|Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
The one message that Christianity has always proclaimed is the unconditional and infinite Love of God for humankind. More than every other love the world has known what the Bible projects is the tender personal care that God has for every one of His sons and daughters. He turns everything to our good so that there is no room for any fear or anxiety in our hearts. However we do face problems and impossible situations at every juncture of our life. Often we get depressed and at other times irritated with God's apparent silence at the sight of human misery. There are people who even end up giving up on God - questioning the very meaning of life. "Why me?" is a painful cry from the heart of many who are not able to cope up with the challenges of life. In the midst of our trials and struggles the Lord as Emmanuel (God with us) stands inviting us, "Come to me you who are tired and burdened, I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) Genuine religion will lead us to the open arms of the Lord waiting to comfort us. However if we miss the Face of the Lord, we can easily be deceived by wrong answers that misinterpretations of the Bible and tradition of the Church lead to.
“The Lord Has Forsaken Me” (Isaiah 49:14)
An elderly woman came to me to pour out her woes. Life seemed impossible. All she could see were problems. Everyone in the family was suffering. Her husband who had stopped drinking some years ago had taken to the bottle again. Her son was well qualified but was not getting a job appointment. Her daughter was not getting a proper alliance for marriage. This lady herself had a problem of insomnia - the inability to sleep at night.
She had attended a retreat a couple of months earlier and the counselor in that place identified her situation as the consequence of an ancestral curse. This so-called messenger of God declared that a curse had fallen upon the family which was why everything was going haywire. He prescribed a set of daily pious exercises including a certain number of rosaries and novenas to deliver them from this curse. The lady had to do much reparation for the family to be delivered from the ancestor’s curse. When she received this direction, she was at first relieved but when they returned from the retreat she felt more desperate. She had been told that if she failed to fulfill her daily prayer obligations she had to do the double of it the next day. That was the only way she was told that the curse coming down from the ancestors could be averted. She tried honestly to fulfill these obligations but because of the family responsibilities, she would invariably fail. On the one hand she could feel the curse of the ancestors pressing upon the entire family and on the other hand the failure to fulfill the pious obligations crushed her. In such despair she approached me.
I explained to this lady that as a baptized Christian, all the ancestral curses are washed away in the waters of the Sacrament of Baptism. I quoted to her the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I further explained to her that the Sacrament of Baptism is God's own hands reached out to us to save us through the ministry of the Church. If this ministry cannot save us from ancestral curses, any amount of pious exercises will not be able to effect that salvation.
“I Will Never Forget You” (Isaiah 49:15)
I took time with her to make her understand that the problem of each member of the family is to be understood in isolation and to be solved. Her husband would have to open his heart to the Lord once again to experience the Power of the Holy Spirit to defeat the evil power of alcoholism. Her son had to prepare himself more intelligently to face the interviews and with the help of God, he would get an opening. Her daughter was not able to find her future spouse because the right person God had destined for her was yet to come her way and would do so at the appointed time. The whole family has to learn to wait upon God as Jesus instructed the Apostles. The Apostles asked the Risen Lord whether that was the time when He would usher in God's Kingdom. The Lord responded saying that they had to wait until "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you." (Acts 1:8) I prayed for her and helped her to prepare for the Promise of the Holy Spirit and His consolation. She indeed received the great peace of the Holy Spirit. She was able to sleep well. She also got the courage to intercede for her husband and children with Mother Mary on her side. Prayer was no longer a burden but a support and confidence.
Earlier she became distressed because of the wrong ideas and reasons placed in her mind by the counselor. It looks unfortunate that certain preachers and counselors are taking recourse to the easy answer of ancestral curse to solve the burning problems of life. Instead of turning to God for a solution, they are directed away from God to the desperate myth of curse of the ancestors. Instead of giving people the confidence of God’s Saving Love and the Hope of heavenly intervention, they are led to the helpless situation of blaming their ancestors for their misery.
“For A Brief Moment I Abandoned You” (Isaiah 54:7)
The Old Testament indeed speaks about ancestral curses coming upon man. "For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness on the children of those who hate me down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:5-6) We find a few other places in the Old Testament where there is a similar mention of generational curses (Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9). It is noteworthy that in all these passages, the generational curses are called down only for the specific sin of idolatry. A Jewish interpretation of this passage specifically uses the term ungodly fathers and rebellious children. This refers to the realistic situation where a father has a sinful way of living and the children imbibe his sinful attitudes. In other words,the children make a choice to repeat the sins of their fathers. This is a warning to the parents not to live in sin setting a wrong example for their children. Moreover, in the next verse God promises "I will bestow mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Therefore the teaching to the children is to turn to God in repentance and not repeat the sins of their ancestors.
In the prophecies of Ezekiel and Jeremiah there is a clear assertion that the children will not have to pay for the sins of their parents. "You ask why is not the son charged with the guilt of his father?" Because the son has done what is right and just, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. Only the one who sins shall die. The son shall not be charged with the guilt of his father, nor shall the father be charged with the guilt of his son. The virtuous man's virtue shall be his own, as the wicked man's wickedness will be his own." (Ezekial 18:19-20) This is the clear denial of any generational curse coming upon a human.
