600th Birthday of Joan of Arc
The following paper was written by Ben D. Kennedy in December of 2011 to celebrate the 600th anniversary of Saint Joan of Arc's birthday on January 6, 2012.
"Most beautiful Maid of Heaven, how brilliant is your light.
Like a shining star you point the way to the Father of all light."
These opening sentences to Maid of Heaven serve not only as a poetic tribute to the brilliance of Saint Joan of Arc's life but are also an analogy to the birth of Christ and to Saint Joan's ultimate mission for God to lead people to Christ. That Saint Joan was actually born on the Epiphany seems to be God's own exclamation point that this was indeed her greatest mission in her short life here on earth. The significance of Joan's birth on the Epiphany, therefore, can not be understated and considering the amount of mystical phenomena indwelled in her life's story it seems rather amazing that the exact timing of her birth on the Epiphany has received so little attention by the legions of writers and artists who have covered Joan in every conceivable form of human expression over the years.
Since I finished writing Maid of Heaven in 2006 I have found myself more than a little reluctant to discuss some of the deeper elements of this poem because I fear it will be too difficult to explain to most people because of what I can only refer to as the mysteries of God. Maid of Heaven was for the most part written "in the Spirit" which is a term that most people have heard however few seem to understand or accept. Since Maid of Heaven was written "in the Spirit" it means that while I wrote the words on paper I was not completely aware of all that I was writing at the time. A prime example are the opening sentences which I am now going to attempt to fully explain because I feel that the great significance of Saint Joan's birth on the Epiphany is something I MUST convey to people.
On the surface Saint Joan's mission seemed pretty clear; that of expelling the English invaders from France, however there were many other elements of her mission that were required in order to fulfill the central objective. One essential element was her ability to unite the French people behind one legally crowned King after years of infighting and disunity. This element seems to be easily understood and accepted but another element of Joan's mission that was at least as important was her leadership in turning the people of France back to God. It is hard for people today, even Christians, to accept that God really does take part in the affairs of man but in Joan's age people better understood. Joan herself answered the question that many ask today: "Why would God take sides and aid the French?" Joan's answer to her captors at her trial was: "God took pity upon the French people because He heard them as they cried out to Him in prayer."
The French had been reduced to a position that was pitiable due in a large part to the terrible defeat they had suffered at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The French had been arrogant in their dealings with the English leading up to the battle and many of that age felt their defeat was the result of their arrogance and turning away from God. Joan herself stated at her trial that she believed that "God allowed them to be punished for their sins." A contemporary of Joan's, Pope Pius II, expressed what many of the people then felt about why God had chosen a young woman to lead the French army to victory: "...the kingdom of France had often been aided by Heaven; it might be now too it was defended by a maid sent by God and that the task had been committed to the weaker sex that the French with their accustomed pride might not be too overconfident of their own powers..."
After the terrible defeat that the French suffered at Agincourt it is likely that many of the French people began to seek help from God since this has been the natural human reaction to desperate circumstances well demonstrated throughout history. When Joan publicly arrived upon the scene in 1429 she was most likely viewed by many as the answer to their prayers for help. Joan's own insistence that she was sent by God only reinforced this belief and all her actions in preparing herself and her army for battle were focused more on God than even on the preparations to wage war. One of Joan's most impressive leadership achievements was how she was able to turn an army rife with most of the common sins of humanity into one that honored God. Joan believed that in order to fully receive God's aid the army had to actually become the Army of God and her impact upon the men was so great that even foul language was held to a minimum.
The ultimate reason that Joan's focus was upon God can be found in the Word of God for which Joan possessed an incredible knowledge and understanding given her peasant upbringing. James 4:6 reads: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." The fact that the French needed some kind of divine assistance was something that everyone accepted in Joan's age as reality. The proof that the French became humble is Joan herself because the arrogant French leaders and men who lost at Agincourt would never have submitted themselves to the leadership of a young women such as Joan. How much credit Joan deserves in turning so many of the French back to God can only be estimated but my personal opinion is that her impact in this way far exceeded the impact of her great military victories as they were ultimately only a result of her great spiritual leadership and love for God and a certain proof thereof.
So why has so little attention been given to this most important role of Joan of Arc? I know in today's world a big reason has to do with the bias against anything having to do with God. This certainly explains some of the neglect but I must admit that even I myself needed several years to begin to understand how important Joan's mission was in this area and it took what for me was an "epiphany" about Joan's birth on the Epiphany. I have discussed before elsewhere about how when I was struggling to write Maid of Heaven I received renewed inspiration while I was attending a worship service at church as it seemed to suddenly come to me that the opening sentences were analogous to the birth of Christ when a shining star appeared above the town of Bethlehem to lead people to the baby Jesus. I was amazed at this underlying meaning because I was not thinking at all about the birth of Christ when I wrote the words.
I still did not understand completely all that this meant in terms of Joan's ultimate mission for God but the seeds of wisdom had been sown. God continued to give me greater understanding as I learned more about Saint Joan such as when I first read the words of Pope Benedict XV when he pronounced Joan a Saint in 1920. In his final words closing the official ceremony Pope Benedict XV described Joan as a "most brilliantly shining light of the Church Triumphant." The fact that the Pope in 1920 used the same key words; brilliant, shining and light, that I had used in my first two sentences (this is an obscure document originally in Latin which I never laid eyes upon until at least several years after I wrote Maid of Heaven) reinforced my belief that my opening sentences were indeed exactly what God wanted me to say about Saint Joan.
My personal epiphany came when I created the page about Joan's birthday for MaidOfHeaven.com sometime in 2008. I had been vaguely aware that Joan was known to have been born on the Feast of the Epiphany, or Twelfth-night as it is referred to in many of the older history books, but I was completely unaware of what the Epiphany actually meant in terms of God. [For those who don't already know the celebration of the Epiphany in Christian tradition refers to the revelation of God to man in the person of Jesus Christ and the central part of the celebration features the arrival of the "Wise Men" who were led to the baby Jesus by a shining star.] I realize this probably sounds strange to Catholics and others who were raised learning the traditions of the Church but I was raised as a Protestant and such traditions and their meanings were simple not taught in the Protestant churches that I attended. Needless to say when I researched the meaning of the Epiphany I was stunned. I had written words about Joan containing an analogy to what the Epiphany celebrates and then I find out that Joan was born on the Epiphany. WOW!
Obviously I had very little to do with writing these words about Saint Joan other than being a conduit for God. Most of the time God speaks to us it is with a still small voice that is not always easy to completely comprehend so I take some solace in the fact that none of the great writers who previously covered Joan's life understood this sign from God about Joan and her ultimate mission. God sent Joan to save the people of France, yes; but she had a much greater mission for God just like her lord Jesus before her Who she loved so deeply and served so well. I am now convinced that this is the most important part about Saint Joan of Arc that I can ever teach to anyone. God created her to be a brilliantly shining light to lead people to Jesus Christ. This was her ultimate mission and is her ultimate mission until the end of time. Praise be to God!
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