Janelle Peregoy discusses how Our Lady, Undoer of Knots can help couples struggling in their marriage.
In the last few months, I have been reflecting more on Mary’s role in praying for the lives of families and that increasing awareness has led me to a devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. This devotion has recently become well-known globally, in large part because of Pope Francis’ personal devotion to her. In contrast to devotions rooted in Marian apparitions, this devotion originates from Mary’s intercession in a struggling marriage.
In September 1615, a German nobleman, Wolfgang and his wife Sophie, were experiencing serious marital problems. In desperation, Wolfgang met with Fr. Jakob Rem, a Jesuit priest who was known for his devotion to Mary. Fr. Jakob prayed with Wolfgang and strongly encouraged him to bring his and Sophie’s struggles directly to Our Lady.
Wolfgang and Fr. Jakob continued to pray with each other over the course of a month. During their last meeting, Fr. Jakob held the ribbon up to a picture of Our Lady. He offered her “the ties of matrimony” and asked her “to untie all knots” in the Sophie and Wolfgang’s relationship. Afterwards, the priest witnessed the smoothed ribbon had transformed to pure white. With the ribbon having been miraculously cleansed, Wolfgang returned home to Sophie with renewed hope for their marriage.
Though the details have been lost over time, we do know that Wolfgang and Sophie did indeed reconcile. If you want to learn more about how Mary’s intervention was passed down through this family for generations and how a young Pope Francis eventually heard about it while traveling through Bavaria, please read Woodene Koenig-Bricker’s article in The Word Among Us.
Last summer my husband and I decided that having two young sons wasn’t enough chaos, so we adopted a kitten. Our cat’s favorite toy is this fabric wand that dangles a ribbon that mimics the movements of a snake. She would chase and grab this ribbon for hours if we could play with her that long. Needless to say, this ribbon is always getting knotted and I am perpetually trying to detangle it.
Here’s the thing about that process … it always seems hardest in the beginning. First one is trying to find the other end of the ribbon, then one is examining it from different angles, all to form a knot-untying strategy. Gradually as one knot is undone and then another, the ribbon begins to slacken and the knots are simply not as tight. It gets easier to unravel.
Marriages and families are struggling in our culture. We as a Catholic community, as people of faith, cannot put our heads in the sand and not acknowledge the innumerable pressures that our families face every day—everything from the affordability of daycare to the epidemic of youth and young adult anxiety and depression to an individual mentality that encourages a certain busyness or hustle at the expense of our marriages and our families. It is no wonder with all these pressures that we feel personally tied and restricted.
But here’s the hope … that with Our Lady’s help, that first knot can begin to unravel. Maybe, that first step is a spouse saying to another … we have become increasingly disconnected. How can we begin to prioritize each other again? Maybe, that first step is a parent that approaches his or her teenage son or daughter and admits a mistake was made, modeling accountability in the process. Maybe, that first step is a mutual decision to seek the professional help of a licensed therapist or marriage counselor.
I am in no way suggesting that any of these examples are magic solutions. A marriage and family therapist who speaks at our diocesan pre-Cana retreats reminds the engaged couples that if it takes five years for a marriage to break down, it cannot be healed with a mere five weeks of therapy.
In my capacity accompanying separated and divorced families, many call my office in a place of deep despair. Though I sit with those individuals amid the deep and painful emotions, there is a subtle degree of reframing that I encourage during the conversation. If a spouse discloses that they have contacted Retrouvaille, which is an incredible retreat ministry offered for couples in struggling marriages, I am very quick to validate their decision. The very act of taking that first step is so crucial. That same couple is now doing the work of unraveling the knots.
If Fr. Jakob had never directed Wolfgang to Our Lady, it is easy to imagine that their marital reconciliation might never have happened. Instead of being a source of inspiration to marriages everywhere, their story might have gone very differently. Fortunately for them and for all of us, they turned to faith.
Copyright 2023 Janelle Peregoy
Images: Our Lady Undoer of Knots by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner (1625-1705), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; all others Canva
About the Author
Janelle Peregoy, M.Div, is an Associate Director in the Office of Family Life & Spirituality at the Diocese of San Diego. So yes, she has found one of the few positions where it is professionally acceptable to contemplate the spirituality of potty training. A Pope Francis bobble-head sits on her desk for inspiration. See more from Janelle on her blog, Faithfully Irreverent.