Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Memorial of Saints Ann and Joachim

Memorial of Saints Ann and Joachim 
Sir 44:1, 10-15
Ps 131
Mt 13:16-17

If nature abhors a vacuum, human nature feels even more strongly about it,  particularly when the vacuum involves our history.  If there is insufficient historical data, humans will attempt to fill in the cracks with best guesses or complete fabrications.  Thus we have genealogy, anthropology, historical fiction, much of theology, tradition and, more often than anyone is willing to admit, bizarre delusional projections.  At times an iota of truth is inflated into a full-scale biography that is ultimately meaningless. 

Today’s memorial of Ann and Joachim, the parents of the Blessed Mother, is an example of no historical data or scriptural information being inflated into something it is not.  The iota of truth is that we know Mary had parents. That is all we know. 

Ann and Joachim were mentioned in the Protoevangelium of James, which is said to be fundamentally unreliable.  The writing about them is pious in the extreme.  It suggests that, like many couples in scripture, they were elderly and childless until, in their old age, they were blessed with a child.  Mary's parents were, are, always will be, and must remain anonymous.  Their anonymity is not a bad thing because it is an example of our human condition.  It allows us to identify with them. 

The anonymity of the parents of Mary allows us to identify with them because, with a few exceptions, we are all anonymous.  We will remain anonymous until death, the ultimate anonymity.  We are reminded of that in the first reading.  The King James Versions translates first verse of the reading from Ecclesiasticus or Sirach as:  “Let us now praise famous men. .”

This verse was the title of a 1941 book with photographs by Walker Evans and essays by James Agee.  The book documented the lives of three sharecropper families in the deep South.  The pictures ARE worth a thousand words while the text amplifies the images.  It is a painful and squirm-inducing book.  It illuminates the sharecroppers' anonymity and it illuminates our anonymity.  It emphasizes the anonymity of Ann and Joachim and the uncounted millions who, like us, saint and sinner alike, remain anonymous to all but God.   The book reminds us of our essential anonymity.

The anonymity does not mean that Agee’s and Walker’s subjects were without posterity or had no lasting influence.  It merely means that they lived and died unknown; just as we live anonymous lives and die; eventually forgotten except as a slab of granite with dates of birth, and death, and for Jesuits the date of entry into the Society, engraved on it. 

Thus, the question becomes one of posterity.  The reading goes on:  “Their offspring will last forever, their glory will not fade.”  How much more accurate a description of the parents of Mary is there?  Their glory has never faded.  Their glory never will fade.  We simply don’t know their names.
Pittsburgh is one city I wish I had the opportunity to visit more often.   Having grown up in Northeastern PA I never met anyone from Pittsburgh until I went to Penn State in 1968 where two of my three closest friends (still friends) were from the suburb of Penn Hills.  On that first day Paul asked if I wanted to go get a "pop."  OK, translate.  It seems that Penn State is the dividing line in PA.  Those to the east call it soda while those to the west call it pop.  Bostonians call it tonic but that is another blog entry. 

I was there visiting my lab partner from medical school with the camera in tow.  Mary Ann was very patient while I shot photos.  A few of them are below. 

The first two are views of downtown from the top of the Duquesne Incline which one approaches either by car up some hellacious hills or via a cable car that travels up a very steep set of tracks. 

We spent time at the Pittsburgh Zoo.  The polar bears were in a playful mood. 

 The Tin Angel Restaurant.  Liked the sign. 
If I call this one Tiny Bubbles in memory of Don Ho you will go around with that ear worm for the rest of the day.  Sorry. 

 Finally a chandelier in a restaurant. 
 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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