Which Family is ‘Holy’?

By Dr. Paul Hwang (Director ALL Forum)

Following changing the times so many different types of family are changing also. Among them is ‘one family household’ which has become predominant in the urbanized cities in many parts of the world including Asia. For a long time the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) has dealt with family as an important pastoral concern clearly seen in the final documents of 6th and 7th plenary assemblies of it along with other issues such as indigenous peoples, migrants and refugees, ecology, youth and women and girl children. I will talk about how the Catholic church in Asia put more emphasis on the ‘Holy Family’ myth in it which needs to be interpreted differently.

The ideology of ‘normal family’ or ‘healthy family’ was projected into the church without much resistance. That seems to have been revealed in the church in the form of changing only clothes under the term ‘Holy Family.’ It can be said that this historically represents the interests of the white middle class in the West. However, what is more problematic is that a family is divided based on ‘the Sacred
and the Profane (Secular)’ above all else. Such dualistic distinction can be said to be a religious feature with deep roots seen in many religions, including Christianity. But the understanding of the Bible, especially the superficial understanding of Jesus’ family, seems to have played a part. In other words, it seems that it has been divided into a ‘normal vs abnormal’ family by focusing on the family of ‘children with parents’ like Jesus with Joseph and Maria as parents.

Illustration of Jesus Family

That has been accepted and used without any problem in the church. In order to be free from criticism of the church and theological realization of the ‘normal family myth’ that the church sees children with parents as normal families, it should be followed based on how Jesus views the family in the Gospel. In fact, the view of Jesus’ family in the Bible is very revolutionary. “Who is my mother and my brothers?” “These are my mother and my brothers. It is my brother, sister and mother who do God’s will.” (Mark, 3:33-35) Here, it can be interpreted as saying that all those who ‘do God’s will’ are not tied to blood.

Regarding the subject of this writing, the place where people working for the “Kingdom of God” gathered can be called family in a broad sense. Meanwhile, “Why did you look for me? Didn’t I know I was supposed to be in my father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) The passage shows that ‘home’ as a physical space is not a family. This can be interpreted complementarily to the family view of the aforementioned Gospel of Mark. To say that Jesus must be in the ‘Father’s house’ can be engraved with the meaning of always being in the Kingdom of God or with God. This means that Jesus is not alone, but God with those who work for the Kingdom, that is, with the new meaning of ‘family’. Or, in the sense of being together in the kingdom of God, the two can be connected to understand each other complementary to each other.

Just as Asian societies, including Korea, have to break free from the myth of a ‘normal’ family, the church needs to break free from the concept of ‘Holy Family’ brought up as a custom. This can start by reinterpreting the concept of the holy family. The concept has clear limited and distort image of what it means to be ‘holy’. It is as if only a family that has both parents who are believers, and has been in a safe and comfortable situation, is called a ‘holy family.’ If then there are very few families that belong to this category. From a sociological rather than theological point of view of Jesus’ family, his mother was a ‘single mother’ and his father was a stepfather. Even worse, Jesus himself got killed young which is to be called ‘holy’? From this Jesus’ family type would have been viewed as a so-called
‘problematic family’? Nevertheless, Jesus’ family is the holy one because it was gathered around Jesus-Christ, Jesus-Spirit and Jesus-God. If we gather around Jesus’ love and mercy, hope and commitment to his mission, we can say that any type of family is a holy one