St. Joan of Arc

I was amazed when I first learned the famed Joan of Arc is a saint. And now, learning she’s also one of the patronesses of the Columbiettes, I dug in for more info.

It’s the midst of the Hundred Years’ War, and Joan is peasant girl living in occupied France. At this time, she experiences a divine vision—Michael the Archangel, with a number of saints (including St. Catharine, patron of my very own parish), instructs her to go defend her country. She seeks an audience with the king, who I don’t imagine is pleased with the idea of sending a young girl to war. But it’s said she reveals information to him that “only a messenger of God” could know. We don’t know what that was, but it convinces him to send her to the Siege of Orléans.

This battle ended up being a turning point in the seemingly endless war. Joan of Arc helped turn it around in favor of the French, which boosted country morale. Then she kept going, achieving victory after victory in battle.

Joan of Arc at the Siege of Orléans, Jules Eugène Lenepveu

But these victories aren’t the end of her story. During her final battle, she was thrown off her horse and left outside the town’s gates, thus captured by traitorous French. The occupying English, none too pleased with her power and strength, put her on trial. Joan was charged and found guilty of numerous charges, including witchcraft, heresy, and cross-dressing. As a result, she renounced her men’s attire and claimed she hadn’t heard those divine voice. But nothing silences the Divine—within days she was back in pants, again guided by the saints. Very obviously guilty then, she was burned at the stake for her crimes.

In the years and decades following her death, the public didn’t see her in the same way the English had. She became a hero, a mythical figure of French victory. She’d often had to hide her femininity in battle, disguising herself as a boy and wearing men’s armor (there was undoubtedly no ladies’ alternative). She was an illiterate, uneducated peasant who answered her divine calling, becoming perhaps France’s most famous and admirable solider.

It wasn’t long after her death that the Church called for a retrial, seeking to clear her name of heretical charges. Not only was Joan cleared, she was also declared a martyr and later canonized. She has become not only a patroness of the Columbiettes but also patron saint of France, soldiers, and women in the military.

References: Wikipedia; Franciscan Media;

Christmas with the Holy Fathers

Last year’s reading goal was 35 books, which I accomplished with five days to spare. “Do one more!” my boyfriend said, a challenge I graciously accepted. I picked up Christmas with the Holy Fathers, which I’d been planning to read during the season anyway. It’s a short book, I thought. I can do that in five days.

This little book is deceiving. I didn’t do it in five days, but not because it’s a difficult read—it didn’t seem right to whip through words inspired by the coming, and birth, of Jesus. These are words to absorb and contemplate.

It contains excerpts of homilies relevant to the season, penned by various popes through Church history. They bring tidings of peace and hope; they reveal something of the world at the time, ranging from the fifth to the twentieth century. Though different wars were fought, and cultures changed, the root of humanity hasn’t changed—and neither has Jesus and the Church’s teachings. In a reflection from 1964, Pope Paul VI spoke of the need for silence in the unceasing noise of modern society. I’d love to hear his thoughts on that today.

The lesson of silence: may there return to us an appreciation of this stupendous and indispensable spiritual condition, deafened as we are by so much tumult, so much noise, so many voices of our chaotic and frenzied modern life.

This makes me wish I’d been part of the Church when Pope John Paul II was around, to hear his words when they were new and bold. It’s given me an appreciation of Pope Leo I, worthy of the name Saint Leo the Great. Now there’s someone I have to read more from.

There’s not enough materials for a “daily reading” format through Advent, but it’s a good one to pick up throughout the season. It also continues through Christmas and Epiphany, so I did end up finishing the book as the season was coming to a close. A worthy book as my first of 2020!

The Creasters

Last year I attended Mass on Christmas Day, rather than Eve. I simply hadn’t had the time in the midst of co-hosting the biggest family gathering of the year. But this Christmas Eve, we were done setting up early. Mom’s 3:00 ready-time had miraculously happened, which meant I could attend 4:00 Mass before the extended family arrived.

Christmas is a time of celebration, a literal Christ Mass to welcome the Messiah’s birth. I envisioned the early-evening Mass akin to the celebrations of old, where the family attended church and then had a feast. And a feast we had—a four-course meal awaited us, complete with the traditional seven fishes. We would welcome Jesus into the world, and then celebrate Italian style.

We arrived at church twenty minutes early.

It wasn’t enough.

The nave was packed, standing room only. Parishioners spilled into the narthex. I was crammed into a back corner, jostled every time the door behind me opened. Kids stepped on my feet as they restlessly bounced from one parent to the other. I didn’t have a hymnal, so I only knew the first couple verses of the Christmas hymns. I was accompanied by shushing parents and the crinkling of their children’s bags of snacks.

As I later learned, 4:00 Mass isn’t for celebrating Christ before the feast. 4:00 is to get it over with and get the kids to bed. 4:00 is convenient for those who only attend Mass on Christmas and Easter. The Creasters.

This was not the celebration I had envisioned.

The pinnacle of celebration, the Eucharist, was upon us. I felt a wash of relief, but for the wrong reasons: the rapid emptying of the church. People received the Host in their winter jackets, then filed right out the door. Before the Eucharistic table was even cleared, a third of the congregants had left. Some of us standees hesitated, like the occupants of those empty pews might actually return. But before long, we were moving in.

My lower back was starting to twinge, so I was grateful for the seat and cushioned kneeler. But it also made me sad. Partially for myself, because I’d spent most of Christmas Eve Mass trying (and failing) to push away my annoyance. But mostly for the Creasters. For the ones who left, and for those who’d attended because “that’s just what we do.” I was sad for the restless kids who don’t understand why they have to go to this weird, fancy building when they should be home waiting for Santa. Because Jesus isn’t part of their lives; He’s a twice-a-year obligation. He’s just a baby in a manger, then the resurrected God. He has no life, no ministry, and no death.

“From now on,” I said in the car afterward, “I’m sticking to Christmas day Mass.”

I’m certainly complaining a lot, but it didn’t ruin my Christmas. We had the celebratory feast, and kept the constant reminder of Who we celebrated. And, as I’m inclined to remind everyone, Christmas isn’t over yet. It’s not a single-day celebration—it’s a season, and I refuse to take down my tree until it’s properly over. Everyone has switched over to “Happy New Year,” but I still wish my fellow Catholics a Merry Christmas. Jesus has arrived!

My hope is that some of those Creasters in our packed churches remembered the importance of the celebration. I hope they’ve made resolutions to be active in church again, and keep them. I hope they remember that Jesus is more than just Christmas and Easter, and so are we. Maybe they won’t, be I’ll try not to be cynical. After all, God has wrought bigger miracles.