Several readers have been intrigued by references on the blog to ‘healing the family tree’ or ‘generational healing.’ This ministry (to my knowledge) was discovered by an English Protestant psychiatrist called Kenneth McCall. Dr McCall wrote a book called ‘Healing the Family Tree’ in the 80’s recording his discoveries that seriously mentally ill people could sometimes have the disturbance in their life traced to an unresolved death or trauma in the family history. For example, it was revealed in therapy that a man with severe fear of water (hydrophobia) had an uncle who died in a wartime submarine incident. The body was never recovered and he was never mourned properly. Dr McCall began holding funeral services for the deceased loved one and found that often the suffering living person was healed completely or was gradually healed or got significantly better.
This led Dr McCall to explore the phenomenon further and he researched other religious traditions’ practices of making sacrifices for the dead on behalf of the living. Of course this led him to the Catholic practice of requiem Masses, and he realized that the Catholic Church had been saying funeral masses or requiem masses for the repose of the souls of their loved ones as a matter of course from the beginning. He began to quietly use this therapy for patients of every faith and found that much benefit was given.
This book (there may have been other work on this at the same time) was very influential in the renewal (charismatic) movement in many different denominations, including the Catholic Church. Fr Hampsch–a Claretian priest–wrote a book called Healing Your Family Tree. The term ‘generational healing’ came into use, and this was expanded to include all sorts of other psychic and spiritual problems like ‘family curses’ ‘healing from occult involvement’ and ‘deliverance’ which is a low level exorcism.
What are the problems with such things? One of the obvious problems is a propensity to superstition and a magical view of the Eucharist. Another problem is a tendency towards sensationalism. A third is an inclination towards the ‘victim mentality’ in which the suffering person blames all their problems on their ancestors. However, abuses should not undo right uses.
The fact remains that we, as Catholics, follow in the ancient tradition of the church and the Hebrew religion before us, in celebrating the sacrifice of Christ on behalf of our dead. We believe this does them good spiritually, but we often overlook the benefits to the living. A proper funeral and requiem Mass ritually cuts the bonds between the dead person and the living. It frees the living from the negative bonds that may exist and allows the dead person to rest in peace. It also, if you like, allows the living person to exist in peace.
In my view, the fact that ‘generational healing’ and ‘healing the family tree’ has become a kind of sensational fad, been abused by some or ‘questionable practice’ only indicates that the church has neglected an important part of her proper ministry. This always happens when part of the fullness of the faith is neglected or denied. The truth springs up elsewhere with a vengeance and often an extreme view emerges, sensible people repudiate it and ‘extremist’ types latch on to it.
If Catholics simply practiced our age old tradition of having masses offered for the dead, for years’ anniversaries to be observed and for requiems to be offered regularly–especially when there has been a traumatic death, an unresolved family trauma or an unresolved death, then the dead would rest in Christ’s peace and the living family members would find resolution of many of their illnesses, mental problems, family ‘curses’ and continued inherited spiritual and psychic diseases.
It would be a natural part of our life together rather than a stupendous and ‘amazing’ ministry of healing. Why not use this month of November to continue to pray and offer Masses for you beloved dead? It can’t do anyone any harm, and it is likely to bring about much good that you cannot now imagine.