I know it’s been six days since the Feast of the Immaculate Conception but I’m going to write about it anyway. That’s because I learned a few things that day and I want to share them with you. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that, after being Catholic for a year and a half, I still thought the Immaculate Conception of Mary was when Jesus was immaculately conceived in Mary. When I discovered I was wrong, I learned I wasn’t alone – many cradle Catholics don’t know that it does not commemorate the immaculate conception of Jesus in Mary, which is actually the Annunciation, but, instead, the immaculate conception of Mary herself.
After Mass last Monday evening, I had a chance to talk to our Deacon. I asked him, “If Mary needed to be immaculately conceived to be the mother of Jesus, then did Mary’s mother need to be immaculately conceived to bear Mary?” He explained the difference between the two. With Jesus, Mary was a virgin and God was the father (Luke 1:35 – And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”). But, Mary was conceived in the normal human fashion by the union of her parents, St. Joachim (´Jō´·ə·kim) and St. Anne, but was made immaculate by God at the very moment of her conception.
On Tuesday, I happened to watch a video of the A Cappella group, Pentatonix, sing the Christmas song Mary Did You Know (written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, 1991). The song lyrics ask questions such as, “Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?”
Thinking about this, I took the question back one generation and wondered if Mary’s parents, Anne and Joachim, had any idea when their beautiful and pure daughter, Mary, was born that she would eventually give birth to the Son of God? Did Mary tell them about her encounter with the angel Gabriel and that she had given her fiat, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)? Did Anne and Joachim, along with Joseph, hide pregnant Mary in the village of Nazareth to protect her from their society’s custom of stoning? What influence did Anne and Joachim have upon Jesus as he grew from an infant into a young man?
I wanted to find out more about Joachim and Anne. I discovered that their names are not mentioned in the Bible and there is actually no concrete, historical evidence telling us about them, but what is believed was handed down as tradition with sufficient authority that the early Church accepted it as the truth.
One document that supports that tradition is the Gospel of James. While Church scholars accept that there may be parts of this infancy gospel (a story written to satisfy the desire of the early Christians to know more about the early life of Christ) which are true, they have established that it was written in the middle of the second century (c. AD 145) and, thus, was not inspired by God and is not completely reliable, or, as we say these days, “isn’t the gospel”.
Another document that supports the legend of Sts. Joachim and Anne being the parents of Mary is the book The Mystical City of God, written by a Spanish nun, the Venerable Mother Mary Jesus of Agreda (1602-1665). Sister Mary Jesus of Agreda received spiritual revelations from Our Lady about Herself and Jesus and then recorded them in her book. While The Mystical City of God is not biblical, and has often been disputed, it did, in 1949, receive the Imprimatur of the Church, declaring that the work is free from error in matters of Catholic doctrine and morals.
Both documents support that Mary was made immaculate by God immediately upon her conception. Because Sts. Joachim and Anne, after being married for twenty years and unable to bear children, had their prayers answered, they raised their daughter, Mary, as a consecrated temple virgin and she remained unstained and free of sin her entire life.
As for my questions, I can only speculate. But, there was a certain spiritual satisfaction in contemplating the answers.
I doubt Sts. Anne and Joachim had any idea when they discovered they were going to be parents that they would one day be the grandparents of the Lord. But, because they had longed for years to have a child, I’m sure they loved Mary immensely and nurtured her such that her destiny of one day being the Mother of God would be fulfilled.
I’m sure their faith in God helped them believe their daughter as she related to them her encounter with the angel Gabriel. And, I’m sure they were in wonder, if not fear, when Mary told them she had assented to bear the child who would “rule over the house of Jacob forever” (Luke 1: 33)
I imagine that in the town of Nazareth, a village of probably no more than a hundred or so people, many of whom were most likely related, it could have been difficult to hide the fact that Mary was pregnant. I’d bet there were some tense days and sleepless nights for a while as they discussed what to do.
I imagine that Mary loved, cared for, and nurtured Jesus by following the example set for her by her own parents.
And then, finally, I’m sure that the strength, courage, and will that Mary had to have to keep believing as she watched her son being crucified had to be a result of the strong faith instilled in her by her parents and further strengthened by the Holy Spirit.
