Christians believe that we are Jesus's siblings by adoption through baptism. One consequence of this is that we are all, by adoption, children of Jesus's mother Mary. Another consequence is that today, the Feast of Saints Anne and Joachim, is the celebration of our adoptive grandparents and their role in the story of our faith.
The legend of Anne and Joachim is a familiar one in scripture, as the reading of Hannah's song from 1 Samuel and the annunciation from the Gospel according to St Luke today attest. The couple were married and though they were faithful and loving and holy people, the could not conceive a child. Over the years, this became socially difficult and Joachim was excluded from particpating in the life of men in his culture because he had not contributed to the heritage of of his people with heirs. Anne greatly desired children, to be a good mother, and felt the pain of this vocation going unfulfilled.
One afternoon, Anne dressed in her bridal garments and prayed in the garden, pouring the pain in her heart out to God under the branches of a laurel tree. (This scene is paraphrased in the first season of The Young Pope.) God heard her prayer and sent an angel who told Anne that she would, indeed, soon conceive a child and her offspring would be spoken of throughout the world. It came to pass just as the angel said. Anne conceived and bore a daughter and named her Mary. Anne and Joachim were faithful, loving parents who raised their daughter to be a devoted servant of God.
The Feast of Ss Anne and Joachim gives us an opportunity to reflect on how we perceive circumstances, both the ones in which we find ourselves and those in which we see others. When thinking of ourselves and those we love, it is often the case that we want more or better than we have right now. This is so true in a world of the rampant, all-consuming beast that is twenty-first century capitalism. We are encouraged to take and consume more of everything all of the time, even at the expense of our relationship with God, with neighbours, and with ourselves. There is little call to ask whether what we have is enough, or even if it is unsatisfactory, whether it can be endured until something that is both better and aligned with our principles is available. We are persuaded that what we want ought to be available to us because we want it, as though we are the authors of creation and the masters of its gifts.
When we observe others, especially those who seem content with less than we would like to have ourselves, it is tempting to cast judgement upon them. To make assumptions, often unkind ones, about why they might be content with little or with work and lives that we would find unsatisfactory. Or to assign blame to them for their circumstances, assuming it is poor choices or a lack of effort or will on their part that has landed them where they are.
Anne and Joachim were discontent with their lack of children, to be sure. It caused them great pain, both personally and socially. And, as we have heard, they prayed to God to change their circumstance and give them the gift they so desired. But they did not take it upon themselves to attempt to subvert God's will by stealing someone else's child, having Joachim force a slave-woman into surrogacy for them, or anything like this. Convinced of the faithfulness and love of God, Anne and Joachim remained faithful and humble, cooperating with God even when they could not see the entirety of God's plan for them. They strove for holiness and growth in their understanding of God, rather than self-indulgence and blame for their dissatisfaction.
Their neighbours, instead of casting judgement and excluding the couple from their communal life, might have sought to learn from their example. How could Anne and Joachim remain so faithful to one another and to God without the family that they desired most? How are they content with a life that is not what they want for themselves? How do they seek holiness on a path not of their choosing?
I have been asked many times how it is that people hurt by the Church remain in it. Women, BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+ folks, disabled people, the list is so long. It is true that to be ostracized, demonized, oppressed, and spurned by one's faith community is painful, it is also true that God loves and lives with those who are left out. Those in the heights of power and privilege might learn much about faith in times of trial, about humility, about what it is to endure and to wait even when our circumstance is not what we wish. When we consider those who survive and even thrive in circumstances we cannot conceive of for ourselves, we are given the opportunity to learn of God in new ways. If we have the courage and humility to meet God where God wills to be found.
Anne and Joachim knew the stories of Hannah, of Sarah and Abraham, of the capacity of God to work for good in all things. Their faith in this promise to their people never wavered and, by the end of their days, they knew blessing greater than they could have imagined. Anne and Joachim met God where God willed to be found and their sorrow was turned to joy. What had seemed foolishness to their neighbours was revealed to be glory beyond imagining.
Today may we all know the love and devotion of our adoptive grandparents and may we carry with us some small part of their humble, faithful devotion.