No one is permitted to blame his ancestors for his own misery. One has to take responsibility for one's own life. The prophet in fact begins the entire case with a more powerful question, "Thus the word of the Lord came to me: Son of man what is the meaning of this proverb that you recite in the land of Israel: ‘The fathers have eaten green grapes, thus their children’s teeth are set on edge’? I swear that there shall no longer be anyone among you who will repeat this proverb in Israel. For all lives are mine; the life of the father is like the life of the son, both are mine; only the one who sins shall die." (Ezekial 18:4)
“My Love Shall Never Leave You” (Isaiah 54:10)
Prophet Jeremiah speaking of the same proverb says that it is not to be even uttered again in the house of Israel. "In those days they shall no longer say, ‘the fathers ate unripe grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge’, but through his own fault only shall anyone die; the teeth of him who eats the unripe grapes shall be set on edge." (Jeremiah 31:29-30) It is pertinent that the prophet speaks about this new liberation in the context of the new covenant that God was to establish, "The days are coming, says The Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah." (Jeremiah 31:31) In this new covenant, God promises total forgiveness of our sinfulness, "For I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more" (v. 34). This was indeed a prophecy of what the Saviour would do for humankind. At the Last Supper, Jesus took the chalice of wine and said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you." (Luke 22:20) It is in the Paschal Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ that we find total liberation from all our sins and the curses coming down from ancestors as well as our own personal inequities.
In Jesus Christ, all the promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled. The Old Testament looks forward to the person and teachings of Jesus for its completion. Hence Jesus corrects and completes the Old Testament teachings. Jesus said, "Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill." (Matthew 5:17)
Hence the usual formula that precedes the teachings of Jesus, "You have heard that it was said to your ancestors... But I say to you." (Matthew 5:21-22) The Old Testament teachings on anger, hatred, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation etc. are given a new interpretation by Jesus (Matthew 5:21-48). To this list St. John adds the teaching of the ancestral curse. While relating the healing of the man born blind, St. John describes the disciples asking Jesus whether the blindness was because of his sins or the sins of his parents. Jesus rejecting this popular notion among the Jews answered, "Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him." (John 9:3) Here is a clear teaching of Jesus rejecting all talk of generational curses promising that God is ready to intervene in every form of human misery. Jesus went about healing every sickness, forgiving all forms of sin, saving broken families and thus preparing for the culmination of the work of salvation in His Death and Resurrection. Jesus took the powers of sin and death upon Himself and paid the price of it all in His Blood. This act of salvation was the ultimate manifestation of Divine Love. "No one takes it (my life) from me but I lay it down on my own." (John 10:18)
“If You Repent, I Will Restore You” (Jeremiah 15:19)
The salvific effects of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus flow down to us when we are baptized in Jesus Christ. In His first sermon, after having received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, St. Peter proclaimed, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38) This was the joyous proclamation of the early Church. St. Paul writing to the Romans explains the effects of the Sacrament of Baptism. In this Sacrament of Initiation, we are united with the Lord Jesus. The original Greek word used is “symphitos”. By this St. Paul means that as the foetus is united with the mother, so is the baptized person united with Jesus Christ to the effect that all the former’s sins and curses flow into Jesus and grace flows back into him. It is in this context that St. Paul affirms how Christ exempts us from the curse by taking it on Himself. "Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse of us." (Galatians 3:13) St. Paul categorically asserts, "Hence now there is no curse for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1) The word used is 'en christo' which really means incorporated into Christ Jesus. This explains what happens at the moment of Baptism. As a branch is cut off from the main stem and grafted to a new stem, so are we disentangled from our human ancestral line and connected to the new stem that Christ Jesus is. This is the regeneration that happens at the moment of Baptism. Jesus Himself explained this when He said, "I am the vine and you are the branches," (John 15:5) inviting us to abide in Him and promising us that He will keep us united with Him. It is in this new life received in baptism that we have the promise that "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is gone and the new is come." (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The Church explains further this teaching of the Holy Bible in its sacramental theology. The Catechism of the Catholic Church officially teaches us, "By baptism all sins are forgiven, original sins and personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the kingdom of God, neither Adam's sin nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God" (CCC 1263). The teaching makes it clear that what happens at baptism is altogether a new beginning in Christ Jesus making the baptised a "new creature" (1265), without any roots that reach back to any evil in his biological ancestry. Eventually if he commits any personal sin, the grace of the Sacrament of Confession washes it away. When we understand correctly the biblical teaching as elaborated by the Catholic Theology, we will come to the Truth of what Jesus said, "If the Son sets you free you are free indeed." (John 8:36) It is this freedom that makes life with Christ a celebration.
“I Will Be Their God, And They Shall Be My People” (Jeremiah 31:33)
The remedy to the sins and curses, whether personal or ancestral, is the baptismal regeneration - the grace of the Sacrament of Confession and a life of grace united with Jesus Christ. Those who look to special exorcisms and generational healing rites run the risk of getting entangled with the New Age influences. The New Age theories show ways of escaping personal responsibilities for our own choices and decisions. They urge people to look elsewhere than in themselves for the source of their problems. The Church has always insisted that we are responsible for our choices and actions before God. Through an honest soul searching when we find out that we have gone astray from the Lord Jesus, we come back to Him in repentance which culminates in the Sacramental Confession and conversion. This is the way of ushering in the Kingdom of God in our personal lives and in our community relationships. The first sermon of Jesus was - "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17)
Retreats and counseling should help everyone to understand oneself and to turn to God in repentance. In the Sacrament of Confession, a renewal of the grace of Sacrament of baptism is effected. All that God seeks is our freedom to live life in all its fullness. For the days of trial, He is there giving grace. To even mention that suffering is the working of a curse is to negate the truth of Christianity which is founded on a God who is love and on Christ crucified to set us free from death and every shadow of evil. Let us remember the sure promise of His Love and Presence with us and turn to God with confidence in our every trial.
Let Us Pray
Lord Jesus You came down to the world as our Saviour. You set us free from the sins and curses that are the plight on this earth. You instituted the Church to continue Your ministry of liberation in this world. Thank You, O Lord, for Your Infinite Mercy that flows into us in the moments of our misery. Let us turn to You and live - finding all the answers in You. Let us never be disheartened by our struggles, rather find our hope in You.