The theme of our times, the thread that passes through every aspect of our lives in these 2020’s, is mistrust. We’ve been betrayed, misled and deceived so many times, and by so many we should have been able to rely on.
There’s no need to catalogue the betrayals. The upshot is that we don’t know who to trust, and even when we do find someone who seems irreproachable, we hold back. Our loyalty has been kicked to the curb too many times to give it fully, without hesitation.
Perhaps, then, we should look all the more to the saints. For one thing, they’ve completed their witness, so there won’t be any nasty surprises down the road. Not to say there aren’t attempts to rewrite the lives of the saints, as in the shameful attempts to pin clerical abuse on St. John Paul, and to paint St. Joan of Arc as a cross-dresser because she wore armor. But those are feeble stabs by people who fail to understand the Faith.
Maybe St. Joan is the very saint for this age of mistrust. She lived in a France that had been betrayed by cowardly leaders. The people had lost hope. Then God raised up the Maid of Orleans, so pure, so young, there was no guile in her. Maybe the people could have only given their trust to such an innocent.
God has often worked through children and those the world might label “naïve”; the children at Fatima (the oldest was only 10); Bernadette of Lourdes (poor, sickly, and uneducated); the apostle Nathaniel (of whom Jesus said, “Behold, a true Israelite in whom there is no guile”); Joseph of Cupertino (so remarkably unclever that he could only be admitted to the monastery as a servant); and Catherine of Siena (illiterate, but called by God to speak even to the Pope.)
But back to St. Joan. She was only 13 when her “Saintly Council ,” Saints Michael the Archangel, Catherine of Alexandria and Margaret of Antioch, directed her to drive the English invaders out of France and restore the rightful ruler to the throne. That ruler was Charles VII, who had been disinherited when his father, Charles VI, ceded the French crown to the English King. This act might be compared to our American government turning us over to a foreign power… say, China.
Five years after Joan was first recruited by her Saintly Council, members of the clergy of her beloved Catholic Church violated all reasonable protocol in order to have her executed. Talk about being sold out. A saintly virgin was put conveniently out of the way by calculating men, hungry for power.
The difference between Joan and me is her refusal to let bitterness lodge in her heart against leaders who sell out the people. And that is her call on us today, to refuse bitterness when the circumstances against us are unfair and unholy. When people who speak against the most basic of Catholic truths ostentatiously take Communion, the very Body of Christ, from priests unwilling to defend the Faith. When the clergy holds hands with forces in the world who will destroy us. When the government in power works against the security and well-being of the people.
St. Therese of Lisieux dressed as Joan of Arc (1895)
We are angry, but we cannot let anger make us sin. That is where St. Joan is most edifying in this age. She looked her betrayers in the eye during her trial, and as she was being burned to death at the age of 19. She knew their malice and venality. And she nevertheless kept her heart attuned to God, while her body was submitted to the flames.
She did her duty, took each next right step as she saw it, and never abandoned her trust in God, that He could, and would, make all things new. But did God snatch her from the flames? Did He punish her betrayers? No. God’s plan was deeper than that. Jesus endured His agony, and He strengthened St. Joan to join Him in that act that redeems the world.
Her final words were, “Hold the cross high so I may see it through the flames.”
Will we be focused so acutely on the cross as we are tested? Will we keep faith in God, even when we are suffering? Will we be distracted by social media and public opinion, giving the trust that belongs to God to politicians or activists? Will we lose sight of Our Lord, even when we may be fighting laudable battles in the public square?
As St. Joan said, “I was born for this.” So were we all. It is no accident that we, each one of us, are living through these calamitous times. I have even heard Catholics say that we are privileged to live in them. We have a battle to fight. God knows what we are capable of, and has a plan for all of us. We must not miss it, because we were born for this.
At TOBET, we have long thought that St. John Paul was given to us specifically for this age; that the theology of the body is the map that God intended for us to navigate these times. It is as simple as teaching young children that the body is a gift, and as complex as understanding that holy marriages and families change the world. The pursuit of these truths, even in the midst of turmoil, can be our part in the great drama of salvation.
“In God’s name, let us go on bravely!”
Sheryl Collmer writes for TOBET from Tyler, Texas