MASS OF HEALING OF THE FAMILY TREE,
SANDYMOUNT RETREAT CENTRE. BLUNDELLSANDS, L23.
By Fr. Simon Cadwallader
We have a great tendency …an unfortunate one….to begin our reflections on the spiritual life at chapter 3 of the Bible….the scene of the original sin in the Book of Genesis….and forget that we should always begin, where? At the beginning … and there we find the original blessing ….in Genesis chapter 1 where all of Creation is declared good …and where God walks in easy fellowship with our first parents ….Adam and Eve….all ordered to the right praise of God…that is what paradise is. Everything was perfect and all that occurs after the original sin is God’s slowly unfolding plan to restore us to a state of right praise of God so we inherit his blessings. God chases us down and will work continuously, even when you are not co-operating fully, to make you docile to his wise teachings, so we can then hand those blessings on through our children who in turn are enabled to grow in faith, hope and charity, attracting the essential family blessings. God wants you to see the truth about yourself ….the human race is originally good, true, and untainted by sin until the first trespass of God’s will happened. It is only then that life becomes messy, difficult and problematic as well as beautiful and hopeful.
Now, we know through experience that both good and bad things get handed on. Blessings can be handed down to a thousand generations, where love has reigned in households and the family has orbited around God and his sovereign word. Yet, at many levels, we see how things get passed on which hurt us. At a physical level we know that a drug-addicted mother can pass that addiction straight on to the child in her womb ….. sexual disease, HIV and so much more, can also be passed on when God’s guidance over intimacy is ignored. Gene therapy has shown that generations of a family can be prone to a particular illness. Those of you who watch “Who do you think you are?” have seen how character, artistic or musical traits can be passed down the family tree. So what can we say at a spiritual level. … the ways our highly sensitive souls might be influenced? It shouldn’t surprise us to see character virtues and defects, qualities and flaws, passed through the generations. How many speak of their grandmother and the kindness they remember, appreciated, and drew into the way they decided to live. Or how an old dog-eared prayer book got handed down to the next generation and was treasured. At the same time, we know that the effects of sin can pass through the branches of our families. …. there is a row, for example, people take sides, pass their subjective take on events on to their children who then inherit an inner prejudice and on it goes. At a wider community level, think of the prejudices inherited and accepted through the generations in the tension that imprisoned so many people during the years of the violence in Northern Ireland on both sides of the argument. At an individual level, consider a child neglected by his or her parents who then falls into a life of crime. Yes, what we do or omit to do will influence the lives and personalities of those with whom we share living space. Who knows how the people in the background of Judas Iscariot’s formative years influenced the dispositions of the man who gave into his shadow side rather than walk the narrow path Jesus signalled for him?
If you look at your family tree in the wrong way you won’t see the wood for the tree! It is important to have the right perspective when you consider the past. If there were no negative traits among your ancestors you would be another immaculate conception. Look at Jesus…. he was immaculately conceived and yet his family tree is full of people who were less than perfect ….. in fact, highly dysfunctional at times. There were sinners, liars and schemers in his genetic and historical lineage, as well as good, honest people of faith. It’s not all pretty ….. Abraham unjustly banished Ishmael, David… of whom Jesus was often called “Son of…..” committed adultery and murder. The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel mentions Bathsheba who committed adultery with David, then schemes to make one of her own children (among David’s many) inherit the kingdom. Tamar is alluded to ….she seduced her father-in-law, Rahab gets a mention she was a prostitute and yet …. and yet … all these not completely virtuous characters were divine instruments in the heritage that gave us our redeemer, Jesus. God works through pure and impure blood lines.
