Healing the Family Tree

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.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11994673962810075076 Nick

    RE: "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"Of course the Mass helps the dead, it is the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but it dose not serve the bonds between the dearly departed and the wayward pilgrim but strengthens the charity of all the Church's sons, so that the bond of unity between all of her sons in Heaven, Purgatory, and the world is augmented. Jesus cannot be divided, because His Humanity and Divinity are neither confused nor mashed together but united in God the Son, that is, in His Divine Person. Moreover, because it is God, who is Love Itself, that is the Unity of the Catholic Church, Himself being Oneness and Unity, no one can say that God divides the faithful or cuts off the faithful from each other, because that would be saying He divides Himself against Himself and the House which He build would not stand, yet, it is not build upon sand but upon a rock, the Rock, the Chair, Saint Peter, to whom Jesus gave the Keys to the Kingdom and through whom Jesus gave the same Keys to all of the Apostles. The dearly departed whom we believe are lost are not lost be found, alive in the God of the Living, and for this great grace of salvation we rejoice and give thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    Nick I think we're both right. What I meant to say is that the negative and human bonds that may exist are broken so that the proper bond in Christ that you rightly affirm may prosper.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11994673962810075076 Nick

    Oh. That makes sense. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08166757508370920050 Tertium Quid

    Great post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01038498107096197056 Edward Elkins jr.

    I was not born into a catholic family. I recently got stranded making a transition from urban life to work towards establishing an organic farm. I got stranded at my Mothers house who is not a catholic. I am cringe at the thought of dead family members. The family reunion has been almost like a horror. My stepfather a horror buff dont make it any easier. What a time for my car to break down. I have a family member one side of the family who committed suicide my mothers brother. On my fathers side my cousin was raped and murdered. My mothers side had several disfunctional problems in the tree. My fathers pretty straight and puritan like no divorces for 100's of years upuntil my father. Isnt our baptism a cleansing from it all. Doesnt the freedom from sin and death include all the physical births lineage upto Adam.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04315105493443923507 Paul

    Not to nitpick Father (oh, all right then: to nitpick), but I did wonder whether "It would be a natural part of our life together rather than a stupendous and 'amazing' ministry of healing" shouldn't rather be "It would be a natural part of our life together *as well as* a stupendous and amazing ministry of healing".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14805035753704478361 Ms. Sarah

    I heard your talk on the topic at Vandalia in September. I found the healing Mass & the idea of Masses for the dead to be extremely beneficial in my life. As with other commentators & most people…I have a 'real' family with all the 'isms', trials, blacksheep, violence etc.As much as anything, for me, the Mass of the Dead released me from them. It was an act of letting them go to God & letting me get on with life.As I've told some dear friends since I returned from Vandalia, "the nags in my head have been laid to rest." Now, to get over the stigma in our small parish of paying for Masses for the Dead–in a parish where everyone knows everyone except me. Ahhh the joys of explaining it to total strangers….Pax

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12979831428268753359 Natasa

    I'll definitely read up about it and pray for the dead more regularly. Thank you for this follow up post. It has clarified things for me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11995421421889202940 pasquale

    From Energetic Healing IntituteIts about engaging your emotions in heart felt high frequency actions, words and deeds. Doing so will create an electro-magnetic reaction attracting your pure light source-self (the true you that can watch your physical self in an accident or from a coma state or realized through astral-projection experiences) into full alignment with your physical self.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12594214770417497135 Maureen

    Thank you very much for this informative post, Father. Just knowing some definitions of terms and origins of ideas helps a _lot_. (Although whoever came up with the term "generational curse" had clearly been reading too many Gothic romance novels from the Seventies, or possibly too much Lovecraft!)(And I hope I didn't give any impression in the previous post comments that I didn't hold with your experience at Mass, because I didn't mean to.)I think one of the greatest blessings of being able to pray for the dead is that it does allow one to feel that one is doing something useful. Either your prayers are benefitting the person you intend, or some other person who needs it if he no longer does. You have a way to direct and express your love and grief, even when there is nothing left to do for them in this world.Through the Internet, I have known a lot of people; and when some of them have died, I have often found myself too far away to attend their funerals or help out in any way. But I can still pray and have Masses said.Also, if someone dies suddenly and in some terrible way, there is often a lot that is left unsaid or unfinished. How hard it would be, if we really were cut off from them for the rest of time, until the end of the world! How blessed we are, to have the constant communion of saints in Christ!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07740164378856454831 laurazim

    Thanks for posting more on this, Fr., and I'm sorry it's taken me so long to comment. (Homeschooling 5 kids and all, you know. Busy.)I have two thoughts. My first is that this seems similar in theory to the Mass intentions which our priest mentions during the Prayers of the Faithful at Mass every day–is that right? i.e. you call the church office and say, "My father died on January 14th and his birthday was October 28th. I'd like the Masses on both those days for the next 10 years to be said for him." Am I close with this? Is it amounting to the same thing, even if it's not a Requiem?My second thought goes back a few years. When my father died, there were a lot of questions left unanswered–chiefly that of his conversion. Though he became more vocally prayerful in his final weeks and days, and was annointed by a catholic priest, we were never sure of his full conversion. (He was raised Southern Baptist, convertid to Anglican, and participated in the Catholic Church, much, I think, like the Ordinariate is meant to work.) I spoke with a friend of mine (who was at the time a seminarian, and is now a very fine priest) about my prayers for my father's soul. He said to be prudent in them–that it's good and right to pray for my dad's soul, but to be mindful of falling into despair. God is ever faithful and will take care of my dad. My fear was that my dad would never get out of Purgatory, and my friend's reminder was that Purgatory is the most hopeful place to be: it means that purification is occuring in order to be welcomed into Heaven!At any rate, thanks for your further details, and I'd love more thoughts when you have the time.