For the Love of St. Joan of Arc: A Novena (Day 8)

St. Joan of Arc knew she would die a martyr’s death long before those around her did. She crowned Charles VII king at the Cathedral at Reims in July 1429, fulfilling a central part of her mission. Two months later, she led an unsuccessful attempt to liberate Paris. The following May she was captured by the Burgundians, allies of the English. Betrayed by King Charles VII, she was sold to the English for 10,000 gold francs. Charged with heresy and witchcraft, she was tried, and found guilty of heresy in a church court (they had to throw out the witchcraft charges because an examination by a duchess found St. Joan to be a virgin) by men with a clearly political agenda.


Bishop Pierre Cauchon of the Diocese of Beauvais orchestrated the whole thing. He was a zealot for England and chose a biased jury. He falsified evidence, suppressed findings favorable to St. Joan, terrorized jurors, and refused St. Joan’s repeated appeals to the Council of Basel and the pope. 
 You can find the trial transcripts here. The English burned Joan of Arc to death on May 30, 1431. Then they burned her body twice more to prevent the collection of relics.

As she was dying, St. Joan asked two priests to hold a crucifix before her face. As it had throughout her life, St. Joan’s gaze remained on Christ as she, like him, endured an unjust and painful death.

Glorious St. Joan of Arc, filled with compassion for those who invoke you, with love for those who suffer, heavily laden with the weight of my troubles, I kneel at your feet and humbly beg you to take my present need under your special protection…(mention here).

Vouchsafe to recommend it to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and lay it before the throne of Jesus. Cease not to intercede for me until my request is granted. Above all, obtain for me the grace to one day meet God face to face and with you and Mary and all the angels and saints praise Him through all eternity.

O most powerful Saint Joan, do not let me lose my soul, but obtain for me the grace of winning my way to heaven, forever and ever. Amen.


This is the spot in Rouen’s Old Market Square where St. Joan was burned at the stake.

Because I Awoke from a Long, Bad Dream

For a long time I was mystified by several friends of mine. Each was born and raised Catholic, then fell away from the Church in their late teens or early adulthood. What could have caused this, I wondered? I was often critical of these friends. How could they not see the beauty of the Church they were born into? Then I realized that the same thing had happened to me.

I used to refer to my boarding-school years as the best educational experience of my life. Now, I see them differently: as the beginning of a nightmare from which I am only now waking up. When I went off to school at the ridiculously unformed age of fifteen, I was like some of my raised-Catholic friends; I was a devout little Episcopalian altar boy. I am not being ironic. I loved serving at the altar, and during those mid-teen years I even thought seriously about becoming an Episcopal minister. Dear old Dr. Bassage, the revered senior minister at our church, had written my recommendation for boarding school, and I could see little better in life than to follow in his path.

Then I went away to school. Things happened there that I am still trying to sort out, but the end result was that three years later, I graduated a self-satisfied agnostic liberal railing against my father because he supported the war in Vietnam. I was destined not to return to church, as a regular devotion, for nearly 40 years. By then, my father was my best male friend.

What happened when I went away to school? I succumbed to the tyranny of my peers. While the school faculty was supposed to act in loco parentis, there was little in the way of authentic adult authority, except for “Dean Bob,” who threatened punishments from “restricts” to the ax. Our dorm master during my first two years was ridiculed by every student who lived on the floors he supposedly ruled; during senior year, I lived in a house where the benign master, beloved by the fifteen of us who lived above his ground-floor quarters, blithely ignored the odd, smoky odors emanating from upstairs. The school minister, known with genuine affection as “The Rev,” was the closest thing we had to a spiritual authority, but the times being what they were, his message had to be so rounded off at the corners, for reasons of ecumenism, that it had little edge. I do not remember much talk of Jesus Christ.

My peers taught me how to be an adult. A fifteen-year-old kid who was just learning to shave showed up at a dorm one day and, for purposes of survival, quickly kowtowed to the common mentality of the “buttroom” (where we smoked), the classroom, and the athletic field. The central characteristic of that mentality was a deep cynicism about all forms of authority, combined with an absurd self-satisfaction that was only punctured when, as occasionally happened, someone got seriously sick or injured, or a friend threatened suicide.

