Dear Fr. Joe: I am troubled by a recent discovery. I saw in the news that a burial box (called an ossuary) was found that says Jesus had a brother. What is this? And what should Catholics think? Well, readers, we have gotten a lot of questions about this topic. Let’s go through what we know and what we don’t know. Oh, and here is my disclaimer: I am not an expert on this topic! What do we know? We know that in Silwan, on the West Bank right outside of Jerusalem, a limestone ossuary was found that contained an inscription in Aramaic. An anonymous Israeli collector purchased it in 1987 from an anonymous Palestinian in Israel. Dated to the first century, the ossuary has one line on it stating: “Ya’akov bar Yosef ahwi Yeshua,” which means: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” So, what is the big deal? For Catholics, the big deal seems to be the line “brother of Jesus.” Some are using this to challenge the perpetual virginity of Mary – claiming she did not remain a virgin after the birth of Jesus and death of Joseph. What should Catholics think? First of all, we should never be afraid of knowledge or science. As Catholics, we must always embrace learning more. If we truly believe what we say we believe, then we know that any discoveries made will only back us up, right? Let’s learn everything we can about this. My limited time only allows me so much research on the topic and I haven’t found a solid Catholic response yet. Any help here from tenacious readers would be much appreciated. In the meantime, what I have found suggests that the word “brother” may not have meant in Jesus’ time and culture what it does now for us. “Brother,” in this context, implies “cousin.” Some have also said that Joseph could have been married before he married the Blessed Mother. Either way, let’s keep our eyes and ears open so we can learn all we can. In the future, I hope to talk about our belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity and why that is important.
Dear Fr. Joe: Some Protestant friends say that it’s the devil’s fault I am living in poverty. They also believe that God will bless you with money if you live right. Is that true? This question will really help us to see some key ideas in our faith, and I thank you for asking it. Now, there are times when living in poverty is the fault of the devil. For example, if we are wasteful with our money and spend it on things we don’t need, then it is because of our sin that we live in poverty. Or, if we spend our money on things like drugs, alcohol and MSU apparel, then yes, our poverty is our own fault and we need to get help. Sometimes, evil is the root cause of poverty, but not for the person living in poverty. Greed, abuse and mismanagement in our health- care systems have put many good and innocent people in a position where medical problems can lead to total financial ruin. We also know that many of the super-wealthy running our nation’s big corporations have destroyed the lives of innocent men and women through their greed. Make no mistake, these men and women who lied on financial reports to add zeroes to an already healthy income are doing the devil’s work. And poverty resulting from their actions is the work of the devil. If you have been a victim of any of these or similar situations or circumstances, then your poverty is a result of man’s cooperation with the devil, but not YOUR cooperation. However, the idea that poverty is always a sign of sin in the poor person is faulty to its core. If that were true, then Jesus was in trouble. Jesus not only lived as a traveling itinerate preacher, He spoke of how God identifies with the poor. He told a wealthy would-be follower that “foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” Jesus lived right, no doubt, so I think we can dispel the issue of poverty being related to right behavior as a matter of principle. But all that I have stated so far is about the causes of poverty and provides little or no help. If you are not living in poverty, then the rest of this article is for you. This part of my column is a challenge and a wake-up call to all readers who can help the poor. We must give our time, resources, love and prayers. We can sacrifice and not buy things we do not need and, instead, give that money to those who don’t have the basics. We can support candidates for political office who will fight evil in society, instead of promoting it. We can be involved politically in support of those who have no voice. This year, please pray and challenge yourself to make a difference in the lives of people who suffer. It is nothing less than the call of the Gospel. Enjoy another day in God’s presence!