Look at the saints whose feasts are today ….. St Rock was infected by a plague in Italy …. and died soon afterwards …. was he vulnerable to pestilence because of the behavior of one of his forebears? no! St Stephen of Hungary was the son of a pagan father but that didn’t stop him going on to become the patron saint of his country. In all of our family trees, God writes straight with crooked lines…. he works everything for the good of those who love Him. So let’s not fall into the trap of thinking the black sheep in our family lines (and we know we aren’t as white as snow either) leave us bewitched by some kind of ancestral curse which dooms us to a life less than we desire or that God himself wants for you. I believe we must draw a line in quoting freely how “the sins of the fathers are punished in their children” and saying that is why a family or a member of a family is held back, stuck, chained to the past, nothing to be done. Nowhere in the Holy Bible does this passage imply a curse upon all of humanity, from the beginning of time to the end of time. That is an erroneous teaching! Yes, we have just heard read in the Book of Exodus that the Lord “visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children to a third and fourth generations” (Ex 34:6-7, Ot 5, 8-10). But look a little further down the bible story and in Ezekiel (18.20), we read “the son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father.” So how do we reconcile those different statements? God, seeing the hardheartedness of the Israelites warned them of the repercussions of sin, how its branches spread insidiously and rapidly, so they might not be lost and to teach them the seriousness of their sins. But if a man robs a bank, will God punish the man’s son? No he won’t ….. because he does not share his father’s guilt. Each of us is responsible for our own sins. Of course, if the man is training his son in the skills of burglary, there is a good chance the son will follow a path of dishonesty, imitate his sin, but the son must still accept responsibility for his actions. When Jesus came, as the incarnate love of the Father, he gave us clarity on this issue when, after seeing a blind man, the disciples asked him: “Teacher whose sin caused him to be blind …was it his own or his parents’ sin?” Jesus answered very clearly: “his blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents’ sin. He is blind so that God’s power might be seen at work in him” (In 9:2-3).
The only one who has borne the sins of others and paid the penalty for their sin is Our Lord, Jesus Christ. In order to take away the sin of the whole world, God gave us a lamb, his own Son, sacrificed on the cross in expiation for the sins of the human race – past, present and future. For our sake, as St Paul said, due to our sins, Christ became accursed on the cross. He exchanged his perfection for our sin. He died the death that we deserved so we could live a life like he lived. So what is the lesson for us? Christ crucified and risen breaks the chains that hold us to the past. We really shouldn’t blame our parents or ancestors for the cause of our bad behavior, sickness, debts, or addictions, or not being able to have any children etc.
It is too easy to say “I am a victim of a generational curse.” We must never forget that a rite of Exorcism has been pronounced over us during our infant or adult baptism. If we are to accept that evil spirits of our ancestors are passed on to their descendants, then we must reject the Sacrament of Baptism. We must reject the claimed power of the Rite of Exorcism that takes place during the Sacrament of Baptism either as an infant or an adult. Either the baptized believer is freed from all evil spirits, be they “generational” or not, or he is not freed! Both beliefs cannot be true and upheld because they oppose one another. To believe in the influence of a “generational Curse” over a Christian is to invalidate and oppose their Baptismal grace.
Humans enjoy free will. If a person is possessed by evil spirits because of the sins of his ancestors, logically, he cannot be held accountable for the actions of his sinful nature. In other words, “well, it was the devil who made me do it.” I think what we can say is that the sins of the fathers are repeated in their children if the children choose that path of sin. God gives us freedom of choice and doesn’t handicap us simply because our forebears haven’t lived by the ways of the Lord. That would be unjust and God is just. It’s true that many children do not have the beneficial effects of good family guidance and mentoring but it still comes down to the individual who has a conscience and makes a choice for good or evil, for virtue or sin, ultimately of his own freewill, even if that will is weak and not well formed. The blame game, accusing our parents or ancestors for our adverse circumstances, simply allows us to passively accept that my life is thus and I am powerless to change…. I am a victim of a dysfunctional family ….. that is not the truth of according to the gospel.
There can be if we allow it a generational migration of sin….. bad habits becoming ingrained in a family’s way of life but that does not negate what the Lord said in Exodus 34: The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.
We have the wonderful healing sacrament of Confession that helps us to break any sinful patterns that we might have allowed to affect our lives because of any dysfunction or natural weakness in our family histories. We have the Eucharistic Jesus to strengthen us to keep to his way of living and being.
Tonight, spend a little time thinking of your own family tree …. the good you wish to thank God for that has come down to you through generations of self-giving love, but also the complexities that have arisen through particular patterns of sinful behaviour which might have held back the family as it grows and intermingles with other families prone to the same sinful patterns, where God’s word is not at the centre of their lives. And that is surely a key point …. where God is not at the centre of family life, the Devil enters gleefully through the back door and disturbs the peace.
There can, of course, be no healing without forgiveness …. so hold before the Lord anyone who is still trapped in a circle of unforgiveness, nursing a resentful heart. We pray tonight for the breaking of those chains of hatred that blight families’ joy and peace.