I ask myself how I could possibly have given up so completely my Christian faith, and the only answer I can come up with is this tyranny. To survive socially, to be accepted, and probably to counteract unspoken feelings of homesickness, I fell asleep to my real needs, my real nature. And so began a long, bad dream.

By the time I became a Catholic 30 months ago, I had sent my two children to boarding school. I make no judgment about them here; they are bright, successful, happy young adults, and each is following her own sincere spiritual journey, one of which has led to the Catholic Church. But if I saw the world as I do now when my wife and I faced the decision of where to send our daughters to high school, I would have thought twice about it.

I am a Catholic today because I finally awoke from that experience. What wakes a person up? Not himself. An alarm clock, maybe? I think the Church would call it grace.

For the Love of St. Joan of Arc: A Novena (Day 7)

One remarkable aspect of exploring the life of St. Joan of Arc through this novena is all the characters I have discovered; folks who helped her to achieve her mission or who played a role in letting the world know about it. I’ve met Yolande of Aquitaine, a royal dynamo who was among the first to believe Joan’s visions were divine, and Étienne de Vignolles , the crude knight she convinced to join her cause and whose heart she converted.

Just last night I met Venetian-born poet, mother, widow and nun Christine de Pisan, (above) who challenged the prevalent misogyny of medieval times and was its most prolific female writer. Hers is the only record of St. Joan of Arc that exists outside of court documents of her trial.

Born into an educated family 47 years before St. Joan, Christine de Pisan was married at age 15 and widowed with three children by the time she was 25.  She turned to writing to support her children. Her patrons were members of the French nobility. She began by writing love ballads but quickly expanded into other genres.

“Her writings in prose and verse soon gained her great renown. Her contemporaries compared her eloquence with that of Cicero and her wisdom with that of Cato. Prompted by necessity she wrote incessantly. She declares herself that “in the short space of six years, between 1397 and 1403, she wrote fifteen important books, without mentioning minor essays, which, compiled, make seventy large copy-books.”  In her mid-fifties, Christine of Pisan  entered a Dominican convent where her daughter was a nun. Sher wrote her final work, The Tale of Saint Joan,  at the convent while St. Joan led successful military campaigns. Here is an excerpt.

XXIV

When I reflect upon your state,
The youthful maiden that you are,
To whom God gives the force and strength
To be the champion and the one
To suckle France upon her milk
Of peace, the sweetest nourishment,
To overthrow the rebel host:
The wonder passes Nature’s work!

XXVI

But as for us, we’ve never heard
About a marvel quite so great,
For all the heroes who have lived
In history can’t measure up
In bravery against the Maid,
Who strives to rout our enemies.
It’s God does that, who’s guiding her
Whose courage passes that of men.

XXVIII

And Esther, Judith, Deborah,
Those ladies of enormous worth,
Through them it was that God restored
His people, who were sorely pressed;
Of many others I have learned,
Courageous ladies, valiant all,
Through whom God worked his miracles.
But through the Maid He’s done much more.

Glorious St. Joan of Arc, filled with compassion for those who invoke you, with love for those who suffer, heavily laden with the weight of my troubles, I kneel at your feet and humbly beg you to take my present need under your special protection…(mention here).

Vouchsafe to recommend it to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and lay it before the throne of Jesus. Cease not to intercede for me until my request is granted. Above all, obtain for me the grace to one day meet God face to face and with you and Mary and all the angels and saints praise Him through all eternity.

O most powerful Saint Joan, do not let me lose my soul, but obtain for me the grace of winning my way to heaven, forever and ever. Amen.

To See My Life as a Chapter in God’s Story

“The universe is a story,” writes Peter Kreeft in Catholic Christianity. “God is its Author.” I read that line this morning while marveling at the way my life changes when I see it this way. From where I was sitting, at the Starbucks on Route 62, it seemed that I have a simple choice: let my life be driven by the schedule entered in the iCalendar on the iPhone in my iPocket—or let God drive my life.

To do the latter, it seems that I have to begin by realizing that (a) God created the universe, (b) he has a plan, and (c) if I just open my eyes I may see my life fitting that plan, instead of marching lockstep through the events in a day preordained by iCal.

