Catholic Herald staff
During the week of July 16-22, four men traveled within the Diocese of Superior in total dependence on God’s providence. Not accepting monetary donations and without any means of communication or pre-arranged accommodations, they set out ‘two by two,’ sharing the Good News of the Gospel.
Approximately 1,500 people were sent out across the United States after a weekend get-together, or convivence, with the Neocatechumenal Way. Participants were paired at random, including the diocese they would visit. The week concluded with a gathering to share how they had encountered Christ and been his instruments in their various locations.
One of numerous charisms approved by the Catholic Church in the 20th century, the Neocatechumenate movement provides post-baptismal catechesis and experiences of ongoing personal conversion. Founded in the 1960s in Madrid, Spain, the group seeks out marginalized and lukewarm Catholics and forms communities within parishes.
A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Dave Thornton came from Detroit, where he lives with his wife, Patricia, and their 10 children. Luis Aragon, 23, was from Clifton, New Jersey. Simultaneously traveling in the southern part of the diocese were (last names unknown) David, an Italian seminarian studying in Miami, and Angel, from the Dominican Republic, studying at a Boston seminary.
Thornton and Aragon started the week seeking the blessing of Bishop James P. Powers. As he was unavailable, they sought out Mass and met up with Fr. Adam Laski, parochial vicar at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior, and its cluster parishes.
Fr. Laski, not recognizing the two men, said he was impressed by their reverent participation in the liturgy.
They spoke afterwards, and Fr. Laski directed them to St. Anthony’s in Lake Nebagamon, inviting them to stay the night in the parish center.
Aragon’s story included varying family situations: in some cases, forgiveness was needed, and in others, sacramental grace. These were an impetus for his personal conversion and prayer life.
“When we remove the suffering, there is no need to ask God for anything,” Aragon shared. “I saw the Resurrection in the rebuilding of my family. I needed to experience God’s fatherly love within my family.”
While the past six years have been a struggle to grow in and live out his faith, Aragon is currently discerning his life vocation. In his experience, “the world has a lot of things to offer. We have to find the meaning of our life; not a lot of people I know have. I had to really detach from the idea of being ‘a somebody’ in this life with education and money … eternal life is something we really need to share with people.”
Thornton, on his fourth ‘two by two’ experience, said his lukewarm faith was ignited through the teaching of Natural Family Planning. He and his wife have 10 children; the youngest was born with Down’s Syndrome.
“Our whole lives are called to be a two by two,” he reflected. “When we are confronted with real situations, do we depend on the Lord? Or do we try and solve things by ourselves?”
The ‘two by two’ experience is meant to be a microcosm of the dependence on God we, as Christians, are called to in our everyday life, he added.
“Depend on the Lord for everything; at the core that is what Christianity is about,” Thornton told the Herald. “Faith has to be more than a theory; it has to be something more concrete.”
Describing his youngest son, Alex, as “the glue that holds our family together,” Thornton said the 8-year-old’s existence is his proof of God’s existence. After recently receiving his much-anticipated first Holy Communion, Alex high-fived his siblings with excitement.
Thornton remembers telling his wife, “Everyone should be that excited to receive communion!”
Fr. Laski offered the pair a donation, which they politely declined. Noticing some strawberries a parishioner dropped off, he offered those instead, as the answer to their prayer at Mass: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
They thanked him and started walking, later accepting a sheriff’s deputy’s offer to drive them the last nine miles.
Speaking with the Herald about the encounter, Fr. Adam reflected, “How often do we see ourselves as vessels of the Holy Spirit and instruments of God’s providence?”
Newly ordained Fr. Samuel Schneider met the other ‘two by two’ pair at St. Joseph’s, Rice Lake. David and Angel had been trying to hitchhike south from Superior. Their experience of God’s providence was that someone finally pulled over to offer them a ride once they stopped thumbing for one. It made them reflect on how often we depend on our own abilities rather than trust God to care for our needs, they told Fr. Schneider.
Friday morning, they attended Fr. Schneider’s morning Mass. He introduced the men and asked if anyone was heading towards Duluth and could give them a ride. A local man, going there for business, was happy to help.
The two men, both seminarians, explained to Fr. Samuel that they had both grown up in lukewarm Catholic families. Through the invitation of others, they experienced a personal relationship with Jesus. That lead them to intentional discipleship, and ultimately to discern the priesthood. Neither has received family support in the process.
Summing up the purpose of their ‘two by two’ experience, Thornton said, “so many live tragically without an answer in Christ. It is the impulse of the Church to go out and evangelize because so many don’t know Christ, really know Christ. So many fallen-away Catholics who haven’t had an experience of the Resurrection beyond the cross, beyond the suffering. We have to go through the cross to attain the Resurrection.”