St. Joachim and St. Anne: The Greatness of the Gift of God

Wednesday, July 26, 2011

Enveloped in the silence and light of a beautiful summer sunset, in the hills of Galilee, just a few kilometres from Nazareth, some 200 participants gathered last night, July 26th, for the Holy Mass celebrated solemnly in Sepphoris(Tzippori in Hebrew) for the Feast of Saint Joachim and Saint Anne. A special guest, Cardinal Giovanni Coppa, Emeritus Apostolic Nuncio in the Czech Republic, was the concelebrant, together with local priests.

The backdrop was an unusual and moving one of the remains of the Crusader basilica, built, according to Christian tradition, on the site of the house of Saints Joachim and Anne, and of which only the main apse and part of the perimeter walls still stand. The site, purchased by the Franciscans in the 19th century, has become an invaluable archaeological site, where the mosaic floor of an ancient synagogue with an inscription in Aramaic has been found, a fragment of which is kept in a small side chapel of the Church, now used as a sacristy.

Yesterday there echoed in this normally isolated place the many joyous voices of Arab-speaking Christians who had gathered for the celebration. Humble and ordinary people came from all over Israel on this particular anniversary, which is of special importance for those who live in the birthplace of the parents of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, and where their house stood.

The mystery of this land and the authentic nature of this devotion, which can still be experienced in this peaceful and secluded corner of Galilee, are truly deep. It is not the canonical sources that tell us of these two figures that are so important in the story of salvation, but apocryphal texts of the 2nd century, in particular the Proto-Gospel of James, which helped fuel the cult of Saint Anne in particular, spreading rapidly in the East and subsequently in the West.

The human story of this sterile couple, to whom the Lord granted when they were well on in years the marvelous gift of a daughter, Mary, the delicate and silent instrument that was to open the way to the salvation of the world, is moving in its simplicity and, at the same time, exemplary of the dynamics of how God relates to man and his story. The family of Joachim and Anne represents the virtuous synthesis between intentional education and openness to the action of God. They are a family rich in moral qualities, probably also with material means, but deeply humble and aware of the human limits and their own particular shortcomings. They are the family of the radical expectation, boundless trust and overwhelming desire, for whom God prepares an immense gift that goes beyond all expectations, according to the logic of overabundance and gentleness that is the essence of His existence and His love.

Joachim and Anne already live in the horizon of the gift and gratuitousness, awaiting a recognition of a relationship which totally involves their intimacy, in a desire which, says Emmanuel Levinas, “originates beyond everything that individuals could lack or could satisfy them”, as a fundamental movement, pure transport and absolute orientation. Opening their hearts, they are exposed to the risk of mortification, i.e., the possibility of paying their fidelity very dearly. But the passion of their consciences before God becomes the real constructive power, the drive to tenaciously cultivate the quality of relations and the force of the authentic act of oblation.

God opens up for them the heights of the Trinitarian life, where the perfect love of charity represents the ultimate foundation of the experience of donation and offers them the free and absolute gift of love that changes the fate and vocation of that humble family forever. The economy of the gift overcomes ethics on all sides, it is a supraethical expression that originates from the same Trinitarian relations of God, where the mysterious need/desire to give and receive for-gives. Joachim and Anne find in this divine reality of the gift an event that enraptures and overtakes them, which illuminates the regions of meaning and opens up history to the experience of what is final.

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Giovanni Zennaro

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