Father James Martin’s journey through “My Life with the Saints” begins with St. Joan of Arc, the “Maid of Orleans,” who, it turns out, was Martin’s first serious connection to the saints.
Joan was a French peasant girl born during the 100 Years War between France and England. As a young girl, she heard the voices of St. Michael, St. Margaret and St. Catherine, urging her to “save France.”
In 1429, at the age of 16, she convinced the future King Charles VII to allow her to lead a military mission to rescue the French city of Orleans. The mission was successful, but Joan was quickly dismissed by the newly-crowned king, his advisors and French military leaders – embarrassed, perhaps, by the military success of a young woman (who, not incidentally, insisted on wearing men’s clothes).
In a later military campaign Joan was captured by English sympathizers, imprisoned, interrogated, convicted of witchcraft and heresy, and sentenced to death. She was burned at the stake in 1431.
Martin wonders what made Joan so attractive: Her youth? Her military success? Her faithfulness in the face of rejection and death? (He might also have wondered if, even then, some admired the fact that she defied the rigid gender roles of her times.)
In any case, Martin writes: “the audacity of her plan, based on directives from heavenly voices, is … still breathtaking,” even “crazy” — and more than a little outside the boundaries of what was conventionally sensible in those days.
Like faith itself, Martin says, St. Joan’s life was both sensible and nonsensical – a role model, he thinks, for anyone (like most of us) on a faith journey whose details we can’t always foresee or anticipate.
We may not hear voices (which is the tradition’s way of saying Joan was inspired) but we too are occasionally inspired to imagine breathtaking – and sometimes improbable or nonsensical – things for ourselves and for our loved ones.
Often enough, when our children and grandchildren are young, we dream about the unique adults they might become. Too soon we begin to worry about whether they will get into the right schools, graduate in the top of the class, have a successful career, at least perform (if they don’t exactly live) their faith, and retire comfortably – all conventional enough for a society which judges people more for what they have than for who they are.
These are all signs that we, too, struggle with the tension between the sensible and nonsensical — an occupational hazard of the saints, perhaps.
It makes me think that perhaps this “crazy girl” is an inspiration (or maybe a consolation) for all of us who worry too much about how the kids are turning out.
What do you think?
Pray and Reflect
Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group discussion or private journaling:
- On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how well you are aware of the tensions between the sensible and nonsensical in your own life or the lives of your loved ones. How would you have rated this five years ago?
- What are some of the tensions you can identify between the sensible and nonsensical in your past? What tensions do you feel at the present time as an individual, a parent or grandparent, a teacher or catechist, an American Catholic? Do you still have “breathtaking” and nonsensical dreams for yourself or your children, grandchildren, or students?
- I think would-be saints struggle with the tension between the sensible and nonsensical because …
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Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Wa-terloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is de-signed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.