Today is the feast day of St. Joachim and St. Anne, the married couple traditionally honored as the parents of Mary, which makes them the grandparents of Jesus.
Grandparents and the Incarnation
How wonderful that Jesus has grandparents! St. Joachim and St. Anne remind us of the mystery of the Incarnation: God truly became man and entered into a human family that included not only his mother Mary and father Joseph but their parents, and their parents, and their parents, all the way back to Adam (and Eve) at the dawn of creation, according to St. Luke’s chronology (Luke 3:23-38). Like all of us, Jesus was born into a web of relationships, the “cradle of life and love” that is the family (John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, no. 40).
The burden of infertility
However, becoming grandparents – or even parents – must have seemed like a far-off dream for much of Joachim and Anne’s married life. Tradition holds that these saints struggled with infertility and were childless for decades. Like other barren couples in Scripture (eg. Abraham and Sarah, Elkanah and Hannah), sterility was a great burden to Joachim and Anne and even a hindrance to their participation in community life. A story told of St. Joachim relates that he wanted to offer sacrifice in the temple but was turned away because of his childlessness. He retreated into the mountains to air his grievance with God, and during this time both he and his wife received an angelic prophecy of Anne’s pregnancy. We can picture her thanking God in the same words used by Hannah when she became a mother:
“My heart exults in the Lord,
my horn is exalted in my God.
I have swallowed up my enemies;
I rejoice in my victory.
. . .
The barren wife bears seven sons,
while the mother of many languishes.”
- 1 Samuel 2: 1, 5
Their steadfast faith during the trial of infertility explains why they are often invoked by married couples struggling to conceive a child.
A model for parents
Tradition depicts St. Joachim and St. Anne as loving and dedicated parents to their daughter, Mary. Artwork often shows Mary on her mother’s lap, learning how to read. It is no stretch to imagine that St. Joachim and St. Anne laid the groundwork for Mary’s faith, preparing her to answer one day to the angel Gabriel “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to thy word.”
A model for marriage
Finally, St. Joachim and St. Anne are a particularly special married couple for the Marriage: Unique for a Reason project, seeing how they are the couple featured in the Marriage: Unique for a Reason logo and artwork. As the website says:
Saints Joachim and Anne are the father and mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary is the fruit of their marriage. By a singular grace of God in view of the merits of Jesus, she was preserved from all stain of Original Sin from the moment of her conception. Thus it is in the context of married life and conjugal love that Mary is prepared to receive the Divine Logos, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus is the Logos, the “Reason” at the heart of all reason and truth, including the truth of marriage. The marriage between Joachim and Anne is a significant witness to why marriage is “unique for a reason.”
St. Joachim and St. Anne are the patron saints of grandparents and infertile couples.
St. Joachim and St. Anne, pray for us!
- Novena to St. Joachim and St. Anne from the USCCB: “Saints Anne and Joachim are powerful intercessors for all married couples, expectant mothers and married couples who are having difficulty conceiving, as well as all who have grown old.”
- Novena to St. Ann from EWTN
- Prayer to St. Joachim from About.com (Catholicism)
The “wedding season” of summer is in full swing. Here is a quote from Pope Benedict that would fit perfectly in any nuptial mass homily. It’s taken from the Holy Father’s homily at the closing mass of the 7th World Meeting of Families in Milan, which we’ve highlighted earlier. Maybe it’s something you could share with a friend or family member who is getting married this summer?
Pope Benedict XVI: Dear families, pray often for the help of the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, that they may teach you to receive God’s love as they did. Your vocation is not easy to live, especially today, but the vocation to love is a wonderful thing, it is the only force that can truly transform the cosmos, the world. You have before you the witness of so many families who point out the paths for growing in love: by maintaining a constant relationship with God and participating in the life of the Church, by cultivating dialogue, respecting the other’s point of view, by being ready for service and patient with the failings of others, by being able to forgive and to seek forgiveness, by overcoming with intelligence and humility any conflicts that may arise, by agreeing on principles of upbringing, and by being open to other families, attentive towards the poor, and responsible within civil society. These are all elements that build up the family. Live them with courage, and be sure that, insofar as you live your love for each other and for all with the help of God’s grace, you become a living Gospel, a true domestic Church (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 49).
- Homily at Closing Mass for the 7th World Meeting of Families in Milan, Italy (June 3, 2012)
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from Bl. John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. It draws an important connection between life and marriage and uses a phrase we’ve visited before: “human ecology“.
Bl. Pope John Paul II: “The first and fundamental structure for “human ecology” is the family, in which man receives his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person. Here we mean the family founded on marriage, in which the mutual gift of self by husband and wife creates an environment in which children can be born and develop their potentialities, become aware of their dignity and prepare to face their unique and individual destiny.
. . .
It is necessary to go back to seeing the family as the sanctuary of life. The family is indeed sacred: it is the place in which life — the gift of God — can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life.
- Centesimus Annus, no. 39, bold emphasis added
In a recent interview with Catholic News Agency, Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of Oakland, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, offered several reasons why the Church works tirelessly to preserve the meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
“Marriage is about fundamental justice for children,” said the bishop. “Children do best with a mother and a father.” He cited a recent research article published in Social Science Research, which affirmed, again, the benefits to children of being raised by their own biological mother and father. The article was based on a representative group of young adults raised in different familial arrangements. As the bishop says, “In no area were children better off in an alternative arrangement [than their own mother and father].”
Bishop Cordileone also drew attention to the fact that redefining marriage poses a serious threat to religious freedom, a topic we treated in the Fortnight for Freedom series. The bishop emphasized that the proposal to redefine marriage is not an isolated problem but is intimately connected with broader misunderstanding of sexuality. “This isn’t a new threat to marriage,” he explained. “It’s a huge problem, and it’s gone on for decades.” Contraception, divorce, and promiscuity all eroded the characteristic marks of marriage – fidelity, permanence, and openness to life. Now people have a hard time seeing marriage as a lifelong child-centered institution instead of an affirmation of adult relationships.
Finally, Bishop Cordileone encouraged society to defend marriage in civil law, noting the unique contribution that marriage makes to society, and especially to children.
We are beginning the home stretch of the Fortnight for Freedom. Today’s Sunday Pope Quote is from Letter to Families by Bl. John Paul II and is about the word of the hour – “freedom.”
Bl. John Paul II: “We thus come to the very heart of the Gospel truth about freedom. The person realizes himself by the exercise of freedom in truth. Freedom cannot be understood as a license to do absolutely anything: it means a gift of self. Even more: it means an interior discipline of the gift. The idea of gift contains not only the free initiative of the subject, but also the aspect of duty. All this is made real in the ‘communion of persons.’ We find ourselves again at the very heart of each family.”
- Letter to Families, no. 14, emphasis original