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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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Friday of the 17th week in ordinary time

Father Kevin MacDonald, C.Ss.R.

There are two verses in the Gospel today that are always noticed but seldom addressed. They read: “Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Are not his sisters all with us?” These verses are speaking of Jesus’ brothers and sisters who are still living in Jesus’ hometown, where Jesus had little success in ministering to the people.

There will be no resolution today to the different interpretations surrounding the naming of Jesus’ brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas—or Jesus’ sisters, who are not named.

The New Testament has a wide interpretation of brothers and sisters. It is usually meant to include anyone who is connected to the nuclear family. Besides biological brothers and sisters, it can also mean cousins, nephews, and half-brothers and -sisters. It can also simply refer to men and women who follow the way of Jesus.

The early Church strongly believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity. They reasoned that if there were biological children, the eldest son would have taken Mary into his home after Jesus’ crucifixion. Also, Joseph and Mary would have been reluctant to leave any other children behind when they went in search of the 12-year-old Jesus when he was lost in Jerusalem.

But the best argument for a person of faith is the Holy Spirit. Through almost two millennia, Christians have been guided by the Holy Spirit to gain the courage needed to endure persecutions, write the four Gospels and the other books of the New Testament, and spread the Good News of God’s love to a hungry world. Has the Church made mistakes? Of course. The Inquisition and the ransacking of Muslim cities during the Crusades come to mind.

But just as the Bible is the Word of God written by humans, so too the Church can be influenced by our human weaknesses, prejudices, and limitations.

Emboldened by Spirit, there should be no question that we are afraid to ask. If our faith cannot stand up to questions such as the existence of Jesus’ biological brothers and sisters, what kind of faith is it? But throughout all such debate, we must remember the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians: “[T]hese three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”


Father Kevin MacDonald, C.Ss.R.