Seek First the Kingdom - The March of Hope - Chapter 9
Joan of Arc
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You can see now why I have had to move slowly with you through the initial steps of the March of Hope. There is so much room for misunderstanding here. If we are not careful, these misunderstandings can lead us away from our glorious pathway to the Kingdom and into the Dark Forest of the modern mind. That mind has been slowly developing and influencing our philosophies, religious attitudes, and culture for the past five hundred years, from the time of the initial Revolution against the Faith in the sixteenth century called the Protestant Reformation, through the French Revolution of the eighteenth century, into the twentieth century with full-blown atheistic communism, and, finally, up to the modern century spewing a confusion of philosophical and religious skepticism and moral relativism. The chief aim of the Revolution is, and always has been, the destruction of the Catholic Church, the one institution founded by Christ, and the very one he promised would never be defeated. And it has not been so despite the treacherous and misguided philosophies floating around the world today which threaten humanity.
But now we have contemplated and understood the role of the saints in our Christian faith, particularly the role of Mary, Mother of God. We are free to move forward with swiftness to discuss one of the most significant relationships for me in this majestic world of the family of God.
After re-consecrating myself to the Virgin Mary in the aftermath of my healing and restoration to sanity as described in Journey to Christendom – The Freedom Dance, I continued running down the path of the Dogmatic Creed of Roman Catholicism, with my long-time spiritual sister, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. St. Thérèse was always at my side, calling me out from the Dark Forest where I was destroying my life and leading me down the happy path of the Dogmatic Creed. She must have called out for my soul to the Lord and Our Lady. From my initial conversion in 1984, I came to understand her role in my life as that one who “did good on earth after going to heaven.” She has been a life-long companion.
In the summer of 2007, exactly one year after my experience in the Poconos, I reread Thérèse's autobiography. I always knew that St. Joan of Arc, not yet declared a saint by the Church in Thérèse's day, was a significant figure in Thérèse's life. I paid attention to Joan of Arc because of Thérèse's devotion to her. As I read, something about her devotion to France's great fifteenth-century heroine must have made an even more profound impression on my heart.
Exactly one more year after rereading Thérèse's book, I was visiting the magnificent Icon of Our Lady of the Sign, Ark of Mercy, at the Church of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Chicago. You will recall that discovering this church and the unveiling of the Icon are incredibly significant junctures on my spiritual journey. I was there that evening to do what Our Lady always asked me to do: pray in adoration before the Eucharist.
While in front of the Icon in that large and mysterious church, I had a bone-chilling experience. This was to be an experience that I would not fully understand for a while. I was shocked, for I had never had an experience like this, and I do not wish to have one like it again. Our life in the land of Catholicism is one of increasing simplicity and freedom. We do not rely on, nor do we seek, visions or apparitions that can easily throw us off from the safety of our path. Union with God, as the sixteenth-century mystic and Doctor of the Church St. John of the Cross tells us, comes through the rejection of all these potentially deceiving experiences to unite oneself with Christ on the Cross in the simplicity of love and freedom from earthly attachments. I understand more now why he says that.
It was around ten o'clock in the evening. The church is large, beautiful, and old. It was built in the early nineteenth century and stood beautifully in its interior as one of those genuinely old-fashioned, domed, and ornate Catholic churches, resembling what one might see in Europe.
The Icon of Our Lady, which serves as a large monstrance for the Eucharistic host, sits behind the altar at the front of the church. In the rear of the church is a high balcony overlooking the entire sanctuary. At nighttime, it can be quite an extraordinarily serene place, one that is quite conducive to contemplation, especially with the Lord's presence there in the Eucharist.
I do not recall anyone else being in the church that evening. It is typically empty in the late hours of the night. A security guard looks after the church in the late hours since the church sits downtown and is open twenty-four hours a day. If anyone was around, it would have been the security guard.
I sat down in the very front pew that evening. After a minute or two of adjusting my reading glasses and shuffling through my prayer books, I suddenly and surprisingly heard a loud voice booming through the Church in a foreign tongue that I did not immediately recognize. It gave me such a start that I jumped in my seat and turned around sharply. I was used to the languages of the Church of St. Stanislaus. There, they have Masses in English, Spanish, and Polish. I am familiar with hearing Spanish, and I have listened to enough Polish to know the general sound of the language. This was neither of those languages.
The loud, sharp voice continued. It was agitated and angry in its tone but not hysterical or erratic. It was not the mumbling one might expect from a mentally ill street person. This was thoughtful and direct. Someone yelled out a methodical, carefully worded diatribe, even a threat. The words were articulated with care and determination. The voice was booming throughout the sanctuary.
I anxiously looked around the building to see if the security guard was in conflict. It sounded like someone was getting ready to make trouble, someone with a serious grievance against the Church. But I saw no one, not even the guard. The entire building was empty.
I saw no one until a figure caught my attention on the balcony. Standing in the front of the balcony overlooking the main sanctuary was a man, a well-dressed figure in a suit and tie. He had on an overcoat (and this was summer, by the way) and a wide-brimmed dress hat that was carefully pulled just above one eye. He had coal-black hair and was polished-looking. This was a sharp-dressed man.
