, and we will write about Joan of Arc at length, in that book, if the Lord wills it. But for now, let's talk about Joan of Arc and the Angels.
Joan was a peasant girl, daughter of a farmer. Her village of Domremy was sort of a border town. At any given time, it could be part of France, Burgundy, or the Holy Roman Empire, based on who was in charge. Burgundy had sworn allegiance to England, which made things all the worse. Her country was at war with England, the Hundred Year's War, and had been since long before she was born.
While Joan was used to the idea of war, having lived with it all her life, she and her family had to hide out many times when invading soldiers came to their little village from wherever, to loot and pillage. These soldiers were not really troops for the most part. They were bandits who justified their way of life by posing as soldiers. They roamed in packs, and took advantage of any weakness they could find. (Their modern equivalent would be terrorists, cowards who terrorize the unarmed civilian population.) While these Fifteenth century terrorists had no courage, they had weapons, so Joan and her family found themselves running for refuge from the attacks.
Considering the conditions of her country, Joan lived a relatively normal life She was an exceptionally loving, religious, trusting girl. That may have been her great mistake, trusting people. But she trusted mostly in the Lord. He was in charge of her life. She spent a lot of time at Church, receiving the Sacraments whenever she could. While she was very holy, she was also the life of the party. She loved to take part in village activities. But her strongest pull was towards God and things of Heaven. She was told many stories of the Saints by her dear mother. Remember, she never learned to read or write. It wasn't really necessary for a girl of her station. She had a special secret place all her own, out in the woods, a little chapel where a statue of our Lady and the Baby Jesus presided. She spent a lot of time in that chapel, praying for her family and her country. Joan was a very patriotic girl. She loved her country and her king, even though she was not sure who he was.
Her years of joy were shortlived. At age twelve, her famous voices began coming to her. They were always accompanied by a brilliant flash of light, and came at the precise time the sexton rang the church bells. At first, there was only one voice. When this voice spoke to her, the third time, she knew it was St. Michael the Archangel. This was affirmed to her on that third visit by an apparition, she recognized as St. Michael in the company of other Angels. At first, the voice just gave her instructions on how to live a good Christian life. Basically, the Angel told her to be good, go to Church often, and obey her parents. These were good instructions, but to be honest, she was already practicing these virtues.
At a given point, St. Michael advised her she would be visited by St. Margaret of Antioch, and St. Catherine of Alexandria. He told her she had to listen to their instructions, and follow them to the letter. She agreed to do this. When they came, they were beautiful. They wore crowns on their heads. We get the impression that all she could see of them were from their heads down to their waist. Joan grew very comfortable with her Heavenly Visitors, especially St. Michael, to whom she and much of the world of the Middle Ages had a great devotion.
But a time was to come when the messages took on a different tone. She was shocked when she was told, "Daughter of God, you must leave your village and go to France." She replied "But I'm only a young girl, and I cannot ride or fight." She was told she was to save France from the English. This was all beyond her. Think about it, though. This girl was a teenager. Granted, she was much more spiritual than most adults of her time. But she was being told things that most adults would have a major problem accepting. Given the same set of circumstances, I don't know anyone who wouldn't be completely bowled over by the proposition set before this young girl.
She knew they were sincere. She trusted, especially in St. Michael. She knew he would not allow the evil one to deceive her. But she was very confused. As the years progressed, the messages became more specific. She would save France from defeat at the hands of the British. This continued until she was sixteen years old. Her voices would give her no peace. Then, one day in May, she was given a direct command. She was told by St. Michael to go to a Robert de Baudricourt, in a neighboring town, and tell him to provide her with troops, to escort her to the Dauphin. His first reaction upon seeing this young peasant girl, wearing her worn red dress, and claiming she would save France and have the Dauphin crowned king, was to give her a swift boot. Instead, he ordered her uncle (who had brought her), to take her home. She returned to Domremy, completely crushed.
