But from the age of thirteen, Joan of Arc heard Voices - the voices of St. Michael the Archangel, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret. When she was sixteen, they appeared to her in her father's garden and instructed her to support the as yet uncrowned French King (Dauphin) Charles VII and lead the battle against England to win France's liberation. The vision was so beautiful that after the three figures faded away, she cried.
Obedient to her Voices and her Lord, Joan visited the military garrison of Robert Baudricourt, saying to him and his men:
"I must be at the King's side....there will be no help for the Kingdom if not from me. Although I would rather have remained spinning wool at my mother's side....yet must I go and must I do this thing, for my Lord wills that I do so."
Once she predicted a military reversal to him - a French defeat that she could not know of - Baudricourt was convinced that she received divine revelations. Baudricourt honored her request and sent her with an escort to visit the French Royal Court at Chinon. Her escort, experienced French soldiers, advised her to dress in men's military clothing and wear her hair short as protection. At Chinon, Joan had a private interview with the Dauphin, Charles VII. Once his resident clergy and theologians interviewed Joan for themselves and pronounced her morally and spiritually sound, (as well as a virgin, which in those days was important because it was believed that demons could not "use" a virgin as their tool for evil purposes), he acceded to her request and sent Joan to the siege at Orleans as part of a relief mission. Orleans was strategically located as the gateway to the center of France; on the fate of Orleans hung the fate of the entire Kingdom.
How did a teenage peasant girl win the support of her Dauphin? Historian Stephen W. Rickey says:
"After years of one humiliating defeat after another, both the military and the civil leadership of France were demoralized and discredited. When the Dauphin Charles granted Joan's urgent request to be equipped for war and placed at the head of his army, his decision must have been based in large part on the knowledge that every orthodox, every rational option, had been tried and had failed. Only a regime in the final straits of desperation would pay any heed to an illiterate farm girl who claimed that the voice of God was instructing her to take charge of her country's army and lead it to victory."
Joan somehow managed to attend war councils and convince hardened officers to try her aggressive and bold types of strategy. She rode into battle carrying a banner while an officer actually directed the troops. In nine days, the siege at Orleans was lifted, and Joan was hailed as "The Maid of Orleans." Now she set her sights on Reims, where the French Kings were traditionally crowned, which lay deep in occupied territory. After several military skirmishes, Reims was freed and Charles was crowned King there, a victory which boosted French morale and paved the way for France's final liberation. Joan and her family were honored by King Charles.
But Joan's enemies, infuriated by her victories, waited for revenge; finally an archer pulled her off her horse during a battle at Compeigne. The Burgundians who held her captive finally sold her to the English and she was taken to the city of Rouen, England's main headquarters in France. There the English government financed a travesty of an ecclesiastical trial at which she was tried for heresy and witchcraft. If convicted, Joan's punishment would be death by burning. The politically motivated trial violated several medieval ecclesiastical laws: Bishop Cauchon (pro-English) lacked jurisdiction over the case; the Tribunal should have been balanced but it was composed entirely of Pro-English and Burgundian clerics and overseen by English commanders. No evidence of wrong-doing on Joan's part was discovered before the trial, so there should not have even been a trial. Cauchon violated ecclesiastical law by denying Joan the right to a legal adviser.
Several Churchmen were intimidated by the English. The Inquisitor of Northern France objected to the trial, but he was forced to cooperate after the English threatened his life. During the trial, Joan should have been kept in an ecclesiastical prison and guarded by nuns, but she was placed in a secular prison and guarded by English soldiers. At one point, Joan capitulated to demands and switched from her military clothing to a dress. But then she told the court that an English Lord had come to her cell and tried to violate her. She resumed wearing men's clothing, because it gave her the ability to fasten her hose, boots, and tunic together into one piece, which deterred rape by making it difficult to pull her hosen off.
Mary Neill, OP (in the book "Great Saints, Great Friends")writes movingly of this young girl's terrible ordeal:
"Joan stands clearly revealed in the records of the long trial hearings....She submitted to fifteen interrogations in 25 days, tired and taunted by jailers. She leaps from the pages with a voice like no other - unlettered (she could sign only X for her name), wise, humorous, courageous, humble, stubborn and utterly convinced that in obeying the inner Voices...she was obeying God's will - the will of a God who was interested in interfering in politics. Her God was one who cared which man was the King of France; who cared whether France ceased to exist as a nation; who could use a teenage girl to turn the tide in the warfare because the girl believed and followed His will - not her own."
Why should we be surprised that our God is interested in interfering in politics? Our God is the Living God Who always enters human history. When God appeared to Moses in a Burning Bush, He said "I have observed the misery of My people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians." (Exodus 3: 7-8; cf. 9). When Moses asks the mysterious Voice Its Name, God replies "I will be present as the one who will be there." Cardinal Walter Kasper comments:
"God is a God who sees the misery of his people and hears their cries....God is no deaf and dumb God; he is a living God, who attends to human misery, who speaks, acts, and intervenes, who liberates and redeems. The formula "Yahweh who has brought us out of Egypt' becomes the fundamental statement of faith in the Old Testament." (in his book "Mercy: the Essence of the Gospel.")
