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September 8, 2014

The feast of the Nativity of Mary, celebrated Sept. 8, is a minor Marian feast on the liturgical calendar. Even lower on the priority list is the Nov. 21 celebration of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple.

There is no biblical mention of either of these events, even less so of the belief that Mary had parents named Joachim and Anne who are recognized as saints with their own feast (June 26).

Nevertheless, there they are – we do celebrate them because, in their own way, they give glory not so much to Mary, but to her son Jesus.

Although the historical warrant for these feasts comes from an apocryphal book, the Protoevangelium of James, Mary obviously was born and she did have parents. The story of her presentation in the Temple also comes from the Protoevangelium, although its historical authenticity is questionable.

The birth of Mary, located in the calendar nine months after the feast of the Immaculate Conception, is surely worth celebrating. Part of the Incarnation of the Son of God is that he was born of a woman and that that woman nourished Jesus with her own body and spirit.

Jesus' bodily nature is not a secondary aspect of his identity; it is essential to his act of redemption – liberating us from our sins and, through the Holy Spirit, enabling us to share in the life of God.

This all points to the fact that, even before the Annunciation, God had written his word of truth on Mary's soul. She was not only spared original sin, but she was filled with holiness so that she might be a fitting mother for the Saviour.

So also with Joachim and Anne. It is reasonable to assume that Mary's parents were made holy by God in order to raise Mary in holiness.

Further, although Western society today tends to see the family as the nuclear family, traditional cultures saw the family as extended, with grandparents essential and intrinsic to the life of the family.

Mary is shown with Sts. Joachim and Anne in this painting in Augustinus church in Vienna.

Mary is shown with Sts. Joachim and Anne in this painting in Augustinus church in Vienna.

Hence, the feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim is esteemed by First Nations people for whom especially the grandmother plays such an important role. That the great aboriginal pilgrimage in the Canadian West is for the feast of St. Anne is no historical accident.

MESSAGES FROM ANGELS

The Protoevangelium tells us that Joachim and Anne were wealthy, but childless. Their childlessness meant not only personal disappointment, but also social rejection. But then angels appeared to each of them separately to say that they would be the parents of a child who would become known throughout the world.

One hymn in the Eastern Church for the Nativity of Mary proclaims, "Joachim's offerings shall no more be rejected, for the tears of Anne have now been turned to joy."

After Mary's birth, she remained at home until she was three when her parents took her to the Temple. Mary ran into the Temple, without looking back at her parents, and remained there until she was 12. (You can read the entire Protoevangelium at www.newadvent.org/fathers/0847.htm.)

In a 2007 homily on the Nativity of Mary, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of how Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, Mary and Joseph, the Twelve and many others had "expectant hearts." They longed for something greater than what their society was providing. It was their expectant hearts that enabled them to recognize Jesus as the one whom God had sent.

It is an open and restless heart that enables one to seek truth and to refuse to accept today's mythologies of despair which claim there is no ultimate truth.

CAPACITY FOR TRUTH

"Our faith is decisively opposed to the attitude of resignation that considers man incapable of truth – as if this were more than he could cope with," Pope Benedict said.

"This attitude of resignation with regard to truth," he continued, "lies at the heart of the crisis of the West."

Those today who seek truth turn to Mary and say, "Show us Jesus." It is Mary who enables us to gaze upon the face of the Lord.

SILENT BIRTH

Just as we honour Mary for nourishing the Son of God, so too Mary turns toward us to show us her son. Her birth, crucial as it was for the Incarnation, drew no worldly attention. In the annals of written history, it is silent and unknown.

Yet, in the midst of these silent, hidden events God's transforming power and truth make their way into our lives. Mary invites us to avoid resignation and find joy by discovering that hidden truth revealed through Jesus.