Although not mentioned in the bible, Catholic tradition holds that Saint Anne and Saint Joachim were parents of the Blessed Mother, the pure and holy vessel that brought Jesus, their grandson, into a sinful world. Further stated is that they were a source of love and comfort to the family during his childhood. Were they there when he took his first steps? Did he race to dive into their arms when they visited? Did they tell him stories of prophets and kings from his rich Jewish culture? Did Joachim conspire with Joseph to surprise him with toys crafted of wood? I like to think they did all of those things. Jesus loved his grandparents!
The parish of my childhood honors Saint Anne with an annual nine day novena that concludes on her feast day, July 26th. The parishioner sponsored Society of Saint Anne welcomes all, as it has since 1940, collectively honoring the grandmother of Jesus and praying for members both living and deceased. An elegant gold and white satin banner bears the signature of each devotee. It is ceremoniously unfurled and carried in procession during a closing ritual that I have often attended.....
It is dusk, and candles in white paper cups flicker like wings of tiny angels. I stand silently with others; expectant. A murmur of prayer from the altar. The sanctifying rite of incense. Elevation of the ornately encased Saint Anne relic. A sweep of heraldry as the banner cascades into place. My maternal grandmother once placed her name upon that field, as did my mother and I. We will be included in petitions for God's mercy upon souls long after I, too, am gone.
I take my place in the procession as we exit, row by row. My voice is one of dozens, accompanied by haunting, timeless strains....
To kneel at thine altar in faith we draw near
Led onward by Mary, thine daughter so dear
Oh Good Saint Anne
We call on thine name,
Thy praises loud thine pilgrims proclaim
Miserere mei, Deus
We move outside now, into a neighborhood once solidly working class, but distinctively less so today. Along this same side walkway I hurried home from parish school, pleated plaid skirt flying. In season, jacket pockets full of chestnuts from the sheltering row of trees my own grandfather helped plant as a Lithuanian immigrant founding member of this congregation. If I dallied late to help Sister clean the chalkboards, I'd sometimes cross paths with furniture factory workers headed home on foot. Before massive wooden doors of the church, they'd pause, lunch pails in hand, to reverently remove a hat and offer a respectful bow. "Within these walls, my Lord dwells." My father and grandfather would have done the same thing. Perhaps that is why I am always happiest here. This is my home. My heritage.
Back within shelter, I reclaim my pew - my favorite. The one I occupied the year a guest priest, a vivacious young Nigerian, delivered a homily that changed my life. "Jesus is your brother, no?" he challenged. "Well then, Saint Anne is your grandmother too!" Hmmm. I had never thought of her that way. "Who," he continued, with a distinct twinkle in his eye, "has ever been turned away by a grandmother for anything they've asked for?" I liked that. It was true! "A novena is a petition," Father energetically concluded, "Go ahead! Ask your grandmother for whatever you want!" And so I did. "You are a grandmother, Saint Anne," I reasoned, "I want to be one too!" Well and good. But, I am not sure, even today, what prompted me to bolster my request with an addendum. Perhaps it was the urgency of Father's robust words that invigorated my plea. "Twins, please, Saint Anne! I want to be a grandmother of twins."
One year later, in late August, I greeted the first of my grandchildren. Twin boys. Additional babies followed, a total of eight today - a ninth on the way. Enough for everybody! That number includes twin sisters for the boys. Two sets! I'd only requested one! When the irreverently-crazy part of my brain is active and I contemplate the mounting number of Easter baskets and Christmas stockings I am now obliged to fill, I'm tempted to send a playful message to Saint Anne: "All right! Thank you! But you can stop now!" But of course, I won't. This is my grandmother we're talking about. She knows what I need. And, with approval from her divine grandson, she will always intercede for me. That, with all my heart, is what I believe.
To all who invoke thee, now lend us an ear
Thou soothest the sorrows of all who draw near