Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Voice of God

Let's not duck the obvious challenge to the main theme of this version of the Sunday Sermon series. "Follow the Voice of God" brings with it the possibility that any particular individual will get it wrong. It won't be the true "Voice of God" that they are hearing, but instead may be a hallucination brought on by anything from an abused substance to a mental or physical illness.

That said, there is no doubt in my mind that not only famous individuals throughout history, but also ordinary men and women every single day, receive messages directly from the Almighty. Sometimes these are specific lucent and palpable words and phrases of command. More often they are whispers of direction.

When you as a normal, rational, thinking human being feel yourself being consistently and repeatedly guided by what you might simply describe as "something inside me" towards a certain path, be it in your familial relationships or career choice or general life direction, you should seriously consider that this may very well be that 'Voice of God' whispering into your mind and soul.

God has many important things that he wants done in our world. I believe that he repeatedly has used the actions of human beings who have accepted his message and direction, have listened to it fully, understood it correctly, and not been afraid to embrace it and follow through on it in their lives in order to make a difference to humanity in large and small ways.

Today is the anniversary of the beginning of the trial of Saint Joan of Arc in 1431 at the English-occupied city of Rouen in Normandy, France. Joan was a young girl at a point in history when that was a particularly difficult time for someone of her age and sex to be taken seriously. But Joan heard the 'Voice of God', listened to it fully, overcame doubt and fear, took His message to action, and changed the course of world history.

Joan was born and raised at a difficult time for her home country of France. The historic rivals in England had taken advantage of a number of internal French leadership tragedies and political problems to conquer and control large portions of the country. At around age 12, Joan was alone in a field when she experienced a vision
in which Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret appeared to her and told her that she must drive out the English and return the King of France to power in a coronation at Reims.

At around age 16 she first attempted to make contact with the French ruling aristocracy in order to discuss the visions that she was continuing to receive, but was laughed off and turned away. She returned a few months later and managed to convince some influential men with the passion and intensity of her testimony. After a prediction that she made of a military battle came true, she was finally granted an audience with the French royals.

Charles VII of France, also known as Dauphin Charles, was out of options and likely felt that it was just a matter of time before he lost the entire land to England. Historians make little other sense outside of complete desperation of his willingness to allow a simple peasant girl who came from nowhere with nothing but a self-proclaimed 'Voice of God' message to don the armour of a knight and take a place at the head of the French military forces.

Within a short time of her arrival at the battle front, the tide began to turn for the French. She inspired the army with her religious fervor, and led it to victory through both her tactical expertise and her aggressive leadership from the front. Joan's repeated victories led to Charles eventually appointing her command of the full army.

Wounded at different points by an arrow to the neck, a cannon shot to her helmet, and a crossbow bolt to her leg, Joan continued leading by example from the front of the troops. Reims was eventually taken, and the coronation of Charles given her as a her mission by the Saints finally took place.

While leading troops during a skirmish with English troops in May of 1430, Joan was finally captured and imprisoned. After many political negotiations involving her imprisonment and attempts at escape by Joan herself, she was finally put on trial in the seat of the English occupation government at Rouen for the charge of heresy due to the religious nature of her claim that it had been that 'Voice of God' having guided her actions.

During the trial, no evidence could be found to convict her, and so a theological trap was set for her. The prosecution asked her whether she knew that she was in God's grace. The trap is in the answer. Were she to answer "yes", she would be a heretic, because the Church taught that no one can be sure of being in God's grace. If she were to answer "no" then she would be admitting her guilt in her very answer.

The notary at the proceedings later stated that her interrogators were "stupefied" by her actual reply: "If I am not, may God put me there; if I am, may God so keep me." At bottom line, none of her testimony nor the fact that no real evidence against her could be proven mattered.

Evidence was manufactured against her, she was found guilty, and was burned at the stake on May 20th, 1431 at the age of just 19 years. Her body was burned three times so that no trace remained for collection as relics, and her executioner later stated that he "greatly feared to be damned."

What became known in history as 'The Hundred Years War' continued for 22 more years, with France using Joan's tactics to maintain control of their land. At the end of the war, Joan was posthumously retried and cleared during proceedings in which she was described as actually having been a martyr.

Beatified by the Church in 1909, she was canonized as a Saint by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. Saint Joan is the patroness of France and of all soldiers everywhere.

The story of the true life of Jeanne d'Arc, the teenage peasant girl from eastern France who followed the 'Voice of God', changed the course of world history, became inspiration for an entire nation and finally a Catholic Saint should be example enough for all of us.

It doesn't matter your age or your sex. It doesn't matter the times in which you live or the difficulty of the task ahead. What matters when you receive a true message from God is that you have the courage and perseverance to follow His voice.

NOTE: this is the continuation of the regular 'Sunday Sermon' series, all entries of which can be enjoyed by clicking on that label below this entry at the www.mattveasey.com website

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