It is an indubitable maxim, in which all theologians concur with the Angelic Doctor, that God gives us His graces in a manner conformable and proportionate to the quality and dignity of the state and condition to which He calls us. And so Divine Bounty having chosen St. Joachim and St. Anne to be father and mother of her who was to be Queen of all the Saints, Mother of the Saint of Saints, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, filled them with all His gifts and graces so that they were possessed of extraordinary sanctity. And since the Father of mercies and God of all consolation willed through them to give her to us who, after her Son, is the most excellent model of all perfection, the most high throne of all the virtues, and the most rich treasure of all sanctity, who can doubt that He showered upon them, who were to be the source and origin of this immense sea of graces, all imaginable virtues and perfections, and these in a very high degree?
We may behold in them, then, the most lively faith, most firm hope and most ardent love for God and very perfect charity for their neighbor, unparalleled piety, and devotion, profound humility, extraordinary abstinence, and marvelous purity.
Behold the vigor of their faith and the firmness of their hope. The consideration of their sterility ought to have debarred them from all hope of having descendants; but it may be said of them as of their father Abraham, they believed and hoped even against hope: “In spem contra spent” (Rom. 4:18). This rendered them worthy to be the father and mother of the Mother of God and of all the children of God.
The Angel announced to them that God would give them a daughter destined to become Mother of the world’s Redeemer. They knew that this was a thing impossible, according to nature. The voice of humility would have persuaded them of their utter unworthiness of such a favor. But several holy Doctors assure us that their faith was so strong and their hope so unwavering that they never entertained the slightest doubt of the accomplishment of the Angel’s promise.
Three very considerable proofs may be adduced of their ardent love for God: the sanctity of their manners and the purity of their life, which, says St. Jerome, was simple, innocent and upright before God, and irreproachable before men; their great charity for their neighbor which is the just measure of one’s love for God, since if we have little for the one, we have little for the other. If charity for our neighbor dwells not in our heart, neither does love of God dwell there: “If any man say I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar” (1 Jn. 4:20). Finally, their love for God led them to deprive themselves of their well beloved Child, their sole glory, treasure, consolation, all their delight.
All this they gave to the Divine Majesty in her person, and that, moreover, when she was but three years of age. It is true that they had made a vow to this effect, but they might have kept her many more years with them, and accomplished their vow later.
As for their charity towards their neighbor, St. Jerome testifies to it in a singular manner; also to their perfect detachment from the things of this world, which the generality of men idolize. They divided their revenue into three parts. The first part was apportioned to the ministers of the Temple; the second, to assist the poor, to provide for pilgrims and to succor the afflicted; the third part they devoted to their own needs and wants.
If you would judge of their piety and devotion, behold its admirable fruit, this marvelous Child. For Blessed Andrew of Jerusalem declares that the ordinary exercise of St. Anne was prayer, and that she offered to God many vows and sacrifices. St. Epiphanius says as much of St. Joachim, adding that the most holy Virgin was the reward of their devotion.
According to the words of the Son of God, humility is the measure of sanctity (Mt. 18:4). The very eminent sanctity of St. Joachim and St. Anne, then, is conclusive proof that their humility was profound.
Moreover, God elevated them to the sublime dignity of father and mother of the Queen of Heaven, and grandparents of the sovereign Monarch of the universe. This is another infallible proof of their wonderful humility, since Divine Majesty exalts only the humble, and that in proportion to their self-abasement: “Qui se humiliat exaltabitur.”
Again, the opprobrium and confusion which their barrenness had brought upon them during the space of twenty years, had very much fortified and augmented their humility.
Add to this that God, having chosen St. Joachim and St. Anne to be the grandparents of the King of the lowly and parents of the most humble of all creatures, it is but natural to expect a considerable resemblance between the humility of the parents and that of the children.
Finally, the humility of the daughter is a very powerful proof of the humility of the father and mother, since the one is, in part, the effect of the other.
If we turn now to consider the abstinence of St. Joachim and St. Anne, we find a wonderful account given by St. Germain, Patriarch of Constantinople, who says that in order to obtain from God an answer to their prayer they fasted forty entire days, as Moses and Elias had done, (1) and their fast was accompanied by continual tears.
But especially was their chastity admirable. For St. Vincent Ferrer remarks, that as soon as the barrenness of St. Anne was made known to them (2) they deprived themselves entirely of the privileges of marriage until they received from heaven a contrary command. The most sacred Virgin made this known one day to St Bridget.
In a word, St. Joachim and St. Anne excelled in all virtues, as is implied in the signification of their names Joachim meaning “the preparation of the Lord” and Anne, meaning, “grace.” It was suitable, says St. Peter Chrysologus, that the dwelling of Him Who is the Saint of Saints and Sanctity itself, should have been prepared a long time in advance, even in the person of the father and mother of her who was to conceive Him and give Him birth.
