In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Church Year is punctuated by Feasts of Conceptions and, nine months later, Births. For example we are now preparing for the Feast of the Birth of Christ, Christmas. Nine months before we celebrated His Conception at the Feast of the Annunciation, Lady Day, when the Archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin that she had conceived through the Holy Spirit.
In September we commemorate the Feast of the Conception of St John the Baptist, and nine months later in June, his birth.
So today we commemorate the Feast of the Conception by St Anne of the Holy Virgin, whose birth we shall celebrate in nine months time, in September.
What do we know of St Joachim and St Anne, the parents of the Virgin Mary?
First of all, we know that St Joachim was descended from St David the King and Prophet and that St Anne was descended through the priestly line from St Aaron the Priest. This is not by chance, for the fruit of the womb of their daughter, the Virgin Mary, was Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Who was indeed King and Prophet and Priest.
Secondly, as regards St Anne, we know that she had two sisters. The first was Mary, the mother of Salome the Myrrhbearer, and the second sister was called Zoia, the mother of St Elizabeth, the mother of St John the Baptist.
Finally, we know that Joachim and Anne had been married for fifty years. They divided their income into three parts. One third they lived off, one third they gave to the Temple in Jerusalem and the other third they gave to the poor. However, they had one great sadness, they were barren. Now among the Jews barrenness was a great stigma. It was not just a matter of the natural need to have children, there was here something far more profound. Pious Jews knew that one day among them would be born a Saviour, the Messiah. Thus there was among Jewish women always a pious hope that one day one of them would give birth to the Saviour or perhaps the mother of the Saviour. Even today, Jews like to have a big family and there are those who still hope to give birth to the Saviour, for the Jews are still mistakenly waiting for Christ to come.
Thus, with this burden of sterility, Joachim and Anne were greatly sorrowed. But, greatly moved, they prayed to God and made a vow that their child would be especially consecrated to God. It was in this way that Anne, like Sarah before her, was blessed with a child in her old age. The Virgin was the fruit of their prayer and their piety.
Today’s Feast is then the feast of marriage blessed by God, the feast of family life and the feast which tells us how to strive to bring up our children. From it we can learn that for children to be born and well brought up, they need the prayer and long-term relationship and commitment of their parents. As the old proverb says: ‘Families who pray together stay together’. Marriage is not made suddenly, for children need the stability of their parents. As another proverb says: ‘Marry in haste, repent at leisure’. Children need the long-term view, for when we marry, we marry for life, so that we can bring up our children in stability.
This is also the theme of today’s Gospel. Here was a rich man who thought only of: ‘Eat, drink and make merry’. He thought only of the short term, of short-term pleasure. He did not think of the long-term view, of the one thing inevitable in our lives, the separation of our souls from our bodies, our deaths. So, as he thought only of the short term, in the night God took his soul.
Now it is true that the Gospel tells us not to think of the long term, of planning for tomorrow, but this is only in the sense of worldly things, of money, food and clothing. But the Gospel also tells us, like today’s Gospel, that as regards the things of the soul, we are to plan ahead, we are to think of our destinies, to have vision. Without vision, we are dead, we have no eternal future.
And that is precisely what St Joachim and St Anne did. They thought of their destinies, their spiritual future. In so doing they brought forth the Mother of our God In thinking of their own eternal destinies, they changed the destiny of all mankind. And so today we commemorate them and give glory to God for them and ask them to pray for us.
Holy and Righteous Joachim and Anne, pray to God for us!