Tuesday 29th November 2022

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The Passion Of Joan Of Arc

November 17, 2022 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK

The saints help us by their example both to interpret the times in which we live and to witness to the Faith heroically unto death as did they.
The beauty of holiness is brought powerfully before our hearts and minds through good films and music as well as other fine arts. Our formation should include these sources of inspiration.
With parishioners and family I recently viewed director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 French silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc, accompanied by chorus and symphony.
The score was composer Richard Einhorn’s 1994 oratorio, Voices of Light, to accompany the film.
Hundreds of voices, soloists, and orchestra enhanced the already intense and startling portrayal of Joan’s agony, tried and condemned by French bishops allied with the enemy English forces.
Renée Falconetti’s performance as Joan has been hailed as “astonishing” and one of the best in cinema history. She powerfully conveys the spirituality of a saint who communicates with the Divine.
The voices of the saints, Catherine and Michael, conveyed to Joan that she was to “lift the siege at Orleans and crown the king at Rheims.”
She followed these orders courageously and faithfully while others around her, to include the king, waffled and dithered.
Joan’s men followed her enthusiastically, while she chased the female camp followers off and ordered the men to go regularly to Confession. Her victories gave the Divine stamp of approval to her actions as she went from strength to strength.
Until she was captured.
Joan’s story echoed the Scriptures of our upcoming Feast of Christ the King and underscore an important distinction. Joan served her earthly king with utmost loyalty while never sacrificing her sterling Christian integrity. We must do the same.
We serve God on Earth through the orders of those appointed over us in society, but the time may come when we have to refuse to serve Caesar if he commands us to violate the just and holy decrees of God.
We may also find ourselves even opposing men of God should they do the same, as was the case with St. Joan.
We are always, if faithful, in some sense on trial before the world. The increasingly Godless social mix in which all of us now live presses in upon us. We may be tempted to be ashamed of Christ before others.
Our betrayal may be something as little as failing to ask for Sunday off at work for Mass because we don’t want others to know we’re Catholic. Or as grave as joining in with blasphemies for the sake of human respect.
Only after a grueling 29 interrogations over a period of 18 months was Joan’s fate as a martyr finally sealed.
Faced as she was throughout her extended imprisonment by devious manipulations at the hands of ecclesial agents of a foreign ruler, she never wavered in her self-defense. She knew that the mission to serve her king on Earth came from the King of all on Earth, in Heaven.
This until, in a moment of human weakness, she buckled under the cruel and relentless machinations of evil and clever men, signing the document they proferred which served to adjure her testimony. As a result they reduced her death sentence to perpetual imprisonment on bread and water.
In one of many such riveting moments in the film, Joan has occasion to reflect on her actions as her hair is cut off to prepare her for prison life.
As her passing earthly appearance is changed with each falling lock, she recalls the shortness of earthly life in the light of eternity and regains her convictions of before.
She calls out, requesting that the judges come back to hear her confession for, as she says, she has done something “very bad.” The men eagerly cluster around her in the cell, believing they finally have her entrapped.
Her confession, however, is that she “betrayed God for fear of the flames” and now wants to revoke the document she signed under such duress.
She fully and finally perseveres in opposing the faithless men of the Church, who would jeopardize her soul for their political ends, and thus regains hope of the everlasting victory of Heaven, for which her death will release her from the passing suffering of this world.
Joan is then sentenced to death by burning at the stake, accused of a relapse as a heretic and idolater. As the flames leap up around her body, consuming her flesh, her soul yearns for the Eternal One whom she clings to once again in faith.
She calls out, “Lord, will I be with you today in Paradise?” and one last time, “Jesus,” before the all-consuming fire does its worst.
In the Gospel for the Feast of Christ the King the Lord reigns from the cross on Calvary with the two thieves on either side. Joan’s victory is presaged by that of the good thief whose repentance gains the promise of the Lord, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Men of the Church, to include bishops, at times betray the Church for earthly ends. We struggle to persevere in believing in our own day, despite the scandal of those who manipulate the Gospel to serve earthly or sinful agendas at odds with the Kingship of Christ.
These men have powerful means at their disposal for punishing those who would oppose them.
Sometimes we too, like Joan, “betray God for fear of the flames.” We, like her, must be alert to the call to repent while life gives us occasion to yet return to God with sorrow for sin and the desire to amend our lives.
For us as for the martyr Joan, in suffering our love for God is strengthened in faith as sincere and authentic, like gold tried and refined by fire.
We too can die in a state of grace as did Joan. We can even become saints if heroic virtue, always made possible by grace, is matched to our acceptance of the call, even after betrayal, to repent and believe.
Thank you for reading and praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.
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