BY CINDY WOODEN IN ROME AND SIMON CALDWELL
WITH HER deep prayer life and total devotion to serving God and the good of her fellow citizens, St Joan of Arc is a model for Christian politicians, Pope Benedict XVI has said.
“Hers is a beautiful example of holiness for lay-people involved in politics, especially in difficult situations. Faith is the light that guided all her choices,” the Pope said during his weekly general audience.
The Pope’s remarks about St Joan were part of an ongoing series of audience talks about influential Catholic women of the Middle Ages.
Addressing about 3,000 people gathered for the audience, the Pope said that St Joan of Arc, like St Catherine of Siena, was a young laywoman and mystic who lived her faith commitment “not in a cloister, but in the midst of the most dramatic realities of the Church and the world of her time”.
St Joan and St Catherine are perhaps the best examples of “those strong women who at the end of the Middle Ages brought the Gospel to bear on the complex events of history”, he said. From the transcripts of the young French saint’s trial, “we know that her religious life matured with mystical experiences beginning when she was 13 years old. Through the voice of the Archangel Michael, Joan felt called by the Lord to intensify her Christian life and to work personally for the liberation of her people,” the Pope said.
Those involved in condemning her as a heretic and having her burned at the stake included priests and theologians who disagreed with her politically and were unable to overcome that disagreement to judge her fairly, the Pope said.
The role of churchmen in condemning the saint, he said, is a “disturbing and enlightening” picture of the reality of the Church on earth, which as the Second Vatican Council said, “is always holy and is always in need of purification”.
The truth is that St Joan of Arc was involved in the French political situation because of her total love for Jesus and for her neighbour, he said. “This saint understood that love embraces the whole reality of God and of man, of heaven and earth, of the Church and the world,” he said.
The young French saint carried a banner with an image of Jesus holding the world, “the icon of her political mission. The liberation of her people was a work of human justice which Joan engaged in with charity for love of Jesus,” the Pope said.
The patron saint of politicians is St Thomas More, the former Lord Chancellor of England who was beheaded in 1535 after he refused to condone the adultery of King Henry VIII, who had illicitly married Anne Boleyn while still married to Katherine of Aragon. Pope John Paul II gave St Thomas the title in 2000.
St Joan of Arc lived in the preceding century to St Thomas, having been born on the Feast of the Epiphany in Domremy-la-Canne, a village on Meuse. She was a child when King Henry V of England invaded France.
She was shocked when she heard the voices of St Michael, St Margaret and St Catherine, among others, and protested that she was a poor peasant girl who could neither ride nor fight. The voices responded with the words: “It is God who commands it.” After her predictions about the course of the war came true she was able to present herself to the Dauphin, Charles VII, identifying him at once even though he had disguised himself.
She convinced him of the supernatural nature of her mission and soon afterwards led an army to the relief of Orleans, which was under siege by the English. Her victory changed the course of the war and led to the unification of France. She was eventually captured by the English, however, who sought her execution as a sorceress and a heretic. They were aided by Bishop Peter Cauchon of Beauvais, an ambitious cleric who the English helped to become Archbishop of Rouen.
St Joan was burned at the stake in Rouen and her ashes were thrown into the Seine. Her conviction was overturned by the pope 25 years later and in 1930 she as canonised.
With St Thérèse of Lisieux, St Joan is a co-patron saint of France.