Sunday, October 07, 2012

Retrouvaille: A Healing Remedy for Troubled Marriages


(Twenty-seventh Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on October 7, 2012, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Genesis 2: 18-24; Mark 10: 2-16.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-seventh Sunday 2012]


A fourth grade teacher asked her students to write down their ideas about marriage.  One boy said, “It’s really important to find a wife who likes the same stuff that you like.  Like, if you like sports, then she should like it that you like sports, and she should let you watch games on TV.”  (I hope you could all—like—follow that!)  A girl wrote, “When you get married, you make a promise to go through sickness and illness and disease together.”  And then there was this classic comment from a third student: “Nobody really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry.  God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with!”

Somehow I don’t think that’s what the Lord meant when he talked about the two becoming one!

Hopefully that fourth grader will eventually see his future spouse in a slightly more positive light.

But it’s not surprising that he has the attitude that he has, given the fact that we’re living right now in a culture where marriage is not held in very high regard.  (By “marriage,” incidentally, I mean the lifelong union of one man and one woman.  In 2012 it’s important to clarify that point whenever you’re giving a talk like this to a large group of people—just to make sure no one misunderstands the meaning of the term!)

Back now to my homily.  In contrast to the marriage naysayers of our contemporary culture we have Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who has an incredibly high view of marriage and of married life—as is illustrated quite clearly in today’s well-known gospel passage from Mark 10.  There the Pharisees ask him, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”

Notice how Jesus answers.  He first of all dismisses their argument in support of divorce by saying that Moses only tolerated it because of the stubbornness and hardness of heart of the ancient Israelites.  And then he goes back to the very first book of the Bible—specifically to the creation story in the Book of Genesis (part of which we heard in our first reading today)—to make the point that marriage was not, originally, a human idea; rather, it was the idea of Almighty God himself!  God is the true author of marriage; consequently he’s the one who binds a man and a woman together when that couple exchanges their vows and a true marital bond is formed.

Which is precisely why the Catholic Church teaches that a valid, sacramental marriage can never be broken!  It’s because of what we just heard in this gospel; it’s because of what Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, taught about the permanence of marriage. 

The bottom line is that the Church has no power to undo what God has definitively done in uniting a husband and wife! 

Of course, it’s important to note here that it is possible for a couple to exchange their vows in a Catholic church without entering into a true, valid marriage.  To enter into a valid marriage before God you have to do it freely and willingly, and with a certain level of maturity (emotional as well as physical), and with the right intentions.  Well, unfortunately, sometimes one or both of the parties doesn’t fulfill one or more of those requirements—but that doesn’t become clear until long after the ceremony has taken place.

The annulment process (which I know some of you have been through) seeks to determine whether or not that is, in fact, the case with respect to a particular relationship.  If the marriage tribunal finds a defect that was present when the couple exchanged their vows, then the marriage is declared null; but if they can’t find a defect, the marriage stands.  It stands because the evidence indicates that there’s a true, marital bond present.  As Jesus said here, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

I’ve sometimes heard people refer to an annulment as a “Catholic divorce”—but that’s wrong.  A divorce says, “There was a marriage; now there isn’t a marriage.”  An annulment says, “There was never a true marriage bond formed in the first place.  Even though the couple entered the relationship in good faith, there was something wrong at the very beginning which was not recognized at the time.”

Because the experience of divorce—and because even the annulment process—can be so painful, it’s extremely important that we, as Catholics, reach out to friends and relatives who are having difficulties in their marriages.  We should pray for them, of course; but in addition to that we should do our best to point them to people and groups and services through which they can find healing in their relationships.  In other words, as Catholics we should do what we can do to help save marriages!

Let me share with you now some information on one very good marriage-saving resource: it’s called, “Retrouvaille.”

