God’s Mercy Heals Troubled Marriages

Following is a Q-and-A session with Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S., who has been in ministry with Retrouvaille for many years. Retrouvaille (retrouvaille.org) offers tools to help couples rediscover a loving marriage relationship. Fr. Keyes has worked with the Oakland Diocese Retrouvaille community since 1993. From 2001 to 2005, he served on the organization’s international board during the time when the international community defined themselves as a Community of Disciples. During that time he presented on Retrouvaille teams in Florida, New Jersey, South Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Texas, Utah, Washington, and several communities in California.

What initially drew you to the ministry with Retrouvaille?
It was March 1992. I was preaching a Lenten mission in a parish in Union City, Calif. It was a parish that had experienced racial tension and division, and I told several stories of healing and reconciliation, including the story of how I became reconciled with the Church.

One afternoon before the evening service, I was browsing through the church and saw a poster promoting Retrouvaille. I thought about how it would be fitting to our charism of reconciliation. That evening at a reception after the service, a couple approached me with a gift of two pounds of my favorite dark roast coffee. (I had told a story of how coffee had brought strangers together on a mountain.) They asked if I had ever heard of Retrouvaille and they asked me to consider attending a weekend and to consider becoming a presenter. I attended the next weekend in November 1992 and began presenting in September 1993.

How does Retrouvaille promote reconciliation in troubled marriages?
Often communication in troubled marriages is limited to facts, thoughts, opinion and judgments. When couples attempt to listen to one another’s emotions, letting go of expectations, receiving their spouse as they are in themselves prior to inserting their own needs, values and beliefs, they begin to feel a bit of the intimacy that brought them together initially. The most common word that couples use at the end of the weekend is “hope.” The ministry gives couples hope that their marriages may be healed.

Is your role one of facilitator, minister, counselor—how would you describe it?
All of the above. There are three presenting couples on a weekend, but the priest is part of every talk. Oftentimes the priest will present the principles and instructions and the couples will tell stories of how these principles work in their own lives. The priest will sometimes include stories from his own life. We function mainly as witnesses. Indeed the couples learn more from the witnesses than they do from the teaching.

The priest on the weekend will hear confession on two nights. In many cases, these people have not been to confession in years and they have much that they need to unburden. It’s a powerful experience of mercy and reconciliation for people who are most in need of it.

Have you seen miracles worked through Retrouvaille —marriages that appeared hopeless that somehow endured and flourished?
The leaders of one community tell their own story of drugs, alcohol and infidelity. They were separated for three years, and their divorce was nearly final before they made their weekend.

One couple in an Indiana weekend had been married for eight years and divorced for 10 years. They were beginning to have grandchildren and their arguing and fighting was constant. The divorce was worse than the marriage. They came on a weekend so they could learn how to talk with each other without fighting. It was not what they expected, but they married each other again.

One Saturday night I sat in a room with two of the presenting couples, and the couple they were trying to help. The wife was on one side of the room hurling threats to her husband, who was cowering on the other side of the room. It was an ugly, hurtful situation. On Sunday afternoon, this same couple came to lunch holding hands. Two years later I ran into this same couple at an International Retrouvaille convention, and they referred to themselves as poster children for Retrouvaille.

There are hundreds of stories like this, unique to each couple.

A common expression is that “the process works if the couple works the process.” Retrouvaille has a more than 95 percent success rate which is testimony to the many couples willing to do the work of healing their marriages.

How does your ministry with Retrouvaille demonstrate/give witness to the Father’s mercy?
The program is strong in promoting forgiveness and in teaching ways of rebuilding trust. The priest has a privileged position in sharing the story of the prodigal son and the immeasurable generosity of God’s mercy and then hearing people ask for it in the sacrament of confession. One woman had to thank me. She had expected she might get her husband back. She was overwhelmed that she also got her Church back.

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