Suzann and John Cross had fallen into a routine.
As a young couple with children, their loving marriage became more “business-like,” as Suzann Cross described it. Who would pick up the kids? What’s on the schedule this weekend? Has their homework been completed?
The Crosses were intrigued by parish bulletin announcements about a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend. They signed up for their first weekend in October of 1993; by the end of the weekend, “we were just on fire,” John Cross said. “It did so much for our communication and our relationship.”
Suzann Cross said the Encounter weekend helped rebuild their understanding of living the sacrament of marriage, which the Church defines as a covenant of love between man and woman and God. This covenant, the Church teaches, establishes between husband and wife a “partnership of the whole life” in which they “mutually hand over and accept each other” (Code of Canon Law, c. 1055 and c. 1057). This special union serves as a living symbol of God’s love for His people.
“It was like an epiphany,” Suzann Cross said. “We saw ourselves differently as a sacrament.” During an Encounter Weekend, the priest speaks of the difference between a contract and a covenant, she noted. “A covenant is with God. For us, we see God in our sacrament.”
More than 25 years later, the couple, who belong to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Ferguson, have remained involved in Worldwide Marriage Encounter. Most recently they served as an executive couple to help oversee the local group.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter, a faith-based, pro-marriage movement in the world, dates back to the early 1950s, when Spanish priest Father Gabriel Calvo offered a series of conferences for married couples. The focus was on the development of an open and honest relationship and learning to live out a sacramental relationship in service to others. Worldwide Marriage Encounter exists in 90 countries, and it debuted in the United States in 1968. The first weekend retreat in the Archdiocese of St. Louis was held in 1972.
The Marriage Encounter weekend is based on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and is designed to help husbands and wives strengthen their listening and communication skills. While the weekend is Catholic in its approach, it is open to all married couples. The concept of marriage as a sacrament also is strongly promoted.
Father Robert “Rosy” Rosebrough has been involved as a chaplain with Worldwide Marriage Encounter since 1973. The retired priest, who is still involved in leading Encounter weekends, said the ministry “has nourished me and give meaning to my life” through the many married couples he’s met over the years.
He said that marriage is the cell that affects the “whole mission,” including the family and parish community.
“The Father and the Spirit expressed their love made flesh in Jesus, and Jesus has chosen to reveal the depth of that intimacy in your marriage to your beloved spouse,” Father Rosebrough recently said in a talk on marriage. “Your love and expression of that love with each other and others is His presence in our midst, so that we might taste, touch and be washed in the cascading abundance of His goodness that we — who are affected by your living that sacrament — will want to draw closer to His joy and glory.”
After attending an Encounter Weekend, couples generally meet at least once a month to stay in touch with other couples. Other enrichment events, such as a Marriage on Tap dinner and speaker series and a sweetheart dance in February, are open to married couples who have not attended a weekend.
John and Suzann Cross said that the weekend has helped them to pray as a couple. “That was something we just didn’t do,” Suzann Cross said. “We prayed before meals and went to Mass, but weren’t praying as a couple. It became more comfortable for us as we did it more often. Having God in our life (through prayer) is something that we have grown into.”
John Cross said he sees their marriage as a sign of God’s love to others; he and his wife have an obligation to represent themselves as a model of Christ’s love, as all vocations do in their own special ways. The Encounter Weekend, he said, is a great way to see other examples of Christian marriage through the couples they meet. “We’re all very committed to our spouses and God’s plan for our marriage,” he said. “We’re always growing and learning, and to be around other couples doing the same thing is so important.”
Teams of Our Lady
Debbie and Jim St. Louis had been spiritually active in their parish, having previously attended Christ Renews His Parish retreats at their parish, Holy Infant in Ballwin.
“We were growing spiritually as individuals, but we realized we wanted to do something to grow together in love for one another and love for God,” said Jim St. Louis.
The couple learned about Teams of Our Lady, a ministry for married couples that originated in France in the 1940s, and founded by Father Henri Caffarel. Since its founding, more than 10,000 teams worldwide have been established. There are 20 teams in the St. Louis area, with several more soon to be established.
The ministry brings together small groups of married couples to help them grow in love and faith through prayer and study and to support each other through better communication. A team consists of a group of five to seven couples and a priest spiritual advisor who meet once a month to share a meal, as they pray together and discuss challenges of living a Christian marriage and life.
Couples also commit to practicing “endeavors,” such as a monthly sit-down discussion of spiritual, couple and family matters. Other examples include praying together or attending a retreat as a couple. Teams of Our Lady reports that couples doing these things were doing better in their marriages, and succeeding more.
