Sts. Anne and Joachim: Our Family Support
Many years ago as a small infant I became a member of the Catholic Church, baptized as "Jennifer Ann" in St. Anne Catholic Church in Houston, Texas. Being named after the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the grandmother of Jesus always felt as a special privilege. As time has passed, my relationship has grown from simply understanding St. Anne as a patron saint, to understanding her role as special family member of Christ and how she interceded for my vocation as a single woman, now wife and mother. There is also a special closeness when I think of the role of grandparents in our lives, and it will deepen even further when (or if) I become a grandmother.
The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy explains that
it is always useful to teach the faithful to realize the importance and significance of the feasts of those Saints who have had a particular mission in the history of Salvation, or a singular relationship with Christ such as St. John the Baptist (24 June), St. Joseph (19 March), Sts. Peter and Paul (29 June), the Apostles and Evangelists, St. Mary Magdalen (22 July), St. Martha (29 July) and St. Stephen (26 December).
Now Saints Anne and Joachim do not appear on this list because they are not mentioned in the Bible, but they played a large role in our salvation history. It is a fact of life that a human being must have parents, and usually those parents become grandparents at some point. The Church understands and values the importance of family and family relationships. We have already experienced a few feasts (like the Visitation and Birth of St. John the Baptist) that illustrated the closeness of family ties. The family relationship is key with our relationship with God, as Abba/Father, and Jesus as our adopted brother. The family relationship is used as imagery throughout the Scriptures, but the emphasis of Jesus with his physical family on earth is also beautifully reflected in our liturgy.
It is looking at these family ties that help us understand and pray for intercession from this saintly couple.
As Patron Saint
I had a little chuckle at reading the excerpt from the Liturgical Calendar page for Sts. Anne and Joachim:
Who does not know about the great shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupre in Canada, where miracles abound, where cured cripples leave their crutches, and where people come from thousands of miles to pray to the grandmother of Jesus?
Frankly, I didn't know. When I was little I was very confused by the title "Ste. Anne de Beaupre" and the image of the statue. We often attended daily noon Mass with some extended family (grandmother and great-aunts) at St. Anne's Church and I would see a replica of the statue. I thought it was another saint named Anne with a French last name, but couldn't understand why both saints were depicted similarly. It's one of those memories of being a child trying to figure out those little puzzles. I may have asked about it, but I still didn't understand clearly until I was a few years older. And probably because of this misunderstanding, I looked on St. Anne as a motherly figure, not the "miracle worker" of Quebec.
I admit that I have been drawn to St. Anne and St. Joseph throughout my life because I have always felt they were really in the trenches with me. They both were not exempt from original sin, so I thought they would be more empathetic to my human weaknesses and my woes because they would have felt and triumphed over similar temptations.
There seems to be so much less information about St. Joachim that my devotion usually is directed to St. Anne unless I'm praying to the holy couple for family help.
The list of official patronages for Anne and Joachim is long:
Anne: against poverty; barren; broommakers; cabinetmakers; carpenters; childless couples; equestrians; grandmothers; grandparents; homemakers; housewives; lace makers; lace workers; lost articles; miners; mothers; old-clothes dealers; pregnancy; pregnant women; horse riders; seamstresses; stablemen; sterility; turners; women in labour.
Joachim: fathers, grandfathers, grandparents.
And it doesn't even include other popular ones such as to find a spouse. But I have found that all my needs in each stage of my vocations St. Anne has been there to help me.
As a Single Woman
I didn't marry until I was 33, and by then I was starting to accept the idea that I might be living the the "single lay vocation." But all those years in looking for a husband, it was a comfort asking for St. Anne's help in finding the right husband. It wasn't because legend said she had 3 husbands, but that she helped protect Our Lady in her virginity, with she and Joachim giving their blessing to St. Joseph, the spouse God chose for Mary. There has been no holier spouse, so to ask my patron saint:
I beg you, holy mother Anne,
Send me a good and loving man.
was just praying to find the holy and right spouse for me, just like they had for their daughter.
Since I was very young I have always done needle crafts and sewing. So often St. Anne is portrayed teaching Mary to pray but also to sew or some kind of needlecraft. My thoughts have often gone to those domestic scenes, thinking of the clothing and household items that both were to make for the Holy Family.
As a Wife
St. Anne (and St. Joseph) did help me find the right spouse, and as I learned to serve in my wifely duties, I saw St. Anne in a little different light, more of imitation, asking for help in running a household and being a good wife.
Pious legend has stated that St. Anne and Joachim were childless for many years and then miraculously (similar to St. Elizabeth) bore the Blessed Virgin Mary in their old age. I identified again with my patron saint when we suffered from primary and secondary infertility. It was helpful to share that cross with Sts. Anne and Joachim.
Although we don't know much about Anne and Joachim, we can surmise that they were a holy couple, raising Mary in the faith. They were Our Lady's first example, and they must have been a very holy example, especially in being open to God's Will. Trying to be a supportive and loving wife can be trying at times and it is always consoling to think I can ask help from the grandparents of Jesus.
As a Mother
When I did finally become pregnant, I was not elderly, but in the medical practice I was a much older woman bearing children (elderly primigravida and multigravida). Again my relationship shifted with St. Anne, asking her intercession during my pregnancy. Pregnancies on older bodies are much harder, so I identified with St. Anne as she carried Our Lady in her womb.
Now that my sons are almost 7 and 11, it's even a different shift. St. Anne didn't raise boys and she had the perfect daughter, so she didn't experience exactly my situation. But she did home educate Mary, teaching her the Scriptures and her Jewish faith, and also the daily work of a wife and mother. The role of a mother is to prepare and form our children for their eventual exit from our family household to enter into the world on their own and then to their heavenly goal. We are preparing them to be saints. This is a huge task and truly it can't be done without the assistance of God's grace. I look to St. Anne to help me with that end goal. She must have had an idea of the great gift of Mary and perhaps recognized Mary had a larger role to play in salvation history. Mary was not to be just her daughter; St Anne had to share her with the whole world. That is one aspect that I often turn to St. Anne, remembering that I do not own my children but they are on loan from God, and I need to prepare them for that eventual return.
As a Grandmother
I have no living grandparents, but was so happy to nurture a close relationship particularly with both of my grandmothers when I was younger. It was that relationship that brought me close to my patron saint. My paternal grandmother was especially gifted in the art of domesticity and thrift, and she nurtured my interests in cooking, needlecraft and calligraphy. My maternal grandmother lived nearby for most of my life, even with the multiple moves. We saw her almost daily, and enjoyed her gift of stories, faith, and self-giving.
I am not a grandmother, but it has been so wonderful to see my parents enjoy their role as being grandparents. It is a particular blessing to have grandparents for my sons. I have just marveled at the special bond with them. As parents we don't need to tell our children to respect and love their grandparents; I have seen the relationship blossom without any prodding. Our sons have concern when one of the grandparents are sick or hurting. They love to visit with them, unfolding their stories and sharing their prized possessions. We are not sure when St. Anne or St. Joachim died, but there are many artistic renditions of St. Anne assisting Mary and playing with her grandson, and it is edifying to think of Jesus having loving grandparents nearby.
I look forward to the day if I have the privilege of being a grandmother, which will take me on another level with my patron saint.
The Church provides us such tangible ways for intercession and example to the earthly and now heavenly family of Christ in all our daily lives, whatever our vocation. May the holy couple, Saints Anne and Joachim, pray for us!
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