Category Archives: Saints

Teresa of Jesus (1515-1582)

St.+Teresa+of+Avila+Portrait+cropped

The only portrait of Teresa from life, by Fray Juan de la Miseria. When Teresa saw the finished work, she is reported to have said, “God forgive you, Brother Juan, you have made me ugly and bleary-eyed.” The portrait is one of the many Teresian treasures housed in the convent of the Carmelite nuns in Seville, which Teresa founded in 1575.

THE LIFE of the Spanish Carmelite reformer, Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), was a complicated adventure in a complicated world.

At a time when practicing contemplation could get you either the garrote and the stake, or a halo and a feast day, Teresa was a mystical sensation. She loved her God—and wrote about it–with an erotic passion that sent chills down the spine of watchful churchmen who worried that affectivity in the spiritual life was at best a confusion, at worst a doorway to heresy.

In a Spanish church serious about reforms but at dangerous odds about who should direct them and how far they should go, Teresa initiated one of her own, eventually splitting the  Order.

In a male-dominated culture, she was a woman who read, a writer who meant to publish, and a theological gadfly. In a society whose anxiety about reputation, bloodlines, and orthodoxy made moving targets out of personal safety, ecclesiastical standing, and social status, Teresa — born to a Jewish converso family — managed to neutralize and then overwhelm her detractors, ascending to the altars only 40 years after dying, a bona fide saint.

Even the most persevering readers with a passion for mysticism get lost in her vibrant, unruly prose—writings that are now regarded as some of the greatest in the canon of Golden Age literature. Making sense of her spiritual experiences — visions, voices, levitations and, yes, hot penetrations — is tougher still. It’s no wonder that some critics, for whom voices are a sign of mental illness and levitation a party game, call her the patron saint of religious pathology.

Teresa was, first and last, a soul in a progress towards God. And what a progress! That metaphor, in part a nod to the age of exploration in which Teresa lived, points to a life-long inner journey, as biographer Cathleen Medwick put it, “as full of wonder and terror as any ocean voyage through uncharted seas.” It took courage to navigate the soul. The dangers were real and many. Teresa’s battle to authenticate her religious experience with even the sympathetic and supportive men who guided her was ferocious. It left her physically ill and close to despair.

Life outside the “interior castle” was no easier. During the last twenty years of her life, in an era when only masochists traveled for pleasure, Teresa was constantly on the road founding and supervising reformed convents. The story of those foundations is a wild ride, a confusion of briefs, bulls, and competing obediences, a riot of real estate, fundraising, and ruthless intra-Carmelite politics.

Teresa gives us the story herself in her  writings, the Life and Foundations especially. The plot-twists and quirky characters in those relations make your head spin. Could there be a more sinister nemesis, foe example, than the princess of Eboli– a breathtakingly self-absorbed woman with a black eye-patch and a refined taste for betrayal who, following a disastrous stint as a nun in a convent she’d forced the Saint to establish, sent Teresa’s top-secret autobiography to the inquisitors to avenge the convent’s collapse after an exasperated Teresa ordered the remaining nuns to desert it hastily, it in the dead of night?

But the vivid personality of the evil princess cannot hold a candle to Teresa’s own — attractive, expansive, sociable, incisive, mordantly witty, shrewd and tenacious, possessed of a bottomless capacity for intimacy and an equally bottomless capacity for self-doubt and loneliness. She was a people pleaser whose loyalties were often to a fault, and yet she could be breathtakingly brave when push came to shove towards a necessary confrontation. Her relationships with men were always more satisfying than her friendships with women; yet she complained that no one really understood her; and in truth, at some point or other, nearly all her closest allies disappointed or disparaged her.

Single-mindedly resolute (“I have,” she said, “a very determined determination”), she bent many to her will, even God. A workaholic, she was famously restless, and yet longed for nothing more than a little cell where she could tell her beads. Pragmatic and always ready to deal, she could be at times vain, coy, and Clintonesque, yet she always strove sincerely for simplicity and a transparent conscience, hammering away at the centrality of truth (for her, a synonym for humility) in the life of the soul.

If she despised anything on earth, it was pretension, especially the ruinous aspiration to status, pure bloodlines, and wealth–or at least the appearances of wealth– which had wounded her own family and created legions of  proud but destitute nobility, many hiding the tenths of fourths of  Jewish blood in their backgrounds with false genealogies and gaudy coats of arms. A close reading of her life and writings reveals a running protest against the moral captivity  of reputation, honor, and shame, as well as the wasteful sidelining of women in the church and the no-win situation of  ‘new Christians, among whom she found some of her best allies and friends. She hated what Spain had become in the post-expulsion era–a society organized for deceit.

