As she grew older, her faith became more and more simple and more and more childlike. The feast we celebrate today, the feast of Saints Anne and Joachim, was one of her favorites. In her later years she called Saint Anne, “Grammy Anne” – I don’t remember exactly when; I think it was when she was in her 80s. What I do remember, though, is how certain she was about Saint. Anne’s intercession and hand in her life.
My grandmother was 92 when she died, and with each passing year I witnessed her faith get simpler and stronger. I saw her gifts of prayer and discernment grow deeper. I watched her confidence in God gain certainty. Something happens as we age – a perspective not afforded the young takes hold and we realize our utter dependence on God. Each breath is a gift of mercy – His gift to us to do His will in this world. As her personal independence dwindled, her reliance on God magnified.
It’s a funny thing, this circle of life. Coming from God and going to God. Born babies completely dependent and relying solely on our parents’ love. We grow through childhood and adolescence into adulthood, and with that growth, we start to rely on our own ability and strength. In time, we realize our insufficiency, and then we have to decide. Do we put ourselves under the Lordship of Christ or do we turn away? Do we recognize that we are really not what we think we are and find out if God is indeed who He says He is? Do we believe that when we are weak He is strong?
Joachim and Anne lived in a culture where children were valued as “a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb, a reward,” (Ps 127:3) – quite different from our popular culture. They were childless until late in their marriage when they gave birth to a little girl – a little girl named Mary who would change the course of history – His story.
Oftentimes, we are tempted to sanitize the saintly, minimizing their natural human response. We see them waiting patiently for God to bless them, full of confidence in His provision. It’s hard for me to imagine that scene. Even scripture defies this occurrence: Hannah cries out in the temple with such longing that Eli thinks she’s drunk (1Sam 1:14); Abraham and Sarah give up on the fruit of their union with Sarah giving her maidservant Hagar to Abraham so they can have a child (Gn 16:3). Proverbs tells us, “Three things are never satisfied, four never say, ‘Enough!’ The nether world, and the barren womb; the earth, that is never saturated with water, and fire, that never says, ‘Enough!'” (Pv 30:15-16) The prayer of the young bride and the hope of young groom awaiting a child collapses with each passing month and year. A prayer of groaning replaces their prayer of supplication, “Out of the depths I call to you, LORD; Lord, hear my cry! May your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy!” (Ps 130:1-2) The silent suffering of their infertility no doubt drove them to a deeper reliance on God and an abandonment to His Providence. In their weakness, He is strong.
The prophet Isaiah tells us, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways’, says the LORD. ‘As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.'” (Is 55:8-9) We cannot know the mind of God – “How unsearchable are His ways.” (Rm 11:33). We do, however, know His heart. He created us in love, for love, to be with Him forever. His desire is for our eternal happiness. We learn that when we rely on Him. We rely on Him when we let go and trust in His mercies, which are “renewed each morning, so great is His faithfulness.” (Lam 3:23)
Most likely Saints Joachim and Anne prayed for another child after Mary arrived. Their hopelessness-turned-to-hope renewed the fire of the barren womb. But that was not God’s plan. What was their response this time around? Was the aged bride’s prayer one of thanksgiving and surrender? Did they join the prayer of Job, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!” (Jb 1:21) and surrender the fruit of their married love to the Creator? We’ll never know.
What we do know is that we, too, in weakness and in strength, in youth and old age, are called to that same reliance on God. Jesus himself tells us the secret, “Seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Mt 6:33)
So today, let us pray through the intercession of Saints Anne and Joachim for a great reliance on God and for the ability to surrender the deepest longings of our hearts to His care.
Saint Anne and Saint Joachim, pray for us! Anne