St. Anne, Mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary
St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin, was a native of Bethlehem, a city two miles distant from Jerusalem, frequently mentioned in Holy Writ. Having passed her youth in unstained purity, she was married to a man named Joachim, who was born at Nazareth in Galilee, with whom she lived in such love and harmony, and at the same time so piously, that one could justly say of them what St. Luke writes of Zachary and Elizabeth: “They were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord without blame.” They divided their income into three parts, the first of which was used for the honor of God and to adorn the Temple, the second to assist the poor, and the third for their own subsistence. They employed the day in prayer, work suitable to their station in life, and charitable deeds.
Their only grief was, that, although so long married, they had no issue; and a barren marriage was at that time considered a disgrace, nay almost a sign of a divine curse. Saddened by this sorrow, St. Anne, as well as her spouse, prayed with many sighs and tears, that God would take pity on them and remove the disgrace that was weighing them down. But when, after having prayed long and earnestly, they were not heard, they determined to bear patiently the will of the Almighty. As, however, St. Anne knew that God required continual prayer, and that He had not given to men a certain time to ask for grace, she ceased not to implore heaven with great confidence, for all that she believed was for His honor and her own salvation. Being one day in the Temple, she felt her distress so deeply, that she wept bitterly, but she remembered, at the same time, that there had been another Anne, spouse of Elcana, who had been afflicted as she was, but whose prayers God at last had answered, making her the mother of the great prophet Samuel. While thinking of this, she perceived in herself an invincible desire to beg the Lord for a like grace. Hence she repeated her prayer with earnest fervor, promising at the same time, that if God would grant her a child, she would consecrate it in the Temple to His divine service, as the above-mentioned Anne had done.
God answered the trusting, tearful prayer of His servant, and sent her, according to the opinion of the Holy Fathers, an angel, who announced to her that she would give birth to a child which, blessed among women, would become the mother of the long expected Saviour of the world. It is also believed that the angel told St. Anne the name which she should give to the blessed fruit of her womb. The same revelation was made to St. Joachim, and the happiness of both and their gratitude to the Almighty can be easily imagined. Their happiness was crowned when St. Anne gave birth to her who was elected by God from all eternity to become the mother of His only Son. Who can describe the joy with which Anne pressed her newborn child to her heart, or the solicitude and love with which she brought it up? The knowledge that her blessed daughter was chosen by God to so great a dignity was incentive enough to have nothing undone for her welfare. The mind of the blessed child was so far beyond her years, and her whole being so angelically innocent, that her education was an easy task, and St. Anne deemed herself the happiest mother in the world, because God had entrusted to her so priceless a child. The graces which, through the presence of the Blessed Virgin, she received from Heaven, cannot but have been innumerable. For if, in after times, the house of Elizabeth and Zachary was, by a visit from Mary, filled with heavenly blessings, who can doubt that St. Anne, who was the mother of the Blessed Virgin, was gifted with extraordinary graces?
Knowing, however, that Mary was not only a precious treasure lent her by heaven, but also had consecrated herself to the service of the Almighty, St. Anne did not fail to return to God what she had received from Him and to offer willingly what she had so willingly promised. Hardly had Mary reached the age of three years, when Anne and Joachim went with her to the temple at Jerusalem, and presenting her to the Priest, consecrated her through him to the Almighty. Nothing could have been more painful to the pious parents than to separate from so perfect a child; but as they were more zealous for the glory of God than for their own joy, even though it was so pious, they made this sacrifice without complaining. Thus Mary was received among the number of those who, under the direction of the priests, served God in the Temple, and were led in the path of virtue. After they had piously offered this agreeable sacrifice, the parents of the Blessed Virgin returned home, and spent the remainder of their days in good works, which were continued by St. Anne, when she became a widow by the death of her holy spouse. As she had been an example to the virgins before her marriage, as well as a perfect model of a wife, so also was she in her widowhood, a shining light, for all those qualities which St. Paul afterwards required of a Christian widow, in his first Epistle to Timothy. She went frequently to Jerusalem to see her holy daughter, and died, according to several authors, in the 79th year of her age. Mary, who at that time still lived in the temple, closed her eyes.
As one cannot give to the Blessed Virgin a higher title than to call her Mother of God, thus St. Anne cannot be more exalted than when she is called the mother of her who bore the Son of God. And for the very reason that she was chosen to be her mother, we must believe that the Almighty favored her here upon earth, with grace above all the Saints, and raised her to high glory in heaven. Hence we may rightly suppose, that her intercession with God is most powerful; and this is also testified by many examples.
When St. Anne perceived that, notwithstanding her many prayers, the Almighty gave her no issue, she submitted to His divine will, and bore her trial with patience. Thus also should Christian people act, when God proves them in a similar manner, for all He does is the best for them. He has His reasons for acting thus, and these reasons are just. Perhaps they would go to perdition if they had children, as many a parent sins greatly in regard to his children, and is condemned on their account. When St. Anne at length received from God what she had so constantly prayed for during many years, she gave due thanks to Him, educated her daughter piously, and early consecrated her to the service of Heaven. Thus should all Christian parents act. Their greatest care should be to teach their children early to serve God and bring them up for heaven. If one of their children has a calling for a religious life, they must not oppose it, nor, by any unrighteous means, keep the child from it. St. Anne deprived herself of the great comfort which her daughter’s presence gave her, when for the love of God, she consecrated her, by the hands of the priest, to the service of the Most High. Why shall not Christian parents do the same and willingly consecrate their child to God, to whom it belongs much more than to themselves? They may commit great sin, and may even draw upon themselves eternal condemnation, and may be the cause of their child’s destruction, if they oppose the divine call.
St. Anne prayed long, yet was not heard. She, however, complained not against God, but continued in her prayers with undiminished confidence until she at last received what she had asked. God has many reasons for not always hearing our prayers immediately. We sometimes pray when we are not in a state of grace; or we live in sin without repenting, or without the intention of bettering our life. In such cases, our prayers cannot be acceptable to God. We also sometimes pray without devotion and reverence. And can such a prayer have power? At another time, we pray only for things which God knows to be hurtful to us, although we may imagine that they are for our good. In such cases, God bestows a grace upon us by not hearing us. Often also the Almighty does not hear us, in punishment of our iniquities. We have so often offended Him, and have forfeited His grace, that we cannot reasonably expect that He should grant our request immediately. We have so frequently been deaf when God called to us; how can we ask that He should directly hear us? “What right have we,” asks St. Salvianus, “to complain, when God does not hear us, or, so to speak, despises our prayers when we have so often not listened to Him, and so frequently despised His laws? What is more just than that He should not listen to us, because we heard not Him, and that He should despise our prayers, as we did His laws?”
Further, God does not always hear us immediately, in order that we may pray more fervently and esteem so much more highly the favors He bestows. He does it also to try our patience and our trust in His mercy, or that we may be more deserving of His grace by continual prayers. Finally, besides other reasons, He may do it also to give us something better than we asked for. When all this is rightly considered, tell me, can you justly complain when the Almighty hears not your prayers immediately? Continue in them. Perform them in the right spirit, and you will experience the truth of the words of St. Bernard: “God either gives us what we ask, or something else, which is more useful to us.”
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.