Joachim and Anna – Redemption’s Turning Point

In my own journey from Protestant fundamentalism to the Catholic Church the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was a stumbling block. I understood the doctrine–that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived in the natural way, but by direct action of God was preserved from the stain of original sin. I also understood the reasoning for it and the dogma’s fittingness, but I didn’t see the necessity and didn’t much like the seemingly arbitrary nature of God’s intervention in the world.

The I read John MacQuarrie’s little book Mary for All Christians.  I had studied under MacQuarrie at Oxford and was sympathetic to his take on most things. As an Anglican theologian he was able to approach Catholic theological questions with a unique perspective. MacQuarrie acknowledges that the Blessed Virgin is often seen as the fulfillment of the longings and character of the Jewish people. The stories of all the holy women in the Old Testament are fulfilled and summarized in her. Her obedience reverses the disobedience of Eve and therefore the disobedience of the whole Jewish nation.

Another reason that she is the fulfillment and epitome of the Jewish nation is that, from the moment of the fall, God was working his purpose out within the Jewish people for the redemption of the whole human race. Step by step, day by day, through the vagaries of time, through the joys and sorrows within and through the history of the Jewish people progress was being made towards a turning point of human history. MacQuarrie speculates that through the Jewish people a development in righteousness and understanding was taking place. A refinement of the human race was occurring, and that this process reached its zenith in Joachim and Anna.

Here at last were two people who had reached the point of perfection through the gift of grace. Here were two people who, through generations of refinement and generations of God’s grace working in and through their ancestry, were brought to the point of human perfection, and when they came together as husband and wife the Blessed Virgin was conceived without the stain of original sin. This does not mean that God was not involved or that this was merely a human process of evolution. Instead, God was involved not just at the moment of her conception to ensure her preservation from original sin, but he was also involved in every step of the way bringing the Jewish people–particularly the ancestry of Joachim and Anna–to the turning point of perfection.

This helped me greatly not only to understand more deeply the profound implications of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, but to understand the importance of Joachim and Anna and how they represented, fulfilled and completed the turning point of God’s plan of redemption for mankind. More importantly, it helped me to see the comprehensiveness of God’s working in the world. He is bringing things to fulfillment, but he does so secretly–in and through each and every event in history. He uses the grand events, but more importantly he works behind the headlines. He works in the quiet sorrows and the private victories. He works through the simple act of obedience as much as the heroic act of holiness.

If this is so in the history of the world and the history of redemption, then it is also true of my life and yours. In every moment he is working his purpose out, and one day we will see how it all fits. At that point all will be harvest. All shall be reconciled. All will either be for the world’s redemption or for the universe’s loss.  With great sorrow some will see that their rejection of God has meant rejection of everything. For those who are damned all will be for their damnation–even the good they have done. But for those who accept the divine mercy all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. Then we shall see that the things we considered sins and sorrows will be revealed as growing points– steps towards our redemption for those who are saved all will be for their salvation–even those things they thought were worst shall be turned to good.


  • Michael Petek

    The reason why Mary must have been conceived without sin is that she is the Ark of the Covenant. The power of God overshadowed her and the glory of God – the Body of Christ – filled her womb. In an event which would have meant certain death for a sinner, the Divine Presence came into contact with her mortal human flesh and a new creation was made.

  • Lee Gilbert

    As true as your last sentence may be, it is an especially hard thought with which to end your marvelous essay. It practically overwhelms everything that went before and leaves one gulping and staring into the abyss. What would be lost by dropping it or switching the last two sentences? Forgive the unsolicited editorial advice, but I am thinking that you might have it see print at some point.

    That said, in the course of a recent visit to two Carmelite convents, one in California and the other in Pennsylvania, my wife and I unexpectedly and repeatedly encountered St. Anne- to whom we had never given a second thought before. For example, as the crowning nudge the nuns of Elysburg asked if we would carry a package for them to the nuns of Canyon, California. We did so, and discovered at journey’s end that we had been carrying a statue of St. Anne and the child Mary. We can take a hint, and so today are wrapping up a nine day novena to Sts. Joachim and Anne. It is wonderful at novena’s end to see this new devotion of ours given solid theological footing and to appreciate for the first time the place of Our Lord’s grandparents in salvation history. Thank you!

  • Jim

    If one understands the Story of the Burning Bush read in light of Proverbs 31, “The Psalm of the Queen Mother”, it is not difficult to see the Immaculate Conception. One need only to be prepared to understand the wordplay where a pearl of coral, pink white and blue, is compared to the Queen, and that this is the same as saying a pearl of a tree or a pearl of great price.

    Speaking from the Burning Tree of His Covenant, the Flame of His Love purified a place in the world for His Beloved Pearl of the Tree.

  • Brian Niemeier

    Excellent post, Father. I’m surprised I never came across MacQuarrie’s theory before. I love how it ties the Immaculate Conception into Israel’s role in salvation history.

  • Christian LeBlanc

    This CradleCat was raised on the I.C. It seemed no more exceptional than any other miracle. As an adult, seeing it through the eyes of a convert is always instructive.