Celebrating St. Joan of Arc
By Tasha Friedman
What are you willing to give your life for?
Although we might not think of it in these terms, many of us are “dying” for very limited things. We are willing to trade our natural freedom, spontaneity, and openheartedness for a false sense of security and social validation.
We trade depth and silence for the chatter of the mind. We trade contentment within ourselves for entertainment, just enough to keep us distracted, so we don’t feel the pain of missing that deeper connection.
We trade authenticity for what others expect of us.
These might be relevant contemplations on the feast day of St. Joan of Arc, one of Europe’s most famous martyrs and a patron saint of France.
Born in 1412 to a peasant family in the Vosges (northeast France), at age 13, Joan received a vision of St. Michael the Archangel, St. Catherine of Antioch, and St. Margaret of Alexandria, telling her to drive the English out of France.
Touched deeply by the beauty of the divine messengers, from that point on, she devoted her life to what she considered her mission from God. Her keen military intuition and fiery commitment to the cause were instrumental in France’s eventual victory in the Hundred Years’ War.
Although she is commonly thought of as a warrior, Joan did not wield a sword and never killed anyone in battle. Her role was rather one of inspiration and direction. Carrying the banner of the French army, she directed troops on the field, outlined strategies, and motivated the leaders toward what would become turning points in the long conflict.
Known for her love of the sacraments and compassion for the poor, she didn’t hesitate to chastise high-ranking knights (all noblemen, while she was a teenage peasant girl) for skipping Mass or not showing enough courage in their dealings with the English.
Unfortunately, in 1430 Joan was captured in Burgundy, sold to the English, and put on trial for heresy. In reality, the charge was political rather than theological, as her claims to receiving divine guidance would invalidate the English claim to the throne.
She reacted to the entire process with remarkable poise and equanimity. At one point, an interrogator asked her if she knew she was in God’s grace, hoping to catch her in a trap—she would either confess heresy by claiming to know she was, or guilt by admitting that she wasn’t.
Joan avoided both with a statement of trust and surrender, saying that if she was not in God’s grace, she prayed to be put there, and if she was already that He would keep her there.
Despite this, Joan was finally convicted (on account of her wearing men’s clothes) and executed by burning at the stake. Her last wish was to have a cross to look at as she died.
Yet only twenty years after her death, the Church determined that her trial had been mishandled and officially overturned the heresy charge against her. From then on, Joan entered the domain of legend, becoming a symbol of courage and divine inspiration arriving via a most unlikely channel.
Beyond her military heroism, she shines as an example of absolute trust in God, which carried her beyond any boundaries of class, gender, or social role, and even beyond the fear of death.
Tasha is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.