Today it is becoming harder and harder to define the human family as an institution. Traditionally a family has been defined as a domestic group of people, or a number of domestic groups linked through descent; from a common ancestor, marriage or adoption with some degree of kinship.
But in western culture the notion of a family is changing very fast! It may be defined as a group of people affiliated by blood or by legal ties such as marriage or adoption.
But a number of modern anthropologists are quick to add that the notion of “blood” must be understood metaphorically; since there are a number of non-Western societies where family is understood through other concepts rather than “blood.” And this makes it harder to define the human family.
There is always something special with every family that you can not define in general terms. The philosopher Francis Bacon points out this problem in a rather philosophical way; families are like potatoes, the best parts are underground.
Although the idea of a family is changing very fast and perhaps in a negative sense, the importance of a family for one’s up bringing cannot be exaggerated. A good family is the most valuable thing that one can have in life.
Dan Wilcox in Identity Crisis sees family as the best riches that one can have on earth: I do not care how poor a man is, if he has family, he’s rich! Most people especially psychologists attach such importance to a family mainly because of its capacity to model our social character and personality.
It is where we all learn most of our human values as love, caring, compassion, ethics, honesty, fairness, common sense, reason, peaceful conflict resolution and respect for ourselves and others.
These fundamental skills and family values are very necessary to live an honorable, prosperous and harmonious life in the modern world community.
Unfortunately, a number of renown thinkers count human family among the endangered species. Some think that the nuclear family has been put in a box and placed in an impossible situation for a natural death.
For Christopher Lasch a modern family is a haven in a heartless world. And John Paul II is of the same view in The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World. He points at our time in history as the moment in which the family faces most negative forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it.
Accordingly, if it has to survive, it must be fostered by the conscious effort to avoid whatever is divisive and to cultivate whatever unifies the members of a family.
Centuries of Christian wisdom have shown that certain features are typically unifying, and their opposite are divisive. Unfortunately some of these unifying elements are regarded as cliché by the modern man!
Today there are genuine reasons why a husband, wife or children must live physically separated from one another. But living together under the same roof promotes unity and must be given high priority.
It is only when family members live together that they can talk together. If there is anything that unites the members of a family it is their talking to one another. If a family talks together then its members can pray together as well.
This is the element of togetherness that is most regarded as cliché today. But when Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I shall be there with them” (Mt 18:19), he was certainly serious and giving us the most possible powerful motive of togetherness for a family.
Fortunately, there is still one element of family togetherness which is still a common practice: eating together. During family meals, it is not only the body that is being fed, but the soul of those at table is as well nourished by their interchange of spirit.
And it is the family that eats together which normally finds it possible to recreate together.
This is normally done at ease, but it fosters family unity as members of the same family refresh their body and mind as a family. If they can rejoice together in good times then they can as well suffer together during their hard moments. St. Paul likes this theme.
“If one member suffers anything,” says the apostle, “all the members suffer with it or if one member glories, all the members rejoice with it” (I Cor 12:26). According to St Paul, nothing so unites the members of a family as their companionship in suffering.
And nothing so bonds a family as their spontaneous happiness over the well being or achievement of any of its members!
And this is the standard of the family that Jesus sets, like the family he grew in of Joseph and Mary.
Because of the importance that the Church attaches to the family, it celebrates the family feast on the first Sunday after Christmas. Then all families are called to follow the example of the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.