In recent years, God has both saved Bruce and Julia Rooke’s marriage and brought them back into the Catholic faith. We are grateful Renewal Ministries has been one of His tools in this great work. We pray their story fills you with wonder at God’s abundant mercy—and gives you the strength, in all circumstances, to persevere in faith, hope, and love.
By Bruce Rooke
One of the scariest roller coasters in the world is the X2. Its first drop is 250 feet, hitting seventy-six miles per hour before it flips you through two loops, and flame throwers spit fire.
It’s nothing compared to our marriage.
Our particular roller coaster started thirty-four years ago. It began with the usual ups-and-downs and then hit a nice stride in 1993, when Christ saved us. Julia had been born Catholic, but we entered the Protestant Church. In fact, I was a devout anti-papist until 1999, when the Lord inspired me to read the early Church fathers—which ultimately inspired me to become Catholic.
Peter Herbeck was my sponsor when I joined the Church in 2000. Our wives had met at a community Bible study at which Debbie had been the teaching director, and Julia had been a table leader. However, Julia and I later left the Church. We moved to Columbus, Ohio, and circumstances there led us to attend a Methodist church. Those years were filled with Bible studies, small groups, mission work, and prayer retreats—the perfect, insulated snow globe of Christian life.
Then, in 2008, a crack appeared in the form of a heart attack.
The Lord acted with an unmistakable miracle: no heart damage, due to the “coincidence” that a visiting cardiologist happened to be at our little hospital when I arrived. Julia was there the whole time, blanketing me with prayers. One would think that would have set me on a new evangelistic trajectory, but the opposite happened. My heart turned cold as the reality of James 4:14 hit me head on: “Whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
Six months later, I had left Julia and our kids, and was living in New York City, ticking off the entire sordid list of Galatians 5:19-21. Peter even wrote to me, “Dark has become your light.” Most abandoned me, except for two: Julia and God. God constantly pursued, even though I’d see His Cross and say, “I don’t need You.” Julia clung to the husband I once was, and clung even harder to The Lord, pouring herself into Him and listening to His voice instead of the many who told her to quit. It wasn’t pretty, as she lost over twenty-five pounds to my selfish torment.
Divorce was inevitable, and in September of 2010, I stopped into my lawyer’s office to wrap up the paperwork. He was out, so his partner took over. (Get ready. God’s about to work!) Out of the blue, she said, “Is there anything your wife’s wanted you to do that you haven’t done?” I answered, “Go on an Emmaus Walk.” (This is an ecumenical Cursillo.) She said, “Go,” so I did, just wanting to get through this “last chance.” But God had different ideas, and two nights later, I was on my knees, experiencing His grace lifting the garbage from my soul.
He had broken through, but I was still far from truth. I was headed back to New York City, but now Julia was the one with different ideas. While asking Peter to write me an “agape letter” for my Emmaus Walk, she explained our dire situation to him, and he counseled her to keep me away from New York City until my head and heart were more secure.
Julia responded by “kidnapping” me to Ann Arbor, where Peter and Debbie took off work to minister to us. Peter hammered me with how marriage and God are sacramentally united. (He even used salt and pepper shakers as an illustration!) He explained that we cannot simply discard our spouse and expect to continue on a close walk with the Lord. Meanwhile, Debbie impressed upon Julia that God’s love is all you ever need. Their prayers led us to the next miracle of Retrouvaille, which taught us how to share again.
As our marriage healed, we started attending Renewal Ministries’ Gathering weekends, where the Lord continued the work He’d begun. Just last spring—after three straight Gatherings—the Spirit led us back to the healing truth and beauty of the Eucharist.
So here we are, five years redeemed, and our marriage is not just repaired, but re-created and ready to help other couples see the same promise. We are excitedly awaiting what happens next. It’s like waiting in line for the X2, except now we know there is no roller coaster God can’t tame.
“Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain be made low; the uneven ground shall become level . . . And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” (Is 40:4-5).
This article originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ July 2016 newsletter.