She was unswerving in hope while enduring monstrous headaches, stomach disease, and crippling depression. She came across to all who knew and loved her as alternately domineering and compassionate, fragile and indestructible, admirable and  inimitable. In her day, many believed her to be a vile menace to the Church. Many others believed her to be its shining savior. To this day, she pleases no one who clings piously to the belief that saints are actually holy.

I  adore her.

 

 

The Assumption of Mary, August 15

dormition-of-the-theotokos1

 

–Russian Icon, The Dormition of the Theotokos

Yesterday, August 15, Roman Catholics celebrated the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.* This is the belief that the mother of Jesus was assumed, or taken into heaven, ‘body and soul,’ immediately upon her death, without having to undergo the grave’s decay. By this feast, the Church teaches that the future resurrection of all flesh—that restoration of all creation to which scripture attests—is anticipated in Mary.

It’s because of her unique role in the drama of salvation, Catholics believe, that God bestows on her this anticipated glory, but it isn’t for her alone. Mary is simply given first what all the redeemed receive later. In the Assumption, we get to see in her what will become of us all because of the saving grace of Christ. The Assumption is the Church’s way of affirming the ancient conviction that ‘humanity’s future has a body’ (Luke Powery).

This festival has deep roots in Christian liturgy and devotion. The first extant mention of it is in the 4th century in the East. It was universally celebrated by the 6th. Clearly there was ‘something about Mary’ the ancient church appreciated more than we do today—especially we who are Protestants and tend to view Marian doctrines as unnecessary at best and idolatrous at worst.

Here’s what I’m appreciating about the Assumption today—

The feast asks us to imagine that a human being in her body, not just her soul, now lives in the eternity of God we call ‘heaven.’ Forget for a moment the triumphalist trappings and physical problems of this doctrine. Go to the nub of it and allow yourself to see Mary in her body welcomed into heaven, enjoying God forever in a fully bodily way, breathing, sensing, moving… in all her body’s uniqueness. If you grant this vision, even for a moment, and if you grant that her present is our future, what does this feast day say?

It says the body belongs in the presence of God. It says the body is holy. It says that God and bodies are not opposites or enemies. It says that bodies are not ‘mere’ bodies, not inferior housing for a superior soul; not to be escaped from, dispensed with, or despised. It says there’s no such thing as ‘spirituality’ without real ‘bodiality.’ It says you have to love the body because God does. Even when it’s hard to love the body, your particular body, and especially when it’s hard to love somebody else’s, it says you have to honor them all. It says you can’t kill Michael Brown. It says you have to love his black body. It says you can’t make any body no body. It says God cares, infinitely cares, what we do with our bodies. It says when a body’s hands go up, the guns go down.

——-

*The Orthodox also observe this mid-August commemoration, but they call it the Dormition (falling asleep)of the Theotokos. They prefer to think she was taken to God without experiencing even the slightest twinge of death’s customary pangs. Anglicans call this observance the Feast of Mary the Virgin, or more familiarly, the Feast of Mary in Summer. It’s a more generic celebration of Mary, but the collect of the day mentions God taking Mary to Godself, a clear nod to the ancient doctrine of the Assumption.

 

 

Ambrose and the Bees

honeycomb_wide-2c4f64a3a0de4582c1f62c306d23ef63da2e2d8c-s6-c30Bees were much appreciated by ancient Church teachers. St. John Chrysostom, who was known as the “mellifluous” teacher ( Latin: “mel”, honey), admired bees for their selflessness: “The bee is more honored than other animals,” he wrote, “not because it labors, but because it labors for others” (12th Homily).

Bees were important to the 4th century bishop Ambrose of Milan, who baptized Augustine and whose name means “sweet food” (Latin: “ambrosia”). He often referred to the gathering of pollen and the production of honey as emblems of Christian formation—the Church’s teachers gather the pollen of Scripture to explain the great mysteries of the faith and feed Christ’s people the honey of Divine Truth. For Ambrose, bees were a symbol of wisdom.

