Homily for the Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne

During the Novena of Blessed Solanus Casey

St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit

Edward Foley, Capuchin


Today is undoubtedly a happy convergence of feast and novena

         Traditions ancient and modern

         historic saints  and our own Blessed Solanus


This happy convergence is not simply about sanctity, however,

         But also about family as the original home for holiness

         What we properly understand as the “domestic church”


         The challenge in this convergence, of course,

         Is to avoid romanticizing either holiness or family


         Such romanticizing is possible because we know virtually nothing

                  About Sts. Joachim and Anne

                  Who are not mentioned in the bible …

         But only in the apocryphal gospel of James

                  That tells the tale of Mary’s miraculous birth

                           to a wealthy but infertile couple

                  Punctuated by stories of visiting angels

                           Miraculous feedings

                  Mary’s early dedication to the Lord in the Temple

                  even the child dancing on the steps of the altar

                  And ultimately Joseph being given Mary as his betrothed

                            by the priests of the temple


This is pretty heady stuff,

         Lovely legends of God’s generosity to an elderly couple

                  Yearning for a child

         Of Mary marked from her conception

                  As beloved of God

         And of her being universally loved


For most families, however,

         There are few such miraculous interventions

                  Visiting angels

         Or toddler’s dancing either on the altar steps of the Vatican

                  Or even the local cathedral


         Rather, as even celibates know,

                  families are certainly places of love - often tough love

                  but also emotional and financial struggle

                  Broken heartedness, conflict and even acrimony.


         Well known liturgical composer, Rory Cooney

                  Once wrote a musical based on the story of the Prodigal Son

                  with the lyric:

                           Living with children never is easy

                           Child in a wink goes from baby to beast

                           That’s why some people decide to stay single

                           That’s why some people decide to be priests.


Since we have no history but only legends about Sts. Joachim &  Anne

         We do not know what joys and sorrows filled their lives

         We do not know if they had other children besides Mary

                  Who may have survived infancy

                  Which was a daunting task in those days


         We don’t know of their shock and shame

                  When they discovered that their daughter was pregnant

                  Before her marriage to Joseph was complete


                  We don’t know the level of their anxiety and grief

                  When Herod murdered the innocents

                  And their new grandson was whisked away

                           Across a border to a distant land


                  We do not know if they lived to hear

                           Of the death of their son-in-law Joseph

                           Or the execution of their great nephew John the Baptist

                           Or even of the execution of their beloved grandson


         When Jesus is presented in the temple shortly after his birth

         Simeon tells his mother “your own heart a sword shall pierce”

                  Maybe better translated as

                  “And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart."


                  Grandparents similarly suffer

                           When their children and grandchildren suffer

                  How many swords pierced the hearts of Anne and Joachim?


In this preparatory time before the feast of Blessed Solanus

         We call to mind all of the families who have come to Solanus

                  Both in his early life and after his heavenly ascent

         Asking him to intercede

                  To bring calm, and reconciliation and healing and peace


         The number of request is almost overwhelming

                  since January of this year alone over 80,000 requests

                  To God’s own porter …

                  Asking him to open the door to God just a little wider


How many parents or grandparents

         Have sought his intercession on behalf of their beloved

         And sometimes, they report healing and new life emerge

                  But not always …

         And undoubtedly some of the miracles

                  Are the steadfastness of those families

                  Who do not experience the gift for which they long.


I once asked Fr. Larry Webber,

         former vice-postulators with Br. Richard for the cause

         What his favorite story was about Solanus and Family.

         He wrote this to me in an email:


When I would direct tours at the center I would often stop at the large portrait of the family [in the museum] and point out all the cases of suffering in it. There were two younger sisters of Solanus who are not in the picture because they died of diphtheria when they were young, [an ailment] which [also] left Solanus with a high squeaky voice. There is also his brother Maurice who wanted to be a priest and was at first not successful with the studies, and later enter the Capuchins, which also did not work out. Later he was accepted by the Saint Cloud Minnesota Diocese. He apparently suffered from depression or some other kind of difficulty and for a time … was institutionalized….

There are also his two brothers … prominent lawyers…. One of them who worked as a lawyer for some bootleggers was charged by the US Attorney, but his other brother lawyer, fought it all the way to the Supreme Court and won.  Later, he was given a Presidential pardon by President McKinley. On the way to pick up the copy of the pardon the two brothers were killed in a car accident.

Fr. Larry concluded: I thought the reason Solanus could be so patient and compassionate with all who came to him with suffering was because he had known so much suffering in his own family. 


         Solanus’ experience of suffering in his own domestic church

                  Helped create that sacred heart

                  For the wider church and society

                  That constantly came to his door


Fr. Gregory Boyle is a Jesuit priest who founded homeboy industries

         Largest gang intervention & rehabilitation project in the world

         Our own “On the Rise Bakery” was inspired by his work in LA


         A pivotal idea for Fr. Boyle is what he calls kinship

         Which he believes is the connection God wills for all

                    the radical mutuality

                    necessary between all of God’s children


A favorite illustration of kinship by Fr. G, as the homey’s call him

         Is his encounter with Louie who had just turned 18.


G describes Louie’s as “kind of a difficult kid. He's exasperating. He's whiny.” He works in one of our shops, “although work may be too strong a verb,” G comments

It’s not unusual for the homeys to ask G for a blessing, saying "Hey, G, give me a bless, yeah?"  So, Louie, is talking to Fr. Boyle, complaining about something. Finally, he says, "Hey, G, give me a bless, yeah?"

“Sure,” G says.  So, Louie bows his head, and G puts his hands on his shoulder … and said

“You know, Louie, I'm proud to know you. My life is richer because you came into it. When you were born, the world became a better place. And I'm proud to call you my son, even though," — and he says, I don't know why I decided to add this part — "at times you can really be a huge pain in the [expletive deleted]."

Louie looks up at Fr. Boyle, smiles and says, "The feeling's mutual."

Then G comments: “And suddenly — kinship so quickly. You’re not sort of this delivery system [anymore],” G comments, “But maybe I returned him to himself, but there is no doubt that he’s returned me to myself”


On this feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim,

         In the shadow of the blessed

         we are invited to embrace the unexpected miracles

                  Of imperfect families where God’s spirit still dwells

                  Of suffering families where hope nonetheless thrives

                  Of diminished families where charity yet abounds


         But we are also called to enact the everyday miracle of kinship

         To answer in our living the question Jesus poses in today’s gospel

                  About who are our parents and sisters and brothers


         Solanus answered that question eloquently

         In his door opening, people embracing, family extending way


         We are called to do the same

         through Christ our Lord.  Amen.