Not Without Suffering.

July 26 is the Catholic feast day of Saints Joachim and Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Not a whole lot is known about them except what’s mentioned in the protoevangelium of James (which I think is that funky gospel where a teenaged Jesus pushes some kid off a roof, killing him, and then raising him up again.  Practice for Lazarus, maybe?).  They’re also mentioned in the Koran, which is exciting, revered for their holiness and their standing as the grandparents of Jesus.

According to what little there is out there about them, Joachim and Anne are special for two reasons: one, Anne was barren for a very long time; and two, for how they raised Mary.  The barrenness issue is interesting because Anne has good company with many women in the Scriptures who were (Sarah, Abraham’s wife; Hannah, Samuel’s mother; and Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, just to name a few).  Desperate for children, Joachim and Anne pray to God, who, after a very long time, blesses them with their daughter, Mary.

The very long time is important here because it underlines the very basic idea that once we pray for something, the answer is usually pretty slow-coming.  It’s for the good of the pray-ee, sure, but that’s because something really interesting happens in the time between we pray and the time the prayer is answered.  It’s called waiting.

That wait can be highly excruciating, punctuated by moments of worry, doubt, and even despair.  A wait for a test result, maybe.  A wait to conceive a child.  A wait during a long and arduous adoption process.  A wait to hear about a job offer.  A wait to see if the college accepted you.  A wait to see if a miracle will happen and the one you love who is sick will get better after all, and very soon.

Because the wait never comes without suffering.  And that suffering is what refines us, what makes us holy.  I’m 100% convinced that no one on earth becomes holy without it, and I’m so sure of it because that’s what Jesus showed us.  He knew that without that cross, there’d be no crown (ugh, what a pithy saying!).  But you get the point: He knew that He’d have to go through all of that pain to get to the other side.  There was no way around it.  So what did He do? Grit His teeth, bore it, and waited.

So Joachim and Anne joined the many stars in God’s sky who had to wait, and they were eventually blessed.  But notice who comes from such waiting when you hear about stories of barrenness in the Bible: prophets.  Extremely holy people.  God’s chosen.  Samuel, one of the greats.  John the Baptist, one of the greats.  Mary, the greatest of all.

Make no mistake: waiting sucks, especially when it’s a painful wait and every distraction you try doesn’t work.  But good, especially when seen through the prism of God and His gift of holiness, comes from waiting.

Joachim and Anne also are honored in the Church today for their parental skills in how they raised their daughter, who was eventually to become the Mother of God.  Sure, they had some help in that Mary was chosen to be kept sinless throughout her life (shoot, who wouldn’t want to raise a sinless kid? Sign me up!) but I’m sure the way they lived as parents -full of gratitude, hope, and love – would make good models for any parent in this present day.

I don’t even have kids, but I’m pretty sure about that.

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