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The Dove and Rose - Chapter 3
A commentary on St. Thérèse’s Play “Joan of Arc”
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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 fully realize 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 Thérèse and Joan among the greatest gifts that Our Lord and Our Lady have ever bestowed on me. Indeed, Joan of Arc has had a similar relative impact on me, and it warmed my heart to hear. Joan’s enormous influence on me, though as on a caterpillar in a flowerbed filled with butterflies, led me to deeply appreciate Thérèse’s experience.
And the very thing that 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 is the courageous warrior for the King of Kings, willing to suffer a martyr’s death rather than betray Our Lord’s mission. At the same time, Thérèse is the soft, loving flower who unites herself with Jesus, not through fire, but through the suffering of love, as she puts it.
However, the more I study these souls I admire, I sense that my metaphor is overly used and inadequate. There is genuinely a unity of spirit between them, more like the amalgamating of precious metals. Both 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 and Thérèse through bitter illness. Both have demonstrated the life of a faithful 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 write a poem that leaps into your heart. This amalgam of souls, this painting, music, and poetry of Our Lord 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 do not match up; 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 alone, but I wonder if I might be courageous one day because of these two. And I think Jesus smiles at that. I feel small but think of great things with Our Lord. And I believe 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. These two, separately and combined, are Jesus’ works 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.”
Pure Thérèse and Joan of Arc, 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.