Missionary Discipleship in Public Life
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director
North Dakota Catholic Conference

July 2017

Catholic leaders from North Dakota recently attended the Convocation of Catholic Leaders: Joy of the Gospel in America. This unprecedented event gathered over 3500 laypersons, religious, priests, and bishops to examine, discuss, and pray about the call to missionary discipleship.

Missionary discipleship, of course, includes the more obvious ministries of the church, such as catechesis, education, religious formation, chaplaincy, and “targeted” ministries such as outreach to migrants, farmworkers, and women facing unexpected pregnancies.

What about, however, the less obvious ministries? How do we engage in missionary discipleship in our businesses, our family relationships, our economic activities, our relationship with the environment, and our politics?

While there exist formal ministries addressing some of these efforts, the task of evangelizing does not rest with them alone. All baptized Catholics are called to discipleship and evangelization. John Noonan, the Bishop of Orlando — the location of the convocation — prefaced his welcome letter with these words from Our Lord: “You are the light of the world. Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify our heavenly Father.” (Mt 5:16)

The light of all of us must shine in all that we do. That call is easier said than done, especially in an increasingly secular and even hostile environment. North Dakotans also tend to be reserved people. We are not prone to ask the person next to us at the cafe, “Hey, have you heard the good news of Jesus Christ?”

Nevertheless, our light can and should shine in our “good deeds.” Those deeds must extend beyond kindness and acts of charity.

Throughout the convocation people told stories about how conversions came about because people witnessed the joy of Christians in their daily lives. The Gentiles noticed it about the first Christians. At a time when Christendom was old, stale, and corrupting, the people noticed it in St. Francis. Atheists, skeptics, and cynics saw it in St. Teresa of Calcutta and the Missionaries of Charity.

The challenge for us is to live, work, and shape our temporal and political order in a manner consistent with our faith.

Business leaders can find assistance with this challenge in Vocation of the Business Leader: A Reflection published by the Vatican. (ndcatholic.org/val.pdf).

The reflection includes a discernment checklist for business leaders that includes such questions as:

  • Do I promote a culture of life through my work?

  • Am I engaging in anti-competitive practices?

  • Do I place the dignity of all workers above profit margins?
  • Am I seeking to nourish my business life by learning more about the Church’s social teaching?

  • Is my company making every reasonable effort to take responsibility for externalities and unintended consequences of its activities (such as environmental damage or other negative effects on suppliers, local communities and
    even competitors)?

Inspired by Vocation of the Business Leader the International Catholic Rural Association and Catholic Rural Life launched an ongoing project on the Vocation of the Agricultural Leader (ndcatholic.org/vbl.pdf). The project includes a must-read a refection statement, but it is part of a broader education and reflection effort around the country. Catholic Rural Life is available to conduct workshops exploring the question of how to reclaim agriculture as a vocation.

The projects goals include:

  • To affirm the noble and dignified vocation of farming and of the work of men and women involved in agricultural production and getting food to our tables;

  • To retrieve the notion of vocation, that farming is not just an occupation, but a calling from our Creator to a relationship and to till and to keep the earth; and

  • To inspire future generations of men and women to see how their faith informs both their work in agriculture and their stewardship of God’s creation.

These efforts have importance because they remind us that evangelization — being a missionary disciple — is not something that happens solely within spaces of worship, parishes, Catholic schools, or diocesan offices. It must become who we are in our being.

When we are missionary disciples people will ask:

“What is it about how he farms?” And the answer will be: “He farms like a Christian.”

“Why does she and her employees have such joy?” And the answer will be, “She runs her business as a vocation?”

“What was the motivating factor for every vote that legislator cast?” And will the answer be: “Jesus Christ.”

What We Do

The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.
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