This year, every one of us has the power to determine which voices we will listen to and what we will carry into the future.
Launching into a new year is usually accompanied by a lot of talk about what we're leaving behind. The past few weeks have been filled with decade reviews, retrospectives, and projections about what is likely to lie ahead. The problem with 2020 is that there is no such thing as 20-20 foresight. History matters. We all interpret what's gone before and piece together our own narratives. We carry those stories forward into the future and view what unfolds through those lenses.
St. Joan of Arc was executed in 1431, and this year is the 100th anniversary of her canonization. Do the math and you'll see that it was nearly 500 years before Joan was raised to the altar. That is an extraordinarily long time for a girl who didn't live to see her 20th birthday. But people did not forget. The city she saved, Orleans, held annual processions in her honor. (They still do.) Joan's mother traveled throughout France to collect testimony for a posthumous retrial that proclaimed her innocence in 1455. French soldiers continued to find inspiration in Joan's courage and in her willingness to follow the voices she heard to lead an army against England. For five centuries, a grateful nation stood by their enigmatic and mystic heroine whose unorthodox military leadership ended the Hundred Years War and secured France's independence.
Memory is a powerful thing. Without it, Joan could well have ended up in the footnotes of forgotten history books, and St. Joan may never have been canonized a saint at all. What made the difference is that everyday people carried her story forward and passed that story on to those who could carry it further still. This is why Marquette University has a chapel dedicated to Joan of Arc, and why here in New Orleans, a statue of the Maid of Orleans guards the main door of the cathedral and another stands near the French Market.
And Joan's story keeps being retold. Twelve years ago, a local group began sponsoring a parade to honor Joan of Arc on her Jan. 6 birthday. Close to 500 people tell the story of Joan's life from her childhood until her death, rehabilitation trial, and canonization. People dressed as medieval villagers, churchmen, knights, Charles VII, Queen Yolande of Aragon, and the Maid of Honor on horseback march through the famed French Quarter. And because St. Joan was burned at the stake, there is also a group marching as "flaming heretics." In true New-Orleans-style humor, they hand out matches to the crowd.
Of course, keeping a story alive doesn't necessarily mean that you ought to organize a parade -- but it doesn't hurt. What matters most are the decisions people make every day about what to keep alive and what to let fade. The stories we keep telling and celebrating spread. They grow to involve more people than we could ever have imagined. They breathe with a life of their own and have the potential to last for centuries.
This year, every one of us has the power to determine which voices we will listen to and what we will carry into the future. We can choose to bring all that is holy and noble and good into the new year ahead. Equally, we can leave all that is not to fade into the footnotes. We can live 2020 with clearer vision and a deeper connection to those who have gone before us by bringing something with us, even more, when we share what inspires us with others.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.
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