26 JULY – PARENTS’ DAY UNIVERSAL
By Ladislaus L D’Souza
The gospels do not mention the parents of Our Lady and, so, not much is known about them. But the Proto-Gospel of Saint James, dating back to the middle of the second century, names them as Anna—or Hannah which means “grace”—and Joachim, denoting “Yahweh saves” and implying that their daughter Mary was born in answer to fervent prayer after a long childless marriage.
Faith lineage – Saints Anne and Joachim came from a stock that rose from the faith of Abraham, a people formed by Moses and whose Exodus experience is steeped in a thirst for knowing God’s face. Anne is glorious among the saints because it was in her that the Immaculate Conception per se came to be enshrined—Mary was conceived in her womb without the stain of original sin so as to be a receptacle fit for the indwelling of God’s own Son. Mary having become the Mother of God, Anne was in effect the “grandmother” of the Messiah. France and Canada have two of the most popular shrines in the world honouring her, viz. Saint Anne d’Auray in Britanny, and Saint Anne de Beaupre near Quebec. There is also a church named after her in Jerusalem, believably built on the site of the very home she and Joachim lived in.
The observance of the individual feasts of Saint Anne and of Saint Joachim is of ancient origin in the Eastern Church (4th century). However, in bringing Mary to the temple at the age of three years and dedicating her to the service of God in fulfilment of their promise, her parents do come across as perfect role models of fidelity, diligence, piety and modesty for Christian parents of every age and culture. Indeed, by 1585, this single event itself came to be seen as so important that Pope Sixtus V made the feast of the Presentation of Mary (21 November) a liturgical observance in the Western Church. The strong character of Mary as seen in her decision making, her steadfastness in the face of crises, her practice of continuous prayer, her devotion to the laws of her Jewish faith, her concern for others are all indicative of the close-knit, loving and God-fearing family upbringing she had had—undeniably, an upbringing that facilitated her “fiat”, setting in motion God’s plan of Salvation for all humankind.
A salubrious change – Time was when 26 July marked the feast of Saint Anne alone, celebrating “Mother’s Day”, until it came to be observed as Parents’ Day by the Church, celebrating the memory of Saints Anne and Joachim as patrons of all Catholic parents, and with good reason too. Today more than ever, given the testing times Christian marriage and the family are going through, this feast, on the one hand, reminds parents and grandparents of their responsibility to keep alive the practice of traditional human values as a promise of hope for future generations; on the other, it reminds the young that the greater perspective of the old, their depth of experience and understanding of life’s profound rhythms are all part of wisdom not to be ignored or even taken for granted.
Unacceptably, however, though over the years, our parishes have been celebrating the feast in various ways, the emphasis given to that day is no match for that given to Mother’s Day (May) and Father’s Day (June), be it on the social circuit or in Church circles. Special cards and gifts marking Mother’s Day and Father’s Day flood the market, Celebrants at Mass as well as Catholic periodicals extolling the virtues of a good father or mother.
We have Catholic-run publishing houses, presses and book-stores across the country bringing out greeting cards for all occasions, and gala Christmas-card sales organized for charity in our parish-church compounds; but not a single greeting card celebrating Parents’ Day is available even in Catholic-run stores or parish book-stalls!
Christian Marriage – Married love particularly reveals its true nature and nobility when we realize that it takes its origin from God, who “is love,” the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” That is the Christian perspective of marriage as outlined in Humanae Vitae 8 (1968). And yet, with each passing year, mixed marriages – many of which do not conform to the Church’s viewpoint – have begun to emerge more as the norm rather than an exception. Saint Paul exhorts children thus: “Honour your father and mother….. so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth” [Ephesians 6:2-3]. But how can the modern child really ‘honour’ his/her parents when single parenthood continues gaining ground even as live-in relationships that obviously exclude responsible parenthood not merely continue to thrive but are being increasingly glorified? In such relationships, the parties concerned seem least bothered about what the dictionary terms their progeny while the children themselves grow up with a warped understanding of marriage and family values. Further, with government notifications ensuring that a live-in partner is to be treated on par with the wife, courts affirming that sexual relations make a couple husband and wife and, worse, certain families and individuals consciously encouraging their married children/siblings/friends in their extra-marital alliances, the twin institution of marriage and the family is clearly under serious threat.
As responsible human persons and as baptized members of the Mystical Body of Christ, both as individuals and as a community, what is our response?
A possible solution – The Church, both in India and universally, must needs get into top gear on the issue. And so I suggest that every diocese –
1. Have a Parish-church dedicated to Saints Anne AND Joachim. In fact, practically every diocese is known to have a Church dedicated to Saint Anne [Bombay has two, one at Mazgon and the other at Bandra], but none to Saint Joachim. In every diocese we have parish units striving to build new churches subsequent to becoming full-fledged parishes, as also parishes working towards rebuilding theirs on account of wear and tear or lack of space, each dedicated to some saint or other. At least one of these could be dedicated to the patrons of our parents. If that’s not possible, any parish-church named after Saint Anne could well be re-dedicated to Saints Anne and Joachim.
2. Obtain from the Vatican the privilege of a special indulgence for parents visiting such a church as a married couple annually [or at least once in their lifetime] to place their marriage and family under the patronage of Saints Anne and Joachim. Here, it would be pertinent to bear in mind that, though nothing much may be known about these holy individuals, to them goes the credit of giving their only child an upbringing that made her “fiat” possible, thus setting into motion God’s plan of salvation for all humankind.
3. Dissociate itself from the observance of both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, discouraging parishes and clergy from even making mention of the day’s observance. Instead, make appropriate use of Parents’ Day to expostulate on the qualities of a good father and mother.
4. Have seminars/rallies organized at diocesan/deanery/parish level/s throughout the month of July on topics such as CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE & THE FAMILY, CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE & CHRISTIAN PARENTHOOD, CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE & SOCIETY, RESPONSIBLE PARENTHOOD, THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY & SOCIAL ETHICS, CATHOLIC MARRIAGE – THE CHURCH’S MIND and so on.
In conclusion, it may be pointed out that the above recommendations in no way purport to be a panacea for all ills concerning marriage and the family. But there’s no gainsaying the fact that the message the consideration given to those recommendations sends out is a highly positive one.