What is at stake anyways? As the church changes in the new society being built, what will change and what will stay the same and how low or high are the stakes?
This is a good week to wonder about the saints of our church and to wonder if they all looked pale, beatific and saintly. So this week we will be looking at one saint – my personal favorite – Joan of Arc.
I’ve been inspired by a Spiritual Director to use my study time each day these past two months to read about Joan of Arc. When I inquired why, she said simply “trust me.”
The saints, like the prophets, live bright but die wretchedly. And yet when we talk of saints, they always look so ancient. Might a homeless woman, who left her abusive husband in order to save her child, be a saint?
It is difficult to love God and the people of a congregation rather much more than one loves Holy Mother Church, not to mention how ridiculous it feels to make Church feminine when for so many centuries it has been led by men and has abused women.
When Joan was finally imprisoned at 19 after single handedly reversing the 100 years war in the last ten years of its conflagration, and after a year of torture and humiliation by the 45 priests and Bishops who accused her in 1431; she was forced to sign a recanting of the visions and the determination to wear men’s clothing — both of which made her, in the eyes of the church, a heretic. They said she could save herself from being burned alive by signing a massive document of confession. Weak and tired, she did, but not by her own hand, rather as a circle with a cross in it; a symbol she always used to sign documents in which she did not believe there was any truth.
The three Bishops and two clergy took her back to her prison cell and watched as the guards held her down and shaved her head and stripped her clothes. The cell was cold and wet in the April and May Spring and so they folded her male clothes and put them across the room leaving her feet out of the chains which had held her to a log for a year. The church placed scribes in the room for hours while she struggled with the need to urinate and defecate, so that when she crawled across the stone floor to get her clothes in order to warm her body and cover it for the trip to the latrine, they could catch her reciting herself in her men’s clothes and so grip her in ecclesial laws of death.
The laws of the church said that a relapsed heretic had to be burned at the stake without any comforts of prayer or Eucharist. They said that by placing those old, male clothes back on her body, she “relapsed” as a heretic and she was summarily burned alive, slowly so that her body was exposed to the jeering crowds.
The priest who wrote that long confession and forced her to sign it would die just a few years later, slowly, of leprosy. (And they say there is no Karma!)
One wonders what other saints of the church have been tortured, raped and burned by the church in its war of egos. As we celebrate the saints this week, I am wondering about the ones nobody will ever know, buried as they are in unmarked graves behind palaces.
Power in the church seems to serve the powerful, and that is as it has always been. But we, you and I, are saints as well. We can look away from power to poverty, from glamour to beauty and from throne to gutter.
In a few months 50 people, many of them women, will be taken off the streets of Denver and given apartments for as long as they need them. Some will be crazy – people who hear voices – people like Joan of Arc did. And they too are saints. All of us, the silly, regular saints of God.