Ambrose was also known as a “honey-tongued” preacher and teacher. (Later, St Bernard would also earn this sobriquet.) This tag refers to his eloquence and persuasiveness, as well as to his fondness for singing in church. Legend has it that honey bees lighted on his face when he was an infant and left a drop of honey on his lips, foreshadowing his future eloquence. Bees and honeycombs were included in the early iconography of Ambrose. Not surprisingly, he is the patron saint of beekeepers and honey manufacturers.

Ambrose-bee-hive

At the start of the Great Vigil of Easter, a deacon sings the Easter Proclamation, often referred to by its Latin first word, exsultet—exult, or rejoice! It is a chant sung by the light of new fire, the Paschal candle, praising the God of light for the new dawn of Christ’s resurrection. In several ancient versions of this song, bees received a grateful shout-out.

The praise of bees is no longer included in modern versions of this old song, including versions used in the Protestant re-appropriation of the Vigil. And that’s a shame. The bees deserve thanks for their industry and for the sweet products of their work, all of which God uses to serve human need and enliven the creation. What better night to include these creatures in our praise than on the night when God brings forth a new creation through the resurrection of Jesus?

Here is the excised excerpt from the Exsultet: …

“… In the grace of this night, O Eternal God,

receive as an evening sacrifice this burning light,

which holy Church renders to you

in the solemn offering of this candle of wax, made by the bees.

We know the glory of this candle kindled by God’s bright flame.

Though divided, it is not dimmed, for it is fed from the wax

which the mother bee wrought to make this precious lamp…”

 

(Alleluia!)

March 22 Saint Epaphroditus

Epaphroditus

Saint Epaphroditus

Philippians 2:25-30 [Excerpt from The Message]  But for right now, I’m dispatching Epaphroditus, my good friend and companion… You sent him to help me out; now I’m sending him to help you out… When you see him again, hale and hearty, how you’ll rejoice and how relieved I’ll be. Give him a grand welcome, a joyful embrace! People like him deserve the best you can give.

Even if you have perfect attendance at Bible study, you probably don’t know who Epaphroditus is, much less how to pronounce his name. He turns up once, in five verses in Philippians, then fades back into the biblical woodwork. But Paul says he was quite a guy—loyal, eager, selfless, a treasured companion who ministered to Paul while he was in prison. The affection Paul feels for him jumps off the page. Epaphroditus is someone you’d like to get to know better.

The good news is that we know more about him than we think, because every church has at least one Epaphroditus. These are the folks who lend themselves gladly to the mission without demanding the limelight. They’re ready and willing whenever the Spirit is looking for someone to send. They can pivot on a spiritual dime. When they’re around, the joy thermometer spikes. When they’re away, you really miss them. And if, like Paul’s Epaphroditus, they should get really sick and nearly die, the whole church feels a sorrow almost too hard to bear: ‘one huge grief piled on top of all the others,’ as Paul says so poignantly. These folks are the real deal, solid as rock.

Their names won’t go down in history, but that doesn’t mean they don’t merit a shout-out in the church. So if there’s an Epaphroditus in your congregation, praise God and pass the affirmation. Tell them today and every day what a gift they are. Don’t be stingy with your thanks, because, as Paul knew, people like Epaphroditus will never ask for or expect any. They are authentic treasures. They ‘deserve the best you can give.’

Gracious God, it’s a little hard to pronounce, but you know who we mean when we thank you wholeheartedly for every Epaphroditus we know. Help us remember to honor them as you do, with thanks, blessing, and a joyful embrace.

Note

Epaphroditus was the delegate of the community at Philippi sent to bring material assistance to Paul during his imprisonment at either Rome or Ephesus. Nothing more is known of him except for this mention he gets in the letter to the Philippians (2:25-29) announcing his return, but tradition honors him as the first bishop of that church. Saint Epaphroditus is commemorated liturgically in the West on March 22, and in the East on March 30.

Matthias the Apostle, February 24

200px-Saint_Matthias[1]The author of Acts is worried about numbers. Twelve is a very important number. Eleven is not. When Judas defects and soon afterwards dies, the remaining apostles feel a biblical urge to round up. It won’t do to have the formerly Twelve continue very long into history as the limping Eleven—eleven kind of messes up your biblical allusions. So they nominate a couple of men from the wider group of disciples, pray to God to show them which one God prefers for the job, and cast lots. The lots fall to Matthias, and he becomes an apostle. [Acts 1:15-26]

But who is he? The gospels don’t mention him before Jesus was crucified and raised, unless you think, as some ancient commentators did, that he was actually Zacchaeus, or even Nathanael, by another name. And after his elevation to the ranks of the ‘overseers,’ he is never heard from again. There are no remotely reliable later traditions about him either—although if I could choose one of his legends to be true, it would be the one about him preaching to the cannibals in Georgia. (No, not that Georgia.) Although his relics are venerated in the great church of St Matthias in Trier, Germany, most scholars agree they are not his, but maybe, maybe, those of another Matthias, one of the early bishops of Jerusalem. Our Matthias is a holy cipher.

