Rorate Caeli

Sermon for the Feast of Saint Joan of Arc: The Most Extraordinary Person the Human Race Ever Produced

Sermon for Feast of Joan of Arc

St Agnes, Brooklyn
May 30, 2018

“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord”. Luke 1:45

There is a painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that I discovered many years ago.  Whenever I am in the Museum I visit this painting.  The painting affected me deeply the first time I saw it just wandering through the European painting section.  It affects me so every time I see it.  I have brought many people to see this painting, which no one seems to know.  The painting is St. Joan of Arc listening to Voices by the late nineteenth century French artist, Jules Bastien-Lepage.  It shows the young peasant girl Joan in her parents’ garden in Domremy, a village on the Meuse in Northeastern France.  The foliage is painted vividly in what was known as the naturalistic style  which led into Impressionism.  The expression on the young girl’s face is of someone who is listening intently and yet peacefully.  In the painting as well are the ghostly figures of the three saints who spoke to her during her brief life:  St Michael, St. Margaret and St. Catherine.  She called them the Voices.  The painting is remarkable.

When I was ask to be the celebrant of this Mass in the Extraordinary Form for the feast of St Joan of Arc, I accepted with alacrity, not merely because of the painting I so love but also to invoke the prayers of a Saint who once was a household name everywhere in the Catholic world, but unfortunately no longer.  She is to be numbered among those mulieres fortes, those strong women of faith who grace both the Old Testament and New Testament and who are an integral part of the historical life of the Church from its very inception: I think of St Scholastica, St. Monica, St. Catherine of Siena, St Birgitta of Sweden, St Hildegard of Bingen, St Teresa of Avila, St. Mother Cabrini, St. Edith Stein.  All strong, all brave, all on fire with the faith of and in Jesus Christ, all who plumbed the depths of the Catholic faith with their whole being, body and soul and who allowed the grace of God to transform them into ikons of his Son.

Those great women were all part of the history not only of the Church but of the world.  And in the Western world the history of the world cannot be separated from the history of the Church.  But Joan of Arc was a player in history like no other saint.  Her role in the history of France, in the history of Europe is totally unique.  The Maid of Domremy who was called by her Voices to save France when there was almost no France left, who donned the armor of a soldier, and, against all odds, believed by only a few, brought back manliness to France, this young women who broke the siege of Orleans, freed the city of Rheims and did so that Charles the V, despite being weak and effete, could be crowned king in that Cathedral and reign over a united Fran that would be rid of the English stranglehold.  She began the end of the Hundred Years War, and she almost made it to Paris, but there she was wounded and betrayed and sold to the English, who handed her over to an ecclesiastical court in Rouen who shamefully and horribly put her through a mock trial and found her guilty of witchraft, heresy and sorcery and burnt her at the stake.  The Church later recognized the terrible denial of truth by those bishops and priests in the trial and the unjust death of St. Joan and canonized her as Virgin and Martyr.  Listen to this quote from Mark Twain, an unbeliever and determinist, and yet the author of the novel, Joan of Arc.

Taking into account, as I have suggested before, all the circumstances—her origin, youth, sex, illiteracy, early environment, and the obstructing conditions under which she exploited her high gifts and made her conquests in the field and before the courts that tried her for her life—she is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.

And it is so wonderful that we celebrate her feast-day in that form of the Roman Rite that St. Joan knew and loved so very much.  This is what she knew. This is what she saw and heard. This is what she loved.  This is not antiquarianism.  Quite the contrary.  When Pope Benedict XVI made the Traditional Roman Mass one of the two Forms of the Roman Rite, he not only restored the Mass of the Ages to the Church. He also restored the memory of the Church, for this is the Mass of nearly two thousand years of history, world history, the Mass that inspired so many saints, the Mass that impelled missionaries to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to every part of the world, the Mass for which every important composer wrote a setting for, the Mass whose beauty and depth are part of the very fabric not only of the Church but of the world.  And we rejoice that so many young people are discovering the depth and the beauty of the Traditional Mass.  The biggest Mass in my own parish on Sunday is the Solemn Mass in the Traditional Rite. And this is the Mass with the greatest number of young people.  It is also the Latin language of this Mass, a language not spoken, that removes the language barriers that came into being with the vernacular Mass.  The unity of the Church is seen in the Latin language. Everyone, no matter what language you speak, can experience the unity of the Church in singing the Gloria, the Sanctus, the Agnus Dei in this ancient language.  How this is sorely needed in this increasingly polyglot country, where those who speak English or Spanish or French or Fillipino or Vietnamese can once again pray together in the language of the Church and experience its power and beauty in the Traditional Mass. 

We give thanks for the holy life and witness of Saint Joan of Arc.  May she pray for France, a place where the Catholic Church is in a state of great weakness.  May she raise up bishops and priests who will be lovingly fearless as she was and bring the Gospel to those who have forgotten the name of Christ and bring back the beauty of Catholic worship, not only in France, but in the whole Catholic world. 

Sainte Jeanne d’Arc, priez pour nous.