We are here to pray for the living but also for the dead we offer Masses on a regular basis for those who have passed on – the only reason to do that is to influence their ultimate destiny if they are not yet in heaven. Souls in Purgatory are those who have ended their time on earth with unfinished business…. they are not yet prepared to enter heaven because of past sins they have not repented of. They are impotent, powerless and can no longer influence their journey beyond death and rely so much on us to pray for them that they may be forgiven and move on into heaven. What we can certainly ask for is the forgiveness of the sins of our ancestors both near and into the far distant past …. those we have never known ….. but who long for our prayers of intercession to finally transport them towards the beatific vision….. the face of God we were all born with an innate longing to see.
Think of someone who has committed murder, or someone who has terminated their own life, or the life of a baby or elderly person, against the divine will. Out of love for them we wish to transport them on the wings of our prayers to their “homeland” in Paradise. If we can transfuse blood we can certainly transfuse the power of prayer to souls still suffering in Purgatory as they ache to be with Christ now they fully understand their own follies in this life and wish to purge themselves of all sin so as to reach the glory of God.
Let us remember that the past is the present to Jesus who wants to heal us of all the effects of sin in our lives and the lives of everyone. You see …. “curse'” is a strong word so we have to understand it biblically. Remember how Moses, knowing that his time was short, presented the Israelite people with a stark choice: “blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God ….. however if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, curses will come on you and overtake you.” (Deuteronomy 28). So it is not God who curses us….. we attract our own punishment by staying outside the way of the Lord. If God is not the centre of your domestic church, your home, how can you expect things to remain peaceful and calm?….. where God does not reign, the Devil finds an opportunity to stir things up. But we can get things back on track as soon as we return God to his sovereign role of Lord of our families ….. prayer, rosary, Mass together as a family ….. all simple things which can so easily be forgotten and avoided through laziness, false gods or intellectual pride. That is the main danger in our family trees.
So let us bow our heads now and pray with childlike confidence …. if you have come here with a particular worry about something in your own family tree, be assured of the power of Holy Mass to bring good to what lies unhealed .
Loving Father, we are baptized as your beloved children so we come to you trustfully, presenting our many needs … physical, emotional, spiritual and relational. We acknowledge that some of our problems are due to our failings, weaknesess and sin. Forgive us. But tonight we also seek forgiveness, Lord, for our ancestors whose sins may have affected us through character traits passed on, flaws in our way of dealing with others and not seeing life through your pure and honest eyes.
Let us not be troubled in spirit by anything wrongful which has been passed down the family line and we pray for all the souls in Purgatory that they may be set free, for they too may have suffered from a lack of holy mentoring in their lives on earth.
We know we dare not ask for anything good without having a disposition to forgive ….. help us to let go of any resentment or unresolved tension or anger between ourselves and anyone at all, especially living or dead members of our family trees. We sincerely decide tonight with the help of your grace to forgive all those who have offended us or those we love in any way whatsoever, and to free us so we are not burdened by guilt over the past or long-held resentments with those who have injured us and affected our subsequent behavior patterns.
We claim tonight the power of the resurrection over all our relationships and all that is fallen in this world, so we may rise out of any present sufferings, genetic weaknesses and disorders. In the holy name of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and equal Spirit, deliver us from all that is evil…. deliver our families, near and extended, going back to the beginning of time from all malevolent influences of the Devil and his unholy schemings. May we be free from all contaminating patterns of behavior that bind us to misery or depression.
Abba, Father, hear our wounded hearts cry out to you in deep trust. Out of your infinite love, pour out on our souls, spirits, minds and bodies the saving balm of your Son’s precious blood. Bless us richly and profoundly and all our relatives and friends, living and deceased. Let us be aware of the importance of transmitting to future generations a way of living and being free from negativity and all that compromises Christian hope and joy.
By your beloved Son’s wounds, Father, we are healed and only through his sacred wounds on the cross. Therefore, we invoke the power of the holy cross over the mind and spirit, soul and body of each person in our family tree, calling down your healing of each generation. We ask, Father, that the blood of your Son’s passion and death and the graces of every Mass offered to your name may flow over us abundantly, cleanse the world you made for goodness and heal the whole lineage of our families.
May the court of heavenly angels, our guardians, led by the archangels Michael, Raphael and Gabriel, safeguard our paths and protect us from all the works of the occult all that belongs to darkness. Let us fall in love more deeply with you as Lord so we may extend a wiser love to others. Keep us Father in your warm and safe embrace, make us true adorers of your Son in the Blessed Sacrament, bring joy and peace to our families, loving bonds of self sacrificial love and patience as Jesus taught us through the Spirit. May we live always in the enchanting space between the three members of the Holy Trinity and may our mother Mary draw all our petitions together now as she prays in our name.
Hail Mary . . . . . .