Meet Joan of Arc…and Mark Twain

By the time Mark Twain died, he was anti-Catholic and anti-French, yet he still referred to “The Recollections of Joan of Arc” as his best and favorite work. It was the work he claimed to have researched the most, using the transcripts from the trial of Joan of Arc and other important French sources. This work introduced Joan into the United States and is for the most part historically accurate with some fictional flourishes that do not contradict history. It is from there we take our understanding.

Her will was made of iron. Like the female saints for whom it seems nothing is impossible, even in Medieval Europe, when the role of woman is degraded and dismissed, there comes a woman full of intelligence, spirit, goodwill and kindness to teach us how to live.

Joan’s story is timely for us today as the hearts of informed Catholics fill with unrest and disgust at the actions of certain clerical officials in commissive and omissive sins. 46,000 women signed a letter to Pope Francis on behalf of Catholic women requesting answers. The voice of the feminine genius cries out for the protection of others, for a vision of the wholeness of those the Church is called to serve, and for justice. We know of a lot beyond the required love of faith. We know of a love of home, of family, of children, of hobbies and it emboldens our desires and shapes our pastimes. Women are not to be ignored.

Twain’s biography of the woman begins with a long treatment of a tree and fairies. I appreciate a work that can fully acknowledge the presence of these little creatures, treating them with civility, respect, and the lightheartedness lacking in too many biographies. Good authors know they must first introduce you to the person, because you can then understand how the following actions were inevitable. Twain does that, and he does it with fairies.

With the full use of her rational powers, the child Joan defended the fairies and argued with the priest over the wrong he had done in banishing them. Her effort amuses him. She succeeds in convincing him she is right and then succeeds all the greater by her willingness to take on his sins and suffer. This is what ultimately moves his heart to contrition for acting as priest according to rules and not according to right.

Twain’s reverence for Joan knows no bounds. She is beautiful, sweet, soft-spoken, can laugh heartedly, find amusement in others foibles, and possesses special powers with animals, taming the wildest of them as friends. Blood makes her weep. Yes, there are visions. The period of visions caused her to turn inward. She is private, reflective and serious until the hope has come. Then on a dime, she becomes fierce and forceful, determined and undeniably a leader of the greatest cause, a commission sent by God. Obedient to God, she will do all she is supposed to do.

This is what we see of her. Twain humanizes her when he explains her willingness to sign at the first sight of fire. “I was scared by the fire,” she admits. He shows her tired, this one time, beleaguered by the scheming of hierarchical officials who wish to rise higher still.

According to all Twain says, Joan is a larger than life saint who fits in the ranks with Catherine of Siena and St. Francis de Sales. Remarkable about her is the willingness of God to use his servant to touch into history. Her role in bringing the Hundred Years War near its conclusion is undeniable and beyond natural reason. God acted miraculously. What must France have done to deserve that?

It is both good to think of God intervening in history without requiring the use of rainbows and to think of a lesson taught to the reader when Joan refuses to submit her mission to the evaluation of the Church. She argues with the prelate. It was given by God. He counters, that is Church Triumphant (the saints, angels and God in Heaven). Will she not submit it to be evaluated by Church Militant (those of us scrambling around this earth)? No, she will not.

I pondered this distinction. These were men of Church Militant, of the Church on earth, of the Church on mission, of the Church made of sinners. How deep were the sins of these men not content with killing her but who must also prove her a heretic and idolater!

Yet, perhaps, as the Church is greater than any number of priests or nuns or laypeople, who all make up “The Church”, so this strain of corruption has always existed among her members, as members who are capable of sin. It does not touch on the Church Triumphant and it will not defeat the suffering Church.

She will endure. She will be vindicated. A short time after Joan’s death her name was restored to its glory and her accomplishments recognized, likely only by the selfish motive of the King who abandoned her.

Her story is timely indeed, for hope, for courage, for the knowledge that God will never abandon the littlest of these.

Meet Hildegard of Bingen

A brief introduction to the person and personality of one of the greatest ladies of the Catholic Church.


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We can know God.

Born in 1098, Hildegard of Bingen, a sickly child born of nobility was given at the age of eight to Jutta of Sponheim for care in a hermitage as an oblate of St. Benedict. At Jutta’s death, Hildegard was elected abbess. Attracted to her greatness and sanctity, the convent overflowed with vocations and she went to establish two new monasteries.

Her early education was poor, but she was instructed in Latin enough to chant the Psalms. Here and in the Church she met the Lord. He granted her visions from an early age. After revealing them to her spiritual director, she was instructed to write them all down. These visions were approved as being from God by Church authorities. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux encouraged her. Pope Eugene III authorized her to write and speak in public.

She wrote books on theology and mysticism, medicine and natural sciences. We have 400 of her letters, addressed to simple people, to religious communities, popes, bishops and the civil authorities of her time. She composed sacred music.

In his letter proclaiming her Doctor of the Church, Pope Benedict wrote, “The corpus of her writings, for their quantity, quality and variety of interests, is unmatched by any other female author of the Middle Ages.”

