The following essay was written by the famous Canadian writer, Mr. George Graham of Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia. In this article Mr. Graham discusses how Saint Joan, even after 560 years, still has an important message to share with us if only we have the ears to hear it. Virginia Frohlick
I thought my schooling gave me a fair picture of Joan of Arc. Interesting but minor, right? "Wrong," declares Mark Twain, who researched her life for 12 years in writing his biography of her. "Joan of Arc is the most amazing human person in the annals of recorded history."
As a teenager, Joan of Arc went from unknown country girl to "the most amazing human person in the annals of recorded history" during a mission that took her a little over a year. Recent airings of the CBS mini-series on Joan of Arc did a moving portrayal of the awesome responsibility that a seventeen-year-old girl took on her shoulders, and the precious little thanks she got as an eighteen-year-old in fulfilling it. But it did a poor job of outlining her many military successes, or pointing out how, by her battle prowess, she totally demoralized the English occupation army.
No violent warrior, Joan of Arc rode into her many battles waving only her banner. Although she wore armor and carried armaments, no matter how furiously the arrows hissed around her; no matter how often enemy swords flashed past her face; no matter how often her own blood gushed; despite developing sword skills that dazzled her veteran soldiers, in the main Joan of Arc unsheathed her sword to rally her troops; she never struck back.
After the battle had been won, she could be found out on the field, leaning, one hand on her banner, kneeling to comfort not only allies, but also enemy soldiers. In their pain they could look up to see the face of a person crossing the cusp between girlhood and womanhood, a feminine face tender with compassion and care. And above, against the sky, her fluttering banner, a blue banner showing a white dove with a scroll in its beak. The inscription read: "By Command of the King of Heaven."
Joan of Arc fulfilled the prophecy regarding the Maid of Lorraine, a legend that said a young girl would come from there to save France. Locals laughed: "What good can ever come out of Lorraine!"
But with Joan of Arc, this Maid of Lorraine, there is so much good to wonder at. Consider a practical one: How, with no training or experience, did she became such a horsewoman so quickly? A warhorse is no quiet little pony; warhorses were bred to be lean mean war machines. They kicked at any target, stomped on any head, bit anything moving, seldom caring which side. And a battle in full cry is no gentle trot around a manicured ring. Having seldom ridden before, she swung up on a warhorse and charged off at the very front of her army into the wild mayhem of battle. Within weeks she rode horses, as the documents of the day put it: "so ill-tempered that no man would dare try." Not only did she stay on such horses when desperate enemies slammed their animals into hers, when horses and riders fell beneath her charger's feet, when swords and arrows rang against her armour, when sometimes they cut through; when stark fear struck her unawares; but all the while this teenager kept her eye out for her soldiers, and, as commander-in-chief, directed the battle. How did she do it?
Always the first into the worst of the fighting, Joan of Arc was frequently wounded, and when wounded, she cried with pain as many of us would. Once first to the dangerous task of setting a ladder against a wall, she was shot through the upper chest with a bolt from a cross-bow. Again she cried out to her spiritual guides: St. Catherine, St. Margaret, and Michael, the Archangel. Within hours she was back in front of the fight. How the sight of her quick return from such apparent mortal injury must have shaken the enemy.
Joan of Arc's capture, trial and death gives a picture of betrayal at its most heinous. She was triply betrayed: by Charles, the king she had put on the throne of France; by Bishop Cauchon, and by both the church and civil courts that tried her. Fortunately, detailed records exist. "Speak boldly!" her voices told her. To read the record and see how this unschooled teenager handled the sharpest legal, theological and sophistic minds of her time, reducing them to frustrated old fools, is awesome to behold.
She prayed for them all. Then they sent this little slip of a girl up on that scaffold to be burned alive, in her bare feet.
In the Bible, Jesus says, "No greater love has any man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends." Perhaps no greater love has any leader than this: that she will be burned alive not only for her followers, but also for her enemies.
Few people can hear an outline of the life of Joan of Arc, even one that misses so many highlights, and not wonder what she would do if she appeared in our midst today. What enemy would she identify? What battle would she fight? We know that in times past, her strategy took the breath of her captains away. Why would that change?
If I might speak to the men: to the fathers and sons among us, remember that Joan of Arc had her protectors. Her most rough and rugged men of arms fought to be at her side, fought for the right to protect her from all sides, fought to cover her back, for the English were delirious to kill her. At the end of such battles she would turn and give them that faintest of smiles, telling her Guardian Captains she noticed the times they shielded her from arrows; the times they blocked the swords; the times they protected her when she would not hurt another to save herself.
Now, in this battle of the next millennium, she might call you over. "My Guardian Captain," she might say. "I see clearly the battle that must be won."
Joan of Arc broke her sword in anger once: using it flat-side across the backside of one of the pimps, the prostitutes, the carpetbaggers that scramble after the scraps of war. She chased the lot over the horizon, rode back and, assembling her troops, she laid it on the line. "Only men of virtue fight in my army!"
