Tuesday, July 26, 2011
July 26: The Feast of St. Anne---Mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Grandmother of Our Lord
St. Anne, the spouse of Joachim, was the mother of Our Lady and the grandmother of Our Lord. She is the Patron Saint of childless people, grandmothers, and of Brittany, France.
St. Anne is also the Patron Saint of our precious daughter Annabel.
Everything we know about St. Anne comes to us through tradition and apocryphal texts, especially the Protoevangelium of James. For Catholics, St. Anne's life is beautiful and remarkable. For Protestants, her name and life is completely unknown. As a Protestant I never heard anyone mention the name of Mary's parents and, of course, they would not since the information we have about her comes to us from some place other than the Scripture. I think that is one of the most unfortunate aspects of Protestantism because there is a wealth of information about the early Church and early Christians.
St. Anne was a descendant of a group of Jewish people called the Essenes. This group of Jews lived a very pious life in their own communities, away from the major cities and villages. To these faithful people, God granted many graces in a time in history where such graces were rare. All of the prophets in the Old Testament were from this group of Jewish people. When the Holy Scripture mentions people who were "highly favored of God," it is to the Essene's that the reference is being made. And it was into this group of grace-filled people that St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was born.
St. Anne was not a very beautiful woman, but she was extraordinarily pious, pure, and innocent. When she was 5, her parents took her to the Temple to live where she stayed, in service to God, until she was 17. When she returned, she was married to Joachim, a rather rich young man from the line of David. Both St. Anne and St. Joachim were people with the highest moral virtue, quiet and soft spoken, and full of wisdom. St. Anne spent much of her time in contemplation and prayer.
As remarkable as she was, St. Anne suffered a public humiliation. She was barren. After 20 years of marriage, she and St. Joachim had no children. This was particularly troubling for a Jewish family and it brought a lot of ridicule upon their family. In this time, all Jewish couples were hoping and praying for God to bless them with the Messiah. This was a blessing that the Jews knew from the Scripture would come through them. For a husband and wife to have no children, in essence meant that God was withholding that blessing from them. Because of their sterility, St. Joachim was prohibited from making offerings in the temple and St. Anne was shunned for fear that she might be cursed.
In her old age, St. Anne began to pray in earnest for God to send her and St. Joachim a child. She often went out alone into the desert to offer prayers of suffering and lamentation. She pleaded with God to open her womb. If so, St. Anne assured the Lord, then she would give that child to God in total service. In her prayers, she asked God to bless her, as He had done with Sarah when she bore Isaac.
During one of these prayer times, an Angel appeared to St. Anne promising her that God had indeed heard her prayer; that she would, in her old age, conceive a child that "would be spoken of in all the world." The Angel also told her that St. Joachim, while working in the desert, had also been visited with this same greeting. Upon her husband's return, St. Anne rejoiced and recounted her angelic visitation. Since they both had total faith in God, they believed, and within 9 months, their daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary, was born.
St. Anne was a devoted and loving mother who taught Our Blessed Mother well. And as promised, when Mary was of age, St. Anne and St. Joachim took her to the temple to live out her childhood in the service of God.
Although the date of her death is uncertain, St. Anne's body was brought to France 14 years after Our Lord's death on a boat with St. Mary Magdalene, St. Lazarus, and St. Martha. Her relics were brought to Constantinople in 710 where they remained until 1333.
The life of St. Anne is a model for Christians. Often God's plan takes a long time to bear out. It may seem that our prayers are unheard or that time is being wasted. Sometimes it even appears that we have been abandoned and forgotten by God. But God asks us to hope against hope, to rely only on His wisdom, to actively participate in His plan. St. Anne, though she suffered humiliation and rebuke, waited upon the Lord to fulfill His plan. For her perseverance, God entrusted her with the child who, from her Immaculate Conception, was to be the Mother of Our Precious Lord.
St. Anne, pray for us, that we are able to persevere in the times when our prayers seem to go unanswered.
St. Anne, pray for us, that we may fully give ourselves to trust in the Divine Wisdom.