Deus avia: a pastoral letter on the Feast of St Anne 2013

A.M.D.G.
S. Annae Matris B.M.V.

Carissimi,

Jesus, Mary & Anna
Jesus, Mary & Anna

“…God’s granny” is the affectionate colloquial term used by devotee’s of today’s saint, St Anne and follows a certain, perhaps over familial but logical consequence resulting from the decree of the  Council of Ephesus in 431 of Mary as “Theotokos” i.e. the “Mother of God”. If Mary is “Mother of God” than the mother of Mary must be “God’s grandmother”!

According to the Protoevangelium of James (Christians whose tradition is only five hundred years old won’t be familiar with this work) generally attributed by scholarly consensus to the second century, the parents of Mary were Anna (anglicised to Anne) and Joachim. Though other members of Mary’s family are mentioned in the canonical Gospels, (e.g. her cousin, Elizabeth Lk 1:36, 39-40) the early date of the Protoevangelium of James and the fact that Mary was well known among the early Christian community in Jerusalem (Acts 1:14), has generally lent some authenticity to this tradition concerning Mary’s parentage and childhood and the work was very nearly included in the later codified New Testament canon (mid-4th Century).

Though the idea of “God’s granny” may perhaps be a little too “cutesy” for some, and the concept of God having a grandmother too difficult for others to comprehend without the  “Incarnationis Mysterium”, the tradition has helped many saints over the centuries develop a personal affinity to Our Lord through His earthly holy family. Afterall, we can relate to and more easily appreciate those things about which we are ourselves familiar, and the notion of family is certainly something the majority of us can relate to (sadly, even if our families themselves have been lacking in cohesiveness let alone holiness). Afterall, are we not by virtue of our baptisms, called “children of God” (John 1:11-13), “sharers in the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), “co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:14-17)?

All this refers to our “divinisation” which was the purpose of a) our existence and b) our salvation through Christ. For we are (humanity was) created by God to “know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world, and be happy with Him forever in the next” as our Penny Catechism once taught us. Though “made in the image and likeness of God” we lost our corporeal immortality which God had first intended for us when He made the world, through the disobedience of Adam and Eve and so sin, which is a “deliberative will” (θέλημα γνωμικόν) in opposition to the “natural will” (θέλημα φυσικόν) created by God, necessitates our salvation and affects our reconciliation with God. As St. Justin Martyr tells us “[Men] were made like God, free from suffering and death, provided that they kept His commandments, and were deemed deserving of the name of His sons, and yet they, becoming like Adam and Eve, work out death for themselves; let the interpretation of the Psalm be held just as you wish, yet thereby it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming “gods,” and of having power to become sons of the Highest.” [“the Psalm”, 82:1-7]  But as the Penny Catechism says, “Our Saviour suffered to atone for our sins, and to purchase for us eternal life.” The manifestation of God’s love for us in Christ through His salvation on the Cross not only “restores” creation but “reconciles” us spiritually to God our Father, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!” (1 John 3:1) and ultimately restores our corporeal immortality (i.e. “the resurrection of the body”) for the “life of the world to come” (the Creed) as the apostle Paul declares: “If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor. 15:13–18).

As various of the Church Fathers attest, the Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”: St. Irenaeus of Lyons “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” St. Athanasius of Alexandria “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” St. Clement of Alexandria “The Word of God became man, that thou mayest learn from man how man may become God.” St. Cyril of Alexandria says that humankind “are called ‘temples of God’ and indeed ‘gods’, and so we are.” St. Gregory of Nazianzus implores humankind to “become gods for (God’s) sake, since (God) became man for our sake.” St. Basil of Caesarea stated that “becoming a god is the highest goal of all.” and St. Thomas Aquinas “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

So this title of affection for the “mother of the Mother of God”, reminds us that our Christian faith is “incarnational” i.e. focusing on Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, God made man, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity (Phil. 2:8). It reminds us that Jesus was human – as we are – and as a human He had a family – just as we do. The great claim of our Faith is that Jesus was not just a man but was also God and that we too may become like Him.  One of the great differences between the Christian Faith and other religions is that God in Christ interacted deliberately in our existence, in our timeline; that God is not “remote” and “aloof” and “disdainful” of His creation but rather so loves what He created that He desires us to be one with Him (cf John 3:16) and became one of us. Jesus was a real person, situated in a particular time and place and social environment, as various independent and objective historical sources aside from the sacred writings of the Christians of the Apostolic era attest. The remembrance then of “God’s granny” reminds us of this incarnational truth about Jesus and that we too are indeed God’s children through His baptism, and thus have “received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)

As the “family” of God then, united as we are to Jesus through our baptism and to the saints who’ve gone before us in the “communion of saints”, let us “keep the feast” and honour another who, like us, was created to serve and love God and in so doing played her part in the history of the world’s salvation. For those of us with fond affection for our own grandmother’s, let us take inspiration in the knowledge of the love that Jesus must surely have had for His grandmother and in like fashion, and in obedience to His Divine Will, let us so honour our own grandparents as we do our parents and ultimately our Father in heaven. That we may each play our part in the salvation of the world, through loving discernment and respectful acquiescence of our own individual vocations to realise God’s desire for us to live in love and union with Him for eternity.

Sancta Anna, ora pro nobis.

‡Jerome OSJV

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