Perhaps it’s a good thing that Matthias is haphazardly included (for all grace is, to human eyes, capricious) and subsequently so unknown. It’s instructive to know that among the Twelve there is one who fell into the apostolic role more or less by chance, one who was drafted into the witnessing business by a roll of the dice, one whose name alone is documented and all the rest unremarkable and ignored. It puts the spotlight on the calling itself, not on the personality and exploits of the called.

Which takes some pressure off those of us who believe ourselves also chosen to be witnesses, but who, despite years of trying, have yet to build a church of more than forty members, end world hunger, bring a lasting peace upon the earth, or die a heroic death among cannibals. Maybe St Matthias’ day is a day to be glad that the grace and wonder of the choice of us lies elsewhere. Maybe on St Matthias day it’s enough to celebrate that God chose him. Maybe today we honor not an apostle so much as a choosing. And maybe not a choosing so much as the Chooser.

Matthias’ liturgical commemoration has traditionally fallen on February 24. The Anglicans still commemorate him on this day, but the Catholics have moved him to May 14, nearer to the feast of the Ascension, in order not to have to celebrate an apostle in Lent (too much festivity for a solemn season), and to associate him more closely with his election, which occurred in the few days between the Ascension and Pentecost.

He is, of course, the patron saint of lottery players. Today might be a good day to buy a ticket.

—–

P. S. If Matthias is unheralded, imagine the obscurity of the other guy in the running! If you commemorate Matthias today, take a moment also to remember Joseph, called Barsabbas [aka Justus], disciple of Jesus and loser.

ANDREW, APOSTLE AND MARTYR [November 30]

st andrew

About Andrew we know very little—the four canonical gospels concur in reporting that he was from Bethsaida and that he was Simon Peter’s brother, a son of Jonah (or John). The Synoptics record that they were fishermen and that Jesus, who was passing by on the shore of the Sea of Galilee one day, peremptorily called them away from their father and their nets to follow him.

The fourth gospel’s story is different, as usual. In his account, when we first meet Andrew he’s a disciple of John the Baptist. When Jesus wanders by one day, the Baptizer looks up and sees him. Calling him the ‘lamb of God,’ John points him out to his own followers. Curiously compelled, Andrew and a second disciple leave John and approach Jesus. It is they who ask him the famous question, “Where do you live?” (or “Where are you staying?”), to which Jesus answers, “Come and see.”’

John the Evangelist makes it seem as if John the Baptist wanted his disciples to abandon him, a mere forerunner, for the real deal, the Messiah, Jesus. There is probably more behind the story—some rivalry and perhaps even serious contention between the two groups. It’s unlikely we’ll ever know the ‘facts,’ but if we take the scene at face value, it turns out that Andrew is the first of the twelve apostles Jesus called, a claim to fame if there ever was one.

But Andrew’s biggest claim to fame may be that he recruited his brother to follow Jesus. The fourth gospel reports that after meeting Jesus, he ‘first of all” or ‘immediately’ went to Simon and told him that he had found the Messiah. It was at this moment that Jesus, “looking at [Simon] closely,” decided to rename him Cephas, or Peter.

About Peter we know a great deal more than we do about his brother, on account Peter’s subsequent significance for the church, which is inestimable. And so Andrew turns out to have something on common with his former guru—although both men are still honored highly in Christian memory, others eclipsed them in our remembrance; the Baptist and Andrew are holy second fiddles. Role models for most of us, I’d say.

Andrew also recruited for Jesus’ band another man from Bethsaida, Phillip, who in turn ‘found’ Nathanael (he of ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ fame). Later, ‘some Greeks’ approached Philip wanting to see Jesus. Philip referred the request to Andrew, perhaps because he had seniority or greater access, we’ll never know. In any case, it was through Andrew that the Greeks got their introduction to the Teacher and, presumably, found for themselves what Andrew had already found. And thus it was that Jesus’ inner circle began to grow, owing in no small measure to Andrew’s missionary skill.

