The Feast of Saints Anne and Joachim is observed annually on July 26 and while this is not a major feast day, it is an occasion on which the Church reaffirms the values of marriage and family. It is significant that both today’s gospel (Luke 10:38–42) and the first reading of the Mass (Gen 18:1–10) are connected in their own ways with essential teachings on Christian family life.
There is no reference in the Bible to either of Our Lady’s parents but tradition says that their daughter, Mary, was a gift bestowed on the previously childless couple by God.
Praying with perseverance and an abiding faith in the goodness and wisdom of the Father, they received their daughter with joy and dedicated her to Him. Her unquestioning obedience to the Divine Will that she should become the virgin mother of the Messiah, the Christ, speaks of the intimacy and absolute reverence which characterised her relationship with her God. It was in her home, in the bond of love and protection and sincere worship that this relationship was nurtured and promoted.
Abraham and Sarah, childless after years of marriage too, were also blessed with a child, a son. Abraham, a man of great faith, recognised the presence of God when he was visited by three angels and he hastened to offer them the best hospitality that he and his wife could afford.
The depth of faith of both these couples, despite the ‘curse’ of their earlier childlessness, is a quality which all the faithful should seek to emulate. It is not easy, in an era of conflicting values, to embrace the concept that our lives should be centred around a deep relationship with God. The world is more likely to mock than to support such a belief.
Even in families which hold closely to Catholic teaching and tradition, unquestioning faith in times of crisis can be found wanting. The ideal may seem out of reach, reserved for the extraordinary among us, yet Joachim and Anne and Abraham and Sarah were just ordinary people, going about the business of their lives, experiencing the painful as well as the joyful, as we do.
It is also noteworthy that stability and unity were common qualities of the married lives of both these couples. Love and commitment to each other are not always seen as prerequisites to marriage in our modern times yet without these as foundation values, marriage stands on shaky ground.
The marriage vow to remain faithful to each other in good and bad times, in sickness and in health and for better or for worse becomes a formality, parroted for the sake of tradition, rather than a promise of sincere and abiding devotion to the marriage that is being conferred by each partner to the other.
In the gospel reading, Martha complains that she is left to do all the serving by herself while her sister, Mary, listens to the words of their guest, Jesus. The response of Jesus may seem puzzling, even unfeeling but it contains a wisdom which we would do well to apply to our own lives.
Worrying and fretting about the less important things in life distract from the quality of our relationships with each other and even more importantly from our family relationships. Chasing after the things that we feel we must have in order to enjoy life, we can lose sight of each other and ultimately of our God.
Our focus, as Catholic families, must consistently remain on all that directs us to fulfil the will of God.