In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Today we celebrate the feast of Saints Anne and Joachim, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast is not ordinarily kept on Anglican calendars, the Feast of Saint Anne was removed by Thomas Cranmer in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer from the Sarum Missal. The Sarum Missal, or the missal used in most of England prior to the Reformation is the book from which the collect used today has come. You may note the only Anne is mentioned. It was only in the last century that the two have been honored together.
But, keeping this feast is important for us, as we live in San Joaquin County – Joaquin is the Spanish for Joachim, since we are members of the Diocese of San Joaquin, and since we live in the San Joaquin Valley. This entire valley was named after the San Joaquin river, which was given its name in the early 1800s by the Spanish explorer and lieutenant Gabriel Moraga, who was responsible for other names like Merced (Nuestra Senora de Merced), Sacramento, Calaveras, and Mariposa. No one knows why he named this river San Joaquin, but it is clear that, like much of California, the name of the place is most often religious, and should result in a particular devotion to that saint.
But back to Saints Anne and Joachim. Who were they? We do not know much about them in the official tradition. In the unofficial and apocryphal tradition, they were an older married couple who had prayed earnestly for a child. In the tradition of Hannah (for whom Saint Anne was named), the couple finally conceived and the child was offered up to the glory of God. This may explain why the tradition tells us that Anne and Joachim moved from Galilee to Jerusalem, where Mary was born and raised. It also explains how they would have had a relative degree of kinship with a man from Bethlehem who had later settled in Nazareth, Joseph. It was very common in those days for religious Jews to move from Galilee to Jerusalem, where they could have better access to the Temple and the religious observances thereof.
The Catholic Encyclopedia gives us the following:
“The Protoevangelium gives the following account: In Nazareth there lived a rich and pious couple, Joachim and Hannah. They were childless. When on a feast day Joachim presented himself to offer sacrifice in the temple, he was repulsed by a certain Ruben, under the pretext that men without offspring were unworthy to be admitted. Whereupon Joachim, bowed down with grief, did not return home, but went into the mountains to make his plaint to God in solitude. Also Hannah, having learned the reason of the prolonged absence of her husband, cried to the Lord to take away from her the curse of sterility, promising to dedicate her child to the service of God. Their prayers were heard; an angel came to Hannah and said: “Hannah, the Lord has looked upon thy tears; thou shalt conceive and give birth and the fruit of thy womb shall be blessed by all the world”. The angel made the same promise to Joachim, who returned to his wife. Hannah gave birth to a daughter whom she called Miriam (Mary).”
In fact, Saint Helen built a church over the site of their house, which is also the place of their burial. During the crusades, it was turned into a Moslem school. But, in 1889, the tombs were rediscovered.
This is the only data we have about these two Saints themselves.
The real data comes from two sources – Mary and Jesus. For, if you want to know if adults are honorable people, you look to their children. And – we must never forget that Jesus being a real human being, had real human grandparents. Here are two places to pause and reflect.
The first is that God has established the family as the center of His school for sanctity. It is in the home that children learn virtue, are instructed in the Faith, and receive their education. What John Paul II says is absolutely stellar: “The task of giving education is rooted in the primary vocation of married couples to participate in God’s creative activity: by begetting in love and for love a new person who has within himself or herself the vocation to growth and development, parents by that very fact take on the task of helping that person effectively to live a fully human life.“ (Familiaris Consortio)
These are words which we very much need to hear, and we need the inspiration of parents who show us how this works. We live in an age in which parents have abdicated their responsibilities. One need only go to a mall to see that this is true. What some parents allow their daughters to wear, in addition to the scandal, is a clear sign that parents aren’t in charge. We must recover the understanding that “children are a heritage from the Lord.”
Second, with regard to grandparents. The fact that Jesus himself had grandparents, who very likely were extremely involved in His life, ought to make us think. For grandparents can play a significant role in the spiritual development of their grandchildren. In an age in which many in my generation could care less about the religious education of their children, it is time for grandparents to rise to the task. The grandmother who comes to visit, children’s bible in hand, is an inspiration. The grandparents who drag their grandchildren to church, and pray at meals, even when these things do not happen at home, make a lasting impression upon the lives of the third generation. In other words, it is never too late to change your family tree.
So, on this day, we give thanks for the patronage of Saint Joaquin and Anne, the parents of Our Lady, and our share in their heritage. AMEN.