I’ve known some Catholic women who have taken St. Joan of Arc as their patron saint almost solely for the reason that a girl-soldier-saint sounds pretty hardcore, fierce – dare I say BA?
And really, St. Joan was all those things, but also much more. To me, she’s always been a strong example of someone who did not shirk away from looking like a fool or from facing ridiculous obstacles, for the sake of God.
Her Outwardly Unremarkable Early Life
St. Joan was born in 1412 to French peasant parents Jacques and Isabelle, in a small village called Domremy in France. She led a simple life and did not even know how to read, but she was very pious from an early age.
She lived in a time of great political turmoil, as the conflict between France and England raged in the Hundred Years’ War. There are some more complex details about the intricacies of the situation, but the most important takeaway is that she saw the oppression of her people by the English from a very young age because of the conflict.
It is said that she was already hearing voices of saints when she was very young, but no one would have known it from observing this simple little peasant girl who spent her days helping with housework and tending her father’s animals. These early messages to her were of a more personal character, but soon they began to contain her call and life’s mission.
An Outrageous Mission
Joan was a mere 13 years old when St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret appeared to her and told her that she would be driving the English from her French territory and making it possible for the rightful heir to the French throne to be crowned king.
She didn’t go set out immediately on this huge mission. And who can blame her? Being a young teenage girl, and living in an age where women did not become soldiers nonetheless. The entire thing sounded absurd.
I imagine she knew she would be laughed and disbelieved at every step of the process, but at age sixteen, with the heavenly voices continuing to urge her, she finally set out.
Her first step was to go to a man named Robert de Baudricourt, whom her voices said would give her the soldiers needed to raise the siege that the English had laid on Orleans. But of course Robert de Baudricourt did not believe her, and she had to make three visits to him before he finally agreed to help her.
I don’t know about you, but I feel intimidated at the thought of appearing just a little out of the ordinary to the world. And here was a young girl who had to announce that God had given her this unheard of task. She had to leave the comfort and security of her home village and family, in order to face ridicule, rejection, and eventually a lot of physical danger.
The Maiden Soldier’s Success
Joan actually won a lot of people over to believe in her cause just by surviving the journey to get to Charles VII, the rightful heir. That’s because it was a very harsh, dead-of-winter, 400-mile trip through mostly enemy territory. And she made it in eleven days. So needless to say, that brought a few people to her side.
After this, she found Charles VII, recognizing him immediately from his place of hiding among a crowd at his palace. Though he was cautious, she convinced him of her mission, and he gave her (yes, she was still a mere teenager at this point) command of the French army.
From there, it was all kicking butt and taking names, in a fifteenth century French saint-girl kind of way, that is. She arrived with her army at Orleans, where the English had been holding a siege for seven months. She said, “Trust in God. God will aid the city of Orleans and expel the enemy.” And sure enough, as simple as that, her army fought for three days and drove the English to retreat, successfully turning the Hundred Years’ War.
Then, she led her army on an offensive to clear a path for the King to be crowned at Reims, winning some huge victories and accomplishing her goal. But then, things started to go a bit sideways.
Joan’s Ultimate Sacrifice
Charles didn’t give Joan his full immediate support to go on to liberate Paris after this. Instead, he delayed over a month, and her army was defeated at Paris.
Then he disbanded her army and forced her to stay on in his court, leading occasional small armies to aid certain cities. This was where she was finally captured by the Burgundians at Compiegne. They sold her to the English, and the English then tried to make her out as some kind of witch or heretic, in order to get her out of the picture.
There was a lengthy trial, in which Joan often outsmarted the learned men trying to trick her. But in the end, the trial was fixed, and those prosecuting her had always known what they wanted to accomplish. She was sentenced to death by burning in 1431, and she died with her eyes on a crucifix.
Most of us probably won’t be asked by God to do such outlandish, wild, and difficult things as St. Joan. But we all have moments when we fear looking ridiculous to the world in our efforts to remain faithful. So let us take her life as an example when we’re feeling beaten down by the world’s laughter, derision, and scoffs.