Hildegard died at the age of 81. It took 800 years for her to be formally elevated by the Church.


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In the great canon of her work, she spoke of the reciprocal relationship between men and women, the complementarity, and contrasted with other traditions, did not blame women for the fall. Her writings acknowledged the hylomorphic reality: that we are created body and soul, and body and soul will be involved in our search for God.

Summarizing her teaching, Pope Benedict continued: Hildegard asks herself and us the fundamental question, whether it is possible to know God: This is theology’s principal task. Her answer is completely positive: through faith, as through a door, the human person is able to approach this knowledge. God, however, always retains his veil of mystery and incomprehensibility. He makes himself understandable in creation but, creation itself is not fully understood when detached from God. Indeed, nature considered in itself provides only pieces of information which often become an occasion for error and abuse. Faith, therefore, is also necessary in the natural cognitive process, for otherwise knowledge would remain limited, unsatisfactory and misleading.

Creation is an act of love by which the world can emerge from nothingness. Hence, through the whole range of creatures, divine love flows as a river. Of all creatures God loves man in a special way and confers upon him an extraordinary dignity, giving him that glory which the rebellious angels lost.

… man, of course, is the creature who can answer the voice of the Creator with his own voice. And this can happen in two ways: in voce oris, that is, in the celebration of the liturgy, and in voce cordis, that is, through a virtuous and holy life.

…In this regard, the most precise description of the human creature is that of someone on a journey, homo viator. On this pilgrimage towards the homeland, the human person is called to a struggle in order constantly to choose what is good and avoid evil.

Meet Edith Stein

A brief introduction to the person and personality of one of the greatest ladies of the Catholic Church.


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During her beatification, John Paul II described Edith Stein as  “A personality who united within her rich life a dramatic synthesis of our century. It was a synthesis of a history full of deep wounds that are still hurting…and also the synthesis of the full truth about man. All this came together in a single heart that remained restless and unfulfilled until it finally found rest in God.”

Biographical accounts will tell you, Edith Stein was born in Breslau, Poland to a Jewish family on 12 October 1891, the youngest of 11 children.

The major events of his life were: the death of her father when she was two years old; the loss of faith at age 14; regaining her faith in adulthood; the completion of her doctorate, summa cum laude, in 1917, after writing a thesis on “The Problem of Empathy”; entry into the Catholic Church on January 1, 1922; joining the Carmelite Convent of Cologne on October 14; making her final vows April 21, 1938; her arrest by the Gestapo on August 2, 1942 and deportation to Auschwitz with 987 Jews; and her death seven days later in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. She was beatified in 1987 and canonized on October 11, 1998.


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But what can we learn by meeting Edith Stein?

God does not ask us to leave behind who we are at our core when he calls us to him. Rather he deepens and enhances the skills and gifts with which he created us.

On the exterior, Edith was an avid student, a brilliant philosopher, a feminist, a Jew, a Roman Catholic, a Carmelite nun.

Interiorly, the question of the suffering ran throughout the fabric of her life. In her early life, prayer seemed irrelevant to life’s challenges. It was a meeting with a young woman that radically altered Edith’s understanding of life. She described this moment, “This was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power it imparts to those who bear it … it was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me – Christ in the mystery of the Cross.”


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Despite obstacles in her scholarship (she was first denied a professorship because she was a woman, then later, because she was a Jew) she learned that it was possible to pursue scholarship as a service to God. God would draw her deeper into the world rather than ask her to retreat from it.

Edith presented in herself a desire to carry the cross for those who had not met the all-encompassing love of Christ. Like Queen Ester, taken from her people in order to represent them before the King. After many years absent from prayer, she wrote she “did not begin to feel Jewish again until I had returned to God” through the Catholic Church.

Let us reflect on her words:

“God is there in these moments of rest and can give us in a single instant exactly what we need. Then the rest of the day can take its course, under the same effort and strain, perhaps, but in peace. And when night comes, and you look back over the day and see how fragmentary everything has been, and how much you planned that has gone undone, and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed: just take everything exactly as it is, put it in God’s hands and leave it with Him. Then you will be able to rest in Him — really rest — and start the next day as a new life.”

Photojournalism Tips in my Notebook that Celebrate Small Town Life

Sharing with you my photos of the week (viii)

Last season I rediscovered the joy of using the local library. While it is an excellent source for Anne of Green Gables, some of its offerings are a little out-dated, though not useless!

Checking out Photojournalism: A Professional’s Approach, I learned a thing or two which I am learning to apply to my photographs. Combined with the wisdom of How to Style Your Brand and the deliciously laid out Brand Brilliance (not found at my library), stride might just be in the making.

1. Let your photograph tell a story.

Kyle Casey of Casey Music Service assists you with all things music. Educate: private music lessons. Restore: bringing those instruments back to glory through tunings and repair. Create: custom wind chimes for the music lover.

There should be enough elements in the photograph to tell you as much of the “who, what, when, where and how” as possible. Bonus branding points if your photograph includes the colors associated with your business in marketing photographs.

