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The Brothers of Jesus?
The Church traditionally presents Mary as "virgin before, during and after giving birth", affirming, by indicating these three moments, that she never ceased to be a virgin.
The angel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she was to conceive and bear a child by the power of the Holy Spirit, despite her virginity. Her spiritual and physical virginity was consecrated to God and maintained for all time, what we call her perpetual virginity.
In the Book of Isaiah, the prophet says, “a virgin shall conceive AND bear a son (Isaiah 7:14).” Thus, she virginally conceived Jesus without physical corruption. It was also fitting that her birth should be virginal, also without physical corruption. Some of the Church Fathers hold that perhaps Jesus passed through the abdomen of the Blessed Virgin Mary as He passed through the wall into the Upper Room after His Resurrection. Others claim that she gave birth naturally but without labor pains. The physicality of the birth does not really enter into the reality of Mary’s virginity. Teresa and I had a rather fun conversation about this offline a few weeks ago. Maybe we’ll talk about it on air sometime..
At any rate, the Second Vatican Council affirms this in saying, “Christ's birth did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it (Lumen Gentium 57).” Mary is a perfect model of purity, holiness, and cooperation with grace. And her virginal conception of Jesus was a miracle and is the only conception of a child which she experienced. In other words: Jesus was an only child!
Yet, we hear in today’s Gospel reading:
“The mother of Jesus and his brothers came to him but were unable to join him because of the crowd. He was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and they wish to see you.’ He said to them in reply, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.’” Luke 8:19-21
Of course, Jesus did not speak English. He spoke Aramaic. And the Gospels were written in Greek. So, what is the word used here for brothers. It is the Greek word adelphos. This term can mean biological brother, but it can also mean extended relative, cousin, or a more analogical sense. For example, in Genesis, Abraham and Lot (though uncle and nephew) are referred to as brothers. Later, St. Paul uses the term brothers in 1 Cor. 15:6: Jesus “appeared to more than five hundred… brothers at the same time.” This obviously does not mean that Mary gave birth to five hundred children.
There are also multiple instances where the brothers of Jesus - James and Joses - are called children of a different Mary than the Mother of Jesus.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms what has always been held by the Christian Church:
”Jesus is Mary’s only son, but her spiritual motherhood extends to all men whom indeed he came to save: “The Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren, that is, the faithful in whose generation and formation she co-operates with a mother’s love.” - CCC 501
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