And (Mary) became three years old, and Joachim said: Call for the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take every one a lamp, and let them be burning, that the child turn not backward and her heart be taken captive away from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they were gone up into the temple of the Lord.

And the priest received her and kissed her and blessed her and said: The Lord hath magnified thy name among all generations: in thee in the latter days shall the Lord make manifest his redemption unto the children of Israel. And he made her to sit upon the third step of the altar. And the Lord put grace upon her and she danced with her feet and all the house of Israel loved her.

(From the Protoevangelium of James, Chapter VII.)

 

All things considered, the idea of a religious vocation is often a lot harder for parents than it is for the young person who has fallen in love with God. Saints Anne and Joachim brought Mary to the Temple with joy, but many other parents wave goodbye at the train station or airport with an aching heart, wondering whether their daughter will be happy in the convent, and whether they will be able to live with the separation that she has chosen. One essay by a Sister, published in the book Why I Entered the Convent (1954), describes the difficult weeks leading up to her departure in a way that many who have felt called to the religious life will recognise:

 

God really wanted me, and I really wanted Him. But the crux of the whole matter, then, was to do something about it. In almost every narrative, particularly in “success stories,” – and definitely in this particular one – here is the precise point where the obstacles begin to appear, or where, as the melodramatist says, “the plot thickens.”

Actually, “thickens” is a very thin word to describe the obstacle that was for me the most formidable one. For the first time in my life my parents and I could not understand each other. We had always been affectionately and intimately “the Big Three.” Division was a new and painful experience. They saw separation where I sought soul-deep union; they knew only sacrifice where I would reap fulfilment; for them it seemed the end while for me it was a most wonderful beginning.

 

When those whom you love dearly and who love you even more cannot share your desire – or worse, misinterpret and oppose them – it takes high courage and nothing short of divine grace to keep on desiring. The sharp conflict of loyalties to Christ and to them waged an almost shattering battle of mind against heart, of faith against feeling.

 

Entering a convent is hard and always has been, for the woman and for her family. Even though you’ve returned to the world, God will surely remember the sacrifice – however reluctant – that they made in remaining behind as you tested your vocation in a religious community.

 

If God permits His grace to flow to others through her, they have helped to put the channel at His disposal. He is the Potter, but they have contributed the clay. Best of all, they know that with our common loyalty to, and generosity with, God now during life will some day be a major cause for the “Big Three” being wondrously united for all eternity, with each other and with Him.

 

Lord, God of our fathers,

You bestowed on Saint Joachim and Saint Anne

this singular grace

that their daughter, Mary,

should become the Mother of Your Son, Jesus Christ.

Grant, at their intercession,

the salvation that You promised to Your people.

We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, amen.