A few days ago we celebrated the feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Virgin Mary. Very little can be said about them with certainty. Neither of Mary’s parents are named in the Scriptures. We find these names in The Gospel of James, a book that is not one of the inspired books of the Bible.
Is the information found in this book and found in the human tradition reliable?
Who can say.
Then what do we know with certainty?
We know that they lived in Nazareth with their daughter Mary. We know that their union produced the Immaculate Conception. And we know that their grandchild is the Incarnate Word.
Like St. Joseph, Anne and Joachim were born into the same fallen humanity that we all possess. I imagine that when they welcomed their daughter into the world they wanted to give her a better life than they had. I spoke recently with some friends of mine who have children and they said that they always wonder what will be the thing they do that will start a chain reaction of unalterably forming their child’s character. They hope that they say and do things that will make them holier and more moral. But an ill-tempered word or disinterested slight is something that they fear may be the source of a lifetime of hurt.
I don’t know that Anne and Joachim were any different. Sometimes I think we imagine Jesus and Mary were born with fully formed personalities. And to be sure in His Divinity, Christ had a perfect and unchanging Personhood. But in their humanity, both Jesus and Mary had to learn the way all of us learn.
Human beings are interesting creatures, unique in this world. Think of how many species have young that walk right from birth or engage in self-reliant behavior immediately with no parenting. Human children require years and years of parenting because we are so different. That is because we, unlike all other earthly creatures, are rational animals. We find the fulfillment of our natural potential not only in physical perfection (as beasts do), but in mental perfection as well. This requires a great deal of education. Here, I do not mean anything as formal as school, though that can be a part of it. The most important education of all is the one that teaches them how to live rightly. We call this moral education. And this is something that is not simply taught in platitudes and lessons. It is something that usually has its best chance of being taught through example and modeling.
In the Gospel of Luke, Mary is portrayed as the model disciple. She says “Fiat!” that is “Let Your will be done!” to the angel and thus conceives Jesus. She then immediately shares this news with her cousin Elizabeth. Mary receives Christ and then proclaims Christ. And I have to imagine that her inclination to faith was influenced by her parents.
To be sure there are some families where children become pious not because of but in spite of their parents. But my experience as a religion teacher has taught me that while this happens, it is rare. Sometimes it seems to me that very little of what I do can have a transformational effect if the faith is not also reinforced and modeled at home.
And I think that Mary must have found some of the faith she modeled in her parents. Of course this is just reflection and conjecture on my part. But I have a great affection for Anne and Joachim because, like St. Joseph, they were given the awesome and awful privilege of permanently shaping the character of Our Lady and Our Lord.
If we took on that mindset, imagine how different our interactions with others would be. Imagine that everyone we meet is another Mary or Jesus and that we are charged with the duty to model the behavior that they must embody. The responsibility of it can seem overwhelming and we will fail often. But imagine how often Anne and Joachim failed, fallen humans that they are. And yet they raised the perfect daughter.
So let us honor this man and wife from a small rural town in Galilee whose love story changed human history forever. May we remember to model faith, hope, and love to all those who will learn from our example and make the world a better place.
Copyright WL Grayson, 2017