St. Joan of Arc was united in prayer to Christ even at the end of her short life, when she yelled his name while being burned at the stake, the Pope said, holding her up as a model of strength.
Pope Benedict XVI shared the story of St. Joan of Arc and her heroic sanctity at the general audience in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall on Jan. 26. More than 3,000 people were gathered in the auditorium for the occasion.
She was just 19 years old when she was sentenced to death, but the French teenager was one of the "strong women" at the end of the Middle Ages, "who fearlessly brought the splendid light of the Gospel into the complex events of history," said the Pope.
Born to a peasant family in a time of war between England and France, Joan brought herself to the attention of an important nobleman at the time. She was just 17, but hoped to achieve peace by imploring a settlement between the two Christian nations in the name of Jesus.
The nobleman, convinced of her Christian goodwill by local theologians, allowed her to try. When her efforts failed she soon found herself at the head of an army defending the French city of Orleans.
The Pope recalled that she lived among the troops for a year, evangelizing them with her strong witness of faith, until her capture by enemy forces.
She was put on trial by ecclesiastical judges and condemned to death. As Joan's life was taken on that day in 1431, her last moments were spent invoking the name of Jesus aloud.
"The Name of Jesus invoked by this saint in the last instants of her earthly life was like the continual breath of her soul ... the center of her entire life," said Benedict XVI.
"(She) understood that Love embraces all things of God and man, of heaven and earth, of the Church and the world."
Joan knew that loving Christ was obeying Him and she lived in constant dialogue with Him, said the Pope.
The saint's will to liberate her countrymen "was an act of human justice, which Joan performed in charity, for love of Jesus," said the Pope. This example of sanctity is especially relevant as a "beautiful example" for laity who are involved in politics today, he added.
She saw the reality of the Christ's Church in heaven and that on earth, said the Pope. Her words that "Our Lord and the Church are one ... takes on a truly heroic aspect in the context of the trial, in the face of her judges, men of the Church who persecuted and condemned her."
"In the Love of Jesus," recalled the Pope, "Joan finds the strength to love the Church up to the end, even in the moment of condemnation."
She was exonerated 25 years later by Pope Callixtus III and canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.
Pope Benedict XVI noted a close connection between Carmelite St. Therese of Lisieux, France and the medieval saint. St. Therese "felt very close to Joan, living in the heart of the Church and participating in the suffering of Christ for the salvation of the world," despite her very different circumstances in life as a cloistered nun.
"With her shining witness St. Joan of Arc invites us to the highest degree of Christian life, making prayer the 'conducting wire' of our days, having complete trust in fulfilling the will of God whatever it may be, living in charity without favoritism, without limitations and finding in the love of Jesus, as she did, a profound love for the Church."