Another benefit of meeting as a group is that couples can share the realities of married life in a safe setting. Couples generally are from different walks of life and various generations, all of whom add their unique perspectives. “It’s been beneficial getting advice from someone who has been through it before,” Jim St. Louis said.
Social media often becomes a platform for sharing the highlights of a person’s life, Debbie St. Louis said, “but we all know that’s not the reality of life.” By sharing challenges within a marriage, such as miscommunication or disappointments in parenting, Teams of Our Lady becomes “a place where you can be real with one another,” she said. “You walk away saying, ‘Oh, right, we’re not the only ones dealing with problems.’ This is a sacred space where that’s OK to talk about” challenges.
In addition to boosting their communication, the St. Louises said that being part of a team also helps place their marriage as a priority. “You see couples who have been together for a long time, and then suddenly they separate,” Debbie St. Louis said. “It’s a shock, because they put all of their energy into their kids” and not on the marriage. Teams of Our Lady “helps nourish marriage for a lifetime. We hope we can serve as a symbol of trying to strengthen marriages for the long haul.”
The Sacrament of Matrimony
“The matrimonial covenant, by
which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of
the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the
spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant
between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the
dignity of a sacrament” (Catechism of the Catholic Church).
U.S. bishops have said that “a committed, permanent, faithful
relationship of husband and wife is the root of a family. It strengthens
all the members, provides best for the needs of children, and causes
the church of the home to be an effective sign of Christ in the world.”
In 2005, the bishops launched the National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage
to call attention to the meaning and value of married life for the
Church and for society. The crowning achievement of the Initiative was
the bishops’ 2009 pastoral letter, “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan.”
The bishops have identified within their five strategic priorities for 2017-2020
a priority to “encourage and strengthen all families” and “inspire
Catholics to embrace the Sacrament of Matrimony. The bishops offer
numerous resources for married couples, or couples preparing to be
married. See www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/ marriage-and-family/marriage/.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter
Several Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekends are scheduled in St. Louis area throughout the year. For a schedule, see stl-wwme.org or call (314) 649-7317.
Sweetheart Dance will be held on Saturday, Feb. 15, at St. Elizabeth of
Hungary Parish in Crestwood. The evening begins with Mass at 6 p.m.,
followed by a dance in the parish hall and a potluck dinner. Cost is $25
per couple in advance or $30 at the door and includes soft drinks, tea
and desserts and music by a DJ. For more information, contact Chris and
Carol Brescia at (314) 963-9978.
Teams of Our Lady
To learn more about Teams of Our Lady, including how to join a team in the St. Louis area, visit www.teamsofourlady.org
is Catholic program designed to help troubled marriages and helps
spouses rebuild their love and respect for each other using a
communication technique. It has been successful in saving marriages. In
some instances it has brought reconciliation to couples who already have
separated or divorced.
The program, which means “rediscovery” in
French, began in 1977 as a French-language weekend for hurting marriages
in the province of Quebec, Canada. It was adapted to English by the
community in Toronto, who also revised and strengthened the contents of
the weekend program and developed the post-weekend programs. In 1982,
Retrouvaille began to spread to communities throughout the United States
and South America. In 1991, an international expansion of the ministry
began in many other countries around the world.
More information about Retrouvaille, call 1 (800) 470-2230 or see retrouvaille.org.
Other marriage resources
archdiocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life offers marriage
preparation as well as resources for marriage enrichment, including a
list of Catholic marriage counselors. For more information, contact Paul
Duker, marriage ministry coordinator, at (314) 792-7178 or email
Tips for married couples
• Pray as a couple. Remember that God is the third person in your relationship.
Listen to each other. Don’t problem solve, don’t think about your “to
do” list, don’t think about how you have heard it all before. Just pay
attention and listen.
• Be considerate of each other’s feelings and needs.
• Have fun with each other, even when performing everyday tasks.
• Resolve disagreements. Don’t go to bed angry.
• Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
• Keep little issues from building into big issues. Discuss hurts and issues and don’t keep them bottled up inside.
• Remember you can’t take back your words, so when you are angry, take time to cool off before speaking.
• Don’t be afraid or too proud to be the first to say “please forgive me” after a disagreement. It takes two to argue or fight.
• Once you have forgiven, don’t rehash the issue.
• Share your feelings with each other. Don’t just discuss the nuts and bolts of everyday life.
• Compromise — sometimes we have to put our relationship first.
• Schedule date nights and make them important enough to put them on the calendar.
• Take the time to notice the nice things your spouse does for you, even if they are small things.
• Affirm each other — remember it is always nice to hear we are doing something good.
• Say “I love you” often. Don’t just assume your spouse knows. It is always nice to hear.
Source: Archdiocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life