Saturday, May 16, 2009

On the 89th Anniversary of the canonization of Joan of Arc

She heard voices when she was twelve years old. She was a peasant girl who demanded audience with feuding French royals. She road into battle in a man's armor. A political casualty, she was imprisoned by the English and continued to wear men's clothing perhaps to avoid rape. At the age of nineteen, she was burned at the stake for heresy, but really, her death was English retribution for her success against them in battle. The Catholic Church sheepishly pardoned her in 1452, and she became a patron saint of France when she was canonized on this day, in 1920, by Pope Benedict XV.

There is a sixteenth Benedict on the throne of Peter today. One who once held the modernized post of Inquisitor in charge of identifying heretics and bending them into either orthodoxy or breakage. I wonder how he will celebrate the anniversary of the canonization of a cross-dressing teenage girl who heard voices in her head and was fearless in her inconvenient convictions. How will Benedict XVI praise a young woman, practically illiterate and forcing powerful men to do the right thing, while making mortal enemies in both church and state along her route to the flames?

Almost six hundred years of Christianity have gone by since Joan, and I fear the Catholic Church has not evolved a bit since then. Still in bed with temporal power. Still dominated by old men. Still refusing to accept - God forbid celebrate - diversity. Still condemning the inconveniently audacious differences of those who are inspired singularly.

If Joan were alive today, and if she managed to avoid her parents' dosing her with Ritalin, she would probably be a loud and activist lesbian. Certainly not a woman acceptable to Benedict XVI who will warble kind words about this saint and about the wisdom of his papal predecessor in canonizing her eighty-nine years ago.

Do you know what this teaches me? It reminds me to trust my instincts and to speak from my heart. It tells me that popularity is its own reward and that heroes are lonely and often meet with bad final chapters. It tells me that big institutions cannot tolerate inspiration and enthusiasm and vision until those energies have had their rough edges worn smooth by the passage of centuries.

I was recently tracking some private group email among activist bloggers in which one black lesbian blogger known to many of you described how she was attacked and vilified because of an inconvenient stance she had put forth with clarity. I kept clear of that conversation and privately hope that she will forsake popularity and continue to speak from her heart. Nothing gets fixed otherwise.

Like Joan of Arc, we are each a little bit nuts, but collectively we are wise. (There were twelve disciples, not just one.) That is why when an entity like the Catholic Church or our Federal Government silences a section of its membership or relegates some of its members to a lower/restricted class, that entity is weakened, like a brain that is lobotomized and made capable only of simpler tasks and mediocrity.

If I had been alive in fifteenth century France, I doubt I'd have ridden into battle next to Joan, but I also doubt I'd have been a courtier in the palace of the bishop who tried her for heresy. I'd have been someone in the crowd as she rode through our town with her legions. I'd have told my neighbor "That girl's crazy, but she's got spunk. She's got chutzpah! She's got balls." I hope I'd have at least cheered as she passed and I hope to God I have the good sense to spot the heroes and saints among us today and to cheer them on wholeheartedly.


Anonymous said...

I immensely enjoy your topics as they make me think and always make me reflect on my strenghts and weakness as a man. I know your imense intellectual ability and admire same.

I was born of Irish DNA and raised a Catholic and for many reasons and I stand with many of its teaching I enjoy the reading of the scriptures and it reminds me to be good. Yet at Church as I shake a persons hand and say " peace be with you" , I know many disaprove of who I am. Am I a phony for being inside the Church.

Your post reminds me that a gay catholic man my personal peace seems to be a perpetual and metaphysical task.

Despite my unhappiness with the Church I still see good. And I don't join the pop culture of gay men and women who seek its armegendon.

In the South Bronx where I work and serve, I see so many clergy, of all deonominations who play a primary and substantive social support for thousands residing in the other N.Y.C. the underclass.

Far from the Chelsea Boys,Club lemmings and trojan horse club owners and promoters who operate in the vanity circles and pimp drugs of destruction in our community along with Wall Street profiters,and hipsters. Yes they have fancy fund raisers and give monetary assistance, but they never get there hands dirty.

Why am I confused Father Tony. For me it was after my City and our Nation was attacked on 911. I found myself as a first responder present in the clouds of dust caused my evil persons who justify their actions in a "Holy War".

However in the days following the attack I find myself in the aftermath enganged in the rescue effort to find if anyone is buried alive, I am besiged by despair and a sense of extreme loss. And as I try to rationalize the events and seek t exception of some twisted steel everyting else that remains is a grey dust.

And all I can think of is Ash Wednesday and a priest annointing me with grey dust and saying "dust you are and dust you shall return".

God rest Joan and her ashes, as I will follow.

Gordon said...

"road into battle" ?!

Ken in MS said...

What a magnificent post! Taking an event eight centuries ago and making it mean something personal to me today. I, too, hope I can cheer on the saints and heroes, even if unwilling to be one myself.

Tony Adams said...

Thanks, Gordon, you're hired.

Tony Adams said...

Thanks, Gordon, you're hired.

Anonymous said...

Have you read the minutes from the Canonization Ceremony for Joan of Arc. Very inspiring.