My day got off to a late start. I was up at 6:15, and I could see that the readings I had promised myself each morning would not get done if I followed my usual routine that usually begins closer to 5:00. Today, that routine would have taken me from sadly shortened readings to Mass to my office across from church. From somewhere came the thought: No Mass for you today, Buster. Instead, start your readings here, then go out for coffee and finish your readings before going to the office. But where for coffee? Here the Holy Spirit, possibly disguised as guilt, came into play: If I go to the usual coffee spot across from the office (hence, next to church), friends like Ferde coming out of Mass will see me and think: No Mass for you today, Buster? Eh, what?!

So, Starbucks, and the closest Starbucks to my house, which is not anywhere near my usual orbit. I walked into the Route 62 Starbucks, two miles from home, with Peter Kreeft’s book under my arm and walked smack into an old friend, whom I will call Billy.

Now, my first reaction, as yours might have been was, Drat! I came here to finish my readings and now I have to socialize with Billy?! I don’t think so. So while Billy collected his coffee order ahead of me in line, I traded the minimum necessary number of social syllables with him, then bid him farewell as he turned out of the line and I waited for my Grande Pike’s, the Featured Coffee of the Day.

Problem was, Billy didn’t leave Starbucks. He sat at a prominent table by the window, and I now thought I faced a choice: Sit at another table with my book and effectively reject Billy, or walk out and find another place to do My Readings.

Then a third possibility occurred to me: Maybe the Holy Spirit put me in Starbucks at just this moment not to do My Readings but to be with Billy. So I sat with Billy for 20 minutes, and the result was a little miracle.

I happen to know that Billy was raised Catholic but does not practice anymore. Instead, like me some years ago, he has been on an alternative spiritual journey. He is, let me say this clearly, a very very good man.

Billy was reading a book about art (he is a painter), but quickly closed it and turned it face down on the table when I approached. I pointedly put the Kreeft book down on the table, face up: Catholic Christianity. In a fascinating bit of body language, Billy glanced at my book and then, in a single motion, threw the napkin in his hand on top of the art book, making it impossible for me to read the title. He did not comment on my book in the entire 20-minute conversation.

For the first 18 minutes, we expanded our list of socially prescribed syllables, then began to inquire sincerely about each other’s lives, works, health, and so on. I did my best to express my sincere affection for Billy and to listen carefully as he told me about developments in his world. As the conversation progressed, the expression on his face softened, then began to positively shine, moving from something like wariness (I might even say fear) to an open enjoyment of our encounter.

Finally, at minute 19, Billy took a glance at my book (still not mentioning it) and told me about another book that had moved him. It was probably my face that softened as he described the book to me. By Josef Pieper (left), a 20th-century Catholic theologian and scholar on the works of Thomas Aquinas, it is The Four Cardinal Virtues. Billy’s face was radiant as he explained the book to me. He said it takes the four virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude to a whole new level of understanding—that temperance, for example, is not just drinking or eating less, but an entirely different way of relating to life and the universe.

I expressed interest, and Billy said I could probably find the book at alibris or abebooks or another on-line site. I said that I was trying to avoid buying books (“I have more unread books in my home than I can read in the rest of my earthly life,” I said) and Billy said that, while his copy of The Four Cardinal Virtues was heavily underlined, he would be happy to loan it to me, “if you don’t mind the underlining.”

Didn’t mind at all, I said, and so Billy agreed to pull the book off his shelf and drop it by my office sometime this week—through the mail slot if I happen to be out. Billy left Starbucks and I stayed behind to read a few pages of Kreeft.

I hope this encounter will result in further adventures with Billy, and maybe even Catholic adventures for Billy. But whatever comes of this story, believing that it is God’s story and not my own gives it a meaning—gives my entire life a meaning—that it could not have if each of my days were only a page out of iCal.

For the Love of St. Joan of Arc: A Novena (Day 6)

St. Joan of Arc is both a saint and a warrior. As a military leader, she is best known for marshaling French troops during the Siege of Orléans (1428 to 1429), breaking 80 years of English dominance during the Hundred Years’ War between the two nations. She was 17 years old at the time.

