Soon after becoming engaged in June of 2015, Tony and Charisse Rubio already knew that God was calling them to marriage and family ministry. Having previously both gone through the painful experience of divorce after many years of marriage, and receiving a declaration of nullity for their first marriages, the Rubios knew firsthand the challenges of building a strong relationship and family, and more importantly, the need for support and resources. A year later, as their wedding day approached, they were still unsure of what form that ministry would take, but trusted that God would provide clarity once they were married.
They didn’t have to wait long.
Within two weeks after their wedding, Tony and Charisse had already been contacted by six people asking for divorce accompaniment. Their parish immediately asked them to host a Catholic divorce program. God’s will for Tony and Charisse was suddenly clear: to use their vast life experiences to accompany and care for families and individuals in the particular needs and challenges that come with marriage and family life. “We know the blessings – and challenges – of family life,” say Tony and Charisse. “Between the two of us, we’ve been through birth of children and grandchildren; loss of loved ones due to miscarriage, death, and divorce; job loss and career changes; broken relationships, family estrangements and some reconciliations; financial setbacks; life-threatening illnesses; faith conversions and family members leaving the Church; and happy celebrations. We trust in the power of prayer and have faith in God’s mercy and love.”
Sharing that hopeful message of love and mercy – that “God works for good with those who love him” (Romans 8:28) – is the goal of the Rubios’ ministry, called Our Domestic Church, which promotes sacramental marriages by offering couples one-on-one mentoring that supports important aspects for strengthening their marriages. They also accompany those who are suffering from strained relationships or the breakup of their marriages, offering emotional and spiritual support, as well as crucial resources. “We often see firsthand one of the major changes brought about by our current culture: many lack close relationships with family or friends and have nobody with whom they feel comfortable sharing the struggles in their life. They also do not know where to turn for help,” say Tony and Charisse. “We become a safe place where they can be heard confidentially. Difficult truths are discussed, and they receive tangible help and connection with resources that are consistent with our faith. More importantly, they experience unconditional love.”
While the Rubios began Our Domestic Church as a part-time endeavor, the ministry has quickly grown over the past four years. “We now accompany people through many aspects of the family life cycle: relationship issues; loneliness – especially during COVID-19 shut-in; empty nest syndrome; parenting troubled teens; caring for elderly parents; dealing with loss through divorce, illness, or death; and marriage preparation with ongoing mentoring,” say Tony and Charisse, who are now both retired and able to fully commit to running a full-time apostolate. The increased flexibility afforded by their retirement is an important aspect of their ministry; “Because these types of family needs are rarely planned,” say Tony and Charisse, “we can be available at a moment’s notice.”
At first, Tony and Charisse wondered how people would know about their ministry and their willingness and availability to help, but it turns out, they needn’t have worried. “God sends us those who need help,” say Tony and Charisse, who have learned to trust that God always knows when to bring those in need of assistance to them. “We experience a fairly steady flow of individuals and families who contact us for help,” say Tony and Charisse, “God brings them to us – and his timing is perfect.”
In response to the overwhelming need for divorce care that the Rubios faced, they began by searching for a better divorce-recovery program than those currently being used by their parish and community, and one that would promote healing and recovery from divorce using solid Catholic teaching, Scripture reflection, and prayer. They now use a thirteen-week program for separated and divorced Catholics called Journey of Hope, which was co-developed by a member of Regnum Christi. “No wonder it was such a good fit,” says Charisse, who herself is the Regnum Christi group leader for Cincinnati East, and the RC communications coordinator for the Ohio Valley Locality.
Charisse also recently completed her studies at the Athenaeum of Ohio, graduating in May of 2020 with a Master of Arts degree in Theology. Her degree brought into focus much of her apostolic work with marriage and family ministry: coursework included classes on the Domestic Church and Pastoral Counseling, and Charisse’s master’s thesis – which was recently selected to represent the Athenaeum of Ohio in an online database of current significant research happening on Ohio campuses – is entitled “The Ecclesiology of the Domestic Church.”
For the Rubios, the family ministry they do through Our Domestic Church is one of personal accompaniment: they often host couples and individuals in their own home, or, for those who live too far away for in-person meetings, and particularly now during the COVID-19 pandemic, they meet by phone or video call. There are no fees for their ministry, and they provide most materials at no charge. They have also developed a referral network of spiritual, psychological, legal, and financial advisors, so that individuals and families can receive professional help when needed.
Over their four years of ministry with Our Domestic Church, the Rubios have dealt with a full gamut of issues in their ministry, from the ordinary and every day struggles of family life, to much deeper matters like infidelity, divorce, suicide, homicide, and abuse. Regardless of the issue, Tony and Charisse simply try to allow God to use them to lead those whom they accompany through their suffering towards healing and peace. “When they come, we pray that we may see with the eyes of Christ, that we may be truly present and listen with his ears, and that we may always speak and act through the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit for the greatest good of all concerned.”
While the most fulfilling and edifying outcome is always the restoration of a marriage, the Rubios also know that when this is not possible, the healing that comes from a faith rooted in Christ is especially important. “It is wonderful to witness someone move through the stages of grief and healing after suffering divorce, coming to an experience of the peace and joy that only Christ can give, as each person looks to the future with renewed hope.”
The Rubios share one such experience they witnessed when they accompanied a woman who had a family history and marriage that included abuse, addiction, and infidelity. “She knew things had to change, especially for the sake of her children, but she didn’t know how,” say Tony and Charisse. Not only were the Rubios able to accompany the woman as she received counseling, moved into a safer home with her children, and went through the annulment process to receive a declaration of nullity, Charisse was the woman’s sponsor as she went through RCIA program and was received into the Catholic Church. “Although there is still much healing needed, this family is in a much better place – praise be to God.”
Tony and Charisse share a similar story of healing involving a woman who had contacted them after learning that her husband was not only leaving her for another woman, but also filing for “fault-based divorce”, blaming her for the failure of their marriage. “She was seeking spiritual, emotional, and practical help to get through what turned out to be a two-year ordeal,” say Tony and Charisse. “During that time, we accompanied her and referred her for legal advice, therapy, and spiritual direction. It has been edifying to watch how God has answered her prayers and directed her path, so that today she joyfully sees the hands of God in all that happened.” Through their ministry, Tony and Charisse were able to accompany the woman along a difficult journey that ultimately has strengthened her faith, given her hope, and lead her to a place where she is surrounded by a supportive group of compassionate spiritual friends.
And of course, the Rubios’ own marriage and faith can’t help but be strengthened by their ministry in building up the family, and they are, above all, filled with awe and gratitude towards God for bringing them together to serve him through Our Domestic Church. “We pray that our Lord will continue to fill us with an abundance of peace, joy, and love that we may share with others,” say Tony and Charisse. “We are thankful for this apostolic call to share our faith and to have the opportunity to support, serve, and inspire married couples and their families, that together we may grow in holiness and strive for family unity.”
You can find out more about the Rubios’ ministry at their website ourdomesticchurch.org or email them at [email protected]. They welcome the opportunity to mentor and accompany individuals and families in their time of need.