Thursday, May 31, 2007

The St. Joan Problem

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Joan of Arc. For those not well-versed in the lives of the saints, St. Joan was a French peasant who lived in the 1400s. She heard the voices of various saints. These voices told her that she was destined to save France from English rule. She was to lead the army in support of the dauphin, in order to ensure France's independence. She was heartbreakingly young - 13 when she first heard the voices. She led several key campaigns in the war and was instrumental in the eventual French victory. The English captured her, then tried her as a heretic and a witch. One of her so-called heretical actions was wearing men's clothing. She was burned at the stake at age 19, abandoned by the government that she defended. A short while later, the charges of heresy were revoked and she was reclaimed by the French as their national heroine. She was canonized in 1920 - quite a while after her death! Honestly, I am very ambivalent about St. Joan. I admire her in so many ways. She had amazing strength of character and strength of faith. She embraced her calling and applied herself completely. At a time when women weren't valued, she managed to become a great leader (by the grace of God, of course). "Act, then God will act," St. Joan said. My faith demands application, demands thoughtful Christian actions both large and small. When I hear the gospel, I pray (as do all Catholics) "Be in my thoughts, my words, my deeds." Clearly, we are called to act. Clearly, St. Joan's life is worthy of study and consideration. But. And it's a big but. I am a pacifist. I believe, both rationally and viscerally, that I am not ever to intentionally harm any of God's other children. True pacifism is a difficult position that requires constant consideration. I question it regularly, but am unable to ever really accept any other position. Nor do I believe that God loves the French more than the English, or the Germans more than the Russians, or the Spaniards more than the Aztecs (although I certainly would appreciate it if He would give the Cardinals a little extra blessing). The idea that God called St. Joan to guarantee French victory is, well, difficult for me to accept. So, I seem to be stuck in a hard place. And since St. Joan of Arc is the patron of my parish, the problem is not just going to be pushed under the rug. I walk under a mosaic of an androgynous Joan holding her spear on a regular basis, making it somewhat difficult for me to just dismiss her. I could take the easy way out and claim that St. Joan must be viewed through the veil of history. And really, there is truth in that explanation. We are all of us products of our time. The trouble is that God is most assuredly not a product of any time, and so I cannot constrain St. Joan's calling by history. I obviously do not have any answers, just questions that raise questions. The marvelous thing about the questions is that they don't shake my faith, but deepen it. Even if I never manage to reconcile the St. Joan problem with my own absolute belief in pacifism, I can still learn and apply that knowledge to my own life. "Act, then God will act." So how am I to act? How can the inherent passiveness of pacifism become action?


Laura said...

Your faith always impresses me and leaves me feeling a little bit empty inside. I keep saying we should go to church - maybe it's time?

Katie Alender said...

I don't know, Christy. I think you have a more dramatic pacifist stance than I do (surprise!). I tend to think that there are some things definitely worth fighting for. It's a distortion of what those things and values are that has turned the world upside down.

Of course in a perfect world, there would always be peace.

I could go on, but I think the discussion gets too deep for me about here! It would involve delving into the nature and origin of evil, which for right now I'm attributing to Paris Hilton.

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