On November 21, the Church celebrates the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple. According to Tradition, when Ss. Joachim and Anna were praying for a child, they vowed to dedicate that child to the service of God. Their prayers were answered, and, when Mary turned three, her parents fulfilled their vow by sending her to the Temple in a joyous procession. There, an astonishing event took place: the high priest, by divine inspiration, led the young child into the holy of holies, a place where only the high priest would enter and he only once a year to offer a sacrifice of blood. From that time until when she was betrothed to Joseph as a young maiden, the Virgin Mary lived in the Temple, reading Scripture, weaving for the Temple, and praying constantly.
I approach this feast first as the father of young children, but I think the lessons of the feast speak to all of us. As a father, what jumps at me from this story is that Ss. Joachim and Anna escorted their daughter to the temple in a joyous procession. Dedicating her to God, even at such a young age, was something in which they rejoiced. The most important thing for them in regard to their daughter was that she grow up knowing God and serving Him. This is a particularly important lesson for parents today when research shows that 60% of college students fall away from church. What would that percentage be like, if we structured our children’s priorities as Ss. Joachim and Anna had?
The attitude of the “forefathers of God,” as Ss. Joachim and Anna are known, towards the Theotokos has its roots in their own dedication to God. We are told that they gave one third of their income to the poor and one third to the Temple, and we remember that the conception of the Theotokos was itself a miracle, a fruit of the faith and prayer of the saints who, at the time, had been married fifty years.
The whole story of Ss. Joachim and Anna is one of patience, perseverance, and, most importantly, faith. Throughout their lives, but especially in their relationship with their daughter, from her conception to her entrance into the Temple, the two saints were excellent examples of what Christ would later preach: seek first the kingdom of heaven. They did that in their lives, and they guided their daughter, who would surpass them, on the same path.
In the end, isn’t this the desire of all faithful people for their loved ones, that they would come to know God, find His peace and joy, and be with Him forever in His kingdom? I began by saying that I approach this first as a father. As I look at my children, I pray that their faith will be stronger than mine, but I know my faith is reflected in theirs, and therefore I need to tend to my faith not just for my sake, but for theirs. The beautiful part of this is that faith applied in one’s life affects more than just children; it affects everything and everyone around that person. By living our faith, we bring sanctification to those around us—family, friends, neighbors, coworkers—and we help them, too, on the journey of salvation.
May we strive to follow the example of Ss. Joachim and Anna and seek first the kingdom of heaven, for our salvation and for the salvation of those around us.
With love in Christ,