Andrew appears in some other key scenes in the gospels, such as that day when thousands were hungry after a long day of teaching and healing. Jesus, who wants to feed the crowd, asks his disciples if they have any food. Andrew’s the one who tells him about the boy with five loaves of bread.

Along with Peter, James and John, he asks, ‘Is it now you will restore the kingdom?’, which prompts one of Jesus’ eschatological discourses. You know—the crazy stuff most preachers dread having to wrestle to the ground on the first Sunday of Advent every year. For this prompting question we do not necessarily thank our saint of the day.

Andrew, we suppose, was also present with the others in the upper room for the last supper, but after that, aside from one brief mention of his name in the list of the Twelve in the Acts of the Apostles, we lose documented track of him—unless you count the wild and wonderful miracle stories (well, there’s a few in there that are not so wonderful and actually a little vicious) contained in the mid-2nd c. Acts of Andrew, in which, for example, he rescues Matthias from hungry cannibals in the ‘land of the anthropophagi.’

Thankfully, however, when it comes to saints, their afterlives are often far more exciting than their lives. And so here is the rest of the story, according to tradition.

After Pentecost, a peripatetic Andrew preached the gospel all over the Mediterranean region—in Cappadocia, Galatia, Bithynia, the Scythian deserts, Byzantium, Thrace, Macedonia, and Achaia. No one knows when, where, or how he died, which has not prevented many stories about his death from circulating. Most concur that he was crucified during the reign of Nero (on November 30, in the year 60 CE, they say), probably at Patrae in Achaia.

We also hear that he was strung up on the cross with ropes, not fixed to it with nails. The earliest traditions say he died on a Latin cross, just like Jesus, but by the time his legend got really rolling along in the Middle Ages, it had become a crux decussata, or saltire, now known as St Andrew’s cross. Apparently Andrew, like his more prominent brother, felt unworthy of a crucifixion like the Lord’s. His solution was to die on that X-cross; Peter’s was to be nailed to a Latin cross, but upside down.

Not only did the well-traveled Andrew evangelize in the Mediterranean region; he is claimed as the founder of the faith by Georgia, Ukraine, and Romania (in those places he is sometimes remembered as a fisherman who plied his trade on the Black Sea—go figure); and, of course, he is also claimed by Scotland.

Until the early 14th c., the Scots had been content with having received and enshrined many relics of Andrew (legend has them arriving in installments, starting in the 4th and ending in the 9th c.), using them to build up a popular pilgrimage site, St Andrew’s church. The possession of relics gave them a peculiar sense of proximity to Andrew, and pride of ‘ownership.’ (The story of the dispersal of Andrews’ relics is a saga in itself—but must be saved for another day.) But with political independence on their minds (see the Declaration of Arbroath, 1320 CE) , the Scots also began to claim Andrew as the one who brought them the faith, and made him the country’s patron saint (bumping St Columba, since an apostle outranks a monk any day of the week) and giving the church in Scotland the prestige of apostolic origins.

No one believed a word of it then, of course; and no one does today either, but it doesn’t matter. Andrew is now more Scottish than Galilean. This should not surprise or scandalize. We’re always naturalizing the holy ones, granting them citizenship, dressing them up in the local costume, asking them to fly our flags, and preoccupying them with our preoccupations, turning them into homeys, into folk like you and me. I think we’ll always manipulate them in this way. Sometimes I think God makes saints just so that we can project our stuff onto them. And I suspect they don’t mind being made into mirrors in which we can try ourselves on.

Long live Andrew! Now let us pray:

Collect for the Feast of St Andrew

Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your son, Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us also into his gracious presence. Amen.

Patronage

Andrew is, along with his brother Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, which makes eminent sense. Don’t ask me why, but he’s also the patron saint of unmarried women who want to get married, textile workers, water carriers, and people with throat illnesses, convulsions, and gout.

July 26 — Feast of Anne, Mother of Mary, Grandmother of Jesus

Today is the Commemoration of Anne, the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus. That Mary had a mother and Jesus had a grandmother there can be no doubt—we all have them—but the New Testament authors do not name Anne (or her husband Joachim) or give us a single detail about her in the stories of Jesus’ conception, birth, and upbringing.