Finally her inquisitors escalated their pressure on Joan, trying to trip her up theologically (they never succeeded) and showing her instruments of torture to be used unless she admitted that her Voices were not real. Joan told them that they could tear her limb from limb but she would not admit guilt or betray her Voices. But she trembled when told that on May 30, she would be burned at the stake in the morning: "Alas that I should be treated so horribly and cruelly that my entire body, which has never known impurity, should today be consumed and reduced to ashes. I would rather be decapitated seven times over than be thus burned. Before God, the great judge, I appeal against the great wrongs and injustices done to me."
Mary Neill tells us
"All that was left for her was to die, and so she did, with shaven head and a paper mitre bearing the inscription, 'Heretic, relapsed sinner (because she had resumed wearing men's clothing), apostate, idolator.' She protested, 'I am neither heretic nor schismatic.' She requested that a cross be held up to her. Unceasingly she called, 'Jesus, St. Catherine, St. Michael.' After the flames began crackling, she asked the priest holding the cross to step down, fearing for his safety. She begged for holy water, and when the fire roared all around her, through the smoke and flame, she cried out loudly 'Jesus.' Six times, 'Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.' Then she died....The crowd had been stunned by the way she died. The executioner kept repeating, 'We have burned a saint.' (The Churchmen who condemned her had left early in order to avoid ecclesiastical censure for watching an execution. Several of them were close to tears.)"
Surely Joan of Arc had put on Christ, had become another Christ, willing, like Christ, to die a criminal's death rather than renounce the truth, or deny her own inner truth. Her voices were real! The God Who breaks into history, Who broke into Moses life, because God cared about the Jews' fate in Egypt, Who broke into Joan's life because He cared about the people's oppression by the English, -- is real. Neither God nor the oppression of the innocent are a game. Moses and Joan knew that truth and lived it. Neill says of Joan:
"She never abandoned her inner conviction....It was not in Churchmen's power to declare her God's good servant or not; her own conscience did that....How is such courage possible, such humanity, such gentleness, such faith in the midst of a world of war-games, word-games...clothes-games, church-games? How does Christ in Joan of Arc ever break through the crust of 'seeming' games in order to illumine pure being? Why is the price of living from being, rather than seeming, so great? Joan thought it ought to matter who was true King or not - it was no game to her."
Yes, politics are not a game to God. Politics are meant to be the way God can work in our world to free the oppressed, to bring aid to the innocent and those living in misery, to end human slavery: "I have observed the misery of My people; I have heard their cry." Sometimes we think of the Chosen People as God's people. But that is too small a concept of God. God is always on the side of those who are being used, abused, or oppressed - in every nation, every culture, on this earth. Sometimes a nation is the oppressor; later in history the same nation can be the innocently oppressed.
God both guides us and leads us as individuals and nations towards goodness. Because our God is a God of mercy! What God needs are people who will listen to Him and have the courage to do His will: men like Moses; women like Joan of Arc. Moses was a shepherd; Joan was an unlettered peasant. God can use anyone who is humble and truly listens for His Voice and the Voices of His saints.
God is very interested in the political situation in the United States today. But remember whose side God will be on: the side of the oppressed, the outsiders, and those who are being used and abused by the Powers That Be. God will shun any politics based on hatred, or bigotry, because all are His people. God will be on the side of those who call on us to feed the hungry, care for the sick, clothe the naked. God will be on the side of those who follow the Beatitudes of Jesus, not the side of those who want to follow the ancient laws that Jesus condemned, laws that would stone a woman to death or execute a homosexual. God desires to bring all people to rehabilitation, to recognize their dignity as children of God; God is a God of mercy, not retribution.
To stand up courageously for God always has a price: to be stoned in the court of public opinion, to face the trial of prejudice and lies. Too many do not stand up with us or for us because they fear for their physical lives, their professional lives. Can we be authentic God-followers with authentic voices? The philosopher Martin Buber says "One pays dearly for a life lived from being, but the price is never too dear.' The price is never too dear because Christ paid the price for us already, and will always stand with us, beside us, within us to help us.
Twenty-five years after Joan's execution, at the request of the Inquisitorial General and Joan's mother, an inquisitorial court authorized by Pope Calixtus III examined Joan's trial, debunked the charges against her, pronounced her innocent, and declared her a martyr. Her mother must have wept tears of frustration, pain, and joy. Wishing that Joan could have remained spinning wool at her side. But knowing that her daughter's tears had ended twenty-five years before, and only the Light and Love of her Savior remained, surrounding her in a Great Fire of Holy Joy.