As a Catholic father of five daughters, I am often looking for books that inspire the girls to live their Faith. One such offering in this category is Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. In a world that desperately seeks to link femininity with impurity, immodesty, and abortion, it is worthwhile to look back at Mark Twain’s paragon of feminine virtue.
Speaking of Joan, Twain writes:
She was truthful when lying was the common speech of men; she was honest when honesty was become a lost virtue; she was a keeper of promises when the keeping of a promise was expected of no one; she gave her great mind to great thoughts and great purposes when other great minds wasted themselves upon pretty fancies or upon poor ambitions; she was modest, and fine, and delicate when to be loud and coarse might be said to be universal; she was full of pity when a merciless cruelty was the rule; she was steadfast when stability was unknown, and honorable in an age which had forgotten what honor was; she was a rock of convictions in a time when men believed in nothing and scoffed at all things; she was unfailingly true to an age that was false to the core; she maintained her personal dignity unimpaired in an age of fawnings and servilities; she was of a dauntless courage when hope and courage had perished in the hearts of her nation; she was spotlessly pure in mind and body when society in the highest places was foul in both...
This passage is striking. Though Twain was speaking about the 15th century, he easily could have been talking about today. All of Twain’s indictments about that world—loud, coarse, dishonest, false, pitiless, unbelieving, impure, and immodest—apply even more accurately and more fully to our own.
Twain’s contrast of St. Joan’s virtues against the vices of her age was also striking for another reason. He was not only outlining virtue versus vice, good versus evil, and Joan versus the world, Twain was also contrasting real femininity with false femininity. As Twain observes, Saint Joan practiced many virtues, yet, all of these emanated from one primal virtue: she loved God, and she wished to do His holy Will. True femininity is found in that.
We fathers need to stress that fact to our daughters, because it’s not the narrative being advanced today. We live in a world in which femininity is not defined by virtues such as those that Joan practiced, but instead by the vices opposed to them. We have witnessed the political litmus test of authentic femininity reduced to one question: that is, whether one favors the federal funding of Planned Parenthood. The arguments of some of those in the feminist movement—of those who define feminism not by mercy and purity, but by abortion and false freedom; of those who seek not to expand the political rights of unborn women, but to take them all away—are essentially the same ones spoken in the Garden: “You shall be as gods.”
Many feminists talk about “empowering” women, yet this “empowering” is often sought through the very act of denying the all-powerful God. But authentic femininity is not found by rejecting God. After all, God created woman, and is thus the author of true femininity. There is no femininity without God. There is no masculinity without God. There is no humanity without God. We reject femininity, masculinity, and humanity because we have rejected God.
We fathers need to teach our girls that whatever their state in life, they are called to lives of virtue. They are called to lives of unmistakable Catholic identity. That’s not easy today; as Mark Twain (who was no fan of the Catholic Church) richly noted, it wasn’t easy in Joan’s time; nor will it be easy tomorrow. But the Church Militant needs spiritual warriors. And it is not enough to just tell our daughters about virtue; we must live virtuous lives ourselves: lives of faithfulness, purity, honesty, and courage. It’s not fair to expect our daughters to be wonder women unless we are, first, Superman Dads. May God grant us the grace to be those men. And may God grant our daughters the grace to be those women.
Saint Joan of Arc, pray for us fathers and daughters.