1 John 2:12-17; Luke 2:36-40
When we hear the word “prophet,” we may think of men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, and “prophecy” as the word of God given to them concerning things that would happen in times to come. If so, Anna in today’s gospel is a good reminder that we have more thinking to do.
First, she reminds us that prophets aren’t always men. Indeed, Anna is the first woman referred to in the New Testament as a prophet, but other women follow, namely Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:9) and the women of Acts 2:17-18 and 1 Corinthians 11:4-5. What’s more, she follows in the line of Old Testament prophetesses: Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, Deborah, Huldah, and the mysterious woman in Isaiah (8:3), to name a few.
These prophetesses, Anna included, also remind us that prophecy isn’t limited to oracles of future events. Miriam is noted for leading a beautiful song of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance of his people (Exodus 15:20), Deborah as one of the great Judges of Israel (Judges 4:4), and Huldah as the wise counselor who king Josiah relied on (2 Kings 22:14-20). Similarly, Anna speaks not of the future but of the here and now, giving thanks and proclaiming God’s long-awaited redemption.
The Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel once said that the greatness of a prophet “lies not only in the ideas he expressed, but also in the moments he experienced. The prophet is a witness, and his words a testimony – to God’s power, to His justice and mercy.”1 What more sublime moment could any prophet experience than Anna’s encounter with the infant Christ? She, in whom the word of God remained (1 John 2:14) now gazed upon that Living Word; she who had long ago forsaken the world for love of the Father (1 John 2:15) now looked on Him who would offer the world His infinite love and mercy; and she who night and day devoted herself to the will of God (1 John 2:17) now adored Him who would see that same will done, to the Cross and far beyond.
We don’t have Anna’s words; Luke says only that she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem (2:38). But this is all we need to know, for as Heschel also said, “In speaking, the prophet reveals God. This is the marvel of the prophet’s work; in his words, the invisible God becomes audible. He does not prove or argue. The thought he has to convey is more than language can contain. Divine power bursts in the words.”2 Whatever Anna said on that glorious day in the Temple or any day thereafter, divine power burst from her words; nothing she said could contain the God-Man revealed to her. Still, her job was not to prove or argue; it was to reveal God to those who had not seen; to make Him audible and by so doing reach their hearts with His, in hopes of making them burn as hers surely must have.
This is our task as well. By our baptism we too are anointed priest, prophet, and king and by His gift of the Holy Eucharist we have him here with us as surely as Anna did in the Temple. So, let us do as she did: Old or young, widowed or not, at every Mass let us come forward, receive him, give thanks to him, and then speak about him to all. Even after two thousand years, we have no better words than Anna did; nevertheless, we have all we need. We too have the testimony of our lives. We must make them speak.
St. Anna the Prophetess, pray for us.
1Abraham J. Heschel. The Prophets. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, p 27.