'Discipleship is belonging to Christ' says speaker

Friday, Oct. 05, 2007
'Discipleship is belonging to Christ' says speaker + Enlarge
Fr. Raymond P. Carey, Ph.D., lists the four elements of what it means to be a Christian who participates in a sacramental church in his keynote address at the Diocesan Pastoral Congress Sept. 30 at the Skaggs Catholic Center.IC photo by Chris Young

DRAPER — "We belong to Jesus," said Father Raymond P. Carey, Ph.D., in his keynote address at the 45th Annual Diocesan Pastoral Congress: Encountering the Living Christ at the Skaggs Catholic Center Sept. 29.

Fr. Carey said the grace and privilege was his to be among the bearers of the Word of Jesus Christ to the local church in Salt Lake City.

As he was walking around Salt Lake City the night before, he encountered a woman wearing a Latter-day Saints name tag in Temple Square who said to him, "Excuse me sir, do you belong to a church?"

To which we answered, "I belong to Jesus Christ, but I gather with Catholics." She graciously blessed him on his way and they parted.

Fr. Carey said in thinking about his keynote address "Discipleship in Jesus Christ – Foundations for a Sacramental Life," his answer to the Mormon woman was the difference between belonging to a church and being the church.

"We don’t belong to the Catholic Church, we are the Church in union with our sisters and brothers throughout the world," said Fr. Carey. "It is not just like another affiliation we might have such as a softball league or an alumni association. It is such a gift and the absolute foundation for the whole sacramental life of our community.

"None of it makes any sense what so ever without our first and foremost belonging to Jesus Christ and being committed to our discipleship in him," said Fr. Carey. "That presents us to baptism and the other sacraments of initiation that allow us to gather at the table of remembrance and to celebrate the living Word among us."

Fr. Carey said he always asks when doing assessments of candidates for priesthood or religious life, "Are you a Christian?" Often his question is taken lightly and answered with the response, "Oh, I hope so."

"My response is, so do we," said Fr. Carey. "How do you know that you are a Christian? What is it that you look at in your life that lets you know that you belong to Jesus Christ?"

Fr. Carey offered some reflections based on the research of the late Dr. Spence Perkins, who was a professor of theology at Boston College. In interim research on the Gospel of John and the letters of John, Dr. Perkins has identified four things that were unique to the ministry of Jesus Christ. These were four things Jesus did that no rabbi before him had ever done, and additionally Jesus uniquely required of those who would be his disciples.

"This is a simple way for us to reflect on what it means to be a Christian who participates in a sacramental church," said Fr. Carey. "The first thing that Jesus required was radical, fundamental, absolute belief that Jesus is the Christ sent from the living God. No rabbi before or after Jesus taught that the law will not save you. The job of the rabbi is to open up the law, the Torah, as the secret for living with God. That is the foundational fundamental reality that calls us to ask the question: Are we a believer in Jesus Christ?"

Fr. Carey said Dr. Perkins was his colleague and friend, and he was on the research team that discovered Interferon a drug used to fight cancer. Perkins was a recovering alcoholic for 42 years. Before he died of cancer, he said to Fr. Carey in a very despondent voice, "I am an old drunk dying of cancer."

"I thought about the seas of people Spence had treated as a research oncologist, the book he published, and the lives he had changed," said Fr. Carey. "Then he asked me how I think of myself. That was the easiest question I have ever been asked. I said, I am a believer in Jesus Christ. He wished he could say that, and I told him he could, it was a gift."

Fr. Carey said we want to fully become believers in Jesus Christ, which is an ongoing gracious enterprise. It is the dance that our God invites us to – to give our hearts, our whole selves entirely and completely to Jesus Christ.

The second thing Fr. Carey identified was we have to have a personal relationship with Jesus.

"Unless you eat of the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you, Jesus taught," said Fr. Carey. "He told us he was the vine and we are the branches, apart from him we can do nothing. This is absolutely essential, and we do that most fully as a sacramental church gathered in union with our bishop around the table of remembrance. It is not a private practitioner’s enterprise. You cannot have Jesus by yourself. The body of Christ is the faithful. The scriptures belong to the church and came out of the church, both the church of the first covenant and the church in the testament of Jesus Christ from the believing community.

Fr. Carey said the third unique phenomenon in the ministry of Jesus is Jesus inclusivity. Jesus ate with sinners and welcomed those who were unclean. Inclusivity is welcoming all of our brothers and sisters. It also includes those who disagree with us, and those who have a theology really different from the one that prompts us to ministry.

The fourth and final element is to love without limit and have mercy with out measure. Fr. Carey said Jesus told us we must have forgiveness without limit. Jesus told Peter we must forgive 70 times seven times, which means infinity times infinity.

"What Jesus does is challenge our hearts to the maximum, not to the minimum," said Fr. Carey. "This is a challenge and an invitation. What baptism does in making us one with Christ calls us to profound holiness to love without limit and mercy without measure."

In conclusion Fr. Carey said, "We are so blessed to belong to Jesus Christ, who with the grace of his own spirit has fashioned us into his people and made us a sacramental church in which we live and celebrate the reality of the call to be one with him and to spend ourselves in loving service of proclaiming the good news to all those with whom we share our lives."

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