The daily readings for both Sunday December 28th and Monday December 29th are about the Holy Family. They have just been on an emotional rollercoaster the likes of which we can scarcely imagine: Mary--visited by Gabriel and invited to be the mother of God; Joseph, told by an angel in a dream that he can take Mary as his wife; the two of them obeying Caesar's decree and trotting over the dusty roads to Bethlehem 90 miles away. I cannot imagine being pregnant and riding a donkey so far; I found riding in a van to the local hospital just about more than I could bear.
Mary, in labor, searches with Joseph for a place to birth this miraculous son. Some sources say this happened in a stable or an outbuilding of an inn; other sources place this in a cave outside Bethlehem, surely as different from the birthing room at my hospital as could be. For one thing, there were no Picasso reproductions on the wall, no busy nurses, and no fetal monitors.
The shepherds come in all their fragrant glory, then the Magi, swaying on camel back and descending with gifts of unimaginable wealth and cost. What must Mary or Joseph have made of this? I know, let's re-gift the myrrh and the frankincense, but keep the gold. It might come in handy one day.
Following Judaic law, the parents took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to a priest and sacrifice two doves. This is when the elderly Simeon appears, limping--I imagine--towards the couple and giving a cry of gladness. "Lord, now let your servant go in peace/your word has been fulfilled:/my own eyes have seen the salvation/which you prepared in the sight of every people..." He recognizes Jesus as savior and also tells Mary that a sword will "pierce her heart," foretelling her grief at her son's death 33 years hence.
But there's another player in this scene--Anna--a prophetess who "worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer" in the temple. She also thanked God and spoke about Jesus to the people in the room, but nobody recorded her words. My question is this:
WHAT DID SHE SAY?
She was a prophet and possibly had also been waiting to see the coming savior of Israel and the wider world. Did she go up to Mary, place one hand reassuringly on her shoulder (after all, predictions of swords piercing one's heart are rather disconcerting), and comfort her? Did she tell her that her son would be left behind in the temple when he was 12, and that she and Joseph would be frantic with worry? Perhaps she whispered to Mary that Jesus would open the hearts of many, heal lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons, and cure the deaf, the blind, and the mute.
I wish someone had taken down Anna's words. We have Simeon's which form the Benedictus, the end to night prayer in the Catholic Church. But what about Anna? Why not close
I have waited for you all of my life.
I was told of your coming,
that you would bring us back to God,
that you would be the new temple
anyone could enter and be healed.
I see that your heart will be open
to all peoples for all time.
"Let me hold him." I see her stretching out her hands to Jesus, and once Mary placed the baby in her arms, Anna sighed and said,
"Now I can go in peace." And perhaps she snuggled with that little baby, inhaling the special fragrance of newborns, thinking that she held the world in her arms.