Fr. Scott A. Haynes
In sacred art St. Joachim and St. Anne are often depicted embracing one another before the Golden Gates of the Temple in Jerusalem. And our reading from the Book of Proverbs, in describing the virtuous woman, echoes this theme and says that husband of a virtuous wife “is honorable at the gates.”
Since St. Joachim and St. Anne were childless for most of their married life, Joachim was often publicly mocked and ridiculed before the Golden Gates of the Temple. Why would he be mocked you may be wondering? In the ancient world, children were the greatest blessing. When the Jewish house was filled with children the family was honorable, but if the house was empty of children the family was poor and despised.
Tradition has it that one day when St. Joachim came to the Temple to make an offering of a lamb, the priest refused to accept his offering. St. Joachim wanted so much to conceive a child with St. Anne, his faithful and loving wife. So he decided to withdraw to the desert to fast and pray for forty days.
St. Anne did not know why her husband fled to the desert. Not understanding that he had gone there to pray for a child, she feared that her husband had abandoned her. Just as Joachim decided to retreat in prayer, Anne decided to pray under a laurel tree. As she began her prayer, an angel appeared and told her that God had heard her prayers.
What did the angel tell her? St. Anne would have a child, and this child would be praised throughout the world. Anne replied,
"As my God lives…my child shall be a gift to my God, serving Him in holiness throughout the whole of its life."
Then the angel told her to run and meet her husband. As she ran towards Jerusalem, St. Joachim was returning to Jerusalem with his herds. And where would they meet? They met in front of the Temple in Jerusalem. They met by the Golden Gate.
My dear friends in Christ, what can learn from this tender scene? While Jews of the ancient world considered large families a blessing, our culture today sees large families as a burden on society. Claiming that large families place a drain on society, some outspoken groups persecute and mock parents who want to practice supernatural family planning. As Catholics, we must, be different. We have to defend family life. When the “culture of death” attacks the family, when the “culture of death” attacks motherhood, pray to St. Anne. Like St. Joachim and St. Anne, many couples desire to have children, but for whatever reason, they remain childless, sometimes for years, sometimes for a lifetime.
While the priest in the Temple would not accept the sacrifice of Joachim, God accepted his sacrifice – not a lamb but a humble heart. And how did God reward Joachim and Anne for their humble prayer? He gave them Mary. Do you know couples who want to welcome children into their home? Entrust them to St. Anne.
When St. Joachim and St. Anne at last were able to conceive Mary, they first embraced before the Temple Gate. And what does this imply? It is a vivid reminder that a man and a woman must be bound in holy matrimony before bringing children into the world.
In this day when so many Catholics attempt marriage outside of the Church and begin having children, St. Joachim and St. Anne remind us of all that a man and his wife must first come to the Temple. Before they begin their family life together, they must first be wed in the Temple, in the Church, before the priest of God.
In our prayers to Good St. Anne, let us recommend all families to her intercession. Never have we more needed her help. Catholic family life has never been under a greater attack than it is today. Entrust your family to St. Anne. Place them under her protection, and she who is the mother of Mary and the grandmother of Jesus, will bless them by her powerful intercession.
St. Anne, Mirror of Mercy, pray for us.