February 28, 2024

By Dr. Chris Burgwald

Are you looking for more in your faith? Do you want to know God and our Catholic faith in a deeper way? That desire—which itself is a gift from God, something he has placed in your heart—is meant to be fulfilled. But how? We have something to share that might fit the bill.

Together with Father Scott Traynor and Eric Gallagher, I am excited to announce the launch of the School of Missionary Discipleship, an initiative of the Office of Discipleship & Evangelization in the Diocese of Sioux Falls.

I’ll explain the nuts and bolts of the School in a bit, but I want to begin by talking about its purpose. In short, the School of Missionary Discipleship exists as a way for Catholics from around the diocese to deepen their faith in every aspect, so they can more fully and fruitfully respond to the diocesan vision of Lifelong Catholic Missionary Discipleship Through God’s Love.

All three of us are deeply passionate about helping Catholics (lay, religious and ordained alike) deepen both their own faith and their ability to share that faith with others. We have all experienced the difference that deep formation can make, and the School exists to allow Catholics anywhere in the diocese—and beyond—to experience that kind of more intensive formation for themselves.

Our goal for the School is that participants will not simply learn more, but they will have a deeper encounter and relationship with God as a result, and they will be empowered and equipped to more easily and effectively share their faith with those around them in the course of their daily lives. In other words, the goal is to allow Catholics to more fully follow the two greatest commandments: to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves by sharing with them the greatest of all gifts—a relationship with God.

The School will offer total formation for missionary discipleship, by which we mean formation in prayer (spiritual formation), knowledge of Scripture and Church teaching (intellectual formation), growth in virtue and the ability to relate to others (human formation), and the ability to accompany others closer to Jesus (apostolic formation). To be a mature and fruitful missionary disciple entails growth in all of these areas of formation: it’s not enough, for example, to just know the content of Church teaching … that teaching must be lived in a vital relationship with God through prayer and with others.

The School will offer a variety of events for people to grow as missionary disciples, but the heart of it will be a multi-year process of formation in all four areas just mentioned. And it begins with an entire year devoted to learning how to pray and how to teach others to pray. Why an entire year? St. John Paul II explains:

“The educational process of a spiritual life, seen as a relationship and communion with God, derives and develops from this fundamental and irrepressible religious need. In the light of revelation and Christian experience, spiritual formation possesses the unmistakable originality which derives from evangelical ‘newness.’ Indeed, it is the work of the Holy Spirit and engages a person in his totality. It introduces him to a deep communion with Jesus Christ, the good shepherd, and leads to the total submission of one’s life to the Spirit, in a filial attitude toward the Father and a trustful attachment to the Church. Spiritual formation has its roots in the experience of the cross, which in deep communion leads to the totality of the paschal mystery.’”

Again, growth in all four areas of formation is necessary for fruitful and mature missionary discipleship, but there is a certain primacy in spiritual formation which has led us to begin the formation process with a year devoted to growing in it.

In years two and three, attention to prayer will continue, but the other three areas of formation will be brought in as well: growth in self-knowledge, self-acceptance and self-possession as part of human formation; growth in understanding how to walk with others in their own journey closer to Jesus as part of apostolic formation; and a particular emphasis on growth in familiarity with Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Catholic Church.

These first three years of the formation process are focused on “feeding” participants, nourishing their own faith life, allowing them to drink deeply from the spiritual wells of our Catholic faith. But the final stage of formation is all about equipping participants to lead others to those same wells; we are developing a variety of “tracks” for the fourth year of formation (depending on the track, there may even be a fifth year), which will help participants learn how to accompany others on their own journey closer to the Lord.

In some tracks, participants will learn skills that can be used in ordinary, everyday ways to accompany others: how to listen well, how to ask good questions, how to encourage others, etc., as well as how to answer questions and have easy conversations about the faith. While most of us are not called to “cold call” people as part of our efforts to share our faith, we are all invited to live and speak about our faith in our everyday lives, and the goal will be to help participants do just that.

Other tracks will focus more on helping others grow in their own prayer life. Learning many of the same sorts of skills just described, participants in these tracks will be well equipped to mentor others in growing in a life of prayer.

It’s important to note there is no need to choose your track before beginning the formation process. In fact, one of the gifts of beginning the process with a year focused on prayer is that participants will be better able to discern God’s will in their lives, in ways both great and small, including what track to participate in for the formation process of the School of Missionary Discipleship.

The entire formation process will entail a variety of ways to grow: presentations offered both live and via the internet, regular gatherings with others involved in the formation process, opportunities to participate in retreats, and of course, personal prayer and study.

Our desire is that by means of this robust and systematic formation process, Catholics from everywhere in the diocese will be equipped with the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary to build the kingdom of God in eastern South Dakota.

The first cohort of the School is beginning later this month, but you still have time to learn more about the School and sign up. Just go to www.sfcatholic.org/smd and you’ll find more information as well as ways to register for year one.