Her Angelic voices would not leave her alone! She pleaded and tried to explain how she had only been able to accomplish humiliation at the hands of Robert De Baudricourt; but St. Michael would have none of it. Finally, he said to her, "It is God who commands it!" Fortified by the courage and determination of the Angel, she set out, at the beginning of the following year, to see Robert de Baudricourt, once again. However, by this time the situation of the French was so disastrous, he was not anxious to dismiss her. He was ready to grab onto any hope. Finally, he gave in, and assigned three men to bring her to the king.
Everything she did for the next fifteen months was orchestrated by the voice of St. Michael. She could do no wrong. She was given a white suit of armor. The banner she carried into combat was that of Jesus and Mary. Every battle she fought, the French won by a wide margin. The English were pushed back.
The English offered a ransom for the capture of Joan of Arc, dead or alive. But no one could get close to her. She was able to overcome the politics of the French court, to have the Dauphin crowned King of France.
But then it was over for Joan. Her mission was completed, as far as the instructions of the Angel were concerned. What then, prompted her to continue going into battle, when she had not been instructed to do so? Whatever the reason, all her future battles were disasters for the French and for Joan. She was even allowed to be captured by her enemies, the Burgundians. They put her up for ransom. Her French king, the Dauphin she had placed on the throne, abandoned her. She was not worth putting up a franc. But, the English, who hated her, put up a sum equivalent to about $50,000, so that they could humiliate and execute her. They were able to get a corrupt French bishop, who had ambitions, to set up a mock trial, at which Joan was condemned as a heretic, and ultimately burned at the stake.
We have an important question to reflect on here. Why did Joan continue doing battle? As far as her voices were concerned, she should not have. Had she lost her focus? Was she now battling for God, or for herself? Was there a certain amount of self-gratification from winning all those battles? She had become the heroine of France at nineteen years old. She was a very dramatic figure. Was her head turned even a little by the adulation she was receiving? Was she looking for man's approval? Better yet, was she looking for approval from the misfit she had made king?
If any of the above were true, the results would have been predictable. She began working on her own agenda, not the Lord's as transmitted to her by the Angel Michael. Is that why everything she did became a catastrophe? Is that why her king abandoned her, without even attempting to rescue her from their enemies? Did St. Michael abandon her? During her last great trial, when it became obvious, she was to be the victim of a kangaroo court, did Michael come to her rescue once more, at the end? We're told that at one point, she backed off from her claims that she had truly heard Angelic voices give her instructions. She was given a period of respite. But soon after, she resumed her claim with strength and fervor, knowing she would be burned at the stake, as a witch.
In the account of her death, it is reported that she was allowed to have a crucifix held up so she could look at it, as the raging flames hungrily darted up the pole, mercilessly anxious and ready to devour her body. She seemed to go into an ecstasy, oblivious of the red hot flames that were closing in on her, enveloping her, attacking the young body of the former standard bearer and soldier of Jesus and Mary, and France. Everyone waited anxiously to see her react to the fire, to hear her cry out for mercy. But she didn't. It was as if she didn't feel any pain! Then, something unusual happened at her execution. One of the spectators, the secretary to King Henry, cried out, as Joan was dying, "We are lost; we have burned a saint!"
Is it possible, that although she had disobeyed him, at the end, her Angel, her Michael, came to her rescue? Could he have stretched out his massive wings and covered the body of this little girl who had trusted him so completely? Did he protect her from the flames, so that she experienced no pain, as her body was destroyed, and her soul was lifted up to Heaven?
We believe St. Michael the Archangel, and very possibly a legion of Angels were there, to bring their sister Home, after her hard battle. We know the Lord was protecting her. But we have to trust that He was more interested in her soul than her body.
We don't understand the Lord's ways. We don't know why He allowed Joan of Arc to suffer the way she did. But we know that He loves us, that He wants nothing more than to lift all of us up into Glory. Do we hear Angelic voices the way Joan did? Do we listen to their instructions? Do we respond the way she did? Do we trust our souls to their bidding? The time may be coming, indeed it may be here, when the salvation of our souls will depend on how strictly we obey their directives. Think about it!