Thursday, May 31, 2007

St. Joan

Advertising e-mails -- even ones I sign up for -- usually provoke a resigned (or irritated) sigh when they show up in my inbox. Now and then, however, they remind me of something valuable. Like Ignatius Press' sale on books about St. Joan of Arc, whose feast day was yesterday.

Growing up very fond of English history, I used to be pretty ambivalent about St. Joan. She was clearly very brave, and inspired by God, but she turned back the English just at the moment they appeared to be completing the building of a grand Anglo-French empire. How beautiful that would have been, I used to think.

But with the passing of the years I've seen God's wisdom working through Joan in ways I hadn't appreciated. That Anglo-French empire, had it been allowed to happen, wouldn't have been so beautiful after all.

When Joan's heroism was flashing so briefly in France, Henry VIII's "Reformation" in England was barely a century away. If France had been under English control when Henry decided that getting a male heir was more important than the unity of Christendom, she would have been torn away from the Catholic faith and her people subjected to the same depredations and persecutions that Henry inflicted on his own unhappy realm. Examples could be multiplied, but just imagine this: Chartres and Notre Dame without their stained glass, smashed out by Protestant zealots, who did their work so thoroughly in so many English parishes.

God certainly has worked in mysterious ways, but none more mysterious than placing the sword of France in the hands of that simple peasant girl from Domremy.