Joan of Arc was no prude. She understood the direct link, the equal sign, between virtue and courage. Only people of virtue can be brave. Naturally, she also understood the direct linkage between vice and cowardice: those who embrace vice will act the coward. As a leader always in the thick of it, she could not afford to have cowards around her. In its turn, she understood the linkage between cowardice and abuse. For as we well know, give a coward a little power, and you've got a bully and a bully's abuse. Joan of Arc got to know bullies well, for when she was imprisoned by Bishop Cauchon, he put her in a military prison with English soldiers to guard her. They had their schemes. One mid-winter trick was to wait until she was asleep in that cold stone cell and then throw a bucket of ice water on her. They's strut off laughing, leaving her to shake with cold in her soaking wet clothes without so much as a candle to warm her hands. So it goes when vice passes through the coward and the bully to spawn abuse.
Now that she has called you over, what more will she say? Of course I don't know, but I'm willing to bet my life that the content would run something like this: "My Captain, my Guardian Captain, anyone can see that our enemy down in the valley of the next millennium is the abuse that runs rampant in this society. Abuse is what we get when we do not have enough purity of heart. We must raise our banner and lead people to a new purity of heart. We must convert vice to virtue."
She might move her horse slightly aside, that warhorse so ill-tempered that no man dared try to ride it. You've seen these dynamite horses: every muscle quivering, in this case under its shining coat of mail, dancing, snorting, pawing the air with its front feet.
She turns to you one last time, perhaps with a hint of that faint smile lighting her face. "Our first battle, and our worst battle, will be with men. We must win them first. Have faith. When they see you acting with vigor in the name of virtue, when you speak boldly, men will do the right thing. Then we must convert that strange masculine beast you've concocted, the one you call the corporate person. Every corporation; every bureaucracy, every school board, every church, they too must yield to our call for a higher purity of heart. Remember: Speak boldly!"
Then her warhorse explodes away. In a flash you know why Joan of Arc drew her line between virtue and vice. She gives you a flying choice, one that cuts to the action of a man of virtue; one that cuts to the apathy of a coward. Again this commander must know her captains love virtue, for again she must know they are right behind her, all the way to hell and back.
A few years ago a group of new female recruits at an armed forces base in Canada were drilling outside a male dormitory. Young men threw open their windows, and yelling down, mocked them. Knowing the girls, fresh recruits trying hard to please and drill correctly, would not even look, let alone reply, the young bullies got down and dirty. Now I won't repeat their four letter words, words especially demeaning to women, but I claim here and now that our society's acceptance of the vice of sexual promiscuity is what turned these sons of Canadian society into such pigs. Think of the cardinal vices, gluttony, greed, and all the rest, and only sexual immorality could generate such disrespect; and from that disrespect, a desire to abuse women, and from that, such foul language to abuse them with. Such are the hellions we get when virtue is mocked, when virtue is undefended; when no one stands up for purity of heart in our society.
If you think that illustration is an isolated case, unless schools here are different from others I know, ask your daughters what assaults their ears in the hallways of their schools. As you once protected your toddler from unsavory language; so they now protect you from the kind of abuse they suffer, abuse they fear--that if they told you--would leave you clenching your hands in helplessness. From where our children stand, parents have little power to silence the cowards in school hallways. This must change! Speaking of change, let me quote you Joan of Arc's first principle of time management: "Now. If not now, today! If not today, tomorrow. If not tomorrow... sorry, too slow for my campaign."
Fathers and sons, remember your leader. She's charging headlong into battle. You are men of virtue, no, so you follow this little slip of a leader who, in her job as your battlefield commander once took arrows in the chest, in the thigh, took slashes from swords in both arms, was betrayed by king, by church, by state, and crying out the name of her Saviour, "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!" she finally fell silent within a wall of fire. And now this little slip of a leader slips away, slips away to her home in heaven, to her place on the hilltop of history.
Fathers, sons. Will you grasp her banner? Remember the message? "By Command of the King of Heaven!" It's a banner that can be grasped by Sioux, by Cherokee, by Muslim, by Jew, by Christian, by Shik, by anyone. Will you take command in the name of purity of heart, not only to honour this teenager watching from her front door in heaven, but to serve any little slip of a person needing a leader to protect them from the swords and arrows of an ever more outrageously abusive world.
Why not be first? Why not jump in at the worst? Jump in there where the emotion of the selfish and the bitter screams the loudest? Dazzle them with the swordwork of your determination. Speak boldly! Demand purity of heart in every corner of society!: No matter how high the corner; no matter how low.
Fathers, sons; mothers, daughters--when Joan of Arc was giving her marching orders to men, I suspect she said to herself: "I don't have to worry about women: they'll know what to do." Remember: As a teenager, Joan of Arc went from unknown country girl to "the most amazing human person in the annals of recorded history" in a mission taking a year, maybe a little more. I declare that you can do amazing things in any year--in any day--you choose.
Fathers, sons, mothers, daughters: When it comes to winning one of the great battles of history--winning people to a New Purity of Heart--perhaps now, it's your turn.