Retrouvaille (which means, “Rediscovery” in French), is a program for hurting marriages that was developed in Quebec, Canada back in the late 1970s (hence the French name).  It consists of a weekend experience and 12 follow-up sessions.  It’s not a Marriage Encounter (which some of you have probably been on).  Marriage Encounters are designed to make good marriages better; Retrouvaille weekends and follow-up sessions are designed to save marriages that are “on the rocks,” so to speak.

There are no Retrouvaille weekends here in Rhode Island, but there are weekends held, periodically, in nearby Connecticut and Massachusetts.  I’ve recommended these to many couples over the years, and several have actually gone.

And, as far as I know, all the couples who took my advice and went are still married.

Thanks be to God!

Some of those who have gone, incidentally, have told me that although the weekend experience was very good, the follow-up sessions were even better.  They said that it was in those 12 additional gatherings that the real healing in their marriages began to take place.

I’ve included an insert on Retrouvaille in today’s bulletin.  On it you’ll find, among other things, the address of their website (click here), where you can find more information and resources—including info on upcoming weekends in the area.

I happened to be looking at the website the other day, and one of the things that I found there was an article entitled, “The 4 Stages of Marriage.”  This article makes clear why a program like Retrouvaille is so needed, especially in a society like ours which de-values marriage, and in which the divorce rate is so high.

Perhaps many of you can identify with these:

  • The first stage of marriage they call the “romance stage.”  The authors (obviously married people) say: [In this first stage] “life was so wonderful we couldn't stand to live without the other. Our thoughts often turned to the other when we were not with them. We had fallen in love and knew that this was the person we wanted to spend the rest of our life with.  Little differences between us were cute and endearing.”
  • However, that stage doesn’t last forever.  The next stage they call, “disillusionment.”  They write, “At some point those little differences started to annoy us. We felt bothered by some of those same things that may have been cute a short time earlier. The self-talk in the back of our mind started wondering why our spouse couldn't be more like us. We had entered into the second stage of marriage, the disillusionment stage. During [this] stage we start to realize that our spouse is not the perfect person that we had envisioned him or her to be. Sometimes, especially if our romance stage had been particularly intense, we are hurt deeply by this disillusionment. We realize that the expectations we had of the perfect marriage [are] not going to happen. For some this realization is too heart-wrenching and they give up on the marriage and divorce.”
  • Those who survive, according to the authors, then have to face “the misery stage”—which is even worse than the disillusionment stage.  As they say in the article, “Many people stick with and try to work through their problems during disillusionment. They seek the counsel of family, friends, clergy and marriage family counselors. Some of these people find the key they are looking for from these resources. [But] many others continue to struggle and their troubles worsen. Often the marriage deteriorates more deeply due to drug, alcohol or other addictions. Sometimes a third party relationship in the form of [an] extramarital affair results.”
  • For some couples, unfortunately, that’s where everything comes to an end; but for others, thankfully, there is a fourth stage of “awakening”—which is where Retrouvaille comes into the picture.  As the article says, “Teams of couples who have experienced all 4 stages of marriage [themselves] present the Retrouvaille program. Instead of giving up, [these couples] found solutions. In Retrouvaille they learned the tools they needed to live a happy marriage. They learned that marriage does not follow the romance and happily-ever-after formula portrayed in literature and [the] media. Rather, they [realized] that there are certain learnable skills, attitudes and tools that they can use to deal with the inevitable problems of the real world.”


Like that fourth grader I mentioned at the beginning of my homily, everyone who has gone through the Retrouvaille experience has, before the weekend, felt like they were “stuck” with their spouse.  But, by the grace of God and with some really hard work, many have “rediscovered” their spouses to be great blessings—and they’ve saved their marriages in the process.

If you know someone whose marriage is in trouble right now, please tell them about Retrouvaille--tell them about this opportunity; and if your marriage is suffering at the present time, consider going.

It just might move your marriage out of the misery stage and into the awakening stage—the healing stage—which, I’m sure, is where you and your spouse would like it to be.