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Christians have been celebrating Sts. Joachim and Anne, whose feast day is July 26, since the dawn of Christianity. And rightly so, since Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, are partially responsible for the dawn of Christianity.
But their lives have a special message for us in the 21st century.
1. God blessed their “normal” marriage.
It’s true that many of the saints in the Church calendar are unmarried, which is understandable. But it’s also true that many of the married saints we celebrate parted amicably to enter religious life late in their lives.
Not Joachim and Anne. They lived as husband and wife their whole lives, and not only that but their “normal” married life is also celebrated by the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. That’s the day we celebrate the fact that Mary was preserved from original sin from the very first moments of her conception by Joachim and Anne.
There has been an effort in the 21st century to canonize more lifelong married couples like them, but they are the original and greatest.
2. Though they were married, they put God and the poor first in their lives.
We know Joachim and Anne put God first in their lives because “by their fruits you shall know them.” Their fruits were the Immaculate Conception and what must have been their nearly immaculate upbringing of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Their legend adds even more. The story goes that they had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and had failed to have children. Their whole life long they had split all of their income into thirds: A third went to the Temple, a third went to the poor, and they kept a third for themselves.
God blessed their lifelong generosity by multiplying their flocks — and, eventually, sending them the most accomplished daughter in history.
3. They gave their daughter Mary her freedom.
Women were not given a lot of freedom in the ancient world, but Mary was.
If it’s true that Joachim and Ane waited that long for a child, it must have been difficult when Mary pledged her Virginity — or maybe they expected and encouraged it. In either case, they were willing to sacrifice their hope of grandchildren by consenting to her life of celibacy.
In his book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary, Brant Pitre lays out the case that Mary took a vow of virginity.
When the angel Gabriel announced her pregnancy, she said, “How can this be, since I do not know man?” Pitre points out that this would make no sense unless she had made a vow of virginity such as is described in Numbers 30:13-16, a vow which can be permanently binding to married women with the consent of their husband. Joseph’s consent is clear in Matthew 1:25, when we learn that “he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth.” (Pitre points out that “until” doesn’t mean his behavior changed later any more than Matthew’s “I am with you always, until the end of the age” means Jesus will eventually leave us.)
4. Joachim and Anne remind us the importance of grandparents (and aunts and uncles).
No grandparents have a greater claim to brag about their grandson than Joachim and Anne: He was the son of God. And they had their nephew to brag about also. Legend says that Anne was sister to Zoia, the mother of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist.
At a time when family ties are fraying and disappearing, Joachim and Anne show the promise of family better than anyone.
5. They show that our life is not about us.
Last is a great message for our time, when so many feel anxious and worry that life is purposeless, because our culture pushes us to be self-absorbed.
Joachim and Anne are a good reminder that our life is not about us. If we are faithful and generous, our life will touch others, whether we see it or not, and we will be players in the great story of God’s salvation of the world. If we are faithful, every one of us will hear our own version of the pronouncement St. John Damascene made:
“Joachim and Ann, how blessed a couple! All creation is indebted to you.”