He was also a very threatening-looking man. He had been yelling at me from the balcony. His eyes were also coal black, which could have been just the effect of the Church in the evening, and he was staring at me without moving. When my eyes locked onto him, he just stared back menacingly. We stared at each other for about twenty or thirty seconds, with no words or motions, just staring at each other.
I sensed that he was at the very back of the Church because he could not stand to be any closer. He could not withstand the holiness of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and the humility of the Holy Mother who held that Host in her womb. He could come no closer. I could sense it. This was a distinct intuition of mine. This man could not come closer to me, yet he remained very threatening in his demeanor.
While we were staring at each other, the man slowly and firmly turned around and began walking up the balcony steps to the top. He then turned to his left and began descending behind the last pew, walking down the staircase behind the last row until his head finally disappeared behind the pew. I was too afraid to walk up there to see if I could catch him or see who this mysterious person was. He had threatened me though he had not made any moves toward me.
In the next instant, I heard people walking through the Church. Others had arrived at the Church and were visiting as if nothing had happened or been seen or heard. Everything was suddenly normal, and I felt like something surreal had occurred.
Later that week, during the day, I went up to the balcony to see where this man had descended into nothingness. There are no stairs behind the last pew.
The more I thought about this event, the more I began to reflect on this peculiar language that this man had been using. I am confident that this tongue I was hearing was Latin. Latin is the official language of the Church, which is often mimicked by the demons from hell themselves when speaking in human language. And that this had been a demon from hell, I was now not in doubt.
My prayerful reflections began to speak more to my heart. This apparition was the demon from hell that had tortured me all those years in my sickness and insanity. He oversaw ruining my soul, and he was not happy at the turn of events.
But my healing had taken place two years before. Why all this fuss right now? I was led over time to understand that hell was not screaming that night over an event in my life from two years ago; hell was screaming about an event that was about to happen. Hell was afraid.
In one contemplative reflection months later, I could see myself sitting in the church building where the domed top was absent. The Church was open to the profound mystical night air. In that night's air, I heard drums, the drums one would listen to in an old medieval military march. Hell was retreating. The March of Hope was approaching. Joan of Arc was to the fore.
Afterward, as I continued to make my weekly pilgrimages to the Icon of Our Lady, I began tiring somewhat of approaching Our Lord and Our Lady with prayers that consisted of only petitions. I no longer wanted to keep my relationship with Jesus and Mary based on what I might “get” from the relationship. I wanted to abandon myself to Jesus through Mary. Love is simple; I had made it complicated. I continue to walk in the assurance that from all eternity, Jesus has had no other plan in mind for me than to be united with the heart of Mary. I say this as an absolute truth for which I would give my life to defend. I knew it back in 1984 when I converted to the Church, and even though it took me well over twenty years to sufficiently respond to this grace, I still know this to be a complete truth. And I began to pray in those terms. I was increasingly telling the Lord that I had only one prayer and one request, that there was only one thing I really cared about in the universe. It was neither wealth nor prestige nor even spiritual gifts. I am happy with the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit has given to me, but, as I told the Lord, I would give them all up in one second for the one request I had in my heart. That one request was that he complete his project in me of True Devotion to Mary, in other words, to grant me the grace to be united entirely to the heart of Mary to be united completely to him.
I will interject something here that might make any good Protestant’s spine chill just as mine had done that night in the Church when I encountered my friendly little visitor from hell. My prayer to Jesus was that I did not desire to approach him directly or alone, that is, without assistance; I wanted to complete the plan that he was pleased to create for my life, which was to go to him through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This was Jesus’ own plan for me. He gave me the joy associated with my relationship with Mary and desired this path for me. That was the one request I made of our Lord on the heels of that terrible evening.
Very soon, I felt inspired to make a small video about Joan of Arc, whereby I shared a poem to her that was written by St. Thérèse. I just wanted to share this wonderful sentiment from Thérèse to Joan. I placed the video on YouTube.
Quickly, I began receiving all sorts of videos and information, websites, and book recommendations regarding Joan of Arc. Overnight Joan began to fill my life. I sensed Joan was reaching out to me just as Thérèse had done so many years before. I had an even greater and growing sense that the Mother of God wanted me to know, follow, and devote myself to this magnificent saint. Something deep in my soul said that Joan was the one to lead me into that heart of Mary. And this journey would continue with faithful Thérèse at my side.
It was Joan of Arc who was chosen from all eternity to guide me into the land of the new Eden, into the new land of paradise that is the heart of Mary, the new Eve who was destined from all time to crush the proud devil underfoot! Thérèse had won my life for me through Christ and will always be the one who will walk with me as my sister, which she truly is, teaching me to pray and guiding me on my way. But Joan of Arc is the designated guide into the great land of the heavenly kingdom, which is the heart of Mary where Jesus Christ dwells, just as he had resided in her womb many years ago.
