July 26: Saints Joachim and Anne

Late First Century B.C.–Early First Century A.D.
Memorial; Liturgical Color: White
Patron Saints of grandparents and of Canada (Anne)


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Many parents think their child is perfect. Only two sets of parents were ever right. Saint Mary and Saint Joseph had a child through grace and raised that perfect God-son to adulthood. The parents of Saint Mary conceived their daughter in the normal human fashion but without the stain of original sin. So their daughter was superior to them from the start, yet it had nothing to do with hubris. Today’s feast celebrates those humble parents of Mary known to long tradition as Saints Joachim and Anne, though they are unnamed in Scripture. The first mention of Anne and Joachim in the Christian tradition is an apocryphal text from the second century which was judged to be fraudulent by the earliest scripture scholars. The Muslim Quran refers to Saint Anne in Arabic as Hannah, says that she conceived in her old age, expecting a male, but was given a daughter and named her Mary. We honor Saints Anne and Joachim because they reared the perfect child and were grandparents to the Son of God.

It is natural for the Church to exalt the earthly origins of Jesus of Nazareth. It communicates something important—that everyone comes from somewhere and someone, even God. The historical Jesus plants a flag in the ground of a certain place, a certain time, and a certain family. No one is from everywhere. No one is from always. No one is a citizen of the world, really and truly. Everyone has one mom, one dad, and four grandparents.

There is a powerful modern tendency to spiritualize Jesus of Nazareth, to assert that what matters most is that He was, not who He was or what He did. This spiritualizing sees Jesus as the highest human manifestation of an ideal, a concept, or a religious principle, but not necessarily as a real man. Such thinking readily accepts that the divine is in the grand sweep of time, in the universal vagaries expressed by karma, transcendentalism, the chi, the tao, nature, and the dreamcatcher. This approach implicitly sees material reality as a mask, and the natural environment as a curtain that must be pulled to the side to reveal the truer, hidden realities of the spirit-based world that invisibly governs the earth. There are many problems with such a worldview. Most significantly, it rejects, a priori, that God would communicate Himself to us in outward, tangible, historical forms.

Christianity is not a pastiche of environmental concerns, emotions, moral truisms, and soft love. The Church is not a big electric blanket that covers the whole world. She doesn’t exist to make us feel cozy. God comes to us through the very outward, historical forms of a hierarchical institution, through the water, bread, wine, and oil of the sacraments, through words, events, and people. God can speak to us from the inside, from the spirit, from the quiet of the heart. Yes. But He comes to us primarily, in a manner protected from subjective misinterpretation, in outwardness, in time, and in structures. The Supreme Being not only sustains history, then, He is found at a certain point inside of history. History, for the Christian, doesn’t just recede further and further into the past. It is ever present to us because God is ever present to us.

For the salvation of just one single man, there would be no need for a Church, for the incarnation, or for the cross. But no one exists by himself, and so no one can save himself by himself. There is never just one man. Everyone comes from two others. The body implies descent from others in a way a spirit does not. Jesus Christ gave us His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist, not a treatise of lofty ideals. He did not hand out Bibles at the Last Supper, look the Apostles in the eyes, and say “Read this in memory of me.” When He gives us His body, He gives us the DNA of Mary and Anne and Joachim. We touch God. We eat God. We digest God. God becomes part of us. His body becomes our body. And that Body, that flesh and that blood, came down through His grandparents, Saints Joachim and Anne.

Saints Joachim and Anne, may your quiet, hidden roles in the Divine plan inspire all who do the Church’s work behind the scenes and out of view to persevere in supporting the Church’s saving mission. Amen.

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