Learning from the Grandparents of Jesus

Rachel Forton

Learning from the Grandparents of Jesus

The parents of Mary whose feast we celebrate today, Saints Anne and Joachim, are never mentioned in the Bible. However, their story is related in the apocryphal Gospel of James (not part of the Catholic Bible canon) and most of the traditions surrounding Anne and Joachim stem from that source. The Gospel of James tells the story of Mary’s birth, which is similar to other miraculous birth stories in the Bible, such as Hannah and her son Samuel. Joachim and Anne had grieved their inability to conceive and devoted themselves to prayer and fasting in hope of a child. An angel then appeared to them in their old age and promised Anne and Joachim they would have a baby. After Mary’s birth, they consecrated Mary to God as a virgin for life and left her in the Temple of Jerusalem at the age of three (commemorated on the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary). Of course, later teaching on Mary’s Immaculate Conception added to the story set forth by “James,” instructing the faithful that Mary was conceived without original sin. What does that indicate about the parents of such a holy child?

Even if we do not have proof of their names or the circumstances surrounding her birth, Mary undoubtedly had parents. It is safe to assume that the parents of Mary would have been models of holiness themselves. Whether they were alive to meet their grandson, Jesus, is another question that cannot be answered, but art through the centuries has depicted their presence with the Child Jesus. In fact, one of my favorite icons shows Jesus seated on the lap of Mary, who is seated on the lap of her mother Anne. This beautifully illustrates the significant role of mothers and grandmothers in passing on wisdom and faith to children. Mary, supported by her own mother, was “full of grace” and of trust in the Lord. Contemplating the sort of parents who could raise this woman so favored by God, chosen among all women to birth the Christ into the world, draws me to two conclusions: Saints Anne and Joachim parented Mary in such a way that she knew the Lord and had courageous faith.


Knowing the Lord

I imagine Mary’s parents often proclaimed the words of the Hebrew Scriptures to young Mary, observed the laws of Torah, and celebrated religious rituals and festivals with their daughter. In these daily prayers and acts of worship, living faithful to the covenant of God, Anne and Joachim imparted knowledge of the Lord to Mary. She learned from them who this God was who had made a covenant with their people. This God who had specially promised her parents that she would arrive. This God who would later call on her to play a crucial role in the salvation of the world in bearing and raising the Savior. Knowledge of the Lord undeniably begins in the home, in the everyday life of the family, and Mary knew that the Lord was good and could be trusted. Saints Anne and Joachim confirm just how important parents are in passing on the faith to their children and grandchildren. They set the foundation for Mary’s “yes,” the most important “yes” in the history of the world. With Anne and Joachim, parents might consider what sort of foundation they are setting for their children. How has God been portrayed in your home? What daily practices are most important in your family? How do you respond to God’s requests of you? Your personal response to God is a fundamental witness to your children and grandchildren.


Courageous Faith

I often marvel at the courage of Mary as a young girl to willingly enter into such an unorthodox situation, carrying through on her end of the deal regardless of the atmosphere surrounding her, “she who believed that the Lord's word to her will be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45). Her belief in the truth of God’s promises would not have been easy, especially as a poor, unmarried pregnant woman from an insignificant town. Mary’s song of praise (the Magnificat) is further evidence of the level of her faith. Despite knowing all that her “yes” would bring, Mary proclaimed with confidence and courage in Luke 1:46-55 that “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” She knew that God was doing something incredible and new here, right now, in her life.


It might seem like we are reflecting an awful lot on Mary for an article about her parents, but a feast day like this calls us to remember that we are known by our fruit. In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus gives us this parable: “… Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” We may not have much historical information about Anne and Joachim, but we know them by their fruit – their daughter, Mary. And we, too, will be known by the fruit we bear in the world. For many of us, the most significant fruit we bear is our children. Parents and grandparents can call on Saints Anne and Joachim for help when the work of raising children gets hard, so that their families, too, may be filled with good fruit pointing the world to Jesus.