Do you remember the contemplative scene I asked you to build in your mind and heart? This is the beautiful hillside where we are looking through the mist of the early morning onto a magnificent landscape filled with every variety of beauty, magical mystery, and color in the universe. We looked through the eye of our soul and could sense that something extraordinary was there, behind the mist, and we felt the mist rising in the sunlight that is Jesus Christ. With Joan of Arc, I perceive more of that landscape as the morning mist rises and the dew melts in this scene. Through the mist, as it rises, I see a figure on a horse with a banner, a powerful and holy soul, strong and virtuous, who is waiting to ride with me down the hillside, across distant meadows, splashing across creeks, and, with the wind at our backs, into the heart of Mary to meet Jesus Christ. This is what I see. This is why the demon screamed at me.
This is the way of the Cross; it is the way of denial and contempt for this world out of love for the crucified Jesus. But the loss of the world is for us to gain the heavenly kingdom in the heart of Mary. This is the final resting place at the end of the path of the Dogmatic Creed. It is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Joan of Arc was chosen to take me on this crucial part of my life’s journey. Of all the beautiful events leading me through the marvelous land of Catholicism on the March of Hope, it was Joan of Arc whom Jesus wanted to fill in as the last missing puzzle piece for me. She represents the instrument in God’s hands of my hope for completing Jesus’ project in my life. She is the answer to my prayer that I earnestly put before the Lord to unite me with the heart of Mary, an epic journey on which I have been venturing for twenty-five years. I prayed for this union that Our Lord desires for me, and Joan of Arc is his answer to bring me to that land of love in Mary’s heart.
This is why hell was screaming. This is what hell had been trying to prevent my entire life. After so many years, the mist has risen. I see the landscape. My saintly guide Joan of Arc is ready, by the command of the King and Queen of heaven, to ride with me into the paradise that is Mary’s heart, this being the completion of Our Lord’s project in me. I want to ride swiftly, head low over the mane, leaping over creeks, crossing rivers deep and fresh, and galloping joyfully to the Kingdom! I want to live in the heart of Mary for the love of Jesus Christ. I want to go home.
I have also come to understand, in ways that I am not sure how to express, that St. Joan of Arc’s intercession brought me that great victory over the powers of darkness on the special evening of July 17, 2006. Reading the poems of The Freedom Dance, you will note that Joan of Arc plays a mysterious role in the background of those little tales. I did not write them, nor could I have known to write them, with the understanding I now have of where that was all leading in the March of Hope. We may trust Our Lord as he leads us, even if we are walking in that mist seeing only the slightest shadows of what he has in mind.
Do you recall that I asked you to remember the sequence of events concerning my conversion to the Church in 1984? I told you in the last chapter that I found the events in my life concerning the great St. Joan of Arc to be remarkably similar in appearance to those surrounding my coming to the knowledge that St. Thérèse was a crucial influence in my life. Mary was the channel of grace that brought me conversion to her son’s Church and the understanding that the Eucharist was the very Body and Blood of that son. Thérèse was the child of God designated from all eternity to be the heavenly cooperation in that conversion.
Having come out of the Dark Forest of sin, rebellion, and chaos, I have come to see the shadow of yet another great saint in the rising mist that represents my ever-brighter view of the landscape of the Kingdom of God. Another saint has been chosen from all eternity to assist me in cooperation with Jesus, Mary, and Thérèse. St. Joan of Arc cooperated with God and Mary to break the chains that had brought me entirely to insanity and to the point of death. Joan of Arc is an instrument in the hands of Jesus and Mary to help me fly like the wind into the center of the new Eden, that is, the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the completion of Jesus’ project in me of True Devotion to Mary.
Joan of Arc is a saintly friend and leader who makes me feel noble though I am a man of no power, prestige, or wealth. Jesus’ spirit, through the heart of Mary, projects itself into this relationship such that I have the courage to March against all odds and storm the gates of hell itself. No more do I have to be a weak and timid skeptic, trying to convince myself that all things may be believed equally; therefore, nothing may be believed or defended absolutely.
Jesus Christ has a will and plan for us that has been in his divine mind for all eternity. He promised that if we sought first the Kingdom of God, we would receive all that and more. He promised that if we gave up everything here, he would give us back a hundred-fold in this life and the next. He promised a hundred-fold return in brothers and sisters, land, and children.
What does that sound like to me? It sounds like a Kingdom!
Yes, Lord Jesus Christ, you have done that. Your Word is true. You have the words of eternal life, and what you promise, you do. There is no deception in you. Though we are miserable sinners, you have chosen to be crucified for our salvation. In so doing, you gave us back more than we ever had in the first place. The great land that is our earthly life has been made brighter than ever before with colors and sounds of life and laughter. You have done more than heal us, Lord. You have recapitulated the world to bring it into the realm of your Kingdom. Lord, let us seek your Kingdom first, and we know that you will give us all the friendships, the mothers, the brothers, and the sisters we need in return, both in this life and the next.
And let the demons complain all the way back to hell.
 See Mathew 16:18-19 and Mathew 28:20.
 See St. Thérèse of Lisieux, translated by Michel Day. (1951). The Story of a Soul; The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc. pp. 213-216.
 See Genesis 3:14-15