St. Anne is what some people call ‘a venerable tradition’ and others disdain as a ‘legend’ or a made-up pious lie—depending on whether you honor and enjoy the religious imaginations of your ancestors and are not reflexively dismissive of stories. You know where I come down on this one.

She (along with Joachim) first appears in the Protoevangelium of James, c. 150 [?], a much-loved book in the ancient Eastern Church (in the West, not so much), and later in other non-canonical writings. Some people say that her story—an older woman conceiving later in life, bearing an heroic son—was modeled after the story of Samuel, whose mother was also an Anne (Hannah). Whatever the origins and literary models of her story, she soon became a fan favorite. 450px-Ulrichsberg_-_Heilige_Anna

Devotion to Anne can be documented in the East from the mid-6th century; but if by that time (c. 550 CE) the Byzantine emperor Justinian is busy constructing a great church in her honor, her ‘cult’ had surely already been gaining steam for a long time. In the West, there is no extant representation of Anne until the 8th century (a nice fresco in Rome), and not much fervent devotion until the 13th; but it took off after her story was included in a popular collection of saints lives and stories (Golden Legend, Jacobus de Voraigne), and Anne swiftly became one of the most beloved saints of the Latin Church.

[–Deutsch: Pfarrkirche St.Ulrich in Ulrichsberg]

The medieval imagination provided Mary’s parents with parents too—Stollanus and Emerentia; and with many marriage stories, including one in which she is married and widowed 3 times, giving birth in successive unions to Anne (by Joachim); Mary (by a fellow named Cleophas), who becomes the wife of Alphaeus and mother of the apostles James the Lesser, Simon and Judas, and of Joseph, called the Just; and Maria Salomae (by  Salomas) who became the wife of Zebedaeus and mother of the apostles John and James the Greater. The way her story was developing, she might eventually have ended up grandmothering the entire corps of apostles, and the further 72 as well.  anneMaryBaby

[Brabant, 16th c., Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Muslims also venerate Anne (Hannah), the grandmother the prophet Isa [pbuh], their name for Jesus. The Qur’an does not name her (only her father and husband get names—Faqud and Imram, respectively), but subsequent teachers tell a poignant background story to her conception of Maryam (Mary). Hannah has trouble conceiving and is about to give up when she sees a mother bird feeding hatchlings. The maternal desire grows strong again and she and her husband try one more time. You know the result.

The Qur’an recounts that before conceiving, Hannah had promised Allah that, like the Biblical Hannah, she would dedicate her son to him (she was sure it would be a boy). She is surprised when a girl appears, and maybe a little afraid to present the little Maryam to God, but in mystical insight she decides that the baby girl is a true gift of God. The Qur’an is at pains to show that Allah is extremely pleased with the birth of this girl child and has great plans for her.

After her ‘dormition’, Anne endured the fate of all great saints in the medieval church, traveling more in death than she ever had in life. Her relics are said to have been taken to Constantinople in 710. They remained there, in Hagia Sophia, until 1331, when the city was conquered by Muslims and her relics were taken to Europe for safekeeping—and dispersal. (Or if you like you can follow the tradition that Lazarus, Jesus’ moldy friend, took her body to France and buried her there.) In Douai, France, you can venerate her foot (not sure if is her left or right). Her head resided in Mainz in Germany for a while, before it was stolen by pious thieves from Duren in the Rhineland. I could go on, but these are unedifying details, so no more of this.

st-anne

[–Albrecht Durer]

One of the lovely traditions of iconography associated with Anne is called the Metterza (Italy), Anna selbdritt (Germany) or Anna te Drieen (Low Countries). Taken together, these terms describe depictions of ‘the three generations’—Anne, Mary and Jesus; or as one author put it, images in which “Granny makes three.” Another important iconographic tradition shows Anne teaching Mary to read; she learned well and was still reading as an young woman—in a great deal of iconography of the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel enters to find Mary reading, a book open on her lap. The Word comes as words are pondered.

Now, if you are a Protestant and not much inclined to saints, you have very good reason to like this one, for it could truly be said that St. Anne made the Reformation possible. When in the midst of a terrible lightning storm the young Martin Luther cried out to heaven to be spared, it was to St. Anne he addressed his prayer. She heard him, apparently, and her prayers to God in response to his prayer to her saved his life. And the rest is history.

St. Anne, Mother of Mary, pray with us this day; glorify God and edify us with your life, even if we made it all up. It’s a good story. Amen.