The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew (detail), Master of Gerona, late 1200s

A Reading From the Gospel of Mark

Peter began to say to Jesus, ‘We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Transcription of Sermon

The Gospel of the Lord. 

Our Lord reveals to us the conditions of following Him, which is a certain despoliation of oneself and an abandonment of self in order to attain Him. Our hearts were made for Him. If we think to fill our hearts with anything less than Him, it will leave us frustrated and embittered. If we allow Him to fill our hearts, He brings peace, love and joy, and all the other fruits of the Holy Spirit that Paul enumerates; he enumerates 12 but there are more than 12. Our Lord also assures us persecutions. For those who want to be configured with Him, there is a necessary suffering involved and this is something we see in the lives of saints. One common denominator of all of the mystics in the life of the Church is their identification with Christ Crucified. 

Today, we celebrate a great saint, Saint Joan of Arc, who is very much misunderstood. She was from a middle-class peasant family, which sounds like a contradiction in terms but they were a farming family, doing menial labor, but were quite successful at it, and therefore would be termed kind of a lower-middle-class family.

Joan of Arc, Jules Bastien–Lepage, 1879.

At a very early age, Joan began to hear voices from Heaven, namely St. Catherine, St. Michael the Archangel, and St. Margaret of Antioch. And these voices, at first, spoke about very general aspects of the Faith, confirming things that she had learned, teaching her other things she had never learned about the Faith. But with time, over the next two years, these voices became much more particular in terms of what was to be asked of her.

And she had a great mission to go to the Dauphin, who was the Prince, the inheritor of the throne of France, and to encourage him to put his own moral life in order but also to give him some guidance in terms of the battles against the invading English. And so, this was at a time of great turmoil in France. So, there were parts of France that were fighting back the invading English, there were parts of France that were in alliance with the English, and then you have the English themselves.

Well, when Joan obediently tried to gain audience with the Dauphin, she was laughed at and mocked, and went on her way, but was told again, through these heavenly voices, to try again. And she was put to a test, and what’s interesting is how the tests that she was put to, were not dismissed when she answered questions correctly. She gave knowledge, angelic knowledge of things that were happening at a distance. For example, she told them that they would lose a certain battle that was going to happen in the next day or so quite a far aways away from where they were, and that the king would lose that battle, but would win the others if he headed her counsel. The people that she told that to didn’t know that there was going to be a battle there in Compiègne. And, of course, they got news later that they had indeed had a battle there and lost. And so, this all of a sudden, made her a credible witness.

She wore armor. She wore the clothing of a soldier for practical purpose. She had shorter hair. She carried a shield, and a sword, and a banner. She never uses the sword in battle, but Natural Law allows oneself to defend oneself; she didn’t have to. On her banner were the holy names of Jesus and Mary and a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and she said that was weapons enough for her.

Eventually, there were a series of successful battles, which were so because of her counsel. And so, she was considered quite an asset until she was captured. When she was captured in Burgundy, that was a disputed area where there were many that were pro-English and others pro-French. And, sadly, this is a very sad, dark chapter in Church history, where some of the prelates had more political motives than anything else. And so, to ingratiate themselves with the English, she was taken prisoner; handed over to the English.

Well, they needed to come up with charges against her. Of the charges, there were charges of witchcraft, there were charges of dressing like a man, and heresy. Well, she explained away the dressing like a man for, practical purposes, if she was going to be in battle, and especially if she’s going to be in prison, in order to protect her virtue, she dressed as a man as a protective measure.

When she was put on trial, and I’ve read the notes from the trial, her answers to their questions had a depth, and a brilliance, and a readiness of answer that didn’t require much thought on her because it was more divine than human. When she was asked, she was put a trick question, “Joan Are you in a state of grace?” for example. Knowing that the Fourth Lateran Council had determined that no Catholic can claim to be in a state of grace with absolute certainty; that we can know if we’re in a state of sin, but we can’t know for sure if we’re in a state of grace. This is what the Church defines. So, it was a trick question for her. “Are you in a state of grace?” If she said, “Yes”, she would be going against the Fourth Lateran Council. If she said, “No, I’m in a state of mortal sin”, then those voices would be dismissed. And so, her response was, “If I am in a state of grace, I pray that God keep me there. If I’m not in a state of grace, I pray that He put me there.” And then, when they mocked her voices, she spoke the dialect of her particular region, she was told, “Why would the Queen of Heaven speak to you in such a lowly dialect as yours?” And she says, “Well, I guess it’s because she understands it; because when I pray to her, I’m sure she hears me and understands me.”

She was sadly condemned, in spite of a voice that told her, “You will come out of this victorious.” She understood that to mean that she would be released and be allowed to return home, But the victory that was assured her was something much greater than she imagined. And she was condemned to death and burned at the stake. And she asked that a crucifix be shown to her, and she could wear one as well on her body. And, as she was burning, she cried out the Holy Name of Jesus six times.

Because of the irregularities of the trial, it was revisited. The case was revisited 50 years later, and she was exonerated of all charges. There was a great resurgence of devotion to Joan in France during the 19th century. And eventually, Benedict XV beatified her in 1909, and then she was canonized in 1920. She was a source of great inspiration and comfort for soldiers in World War I, especially the French soldiers who looked to her as their patron, and then she was later taken as patron of France, patron of soldiers, and patron of those who are mocked for their piety. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost. Amen 

— Fr. Ermatinger