Life of Ste. Anne Post 2
ST. ANNE’S LIFE ON EARTH
All that we know about St. Anne has been derived from what is called “Apocryphal” literature. There were certain writings of the apostles and other holy people of the early ages of the church, which though not accepted as the inspired Word of God, were yet regarded with respect and veneration, and as of historical importance. They related many details about Our Lord’s family connections, which are not to be found in the Gospels. These writings were called “Apocryphal.” One of them is called the “Proto-Gospel of St. James” and it tells us what we are here to relate regarding the parents of Our Blessed Lady. St. Joachim was descended from the great king and prophet David, although at the time of Our Lady’s birth that family had sunk into poverty and comparative obscurity. His wife Anna belonged to the tribe of Aaron, the High Priest, brother of Moses the great law-giver. The tribe of Aaron had always been set apart for the priestly office. Thus, both parents of Our Lady were of the very flower of the Jewish race. In purity of life and nobility of character they far exceeded all who had preceded them. But to outward seeming Joachim and Anna were like their neighbours. They had to work hard, because the family of David had not prospered in the worldly sense; and though they possessed a little bit of land it needed constant labour to wrest a living from it. The women of the East help their men in the fields, and so did St. Anne help St. Joachim. She drew water from the well at eventide when the day’s work was over, she helped to grind the corn which she afterwards made into bread, she made butter, and no doubt kept bees and gathered the honey, as all the peasant women did in the little town of Nazareth where she dwelt with her husband. All the garments which she and her husband wore, and all the furnishings of her little home were spun and fashioned by her own industrious hands. The “Lesson” for St. Anne’s Feast is taken from “Proverbs 31.” It describes a “valiant woman” and is eminently suitable to the mother of Mary.
“Who shall find a valiant woman? from afar, and the utmost bounds is her price. The heart of her husband trusteth in her, and he shall not want for spoil. She will render him good, and not evil all the days of her life. She hath put out her hands to strong things, and her fingers have taken hold of the spindle. She hath opened her hand to the needy, and stretched out her hands to the poor-strength and beauty are her clothing, and she shall laugh in the latter day. She hath opened her mouth to wisdom, and the law of clemency is on her tongue, She hath looked well to the paths of her house, and hath not eaten her bread idle. Her children have risen up and called her blessed, her husband, and he praised her. Many daughters have gathered riches, thou hast surpassed them all. Favour is deceitful and beauty vain. The woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.”
Such was Anna, beloved and cherished spouse of Joachim. Surely these two were happy! They were certainly very happy in each other, but one thing was wanting to complete their happiness to make their home a paradise. That one thing was a child. This virtuous and noble pair were childless. In most cases the lack of offspring is disappointing to a good, happily-wedded couple, but under the Jewish dispensation it was more than disappointing, it was a tragedy—a disgrace. Sterility was considered by the Jews to be a judgment of God on the woman for some sin. Motherhood was a sign of God’s blessing on the righteous, and Jewish women longed for children because each one hoped that the expected and promised Redeemer, the Messiah— would come of her family. For a childless woman there could be no such hope. In such a case it was even permitted to her husband to put her away. Joachim and Anna had been wedded for over twenty years. All that time they had prayed that God might bestow offspring upon them, but in vain. They beheld themselves growing old. Humanly speaking there was no hope that Anna would become a mother, but Joachim never thought of deserting her. Rather he loved her the more, and shared in her humiliation. They were both resigned to God’s Will, and prayed together that the Messiah would come quickly. They did not guess that He was to be, their own grandson, according to the flesh. At length the biggest humiliation of his life came to Joachim. He was refused entrance into the temple on a feast-day. The High Priest told him that being childless his sacrifice would not be acceptable to God. But both he and his wife turned to God for comfort, and Anne promised that if the Lord took away her reproach she would dedicate her child to His service. The faith of the pious couple was rewarded by the apparition of an angel who assured them that they would have a child “whom all the world should bless.” The promise was fulfilled when Anne became the mother of a daughter, Mary, known to after ages as “Blessed among women.”
