Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Memorial of SS. Joachim and Anne
July 26, 2016
Sir 44:1.10-15, Ps 132, Mt 13:16-17
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today we celebrate the feast of the Grandparents of God, SS. Joachim and Anne. We know very little about them. We receive their names from the gnostic pseudogospel of St. James, which is highly unreliable but perhaps can be counted upon to get a few facts right, like their names and the fact that they conceived Mary very late in life after both thought that they would die childless and in the Jewish mentality of the time, publicly under a supposed curse of sterility of God. But after Joachim fasted and prayed in the desert and Anne wept a double lamentation, God’s angel came to them and announced they would conceive. If this is true, we can ask, why would God have waited so long? The answer is to increase their longing, to increase their awareness that every child comes from God. When children are conceived when parents are young, they can often think that it was just a result of a biological act and that God was really little involved. But he’s always involved in the conception of every child, but it’s only those that come much later in life, even miraculously post-menopausally, that we become more aware of it. And we know that the conception in St. Anne’s womb was unlike any other in human history, as her long-awaited daughter was conceived without any stain of original sin.
- In the first reading today, Sirach, in a lyric of praise for our “godly ancestors,” reminds us that their “wealth remains in their families, their heritage with their descendants,” that “their family endures through God’s Covenant with them” and “their glory will never be blotted out.” How true these words are about SS. Joachim and Anne! It’s easy for us to focus today on their biological relationship to Jesus, that they were the grandparents according to the flesh of the long-awaited Messiah, of the Savior of the world. But once, when an anonymous woman cried out from the crowd in praise of Mary, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!,” Jesus replied that there was something far greater than Mary’s physical relationship with her Son. “Blessed rather,” Jesus said, “are those who hear the Word of God and act on it,” as Mary had. I have great confidence that the source of Joachim’s and Anne’s happiness is not merely the genes they bequeathed to Jesus through their immaculately conceived daughter, but the faith they passed on to their daughter, the faith that had been tried over decades and strengthened, the faith that allowed her to conceive Jesus in her heart before she had ever conceived him in her womb.
- This points to a central truth that all grandparents, parents and everyone called to spiritual paternity and maternity need to grasp, that the most important heritage we pass on his our faith. For those in the world, the most important wealth shouldn’t be houses, and safe-deposit boxes, jewelry and stocks, and for those in the priesthood and religious life the most important wealth we transmit shouldn’t be programs started, buildings erected, institutions fortified, but for both of us the gift of God. God’s family endures fundamentally not by copulation or by corporation but by the Covenant. “Through God’s covenant with them the family endures” Sirach wants to say essentially about the family of every godly man and woman and every spiritual family. SS. Joachim and Anne knew that Mary was conceived miraculously, as a result of many prayers, but they almost certainly had no idea of what God’s plans would be for their daughter. No parent ever does. But parents are called to seek to raise their children in that covenant. Sirach says at the end of the passage, “At gatherings their wisdom is retold.” This is what should be everyone’s aspiration, but especially those who are grandparents and great grandparents who are approaching a time when God-willing they will be able to confer with SS. Joachim and Anne face-to-face and seniors in the priesthood and religious life. Often, even at wakes and funerals, even among priests and religious, the stories told about the recently deceased often center on idiosyncrasies and silly habits, that the person was an avid Red Sox fan, a cutthroat penuckle player, or made a killer lasagna — and the reason for that is often that’s what the deceased allowed himself or herself to be known for. How much more rewarding, both for the person as well as for the person’s descendants and spiritual offspring, if he or she were known for passing on wisdom. This has been the consistent teaching of our recent popes, who have begun a series of what we can call a magisterium of senescence, letters, homilies, speeches and personal reflections on Christian aging, as people — popes and faithful alike — have begun to live longer and longer. And St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict and now Pope Francis have all stressed how important it is for seniors as a whole, and grandparents and great grandparents, to be the transmitters of wisdom to the younger generations, and how important it is for the younger generations to ask them for this wisdom that they’ve learned not only from experience but from, we hope, life-long reflection on the Word of God and prayerful examination of that experience of years. This is a type of call that we are summoned by God to echo throughout the Church. Today’s feast of SS. Joachim and Anne is an opportunity for us to grasp that someone may never know what God’s plans are for biological or spiritual children or grandchildren. From people’s own biological or spiritual progeny can come future popes and even more important future canonized saints. Like Joachim and Anne, we’re not going to be given ordinarily any idea of this, but we need to focus on creating an environment in which others will be able to hear God’s call and say yes. And people need to be helped to have an aspiration to try to do it so well that not only our grandchildren will be talking about that inheritance of faith, but their grandchildren, and their grandchildren’s grandchildren.
- For priests are religious there are clearly some further lessons we can draw from this feast. The first is about their holy longing. We should long for spiritual children, those to whom we can pass on the treasure of the covenant, like Sarah, and Hannah, Elizabeth and Anne, longed for biological children. Such spiritual maternity and paternity is part of our chaste celibacy, our spiritual sponsality. Second we should rejoice in “spiritual grandchildren,” those whom perhaps we may not nurture directly, but indirectly, through our prayers and through the spiritual maternity or paternity of those who have grown in faith through direct interaction with us. Just like Abraham looked up into the blue sky to “see” and “count” the stars, so we likewise look, blessed by faith, at all those to whom we will impart, by God’s blessing, not bios (biological life) but zoe (supernatural life), knowing that through that spiritual maternity and paternity we may become the father or mother of nations or of just one, but that one can have a huge role in salvation history as Mary did.
- As we prepare now to enter into communion with the body and blood of SS. Joachim’s and Anne’s grandson, the very flesh he received from the fusion of their flesh in his mother their daughter, we thank God for the gift of their faith and for how he chose to strengthen it in their long-waiting for the fulfillment of their prayers. And we thank God for the gift of our faith, as we prepare to behold under the appearance of bread and wine what “many prophets and righteous people,” including SS. Joachim and Anne it seems, “longed to see but did not see.” We ask Jesus whom we’re about to receive to pass on to us all the wisdom he received from them through Mary and even more importantly all the wisdom he was sent into the world to pass on from his heavenly Father. And we beg for the courage, grace and perseverance necessary for us to pass on as of the greatest importance of all (1 Cor 15:3) this inheritance of wisdom to spiritual children, grandchildren, peers and all we meet so that through God’s covenant our loved ones will endure on earth and come to live with us forever in that place where the glory of the saints will “never be blotted out.”
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Sir. 44:1-14 Now will I praise those godly men, our ancestors, each in his own time: Yet these also were godly men whose virtues have not been forgotten; Their wealth remains in their families, their heritage with their descendants; Through God’s covenant with them their family endures, their posterity, for their sake. And for all time their progeny will endure, their glory will never be blotted out; Their bodies are peacefully laid away, but their name lives on and on. At gatherings their wisdom is retold, and the assembly proclaims their praise.
Psa. 132: The LORD swore an oath to David, a pledge never to be broken: “Your own offspring I will set upon your throne. If your sons observe my covenant, the laws I shall teach them, Their sons, in turn, shall sit forever on your throne.” “This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I desire it. There I will make a horn sprout for David’s line; I will set a lamp for my anointed. His foes I will clothe with shame, but on him my crown shall gleam.”
Matt. 13:16 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.