Interest in St. Joan of Arc is catching fire (no reference to her martyrdom intended). And it is spreading.
We don't always choose the saints who accompany us in life. Sometimes, they choose us. It happens because there's something we ought to learn from them, or an aspect of their lives that deeply resonates with our own. Or, because our needs connect with their patronage. My mom didn't have a devotion to any of the saints until St. Anthony "found" her (along with her keys). Now, he's her buddy, her go-to prayer partner. And when she tells people the dramatic story of how that happened, jaws drop and eyes open wide.
Sometimes a saint grows in popularity when the people of a certain time or place need the power of their example and their heavenly intervention and intercession. The great "cloud of witnesses" pushes someone forward, someone whose life can help us meet the challenges of our day. That is what appears to be happening with St. Joan of Arc. She may not be leading troops against the English as she did in the Hundred Years' War, but the Maid of Orleans is most certainly on the move.
Joan has held her own among the cadre of most popular saints. Just ask any bookseller or vendor of what I affectionately like to call "Catholic kitsch." Joan is everywhere: on tote bags and keychains, shirts and shoes, medals and statues, home décor, and coffee mugs. She fills the pages of books in every genre from biographical tomes and literary classics to prayer books and graphic novels.
But after six centuries, something new is growing. Interest in St. Joan of Arc is catching fire (no reference to her martyrdom intended). And it is spreading. Here in New Orleans, we see it when people refer to Joan as our patron saint (she isn't), when the crowds for the Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc's annual parade get larger every year, and when the number of submissions in our annual art contest increases.
There is something intriguing about this medieval peasant girl that attracts almost everyone's attention. For the devout, it is her sanctity. But for others, Joan of Arc is an inkblot completely open to interpretation, a life in which they can see almost anything they want to see.
The limelight has always been a two-edged sword; not all the attention it garners is positive or enduring. But in our times, a young girl who trusts God so completely and fully embraces his will for her life, fights the battles of her time under the banner of faith, and willingly suffers the consequences brought upon her, is a role model we all need.
That is why I was so excited to hear that the Church in France has begun a nine-year novena to St. Joan for the renewal of the faith there. That's right: nine years leading up to the sixth centenary of her death on May 30, 2031. Taking inspiration from a similar effort made by the bishops in Poland under communism, Catholics in France are promulgating a prayer cycle in which each year is focused on one of Joan's virtues. The novena begins with her obedience to God's will. That will be followed by prudence, courage, hope, patriotism, charity, the practice of the sacraments, purity, and patience.
We'll be honoring St. Joan of Arc here on her May 30 feast day with vespers at the Old Ursuline Convent and a walk to the golden statue of her that now stands near the French Market. We will lay flowers there and read the words of numerous famous figures who memorialized her across the centuries. And on that day, I will begin praying the nine-year novena. Because France needs Joan again. In fact, we all do.
St. Joan, like you, we want to be faithful to the promises of our baptism; guide us.
We want to discern God's will in order to fulfill it; enlighten us.
We desire to follow the standard of Christ to extend his reign over our lives, our homeland and the Church; go ahead of us.
We beseech you for the salvation of our country and our souls; pray for us.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.