Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Saint Joan and "God's Girl Squad"

May 30 is the feast day of the peasant girl from Domremy, Jeanne la Pucelle, whom we call "Joan of Arc." She was burned to death on this day in the year 1431 in Rouen in France, after her short, stunning, inexplicable career in the history of late medieval Europe.

Joan gave her life after leading armies, encouraging a king, and baffling her adversaries in her long and famous trial. Finally condemned by treachery, she cried out the name of Jesus as the flames consumed her on the stake. She returned her soul to God after having fulfilled the mission she had received from him.

She was only 19 years old.

Nearly 700 years later, Saint Joan continues to be a national heroine in France, to fascinate and inspire people all over the world, and to be a source of renewed innocence and goodness and courage.

Even today, she is one of great leaders of a singular army that fights for the good on the innumerable battlefields of human hearts, a spiritual army that I like to call (with a little humor but more than a little affection) God's Girl Squad.

While I refer to "God's Girl Squad" with tongue-in-cheek (because, after all, they're just kids), I mean no lack of respect for the awesome reality of this group. I am referring to the two-thousand-year-old group of young women who dedicated their lives to Jesus Christ, and who usually sealed that dedication with martyrdom at a very young age—or else they died young from some excruciating disease or some other thing that brought incomprehensible suffering.

Their short lifespans, however, have not stopped them from continuing to mysteriously "take care of" people in this world, with a very particular tenderness and attention and (I don't know how else to describe it) a very "energetic spirit."

As another one of their leaders, Therese of Lisieux, put it, they "spend [their] heaven doing good on earth."

They are particularly attentive to the weak, the physically weak and the spiritually weak. Not to mention the psychologically weak. We the living can ask for their help, and they will help us. But I think that often they "decide to bother us" long before we even think of asking for any help, or even know who they are.

They are fearless and they are persistent. After all, they live entirely from the infinitely magnanimous Heart of the Risen Jesus.

I'm not joking. These girls are real. Saint Joan of Arc is just one outstanding example. And for reasons that I cannot fathom and could hardly begin to try to explain but that are genuine and significant nonetheless, this is an all-girls' group. Here we find the "genius of the feminine" with a eminent, supernatural vitality. These are girls with the simplicity and joy of little children, the innocence of maidens, the tenacious hearts of mothers, and the authority of queens.

Think of it: Start with the anonymous ones that were probably among Nero's victims in the gruesome year of 64. Then you have Saints Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, Melania the Younger, then others from the Middle Ages along with Joan, and then from all over the earth, from Japan to the Americas to Africa, through the centuries, all the way up through Therese and Elizabeth of the Trinity to Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, who died from osteosarcoma at the age of 18 in 1990.

Chiara Luce, as I have noted before in this blog, first tapped me on the shoulder on March 12, 2012.

Of course that last detail is merely my very fallible self-reflection on my own spiritual journey. I have no doubt that Chiara Luce is my good friend, but I can't make any particular statements about our friendship or any of these other mysterious friends and helpers of my life with any objective authority.

I know they are very "busy" in my life. But I don't see them. I don't hear them.

Rather, I surmise, I follow "hunches," I mark their connection with events in my life even as I find myself swept up into the stories of their lives. I can't prove (even to myself) that the specific help I'm inclined to attribute to the Girl Squad is anything more than a combination of coincidences and my very active imagination.

But, overall, there is something to it.

Catholic tradition and teaching assure us of the reality of the intercession of the saints. We can have confidence that they accompany us in various ways on our journey with Jesus in the Church, and that they touch people's lives all over the world.

Their special presence in our lives is something we can depend on, in faith. It also engages that particular level of reality that pertains to personal relationship, where people experience connection to one another in a manner that cannot be fully objectified or conceptually expressed.

The workings of the heart, of love, are beyond our understanding in this world.

Occasionally these mysterious, grace-given relationships have effects that can be evaluated by rational investigation. An incurable disease suddenly vanishes, and scientists have no explanation for how this was possible. These are the miracles that find their way into the dossiers submitted to the ecclesiastical processes of beatification and canonization.

These are very careful, very rigorous processes. There are people who have enough testimonies to fill a room with old fashioned filing cabinets. Out of these, one or two might be submitted for consideration as a verifiable miracle.

Most of the good that flows from the enormous range of the love of God's Girl Squad would never even make it into the room.

Nevertheless, I'm convinced that these girls are a special group, with a special place in the Heart of Jesus and the communion of saints, and that they "work" in a special and particular way through the love of Jesus that has transformed them.

We have so many examples among the Church's officially declared saints and blesseds, but there must be many others who are not canonized, among whom surely are those who lived in good faith as non-Catholic Christians, or even "non-Christians" (who in this world were mysteriously connected to Christ's life by love, by the vital response of their good conscience, and by their fidelity to the steps of the journey given to them).

There must be many others—even girls we knew in this life as our sisters, neighbors, friends, students, or children—who have gone to God and yet have not ceased to be with us.