The cover of a spring issue of America stated “Joan of Arc slays Mark Twain.” The writer, Ted Gioia, quoted Twain as saying “Joan of Arc is my very best book.” Many literary critics are baffled by Twain’s admiration for the young woman who commanded military forces at age 17 and whose decisive battles reclaimed French territory when Charles VII’s troops were losing ground to the British. Unlike Twain’s humorous trademark, this novel is an adventure story, in which the author gives Joan, an illiterate woman, the weapons of theology, decorum, and courage to outwit scholars and men.
When I began my ministry as pastoral associate at St. Joan of Arc Church in Toledo, I came across this novel in the library and couldn’t believe it was written by Mark Twain. I dabbled in it but never got very far. Having read this article, I intend to find the book again. It will make my summer reading.
Today is the memorial of Saint Joan of Arc, and our church will celebrate with an outdoor Mass in the evening followed by a s’more roast. We have chosen Ephesians 6:10-20 for one of the readings. The segment is titled “The Whole Armor of God” in the NRSV. In this reading we are asked to “put on the whole armor of God,” “fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.” Then we are to “take the shield of faith…and the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.” Through the intercession of Saint Joan of Arc, may we be protected with God’s armor to fight against evil and stand firm in our faith. And the s’more roast? To remind us that Joan was burned at the stake.