From here, we know this guy (my husband and owner of Casey Music Service) tunes pianos, works in people’s homes, doesn’t kill plants, uses a cell phone while he works but still with foreign-looking tools. We know he can hear and his hearing is required for his work (or he is blind but then that type of phone might not be as helpful).

Digital programs replaced the tuning fork but piano tuning still requires a good ear. Kyle Casey of Casey Music Service assists you with all things music. Educate: private music lessons. Restore: bringing those instruments back to glory through tunings and repair. Create: custom wind chimes for the music lover

2.Take an overall shot, an action shot and a detail shot of the story you are telling.

Even if you do not use all three, it frames them in our mind for your project.

Young Ladies Institute (YLI), a Catholic women's organization celebrates unity, sisterly love and protection (looking out for each other) in a world when most of our connections are losing their real-life touch.

3. Climb on the chair.

To get the right photograph you might need to stand on a chair, a table or lay on the ground. It depends on what you’re aiming for.

Young Ladies Institute (YLI), a Catholic women's organization celebrates unity, sisterly love and protection (looking out for each other) in a world when most of our connections are losing their real-life touch.


At the YLI 3rd Sunday of Lent Mass and Breakfast, it did not get too complicated and only a little disruptive to the people whose cookies I stole in order to take this picture.


4. When you believe in your subject, it shows.

Photography is art. It is a skill that can be learned, but like the copy it accompanies, when you truly care, truly want to celebrate the accomplishments of the subjects, that love comes through. Here, celebrating Small Town Life, we have two boys going off to play in the World Series of the Little League…and they couldn’t be more excited.

Please note Photojournalism: A Professional’s Approach was a remarkable book but it does have explicit images. Approach with caution and away from little ones.

Revisiting Young Ladies Institute (YLI)

As a 16-year old girl watching Felicity and 10 Things I Hate About You, there was nothing that drew me to the Young Ladies’ Institute (YLI), a large, active women’s organization at our local Catholic Church. My mother was greatly involved. With all the jokes about how young the ladies were (they were not) I did not understand this organization.

Like many other high school graduates I knew, I petitioned for financial support, a donation for missionary work, a scholarship for college, both of which received. YLI was a good organization. I thought nothing ill of it.

College and marriage took me to the midwest and east coast, far away from YLI which spans the west. Returning home, looking for projects to fill my housewife lifestyle. I volunteered to create the monthly newsletter.

In this way, I learned about the program to which my mother was greatly committed. I learned the events, the works of mercy performed, the offices and annual tasks. Every woman I interviewed had this to say about YLI, “I love YLI because they were there for me in my time of need…”

As life goes on, the structures of our relationships change. I found myself looking for friends who were able to be a part of daily life. I longed for a community I could plug into with like-minded women.

In the last two years, crises mounted. We were in need. YLI came to our aid through meals, donations, and putting together the most beautiful funeral reception I could imagine. Walking into my mother’s kitchen, seeing platter after platter of brightly hued fruit after burying my baby was a relief I did not expect. It was Beauty after Sadness.


These women served and washed dishes while I talked with friends, hoping this would be the end of our grief. They did not do this only because they are my mom’s friends. They did it because they are my sisters, my YLI sisters. Despite my lack of involvement, they were there for me as no single individual could be.

Meanwhile, I considered the benefit of the parish in a small town, as put forward by Rod Dreher’s in The Little Way of Ruthie Lemming. Our friends can be like-minded, but in our lives we need to be confronted by people who are different: older, younger, married, single, with kids, without kids, wanting kids, not wanting kids, working, unemployed by choice or circumstance, conservative, liberal, faithful to the Magisterium, spiritual-but-not-religious, and so on. In adulthood, it does us no good to live in a bubble. For some, social media and steaming-on-demand create quite a secure bubble. We see or hear only what we want.

Then one evening, I decide to attend the YLI meeting in order to flesh out that month’s newsletter.

There are three young women there, all younger than me. I gravitated towards one, sitting on the outskirts with her infant. Feeling the need to explain my lack of involvement (too cool for the old ladies group), she scrunches her nose, smiles and says, “I like it. It’s fun.” When the meeting begins, I see what she means.

First, I felt like I was in Bewitched at some committee meeting. This gave me a sense of continuity with history. Housewives did not just stay at home mothering. They volunteered. They plugged into not just their children’s schools, but community groups, local nonprofits, programs that benefit the neighborhood. This is one fall out of a majority of mothers going to work. Neighborhoods wane because no one except paid employees has the time to improve them.

Secondly, Robert’s Rules of Order govern the meeting. A strange sight for a teenager, I see how that this structure is necessary. How else could you bring 18-year-olds and 80-year-olds together in one room? Without the structure, they would speak a different language. Like the Church, this order makes it bigger than the personalities of the leaders and the age.

Lastly, I cannot think of many tasks I like more than watching people interact. This was food for the mind and fodder for my humor.

I thought to myself, this could be it. This could be what I have been looking for. My community, right here.

And in the end, it provides more opportunities to tease my mother. That makes the experience priceless.