St. John Damascene, speaking of St. Joachim and St. Anne, writes thus:
O blessed couple, all the world is indebted to you, for it is by your means that it can offer to its Creator the most excellent gift possible, her who is worthy to be Mother of His only Son. O blessed Joachim, who hast merited to be father of the most holy Mother of God! O worthy womb of Anne, which formed, nourished and produced so holy and marvelous a fruit, which carried within it a living heaven more vast than all the heavens! O blessed breasts, which fed the nurse of Him Who nourishes the world! O miracle of miracles! O most prodigious of all marvels! O blessed Joachim and Anne, who, in living chastely and holily, have produced the treasure of virginity! (3)
Let St. Anne rejoice, and let her call together all the inhabitants of earth to rejoice with her that she has borne in her sterile womb the beginning of our reparation, and that she has nourished with her milk this fruit of all benediction. Let her invite to this public feast that venerable Anne, mother of Samuel, and let them be glad together because God has bestowed upon them similar favors though in a most unequal manner. Let her invite the chaste Sara and all the holy women of the Old Law who received a similar favor to participate in the joy of her admirable fecundity. Let all the mothers of the world hasten to honor this daughter and mother, and to bless Him Who has given fruitfulness to the barren.
Let all come, young and old, men and women, to render homage to this royal vine of David budding forth its most precious branch, and to venerate the sacred womb wherein was built the true Ark of the Covenant. O thrice-blessed holy Anne, worthy mother of the Mother of God, to have given to the world a daughter whose birth is admirable and is the harbinger of the world’s redemption! We are infinitely grateful to you and to your blessed spouse, St. Joachim, because we began to breathe the air of celestial hope at the rising of that beautiful orb of day in whom and by whom we offer you most humble thanks for the favors we have received from God through you, with the desire to honor you all our lives as much as we are able. (4)
Here is detailed a part of that sanctity which God bestowed upon those to whom He confided a treasure of inestimable holiness in the person of the most sacred Virgin, well-beloved and only daughter of St. Joachim and St. Anne.
Who can measure the love and gratitude of this most blessed Child towards her holy parents, and how greatly true devotion to them pleases her? Let us, then, honor them with particular affection, remembering the great obligations we have towards them, in common with all other creatures, and even with the Creator Himself, if we may so speak. For St. Joachim and St. Anne have given to the Eternal Father His well-beloved and only Daughter. They have given to the Son His most holy Mother and to the Holy Spirit His most pure Spouse; to the Adorable Trinity a most august Temple; to the Angels a Queen; to men a Sovereign; to Christians a Mother; to the afflicted, to widows and orphans, a Protectress; to sinners an Advocate; and to all the universe a Reparatrix. May heaven and earth, men and Angels, the Creator and all creatures bless you eternally and praise you unceasingly, O admirable St. Joachim, O marvelous St. Anne, for having given us this incomparable Child, who bears within her the richest treasures of heaven and earth.
The preceding excerpt is taken from St. John Eudes, The Wondrous Childhood of the Most Holy Mother of God, Second Part, Chapter 3, and edited by the Order of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary, at www.heartsofjesusandmary.org. The Order of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary is a contemplative community of lay and religious dedicated to serving the Hearts of Jesus and Mary through Eucharistic Adoration, contemplation, and corporal works of mercy.
(1) “Cum esset solus (Joachim) in monte et jejunaret quadraginta dies, eadem a Deo supplex petebat.” Orat. de Presen. B. V.
(2) Serm. 2 de Nat. B. V.
(3) “Opar beatum Joachim et Anna! Vobis omnis creatura obstricta est. Per vos enim donum omnium donorum praestantissimum Creatori obtulit, nempe castam Matrem, quae sola Creatore digna erat. O beatum Joachim, qui sanctissimae Dei Genitricis pater effici meruit! O praeclaram Annae vulvam, in quae tacitis accrementis ex ea auctus atque formatus fuit faetus sanctissimus! O uterum, in quo animatum caelum caelorum latitudine latius conceptum fuit! O ubera ejus lactantia nutricem a quo mundus alitur! O miraculorum miracula, et rerum admirabilium res maxime mirabiles! O beatum par Joachim et Anna, immaculatum prorsus! Casta enim et sancta conversatione vestra Virginitatis monile protulistis.” S. Joan. Damasc., Orat. 1. De Nat. B. V.
(4) S. Joan. Damasc., Orat. 2, de Nat. B. V. Cf. Off. S. Annae in Brev. Rom., 26 Julii in 2 Noct.