Orléans is a city on the Loire River in north-central France and had major significance to both the French and English during the Hundred Years’ War. This siege was the high-water mark  of English power during the long conflict.

At the time,  Orléans was the northernmost city in France that remained loyal to the French monarchy. England already had invaded and controlled much of northern France. Many believed that if the English would maintain their siege, eventually they would conquer all of France. Nine days after St. Joan of Arc showed up, the siege collapsed. Before that time, the French had only tried one assault to repel the English during the siege, and that had resulted in a crushing, demoralizing, defeat.

St. Joan, in following God’s commands, served her countrymen who had been oppressed by the English. Her cause lead her into battle where she continued to honor God by encouraging purity and morality from her fellow soldiers.

St. Joan fulfilled God’s mission through justice–the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor; establishing harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. 

She, by honoring God’s commandments, fulfills his foremost law: love. 

Saint Joan, Your my example both by word and life; Let God Be First Served, I pray that in my own life this will also be the example of my life in service to God.

Saint Joan, Patriot in the service to your God and country; Pray for me.

A Prayer by Thomas More (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I have written before about Thomas More, and he remains one of the reasons I am a Catholic today. A Man for All Seasons was an early influence, and I still play the video (old VHS format) regularly. When I was in RCIA in the fall of 2007, I went to a lawyer’s funeral and received a Thomas More prayer card, which I still treasure. On it was a short version of the so-called “Lawyer’s Prayer” below.

Consider that More wrote the following prayer while imprisoned in the Tower of London awaiting his execution. “To lean into the comfort of God.” I particularly like that phrase: 

Give me the grace, Good Lord,
To set the world at naught. To set the mind firmly on You and not to hang upon the words of men’s mouths.

To be content to be solitary. Not to long for worldly pleasures. Little by little utterly to cast off the world and rid my mind of all its business.

Not to long to hear of earthly things, but that the hearing of worldly fancies may be displeasing to me.

Gladly to be thinking of God, piteously to call for His help. To lean into the comfort of God. Busily to labor to love Him.

To know my own vileness and wretchedness. To humble myself under the mighty hand of God. To bewail my sins and, for the purging of them, patiently to suffer adversity.

Gladly to bear my purgatory here. To be joyful in tribulations. To walk the narrow way that leads to life.

To have the last thing in remembrance. To have ever before my eyes my death that is ever at hand. To make death no stranger to me. To foresee and consider the everlasting fire of Hell. To pray for pardon before the judge comes.

To have continually in mind the passion that Christ suffered for me. For His benefits unceasingly to give Him thanks.

To buy the time again that I have lost. To abstain from vain conversations. To shun foolish mirth and gladness. To cut off unnecessary recreations.

Of worldly substance, friends, liberty, life and all, to set the loss at naught, for the winning of Christ.

To think my worst enemies my best friends, for the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred.

These minds are more to be desired of every man than all the treasures of all the princes and kings, Christian and heathen, were it gathered and laid together all in one heap.

Amen.

To Boldly Go Where Others Have Already Gone

Since my oldest son turned 7 years old, organized baseball has been a big part of my life. He is now a freshman in high school, and working hard on earning the chance to represent his school on the ball field. All of this has changed my life in unexpected ways, and almost all of them good.

My son has learned a lot about the game, and so have I. He has learned that bad calls by the umpires are a part of the game, but the game must go on. He has learned that just looking good gets you nowhere in this game, but experience and hard work can make a huge difference. And he has learned that some things that others consider hard, or impossible to accomplish, he can achieve, because he has seen others just like him do so. Not with ease, and not without effort, but with confidence that the seemingly impossible is achievable because the proof is in his memories or in the history books.

All of these experiences of my son have also helped me give him encouraging words. I too have seen the seemingly impossible achieved, with effort, hard work and determination. I experienced the requirement to achieve what others consider impossible when I was a Marine. Suffice it to say that a Marine’s expectation of what is “normal performance” is often far out along the bell curve, near the tail-ends.

