This is the fourth post of ten for my #TenSaintsTenDays series, counting down from the Feast of All Saints to Veterans Day, when Centurions Guild is launching the 2016 Armistice Appeal. Check back in every day until November 11th for a new saint, their story, and a prayer to guide us into the way of peace.
Joan of Arc – Women in Combat
Joan of Arc is known as a femme fatale to some, a cunning commander and military tactician who led an underdog against the expansive English empire, only to be dramatically captured in battle and burned at the stake. She is one of the few soldier saints does not prophetically depart the profession of arms or make a name for themselves almost entirely after their military service, but to find her saintly identity right there in it. To pacifists, she is a persona best left avoided, while to others, she represents either the egalitarian ideal reaching into the hallowed halls of the (overwhelmingly male) martial fraternity or the hope that soldiers in the church don’t have to be pacifists (or become them) in order to be recognized as particularly blessed. Joan is a complicating figure for any Christian account of war.
What makes for saints is rarely their actions alone, but for the One to whom they point and the character by which they are undertaken. Despite the elaborate names and military titles bestowed on her, she insisted on referring to herself simply as “Joan the Maid.” Her humility might have been reinforced by the fact that she never learned to read or write. Joan’s military career began after she heard voices telling her she would free France from English oppression, which is noteworthy not just because of its probability of failure, but because women were not combatants. Nonetheless, she told her king of her mission, was interrogated by ecclesiastical authorities, and suited up… in mens clothing. A suit of armor, after all, was harder to remove than was a woman’s dress. But on the battlefield, she would recall later, her preference was to bear her nations colors, not the sword. Following her inspiring success, she grew restless and started picking fights with heretics. Her last stand came at Compiègne, after which she was tried by the English clergy on the charge of violating Biblical clothing laws.
Women in the military today are still expected to perform as men, to assume masculine identities in order to fit in and get by. Joan’s concern for her chastity was as well founded then as it would be today, as women in the today’s military are more likely to be raped than to be killed in combat. Her witness is a reminder that any conversation about women in combat must derive from one about women in society. Had Joan known how to read, she would have been less inclined to sign the confession written up for her by her accusers. Were the martial community to be less of a frat, and more of a family, women would not be preyed upon by their male comrades. For the church, hers is a timeless testimony that women can and do perform as meritoriously and charismatically as do men, that nobody can be reduced to merely their biology. She was exonerated as a martyr 25 years after the kangaroo court convicted her of cross-dressing, and her feast is May 30th.
God of justice and peace, we give thanks for the blessed martyr Joan, with whom we may receive the eyes to see visions and the ears to hear the voices of the saints before us. Grant us the grace to honor our rulers, yet temper it with the wisdom to rebuke them when we must. Keep us from the dangers of restlessness, of overstepping our bounds, and of missing the mustard seed of grace. When we fail, keep us from pride and restore us to a contrite heart as you did for the courageous Joan; may her witness remind us that though our enemies may discredit us, we take heart in knowing that our vindication is through Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Follow me on Twitter to get updates each day as the series unfolds, or start by reading the series intro. Learn about Joan and more than 45 other #SoldierSaints in my book For God and Country [in that order], © 2013 Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Va. Prayer reprinted by permission.
Are you, or do you know, a #SoldierSaint wrestling between faith and service? Get in touch through my connect page!