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Reflection: Feast of Saints Ann and Joachim, First Holy Family of Nazareth

By Lisa Burke
July 27th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Catholics, for the most part, are probably pretty familiar with the Feast of the Holy Family that is celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas, a day set aside to honor the Holy Family into which Jesus was born, a family that provides a model for families today, regardless of their specific composition.  But in reality, there was an earlier Holy Family of Nazareth, the family into which Mary, the immaculately conceived Mother of God was born, the family of Ann, Joachim, and Mary.

HOBOKEN, N.J. (Catholic Online) - July 26th was, liturgically speaking, the feast of St. Ann and St. Joachim.  Growing up it was a popular day to celebrate St. Ann with parish festivals and fireworks (the St. Ann feast in Hoboken, NJ is legendary).  With a grandmother named Anne, it was also a day to give special thanks for her and to remember the ways in which she mirrored St. Ann(e).

Ten years ago when I relocated to the central part of New Jersey, I found myself at the Church of Saint Ann, the parish where I have since been a member.  Each year the parish holds a preparatory novena for the feast that is a combination of the traditional novena and a parish renewal wherein a guest preacher - often a priest, not always - leads us in a series of reflections. 

When my work scheduled allowed me greater involvement in the nuts and bolts of parish life, the Novena Committee was the first activity I officially joined.   Since then, I have had the standing privilege of "authoring" the daily general intercessions for the nine days of the novena.  Having the opportunity to pre-pray the readings and themes of the novena has provided an additional layer of engagement with the feast that we celebrate today.

Catholics, for the most part, are probably pretty familiar with the Feast of the Holy Family that is celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas, a day set aside to honor the Holy Family into which Jesus was born, a family that provides a model for families today, regardless of their specific composition.  But in reality, there was an earlier Holy Family of Nazareth, the family into which Mary, the immaculately conceived Mother of God was born, the family of Ann, Joachim, and Mary.

While it is common to relate to Ann and Joachim as the grandparents of Jesus and the parents of Mary, I think it is beneficial today, particularly in an era where diversity in the composition of families is more prominent and (unfortunately) sometimes more contested, to consider the first Holy Family of Nazareth.

Much of what we believe about Ann and Joachim comes to us through tradition based upon the Protoevangelium (or Infancy Gospel) of St. James. (See for example) In our minds, we understand Ann and Joachim to be somewhat older, perhaps around the age of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, who tradition holds was the first cousin of Ann (or at least that is what I recall learning). So here we have the first Holy Family of Ann, Joachim, and Mary. 

To understand the family, it is important to understand Ann and Joachim as individuals, as a couple, and as parents.  Faithful, prayerful, devout.  These three powerful adjectives tell us a lot about them.  Trusting, confident, and hopeful.  These three adjectives tell us a lot as well, about our own vocational calls. 

But let's think, too, about what we don't often focus on, the preoccupations, concerns, and worries they must have had as they raised Mary and as they grew older.  Clearly faith and, yes, spirituality (although that would not have been a common term at that time) were essential components of their lives. 

I can see them in my mind's eyes participating in the rituals and worship of the Jewish tradition on a regular basis.  I can see them relying on the Scriptures of the Torah, and I can hear them engaging in the psalms as their way to connect with the Most Sacred G-d. 

I can imagine them working daily and toiling to sustain a home where G-d was all and all lived for G-d and one another. I can see Ann and Joachim raising their daughter to be a woman who would be betrothed to a man of G-d.  Could they ever have imagined that she in fact would be the Spouse of G-d and bear in her own body the Savior of the World?

In that way, Ann and Joachim are beautiful models for parents and caregivers today.  They provide us with real life people who dealt with all the unknowns life has to offer and faced the uncertainties of life with trust, faith, confidence, hope, and surrender.

It's really impossible to appreciate fully the Holy Family (of the New Covenant) who we celebrate at Christmas without getting to know better the first Holy Family of Nazareth, and it's limited in meaning to honor the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus if we don't recognize the Holy Family of today, the families in which we find ourselves, whether they are blood families, spiritual families, religious families, or chosen families.

Join me in taking time to contemplate the family of Ann, Joachim, and Mary and what treasures of faith and wisdom that Holy Family offers me and you.  Join me in considering how the Holy Family of Ann, Joachim, and Mary made possible - and in fact was essential to - the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. 

Join me in thanking God for the Holy Family of Today, the many Holy Families, I have encountered in my own life.  Join me in lifting up in prayer the rich diversity of families who comprise the one human family where all are made in the image and likeness of God and all are invited to "Love one another as I have loved you."

The Feast of Saints Ann and Joachim, the First Holy Family of Nazareth, Teaches Us about our own vocation and the Lord's invitation to follow Him in this day when the world so desperately needs to hear and see the Good News. 

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A 40-something lifelong Catholic and product of Catholic K-12 education, Lisa Burke has an M.A. in Human Rights Studies from Columbia University. She is a native of New Jersey; having been born and raised in the Archdiocese of Newark, she currently resides in the Diocese of Trenton where she is a parishioner of the Church of Saint Ann, Lawrenceville.  Lisa enjoys exploring and writing about politics, culture, faith, and the complex points where they intersect.

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