These thoughts that follow were crystallized when I saw the following video clip of a miraculous catch by the center fielder on a Japanese professional baseball team. The team is from Hiroshima, Japan (yes the same Hiroshima you know from the history books), a town 45 minutes by train from a base I was stationed at several times during my military career. This took place on August 03, 2010. This catch was so good, that the fellas at ESPN picked it up and were blown away by it. Take a look,

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Wow, right? Unbelievable, but there it is. Oh, you don’t think it counts as amazing because this is the Japanese league? Please, that is an amazing catch no matter where it happened. Besides, as you may remember from a post I wrote a few days ago, it doesn’t matter where you come from. Everybody can play baseball. But not everyone can make a catch like that. Or can they?

Because below is an example of what I am writing about above. If you have seen something, that you thought was impossible, get accomplished, it opens your eyes a little. Or maybe it opens your eyes, and your mind, a lot. You start thinking to yourself, “Well, if that guy can do it, so can I.” And that is exactly what you will see here,

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Uh-huh. Same pitcher, same two teams playing, just a few weeks later. And now with a different outfielder, making a similar play and another great catch. How? Because his teammate had done it too, and by doing so had shown his peers what is possible. Think outside the box, have confidence, go the extra mile, leap up on to the fence, and make the catch.

When I viewed these two videos, which my wife sent me during lunch today, the first thought that went through my head was “that is what Lou Tseng-Tsiang did when he became a Catholic.” Then I watched the second video and I thought “and that is what his friend John C. H. Wu did. He saw that his friend Lou could do it, and then he went and did it too.”

All of the saints have boldly gone down a path that many see as impossible. But is it really? Aren’t they showing us that it is possible? And aren’t the saints our friends? Don’t they pray for us if we ask them to? I believe so with a firm conviction.

And I also believe this: that they are the pathfinders,the trailblazers. They are the ones who have kept the flame alive; who show us, their teammates in the Church Militant, how we need to be to make it to the Show, which is the Church Triumphant.

Where they have lead, I intend to follow. Let’s go play some baseball.

For the Love of St. Joan of Arc: A Novena (Day 5)

To some who are not Catholic, and heck to some who are, novenas seems like superstition, a relic of folk religion. Novenas are not incantations; they do not offer us magic if only we say certain words or do certain things. Alas, some Catholics are misguided about novenas. Have you ever attended a Mass where someone had stuck a copy of a novena to St. Jude in a pew? The flier says that if you go to church for nine days and leave a copy of the prayer behind, your request will be granted. This is a misuse of the Catholic treasure of a novena.

Father William P. Saunders, refers to this practice as “dispensing—machine Catholicism; just as a person puts the coin in the vending machine and presses the button to get the desired soda, here a person says the prayer, goes to Church, and is supposedly guaranteed that the request will be granted. So much for God’s will. What is really sad these days is that the person simply Xeroxes the letter; one would think they could at least hand-write it.” So what is a novena, exactly?

We set aside a time over nine days, and ask a certain saint to pray for us. Right now, I am praying my very first novena and perhaps some of you are praying along with me. I am meditating and learning about the life of Saint Joan of Arc, and asking her to pray for a special intention of mine.

I prefer to pray the same prayer to Saint Joan every day; it helps keep me disciplined and stick to the novena. But you can pray whatever you like. You can simply say “Saint Joan, pray for me in my time of trouble.” Novenas are not quid pro quo arrangements. It’s not as if I want X and if I pray a novena, Christ will grant me X. Perhaps at the nine days’ end, I will discern that X isn’t what Christ wants for me anyway. Perhaps I will find out that peace and joy come when I don’t receive what I think I need.

Having never prayed a novena before, I am discovering some of its benefits. Because I am praying the novena each morning, it  shapes to my days. I am praying, with Saint Joan near me as a heavenly companion. That helps keep me focused on Christ throughout my day. I feel Saint Joan’s  presence beside me.

For those of you who prefer variety in your novena prayers, here is another Novena to Saint Joan I found. This one focuses on soldiers everywhere.

O Joan, holy liberator of France, the powerful holy force in the days of old, as you yourself said, “Peace would be found only at the point of a lance,” who used the weapons of war when no other means were able to obtain a just Peace, take care and help today those who do not want to do viol
ence and patiently try to employ all possible peaceful means of resolution, but now allow the violence of war.

