We've long been interested in the testimony of priests concerning what they call "generational healing." That's when spiritual burdens from the past -- from ancestors -- are allegedly lifted. Holidays are a great time to pray for our families.
We say "allegedly" because while this practice is growing, is accepted by many priests, and appears to conflict with no strictures of the Church, it still raises questions among some Christians. It is a fascinating concept: that like Scripture says (Exodus 34:7) -- and as we know from Adam and Eve -- sins of the fathers can be passed down through the generations.
Could this really be? Might spiritual matters be inherited — passed down like genes?
In the past, we’ve spoken to experts such as Father John Hampsch of California (who recently died at 94; his book shows the biblical basis) and Father Robert DeGrandis of Washington, D.C. (also now deceased). A while ago, we called another, Father Lou Cerulli of Montreal, who explained that there are just too many cases where recurring problems — divorce, alcoholism, financial problems, accidents — run in families. When a person dies, he believes, spirits that caused such problems or spiritual proclivities are passed on to the descendants.
“All of us are affected at least to some degree,” says Father Cerulli. “Some people are more affected than others. Some people have no problems until they are 40 or 50. There are always degrees. But if you’re going back to all the generations, there is going to be something. Whether we’re aware of it or not is another question.”
According to Father Cerulli (who travels extensively giving healing Masses), burdens from the past seem to especially manifest through disorders that are psychological or emotional. To dispel them Father Cerulli focuses on the Eucharist, asking those who seek his help to fill out a “genogram (basically, a family tree with the names of ancestors) and reciting prayers designed to alleviate such problems. During Mass the priest tells those seeking his counsel to continue writing down any facts, thoughts, or memories about deceased relatives. He speaks especially about the effects of past occult involvement. After the gifts are brought up, Father Cerulli says he recites another prayer to break generational curses.
“Then they bring up the family trees and they are placed in a basket that I raise up to the Lord for His healing,” explains Father Cerulli. “The Eucharist is celebrated and afterward the genograms are sealed in envelopes that are never opened and given to a community of nuns in Montreal who pray over them for three months, later disposing of them by burning them.”
All kinds of problems dissolve. There are physical healings. There is deliverance from disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and even suicidal tendencies. Usually it’s the relief from a general malaise that has haunted folks for decades.
“Invariably, there will be people who come up and say they had been carrying a burden — abortion, miscarriages, infant death — and afterward you can see the release on their faces,” claims Father Cerulli. “Such peace and joy! Often, there is reconciliation. We have cases where there’s been an estrangement and people haven’t heard from family members for maybe 20 years or more, and all of a sudden there’s a knock on the door or a letter in the mail or a phone call. I remember an instance where a lady was even unaware that she had a sibling and after a weekend retreat, she came into contact with this sibling. Sometimes this is within days or weeks of a celebration of the Eucharist for the family tree.”
Now in his seventies, Father Cerulli was a late vocation who was ordained in 1991 and was inspired to start his ministry by an English psychiatrist named Dr. Kenneth McCall who wrote extraordinary, groundbreaking books on generational healing (at some point in the future, we’ll explore the life of this incredible psychiatrist). Father Cerulli usually gives a monthly healing Mass in Montreal, and will soon be pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola in that Canadian city.
What advice does he give to families who feel they are “haunted” — that there is something negative hovering around their lineage?
If they can’t get to a healing Mass, he advises, they should meet as a family and discuss the issue. “One thing I suggest they do is put their thoughts on paper and develop a genogram as a tool, not as a science, but to become as specific as we can in praying for our families,” says the priest. “If possible, get together and look at the family tree. Sit down, have a nice meal together, share your stories, bring your photographs, and put it down on paper. Try to be as specific as possible. Put down names if you can. If you don’t know the name of your great-great grandfather, then just put down ‘GGF.’ After you’ve had your discussion and made your notes, pray. Pray for the healing of your family tree.”
Father Cerulli believes there are spiritual aspects particular to various lineages. For example, Italians often confront occult spirits passed down from ancient paganism or from practices such as witchcraft, the Black Hand, or the “evil eye.” There is also much occultism in Latin cultures, notes the priest — who worked in the financial industry and designed training programs for major corporations before responding to the priestly call.
But really, says Father Cerulli, no ethnicity can be singled out. Every culture has its spiritual problems. Unhealthy practices “open up doors to the family line that never should have been opened,” and one striking example, he believes, may be the ancient and seemingly intractable Jewish-Arab division. He believes if it may go back to the fact that Abraham had two sons — one by his lawful wife, Sarah, the other by their Egyptian servant, Hagar.
The son by Sarah was Isaac, and his descendants were to inherit Canaan. The son born of Hagar was named Ishmael and may have been a patron of Arabs.
“His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; And he will live to the east of all his brothers,” notes Genesis 16.
“These two guys and these two nations have been at each other ever since,” notes Father Cerulli.
“Ultimately, we all have problems. We’re all connected. We may be different people and different cultures and different languages, but if you go right back we come from God and are all one, are all connected.”