I was born eleven years after the end of World War I, and my mother, who was very musical, used to sing to me all the songs popular during the war. One of them was a sort of prayer to Saint Joan of Arc, whom the French invoked for victory and for an end to the war which killed so many of their people. One of the lines of music in that song is the first musical line of the French national anthem.
Then, the cathedral in New Orleans contains a statue of Saint Joan of Arc, and now, there is a wonderful copy of another statue of her of which the original stands in Paris. The copy stands just a few blocks from our cathedral in New Orleans. I speak of this today because on May 30, 1431, Saint Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in the city of Rouen, the capital of the region called Normandy. She is one of the most interesting figures in western history and civilization. As a teenager, she began to hear the voices of several saints telling her that God wished her to lead French troops to victory over the English in the Hundred Year’s War that was dragging on in those days. The idea of an 18-year-old girl who knew nothing of warfare or armies or military leadership attempting such a thing was preposterous. But there was no doubt in her mind that she was being called upon to do so. She was taken to see the uncrowned king of France, Charles VII—a thoroughly despicable man. She was given the leadership of a French army which defeated the English troops who were beseiging the city of Orleans. That French victory and her subsequent persuasion of the king to be properly crowned gave to the French the encouragement they needed to drive the enemy out of French soil and eventually to bring the war to its end. But she fell into the hands of the English, who, thanks to the connivance of a totally corrupt and unscrupulous French bishop, brought her to an illegal trial, found her guilty of heresy and witchcraft, and burned her to death, more for political reasons than religious ones.
Even though she was a simple teenager who could neither read nor write, she was a deeply devout girl who loved Our Lord very much. None of her soldiers were allowed to go into battle with her on any given day unless they had attended Mass and received Holy Communion that morning. She had the holy names of Jesus and Mary sewn on her banners which she carried into battle. And when she died, she asked that a crucifix be held up where she could see it as the flames engulfed her, and she died with the holy name of Jesus on her lips. She is now a canonized saint and one of the patron saints of France and of all military personnel everywhere.
Today, as on every May 30, there will be many Masses and celebrations in France in honor of Saint Joan of Arc. I pray today for the people of France and all their descendants throughout the world, that they may remain steadfast in our holy Catholic faith as did this saint and heroine who is so prominent in their history. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.