Saturday, 30 May 2015

An old Chartres Meditation: St Joan of Arc

In honour of the feast of St Joan of Arc, I have dug up this meditation from the archives: it was one of the Chartres pilgrimage meditations in 2012. It was, of course, written by a French priest.

St Joan of Arc

Dear Pilgrims,

On this, the third day of our pilgrimage, we place ourselves under the patronage of St Joan of Arc, the patron saint of France.

In the person of St Joan, we find the natural and the supernatural united in harmony. In that way, she embodies a beautiful image of Christendom.  Let us spend a few moments remembering her story; a story which offers a striking parallel to Our Lord Jesus Christ's, whom she loved and served so well.

l.          Her Childhood - the hidden life at Donrémy

Joan was born on 6th January, 1412.  On that feastday of the Epiphany, there unfolded an extraordinary set of events, which remind us of those which accompanied the birth of our Saviour.  Witnesses talk of an incredible joy which overtook those who lived in the village, while the cockerels, from the earliest hours, by unusually musical crowing and much flapping of wings, foretold the coming of happy days.

Her father, James of Arc, was a diligent labourer, honest and hard working and a good parishioner. He was elected 'model of Christendom' by his village, which meant that he was responsible for the common good of the community.  He was concerned for the honour of his household and his reputation.  He was to die of grief, on learning of the surrender of Rouen.

Of her mother, Isabelle Romée, Joan would say that she raised her children: 'completely under her control, and took great care to guard them well.' This mother was never spared any trials: she lost a son and a daughter at an early age, then her beloved Joan, and her husband soon after that. Nonetheless, it was she who, with great faith and tenacity, obtained the revision of the iniquitous trial, which had condemned her daughter as a 'witch, apostate, and heretic.'  Before dying, Isabelle Romée would have the great joy of seeing Pope Callixtus lll granting her request, abrogating and annulling as 'lying, illegal and unjust' the sentence passed by the bishop of Beauvais.

In a very difficult political climate (occupation by the English, civil war...) Joan's childhood seems very ordinary.  In the evidence given in the trial to rehabilitate her, it was said that: 'In her childhood, and right up to the time when she left her father's house, she ploughed the fields, sometimes watched over the animals in the pastures, and did womanly work, sewing and all the rest.' In short, she 'did just what everyone else did.' and she 'knew what girls of her age knew' as her friends and other people of Donrémy said.

Raised by pious parents, she learned her prayers from her mother: the Pater, Ave and Credo. She knew the Ten Commandments; she went to confession to the parish priest, and would receive communion at Easter. Later on her piety became more and more sacramental, (Masses, confessions, communions), as she became more independent and advanced in her mission. Other children who grew up with her, praised her moral qualities, her modesty and her devotion. Joan 'would leave the childish games in the fields and find some space apart to speak with God.'

All the witnesses agree that Joan remained emotive and recollected all her life.  This child had a mystical experience which led her to abandon her education, her expected role as a woman, and her station in life. And all that for a higher calling: the good of her country.

ll         The Public Life - the Mission

We should not imagine that her leaving Donrémy and her epic story were easy.  Only her submission to the Divine Will and her interior life enabled God's victory in her soul, after long preparation and intense interior conflict.

In February 1429 at Vaucouleurs (when Joan was just 17 years old), she asked to go and see the Dauphin at Chinon, explaining that there would be no victory without her; but she added 'However, I would much prefer to stay and sew with my poor mother; because this isn't my station in life; but I must go and do what I must do, because this 'Sir' requires that I do so.'

Her mother had formed her as a good Christian, but it was her Voices (St Michael the Archangel, St Catherine and St Margaret) who sustained her, brought her up and guided her so that she could become the great saint whom we now venerate.

At the meeting at Chinon, Joan knew what to say to the Dauphin to convince him that his cause was not lost: 'If the king would only believe and have faith in God, in my lord St Michael, in St Catherine and in my lady St Margaret, she (Joan) would lead him to be crowned in Reims, and would establish him in peace in his kingdom.'

