A commentary on St. Thérèse’s Play “Joan of Arc”
Thank you Lord, I do want to fly.
I cannot express with enough sincerity how edified I am to be reading through St. Thérèse’s script for her play on the life of Joan of Arc, one of eight plays she wrote on various subject matters. This work exceeds my expectations in that our Little Flower, yet great Doctor of the Church, has interpreted her own life and spirituality in the historical person of Joan. Joan of Arc speaks true to her historical perspective, but we hear Thérèse’s voice. This is a most uplifting experience. And as a relevant aside, and lest one question the Carmelite nun’s affection for and familiarity with Sacred Scripture, there are over two hundred and seventy biblical references (either explicit or implicit) through all eight of her works. Thérèse was imbued with the Sacred Writings.
Thérèse considered herself a kindred spirit with Joan of Arc. I did not realize fully the intensity of this kinship until reading in the Forward to the play (written by a modern day Carmelite) that “…the discovery of Joan of Arc affected her deeply; a ‘grace which I have always looked upon as one of the greatest in my life’ she would recall in 1895.” Now, that got my attention, for I have considered the discovery of both Thérèse and Joan to be among the very greatest of gifts that Our Lord and Our Lady have ever bestowed on me. Certainly, Joan of Arc has had a similar relative impact on me, and it warmed my heart to hear Thérèse speak in such a way. I say relative impact because, in absolute terms, there is the difference between me and Thérèse that exists between the space just outside the gates of hell and heaven itself. One of her confessors stated that he believed that she had committed no mortal sin in her life. There is not one confessor of mine who would speak the same way about me, this I can assure you. But, nevertheless, Joan’s enormous influence on me, though as on a caterpillar in a flowerbed filled with butterflies, led me to feel deep appreciation for Thérèse’s own experience.
And the very thing that so lifts my heart is this combination of the two. I have for quite a while sought to understand the two saints as different sides of the same coin. Joan being the valiant and brave warrior for the King of Kings, willing to suffer a martyr’s death rather than betray Our Lord’s mission, while Thérèse is the soft, loving flower who unites herself with Jesus, not through fire, but through the suffering of Love, as she herself puts it.
However, the more I study these souls, whom I hold in such admiration, I sense that my metaphor is not only overly used but also very inadequate. There is truly a unity of spirit between them, more like the amalgamating of precious metals. Both of them died willingly in great suffering out of their love for Jesus. Both fought the good fight with unimaginable courage, Joan through death at the stake, Thérèse through bitter illness. Both have demonstrated to me the life of a true Christian, a true lover of Jesus Christ. Hearing (in the spirit) Thérèse’s words in Joan of Arc’s voice is like watching Jesus paint something more beautiful than the Sistine Chapel, create music more life-giving than Mozart’s Jupiter symphony or Beethoven’s Ninth, or write a poem that leaps into your heart before you have the chance to ruin it with your brain. It is this amalgam of souls, this painting, music, and poetry of Our Lord’s that has made me a better person.
The brush strokes, melodies, and poetic images that are Thérèse and Joan make me feel small as a Christian when I am near them. I simply do not match up, and that is all there is to it. I am a caterpillar crawling through a flower bed of roses. But they make me want to fly despite the crudeness of my ways. And that is, I believe, why the Lord and Our Lady have established them so firmly in my heart. They all want me to keep crawling until one day I fly too. I can think of no better mentors, sisters, or examples.
You may think I exaggerate the affection I have, but, on the contrary, I do not really have the words to express it adequately. I have no courage on my own, but because of these two, I wonder if maybe one day I might. And I think Jesus smiles at that. I feel small but think of great things with Our Lord. And I think He smiles at that, also. I want to take in the painting, hear the symphony, and absorb the poem, despite my awkwardness and “buggy” characteristics. I think, too, that this is what Jesus wants for me. For, these two, separately and combined, are Jesus’ own work of art.
The following is just one excerpt that speaks to my point:
Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret:
“Console yourself, Joan, dry your tears. Lift up your eyes and ears to heaven. Thence you will learn that to suffer has charms Of its own. And you will rejoice with harmonious songs. These melodies will fortify your soul For the battle which is soon to come. You’ll need a love made all of flame, For you will have to suffer!... For pure souls exiled here on earth, The only glory is to bear the cross. One day, in heaven, this austere scepter Will far outshine the scepter of a king.” 3
Pure Thérèse and pure Joan of Arc, together in that symphony of which I spoke. I hear the music of the Holy Spirit here, and I like it.
Thank you Lord, I do want to fly.
 The Plays of St. Therese of Lisieux. Translated by Susan Conroy and David J. Dwyer, ICS Publications: Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C. p. 42.
 Ibid. p.62.
 Ibid. pp.74-75.
That excerpt from Therese’s play is pure poetry! I had no idea how seamlessly she had appropriated Joan’s spirit into her own. No wonder you call Therese a natural phenomenologist! What a beautiful vision! Thank you for sharing it with us.