JULY 26, 2010 — SAINTS JOACHIM AND ANNE: SIRACH 44: 1, 10-15; MATTHEW 13: 16-17


NOW LET US PRAISE GODLY MEN AND OUR FATHERS WHO BEGOT US.  The Church’s liturgy today is in striking contrast to the author of Ecclesiasticus, Sirach as the Greek translator calls him. For he included only men in his long list of holy ancestors the Jewish people, whereas the Catholic tradition honors with today’s liturgical celebration the mother of Mary as well as her father, considering both of them deserving of praise. Being the parents of Mary they are as well the grandparents of Jesus.  Scripture itself has no explicit reference to either of Mary’s parents for the two evangelists who record the ancestry of Jesus, trace his lineage through Joseph only. Matthew and Luke both do this knowing that Joseph is not the physical father of Jesus; rather, Joseph is the recognized legal father. Social practice wins out over physiological considerations, as curious as such a tradition seems to us today.


Early followers of Jesus, however, came to feel differently before long so that Christian piety, reflecting on the holiness of Mary, the virgin mother of the all-holy Son of God, supplied for the lack of a historically reliable account of her ancestry with stories of her parents based on convictions of their faithful adherence to God. Only the most saintly parents, it was reasoned, could have reared so holy and favored a child as Mary, mother of the Savior.  Whether their names were in fact Joachim and Anne, they are remembered by these designations, and we along with the Church pay homage to them today as the devoted, holy parents who reared the most spiritually gifted of all women and the most favored by God. Our Catholic faith is at once more human and more divine in accepting into its sacred cycle of feasts this memorial of Mary’s parents based on the firm conviction that only the most faithful of God’s adherents could have provided a family setting in which so exalted a servant of God as Mary of Nazareth could be formed..     


When Sirach drew up his lengthy list of the holy fathers of Israel, he preceded it with an introduction in which he affirms that it is the same wisdom of God that displays itself in nature that in history is at work in providing such godly fathers in Israel whose works he goes on to discuss in detail. He points out that in their acts these holy ancestors are so many witnesses to the wisdom of God operative in their lives and a source of glory to Him. “The Lord has created great glory from the beginning by them”, he writes. It was with this same conviction and a similar insight that the early Church reflected on the hidden years of Mary of Nazareth and came to appreciate that her singular holiness was the fruit of God’s wisdom and grace that was operating in her early years through her parents. They fashioned an environment and gave a formation that gave full scope to the gifts and grace that God had endowed her with as preparation for her unique role in bringing the Son of God into the world and training him from infancy for the arduous mission he was to fulfill with such love, courage, and trusting dedication.


Saints Joachim and Anne lived about 150 years after Ben Sirach translated his grandfather’s work with its long list of holy ancestors of Israel. They too deserve an honored place among he revered patriarchs as the early followers of Christ came to realize, and so it is that with today’s feast they take their rightful place among the physical and spiritual ancestors of the Savior of the world. In acknowledging their role in God’s plan for his people we recognize his wisdom at work in the natural order of this world, and in the Providential history of salvation.  Their mutual fidelity created a happy and wholesome environment that favored Mary’s developing so strong and loving a character that enabled her to overcome her fear in the face of the forces of evil mobilized against her Son on the cross.


By our faith in Jesus we are made members of his family and share the same hope that was the strength of his mother and, in a more hidden way, of her parents. By our wholehearted participation in this Eucharist may we too be strengthened in loving trust that the Savior who sanctified his mother and all his holy ancestors will make us worthy members of that company of his saints that ever honors him in thanksgiving for the love he gives even to us.&        

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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