The Duke of Alançon, during the nullity trial, confirmed that Joan had told Charles VII "The King of Heaven is letting you know, by means of me, that you must go to Reims to be consecrated and crowned, in order to become the regent of the King of Heaven, as king of France.'

After having subjected Joan to various medical and theological examinations, the Gentle Dauphin entrusted his army to her, so that she could bring the people of Orléans, (which was besieged by the English) the food and sustenance they needed.

In order to avoid the shedding of blood, Joan asked the English to lift the siege, and a few days later, when they had ignored her, she attacked.  After three days of fighting, the entrance to the bridge over the Loire which leads to the city was recaptured. The Maid, as Joan was always called, replaced the habitual scramble for spoils of victorious soldiers with a procession and a Mass for the dead.

That was on a Sunday, 8 May 1429, the feast of St Michael of Mont Gargan.  As the saying goes: 'the men of war went into battle and God gave the victory.'

On the 18 June that same year, at Patay, the English were routed.  It was a confirmation of the truth of Joan's claims about her mission.  It was also the occasion of the greatest demonstration of the young girl's great humanity towards the wounded of all sides, and her complete lack of any desire for vengeance.

On the 17 July, the day after the Royal entry into Reims, the coronation took place. The anointing was done with the chrism of the Holy Ampoule (1) brought from the Abbey of St Rémy.  Any peers of the kingdom who couldn't be there themselves sent their representatives.  Joan's parents were there too, moved to see their daughter at the side of the king.

For Joan, the first mission which her voices had given her was completed.  Joan was able to return to Donrémy and said that was what she wanted to do.  'For I hoped that it would have pleased God my creator, that I should return now, laying down my weapons, and going back, serve my father and my mother, tending their flocks, with my sister and my brothers, who would be so pleased to see me!'

Nevertheless, she was quick to see that as long as Paris was in English hands, and the city was siding with the Burgundy faction, the king, crowned though he was, could not have all the reins of power in his hands. It was essential, therefore, for the good of the kingdom, to take Paris.  But that view was not shared by Charles VII, and he didn't explain his plans to the Maid.  Joan was following the voices sent by God, and the king was following a political strategy based on human prudence.

lll        Her Passion and Martyrdom

Joan took the initiative and attacked Paris at the St Honoré gate (quite close to the current Place des Pyramides, where there is now a statue of her on horseback). She was wounded, and her attack failed. On 21 September 1429, the king decided to dissolve his army and to recall Joan to his side. But the people of Compiègne, besieged by the Burgundians, called for his help.  Joan, without the king's agreement, summoned her troops and set out on campaign.  She was captured on 23 May 1430, outside Compiègne and sold to the English for 10,000 English pounds, which were entrusted to their ally, Monsignor Cauchon, the bishop of Beauvais.

That was the start of her imprisonment, which became harsher and harsher, and of bitter fights with the clerks of Paris University, in a trial which was more political than religious. She, who was concerned for her country and people, was to be abandoned to the enemy, isolated, and finally burned alive after an unjust trial.

For the whole period of her trial, Joan defended herself with admirable vigour against the injustices and procedural failings of the process.  With no help apart from her 'counsel' (her Voices) she thwarted the subtle traps which which they prepared for her, demonstrating both a clarity of expression and a doctrine free from any error which disconcerted her accusers.  Despite that, she was condemned to be burned at the stake, without any account being taken of the fact that she had appealed to the Pope; and she was executed on 30 May 1431.

At the time of her death, her last words expressed no turning away, but rather a complete abandonment to the mercy of God: 'No, my Voices have not deceived me... Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.'  God had given her a mission, she had accomplished it, the king had benefited from it, and France was saved.


Dear Pilgrims

The epic story of the Maid of Orleans is a unique proof of the love of God for France. Joan was the submissive and efficient instrument of that love, as much by her sufferings as by her actions.  The Church would come to say that she was 'miraculously sustained to protect the Faith and the Country.'

It is because she served God first that France was victorious, and the country found peace once again. And so it will be until the end of time: yesterday, today and tomorrow.
St Joan of Arc, Pray for us.

(1) (Translator's note: the Holy Ampoule contained the chrism always used for the anointing of kings of France, from at least the time of Louis Vll in 1131)

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