Heroine of Orleans, transmit to our leaders, your talent to inspire your soldiers to accomplish great deeds of valor, in order that our soldiers’ efforts will come to a rapid and successful end.

Triumphant One of Reims, prepare for us the just peace under the shield of a force that will be henceforth vigilant! Martyr of Rouen, be near to all the soldiers who fall in battle, in order to support, console, and help them and those dear ones that they leave behind.

Saint of the Country, excite in all souls, in every home of the world, the zeal to contribute to the salvation of the world and the return of peace, works which you crave, the rediscovery of a more Christian life, through holy thoughts and actions, forgiveness and persistent prayer, that as you yourself once said, “God must be served first.” Amen.

Asia On Our Minds (Music for Mondays)

Image credit: Jakub Hałun

Image credit: Jakub Hałun

In this edition of MfM, we showcase some songs from mega-hit artists and from one-hit wonders. Superstars and no-name acts too. It’s all a big smorgasbord but all related to the posts we’ve been doing here lately. Last Saturday’s post on John C.H. Wu, picked up the journey were Wu Li left off. And yesterday the story of Lou Tseng-Tsiang hit the stands, as well as Allison’s post on the readings. And today, Allison’s prayer for a friend, who doesn’t even know she has a friend named Allison. [Read more…]

To Pray for Freida Pinto

I’m getting to the age where a young lady in her midtwenties could be my daughter. And so when I learned that Freida Pinto, the beautiful actress from Mumbai, is Catholic, I started to pray for her.

Last week, a neighbor loaned my family a DVD of Slumdog Millionaire, which won eight Academy Awards in early 2009. Neither Greg nor I had seen this inspirational movie about an orphaned young man from the slums of Mumbai who competes in “Kaun Banega Crorepati?” the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” His love interest is another orphan from the slums of Mumbai, a girl named Lakita, played by the lovely Freida Pinto.

Once I watched this movie, it seems I was noticing her face everywhere; on L’Oréal advertisements, on magazine covers and just yesterday as the featured story in the New York Times’  Style magazine. (shown above).  I pray she will hold tight to her faith and the values in which she was raised as her modeling and acting careers continue to soar.

Freida was born in Mumbai in 1984 into a Mangalorean Catholic family. Mangalorean Catholics are an ethno-religious group on the southwestern coast of India, and their descendants. Portuguese missionaries converted that part of India in the 16th century. I wrote about that corner of India in a post about St. Thomas.

Freida’s father, Frederick, is a bank manager and her mother, Sylvia, is principal at St. John’s Universal  High School. She has an older sister, Sharon, a news producer. Freida’s entire educational career was spent in Catholic schools. She graduated from St. Xavier’s College,  a Jesuit college in Mumbai, with a degree in English literature. She is 25 now, and lives with her parents in Mumbai. Her boyfriend is her Slumdog costar Dev Patel, five years her junior. He is an Englishman of Gujarati origin who was raised Hindu. I haven’t been able to find out much about Freida’s faith. I was happy to read she turned down an opportunity to appear in a Bollywood film because, she said, she was asked to appear nude in a sex scene. Will she keep those standards as she signs contracts with American directors? I hope so.

I don’t want to hold this lovely lady out as a role model for Catholic girls or anyone else. That is too much of a burden for anyone to bear, especially someone so young. I understand many of us stumbled on our paths to adulthood. But I pray, for her own sake, that Freida will hold fast to her faith.

Freida’s alma mater, the all-girls’ Carmel of St. Joseph high school, posts this vision statement on its website:  

Carmel of St. Joseph is committed to offer a life-oriented education that is humanizing and liberating, enabling the students to be socially conscious and justice-oriented. Empowerment of the poor and the marginalized will be a priority, and respect for God’s creation will be fostered. The thrust is in the light of a ‘civilization of love’ – the Kingdom of God as envisaged and promoted by the Foundress, Mother Teresa of St. Rose of Lima.

I pray Freida’s vision stays true to this one. May her faith comfort and guide her as she navigates the heady world of glamor, riches and fame.