The devout clients of St. Anne may learn from this brief recital to have confidence in her who lived such a perfect life, and yet experienced humiliation and disappointment for so many years. She will not be deaf to the prayers of those who are still in this Vale of Tears. And as Mary was the great gift sent to Anne to console her for all she had endured, so will she lead us also to Mary, and obtain for us the aid of her Blessed Child. On the day of her purification St. Anne thanked the Lord for all His mercies, and promised to bring her daughter to the temple when she should be of suitable age. This done, the pious little family returned to Nazareth. In representations of St. Anne we always see her with her blessed child beside her, while a book lies open upon the mother’s knee. It is the book of the Holy Scriptures. According to the Fathers of the Church Mary’s reason shone forth from her earliest years, and she understood without difficulty all that her mother taught her from the inspired pages, which she soon learned to read herself. With particular reverence and love would the holy Virgin study those passages which spoke of the Redeemer to come, and in her humility she longed to be even the handmaid of the Virgin who was to bring forth the Messiah. Did Anne guess from the angel’s message to her what was to be the sublime destiny of her daughter? If so, with what reverence and love combined must she not have gazed upon that daughter’s lovely face, how carefully did she not train and teach her. Dutifully and lovingly the little Mary listened to her mother, drinking in every word, and learning to love her mother more and more as she realized that mother’s virtues. How Anne must have advanced on the Way of Perfection because of this close contact with Mary, the “Mystical Rose”!
The perfect mother and still more perfect child form a beautiful and inexhaustible subject for contemplation and meditation.
At length the time arrived when Anne must fulfil her vow, and part with the treasure of her home. It was the custom of pious Jewish families to have their daughters brought up within the precincts of the temple of Jerusalem, in order that they might benefit by the instructions of the High Priest, and be taught all that it is useful for young girls to know by pious women older than themselves. Joachim and Anne lived at Nazareth. They set out with their daughter to make the long journey to Jerusalem. Great artists have often taken for their theme the Presentation of the youthful Virgin in the Temple. They have painted her as they saw her in their mind’s eye. We see the long flight of steps which the lovely child ascends alone. Her parents stand beneath gazing after her with longing eyes. The High Priest stands above, with hands outstretched, behind him her future companions. But no one can depict the terrible loneliness of the mother and child. Only those who have known such partings can have some faint idea of their feelings. Only the thought that they were doing God’s Will sustained them. It is said that Joachim and Anne in their later days came to live in Jerusalem, in a little house near the Temple so as to be near their daughter Mary. What a consolation it must have been to their declining years to behold her each day increasing in grace and beauty. There is a lovely picture of the youthful Virgin in the Temple, which is venerated under the title of “Mater Admirabilis.” This painting hangs in an oratory in the Sacred Heart Convent of the Trinita dei Monti in Rome. Many wonderful favours have been granted to those who have prayed before it. These, and the interesting history attached to the picture and its title would seem to indicate that Our Lady wishes us to recall those early days in the Temple when she prayed and worked and meditated and prepared herself without knowing it, for the great dignity awaiting her. St. Anne often visited Mary in the Temple, and the good pious daughter often went to help and comfort the parents who were growing old and feeble. Joachim died first, in the arms of the faithful wife whom he had so loved and cherished through all the vicissitudes of life, and in the presence of the daughter who was to be the Mother of God. Only the death of St. Joseph could be more blessed than that of Joachim. As he gazed into the face of his pure and lovely daughter did God reveal the great secret to his soul ? Did he and Anne read the unspoken thought in one another’s eyes ? We do not know. The old man blessed his wife and daughter, and gave up his soul in peace.
Anna did not long survive him. The best traditions tell us that she did not live to behold Our Saviour. It is supposed that she died in Jerusalem some months after the death of Joachim. We can picture to ourselves the beautiful death of St. Anne. She had been a holy and valiant woman all her days. In the last years of her life, in the intimate com-panionship of Mary she had arrived at the most sublime heights of prayer and contemplation. Mary prayed beside her dying bed, soothed her anguish, wiped the sweat of death from her brow. What a union of hearts there was between this mother and child. Who can better help us to draw near to Mary than her mother St. Anne? The good mother breathed her last sigh, and died, blessing Mary with her last breath, while the tears of the loving daughter rained down upon her face. Surely St. Anne must be the Patroness as St. Joseph is the Patron of a happy death. Those who have to grieve for a loving mother should seek consolation from the Blessed Virgin, reminding her of the sorrow and loneliness she felt at the death of St. Anne. Mothers who have reason to fear lest they should be called away from their children while these are yet of tender age, should invoke in a special manner the protection of St. Anne, and implore her, and her Virgin Daughter to protect their little ones.
We may be sure that St. Anne took care to provide faithful and prudent guardians for her child before leaving this world. The little house at Nazareth where Mary had been born was left to her as a patrimony, and there, a few years later the Angel Gabriel announced to her that she was to be the Mother of God.
Check back for the conclusion to this three part Ste. Anne series.