St. Joan of the Cross, canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982, was not always saint-like. She was, in fact, a bit of a scrooge. She was born in 1666 in Anjou, France and worked for everything she had in her parents shop, taking it over when they died. She was financially successful and devoutly religious, but famed for turning away the poor and needy.
Until God sent her a woman. This woman was poor, ragged, and represented everything Joan chose to ignore on a daily basis. But she claimed contact with the divine. She spoke to Joan of the will of God, and Joan was touched. She promptly began to care for the poor, to reach out to the needy. She housed, she clothed, she fed.
As God’s call to her strengthened, she closed the shop and went out into the world to care for those in need. She founded the Congregation of St. Anne of Providence including 12 religious houses, hospices and schools before she died in 1736.
Wow, Joan had quite the life. And there is so much we can learn from her!
First and foremost, Joan’s life teaches us that it’s never too late! Sometimes we look at ourselves and see our sinfulness, see how frequently we fall short and the depths of our failures and think we could never turn all of that around to live the life the Lord asks of us. Joan was not a very nice person for a good portion of her life. She was greedy, she was insensitive, she ignored and turned away those who needed her help. She considered herself devout, but didn’t listen to what God was telling her.
Secondly, it teaches us to look for God in the most unlikely of places. He sent Joan a messenger, dressed in rags, hungry, poor. The people around her thought this peasant woman was crazy. She was the absolute last person Joan was likely to listen to. God sends us messengers, too. Are we ready to listen to them? Will we dismiss them because they don’t fit our image of prophet?
Finally, Joan’s life teaching us a message about the life of service. She turned around after meeting her beggar woman and began to help those in need, to serve the people of God. Eventually, she sold everything she had and set out into the world to help those in need. She was called by her Savior to found the Congregation of St. Anne of Providence. Her devotion and service were the center of her life as she did the work of her Lord for those around her.
Now, we learn a lot from Joan, and we strive to follow in her saintly footsteps, but it doesn’t mean we necessarily need to leave our jobs and our lives to serve the poor. We can care for the needy and downtrodden in our communities in a multitude of ways, from donations of money to those of time, effort and love. God often calls us to participate in structured volunteer work – an afternoon at a soup kitchen or helping at a food pantry – or to more individual service – a moment spent with someone you meet on the street.
The most important thing we learn from Joan today is to listen for God’s call. Because He is calling, all the time, calling us to serve Him and to be closer to Him. Listen to Him. Follow His call.