I can only imagine what might have happened. But, there’s one thing I’m sure of: God had a plan from the beginning. In it, He cherry-picked all the players, beginning with Joachim and Anne, blessed them and filled them with His grace, and then sat back and watched them carry it out perfectly.
Today, two thousand years later, are we honoring, through thankful prayer, the execution of His wonderful plan and its ultimate, divine creation, our Lord, Jesus Christ?
“Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of Your Son, who, by the power of the Holy Spirit saved His own Mother from the stain of original sin and, thus, ensured she would join Him in Heaven, body and soul, at Your throne. I pray that, through my baptism and Your continuing grace, I may one day join Your family. Amen.”
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Norm Chiado said:
Jerry, I did not realize the meaning behind your post. I too thought it was the conception of Jesus.
Great to see you guys today. Norm
Jerry Robinson said:
Norm, you made my day! First, getting to see you this morning after so long was a great way to start my day. Then, hearing that you learned something from my ramblings was an added gift. This makes the time it takes to assemble my thoughts and then get then in print all worthwhile. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I hope to see you this Thursday. Congratulations on your promotion!
Jennifer B said:
Jerry I’m sure there are a lot of Catholics who are not understanding this concept also. Do not feel you are alone. The good news is that you did make that realization and not only that, took the time to do research on it! Congratulations on working hard on knowing your faith! You are in a minority. I’m sad to say I never took the time to do any research on this. You taught me today too. I didn’t know the documentation behind this belief. Maybe I will take the time to look them up!
Jerry Robinson said:
Jennifer, thank you for taking the time to comment. I do appreciate it. It seems there are many “gospels” and other writings which say the same thing, that Joachim and Anne were Mary’s parents, and give an account of how she was conceived without sin. But, it also seems that none of these were totally consistent with the books which were inspired by God and, therefore, have been disputed. The three or four chapters of The Mystical City of God that I read which had to do with Mary’s parents and her conception were interesting. The book is actually a couple thousand pages and I didn’t take time to read the whole thing. Maybe I will some day.
Like I told my friend, Norm, in my previous comment, it is always nice when something I write connects with someone else. Thank you for letting me know.
I hope your vacation at Disney World has been fun.
Ann Romero said:
Hello to all the Robinsons.
Jerry, how funny you should bring up the confusion about the Immaculate Conception just as John and I were talking about it. The lectionary doesn’t make the matter any easier since the Gospel is, in fact, NOT about the Immaculate Conception (no biblical accounts) but about the Incarnation! No wonder people are confused.
Re: Sts. Joachim and Anne (my own patron), I’ve always regretted the dearth of information about the backgrounds not only of the members of the extended Holy Family but about people like St. John the Baptist as well. Wouldn’t you love to know what his childhood was like–when did he know he was “the one” to be the prophet of the Messiah, how did he get to be a sort of hippie-prophet? Anyway, it’s fun to make up our own stories, since we don’t have any facts.
i imagine you’re all the more interested in grand-parenting since you’ve become a lucky member of that happy set yourself. Merry Christmas to all the Robinsons, both grown-up and small. Love to the girls and to Melinda,
Jerry Robinson said:
Thank you once again for your comments. Yes, it can be confusing, but I’m learning! Even considering the diference and timing of the Annunciation versus the Incarnation. I can’t tell for sure but the way I see it is the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she was the one chosen by God to bear Jesus, came first, and the Incarnation, God becoming human at the moment of “conception” in Mary’s womb, came second, possibly within seconds of the first.
Yes, it is fun to imagine how it would have been to have lived then and what some of the people would have been like. I like your description of John the Baptist as the “hippie-Prophet”. I think that suits him well.
If you’re interested, give our friend Catherine Townsend a call and ask to borrow the “Christmas Stories” CD I gave her last year. It is by a songwriter I like, Jason Gray, and he has written some marvelous songs for Christmas from the points of view of various players in the Nativity story: the innkeeper, the shepherds, Joseph, and the wise men. The lyrics are fabulous and I like his vocal style, too. Prepare to see another post soon along these lines.
We will be seeing that new granddaughter of ours this Saturday. Can’t wait! Then, over New Year’s, we plan on being present for the birth of our first grandson. Life is a changin’.
Please give our best to John and the rest of the family. Prayers that all will be well for your new grandbaby, as well. Wishing you a blessed and Merry Christmas, with love I am
Yours in Christ,