St Joachim and St Anne are the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We know about their life and the early life of the Blessed Virgin from an early Christian apocryphal writing called The Protoevangelium of James AKA The Gospel of James. You can read it here.
The Protoevangelium is not Scripture, but it’s one of the earliest of the Christian writings dating from the late first century to the mid second century and originating with the church in Jerusalem. While elements of the story seem legendary most of the account should be accepted as being rooted in history.
Why are Joachim and Anne important? Because they were the parents of the Mother of God who was immaculately conceived. For those who are fuzzy on the details, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is the belief that Mary was conceived naturally through the union of her parents, but that God, at that moment, supernaturally preserved her from the stain of original sin. I have written more about the Immaculate Conception here in a debate with an Evangelical and here where I tell how I came to believe in the Immaculate Conception.
The theologian John MacQuarrie has an interesting take on the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. While acknowledging God’s hand intervening in the action, he also acknowledges the involvement of the human dimension and the human will conforming to God’s providence. In other words, Joachim and Anne were responding to God’s plan and living their lives within his will and call to holiness. The Blessed Mother was conceived naturally, but that natural conception also had to be full of grace and truth. Joachim and Anne’s marriage was sacred and therefore their physical union was sacred.
Furthermore, MacQuarrie speculates that their union was not divorced from the whole action of God’s providence in the world. Galatians 4:4 says “In the fullness of time God sent forth his Son born of a woman.” That “fullness of time” also reflects back on the conception of the Blessed Virgin. If Jesus was sent forth in the fullness of time, then his mother also was conceived at the fullness of time.
That fullness of time was the epitome and climax of God’s providential hand at work throughout human history in the supernaturally inspired history of the Hebrew people. God began his promise with Abraham and brought it to fulfillment in Joachim and Anne. This is why the Blessed Mother is understood by theologians to be not only the embodiment of the Church, but also the embodiment of the Hebrew nation. She is the mother of all the faithful and the fulfillment of all God’s promises to the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.
The physical union of Joachim and Anne, at which point the Blessed Virgin was conceived immaculately was therefore a culmination and fulfillment of God’s providential work in the world. This was accomplished not by a supernatural virginal conception, but through the normal, natural action of a man and woman coming together, but specially graced by God with his action of preserving the Blessed Virgin from the stain of original sin.
Our Lady’s perfection therefore was not only the supernatural action of God, but it was a fulfillment of human perfection within the history of the Hebrew people. For 2,000 years God had been bringing the Hebrew people to this point–where two saintly people would bring forth the one who would be the Mother of the Redeemer.
What does it matter? Well, it matters because marriage is blessed and the marriage union is sacred. If God uses this most natural and basic human action–sexual intercourse–to fulfill his work in the world, then all marriage is sacred and the marriage bed is not to be defiled.
When this really sinks in, then the indignity and sordidness and corruption of sexual sin is seen as the blasphemy it really is. Pornography, masturbation, adultery, perversion and the selfishness of sexual sin is seen for what it is. It is not sinful in itself. It is sinful because it smears and soils what is sacred. It breaks the fragile and beautiful thing we call marriage.
Secondly, this teaches us another truth: that parenthood is also sacred. It is a sacred and precious thing to be a parent. Any abuse of that role, and violence, neglect or abandonment of that role is a serious sin. We are to be good and holy parents–loving our children and caring for them.
Finally, the lesson from St Joachim and St Anne is this: if parenting is a sacred duty, then there is another duty that follows. The duty of the child to the parent.
In other words: Honor Your Father and Mother.
St Joachim and St Anne.
Ora pro nobis.