How to Be a Lady (as told by St. Joan of Arc)
While we mourn the end of another Saints season, we turn to one of New Orleans' favorite saints, Joan of Arc! My Niece Kaitlin and I were recently working on a day of reflection for some junior high girls, and we were asked to address "How to Be a Lady" and "Friendship." Over a bourbon or two Kaitlin, a tomboy from birth, told me she felt more comfortable talking about friendship, but pulling Aunt rank, I said, "I thought you might... however, I've been praying about this and I really think you should explain 'How to Be a Lady' through the life of St. Joan of Arc." Her eyes turned into hearts like my favorite emoji, and this Friendsday Wednesday piece is the beautiful result. She recently shared this talk at a college women's retreat (photo below)--and it was awesome!
Forever Who Dats,
A couple of years ago I grew to love St. Joan of Arc, the soldier-maiden who led the French to win the Hundred Years War against the English. She went at the behest of God, who sent St. Michael the Archangel and other saints to guide the young girl and France to their victory. It would demand the sacrifice of her life, when traitorous French bishops conspired with the English and accused her of witchcraft, and she was burned at the stake. I vaguely knew her story as a kid, since I saw her statue in New Orleans. But it wasn’t until I understood having a friendship with the saints, and began learning about St. Joan, and finally read Mark Twain’s thoroughly researched tale of her, that I absolutely had a devotion to her.
"Hang in there, Joan!"
The story of St. Joan speaks to me in all areas of my heart: the adventurous, nostalgic, anachronistic, hopeful, vulnerable, sensitive, and even the prideful side that dares aspire to be like Joan. No matter where she was, or who she was around, she was grounded in herself and her mission; grounded in who God had created her to be, and what she was created to do. That speaks to me deeply, because as a young woman, there are three things I know well: the person I am now, the person God wants me to be, and the person the world and the Devil want me to be. The life of Ste. Jeanne d’Arc will forever inspire me to choose what God wants me to be, and to follow this path fearlessly.
Being a saint, Ste. Jeanne has many virtues of course, but I have chosen four that I think are especially important for women to remember today. We hear a lot about feminism today, but very little about virtue and what it means to be a virtuous woman. Disclaimer: We can’t all be Joan of Arc. But the great thing about virtues is that we all need them and they are timeless. St. Joan’s growth in virtue started with her life of prayer and trust in God. From there, the Lord made her into the saint that she became.
This virtue is not old fashioned (because Old Fashioneds are in style anytime), nor just for your mother and grandmother. Piety means to have reverence for God and the Church, and that is something definitely needed today. People need to be reminded daily of the sacred. Humanity was made sacred through the Incarnation. Therefore, sacredness isn’t only found in churches, but is found within people as well. St. Joan went to great lengths to make sure her soldiers were reminded of this--even in the middle of a war, at the end of a century long dwindling of virtue in her country. She called the men around her to act with dignity in their camps and had them go to confession and Mass before battle. This has inspired many soldiers since to hold strong to their faith during war, and to act with virtue in all things, especially in places that threaten to dispel virtue. Culture today would rather we forget piety, whether it’s religious or simply reverence for the body. However, a woman’s piety can inspire and affirm piety in men. When piety is rejected by women, the man and/or the family is less likely to aspire to piety. Be firm in your reverence for God and his gifts.
Zeal sometimes has a negative connotation. Even though society boasts of “tolerance” we can still be afraid of “being extra” as kids say these days. Zeal, however, is a powerful virtue. It is certainly not a quiet one, and it’s not meant to be. It’s meant to be influential and compelling. When we are caught up in zeal, we are caught up in action. Controlled zeal, that is focused on the good and God’s will, is going to create change. Being zealous about her cause was one reason that people across France were attracted to following and supporting St. Joan. She was zealous for France and doing God’s will. Thus, she inspired others to rise up and defend France and participate in God’s will as well. Many had given up on their country and could no longer see the good and beauty of it since it had been overrun and divided for so long. Joan still firmly loved France, and that love and zeal opened the eyes of the French to do their part in reviving their home.
Whatever you’re zealous about, don’t hide it. The hobbies that we love and causes that we support are how others see more truth, beauty, and goodness in the world around them. Often, women have a different way of seeing things and are zealous in ways different from men. We can’t let that zeal be hidden! Feminine genius has been spoken of by saints for generations. What are you zealous about that you can share with the world? When we do all things in Jesus Christ with the joy and freedom He gives us, we can truly begin sanctifying the world around us. As St. Joan would say: “Act and God will act. Work and God will work.”
Think about a time when someone was kind to you--especially in an unexpected way. You will never forget those moments. Whether it’s a best friend or a total stranger, acts of kindness are rarely forgotten. St. Joan was well-known for her kindness even from her childhood, and it became famous once she was a soldier. She was kind without reproach to many, many people she encountered. She spared time to be present to people and take care of their needs. After a battle, if possible, she would go back to the battlefield and care for dying soldiers, even if it meant just holding them while they died. There are even accounts of her doing this for her enemy. Her kindness brought great comfort to those people.
I think today that kindness is perceived as a weakness, or that the woman’s desire to nurture isn’t considered practical. Truly, though, kindness is a blessing. No one doubted Joan’s zeal for her mission because of her kindness. Instead, it was a light in the darkness for the people around her. It reminded the men of their dignity. Acts of kindness to others or witnessed by others remind people of their dignity--that they deserve to be treated a certain way and that they can also be the source of kindness for others. Wherever life brings you and whatever your state of life, nurture kindness in yourself and others and never be ashamed of your kindness or when your heart is moved to kindness. Remember that kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, so being moved to be kind is the Holy Spirit moving within you. St. Joan Quote: “One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice who we are is a fate worse than dying.”
So, obviously St. Joan was courageous if she could go to war and lead battles, but her courage has a deeper meaning than just leading France to victory. Joan had to have courage to be the person God was calling her to be. Even before she was in war, she had to have courage to be pious and zealous when so many around her had cast these virtues aside. She needed courage to be kind when she could have easily let the war take that virtue away. She had to have courage to remain steadfast in her mission- to do what God had called her to do, and to continue down the path to become the saint God was calling her to be. I often think of virtue in this light because of how often I know God is asking me to act with greater charity than usual, and I find myself timid to do it. But this is the path to sainthood! We won’t all be called to fight great wars, but we will always be called to grow in charity wherever we are. And that takes courage. Once, when questioned about her mission, St. Joan said: “I am not afraid to do this. I was born to do this.”
It also means that we have to be there for one another. Ladies, never abandon your fellow women. Even if you can’t stand someone, pray for them. You want to see them in Heaven, which means we all have to grow in charity until we get there. Our struggles shouldn’t divide us to the point where we no longer encourage one another to pull through, whether that’s through prayer, phone conversations that last for hours, indulging in food and drinks with one another, or just simply being with one another. Mary and Eve did not choose the same things, but I guarantee you Mary did not condemn Eve, but pulled her up to Heaven to greet her son, Jesus, instead.
Kaitlin S. Davis is in formation to be a consecrated virgin living in the world. Her life in the world includes being an Athletic Trainer at the Episcopal School of Acadiana, coordinating and leading missions trips to Alaska with College Missions Company, pulling against the Atlanta Falcons, and quoting Pope Benedict XVI on the reg. You can contact Kaitlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.