Many non-Catholic Christians and Catholic Charismatics speak about being “born again.” Talk of this experience seems to be silenced by some unwritten taboo, which associates it only with Protestant evangelicals. However, the “born again” experience is not the unique possession of the Protestant churches. The same God brings all Christians to rebirth!
Catholics react to the Protestants who tell them they must be born again by holding securely to infant baptism as their rebirth. Protestants, in turn react to this by claiming that an adult decision must be made.
Catholics sometimes allocate the Sacrament of Confirmation – in the Latin Rite – to the adult renewal of the baptismal rebirth. The Eastern Catholics confirm as a part of the initiation mysteries of the infant so they are not as involved in this cycle of reactions.
A rather confusing sort of thing, but not really, because there is a clarity of thought for those who love God. We need not be ambiguous about God’s desire to bring to rebirth His sons and daughters. There is no question. Jesus says to Nicodemus: “You must be born again.” (John 3)
The early Christians made a clear choice to confess Jesus as Lord of their lives at their Baptism. This, in fact, was their rebirth, their entrance into the community if believers. As time went on these born-again believers began to baptize their children knowing that they would learn to love the same God, and one day would themselves decide to trust Him as Savior and Lord.
What leads to this rebirth? How do we come to be born again? The preaching of the first apostles was basically this: Repent, stop trying to win God by self-righteous behavior or by self-made knowledge, but instead turn from your sinful ways, believe in God and receive His free gift of grace.
How do we receive this free gift? St. Paul’s image of the clay earthen vessel (II Cor 4:7) comes to mind: An earthen vessel contains a valuable treasure. We too possess a valuable treasure but in our frail humanity. Just look at the life of an elder who has lived in grace, a faithful, happily married couple, the bright eyes of a child, the love between friends, and the joy of life well lived in faith.
We are painfully aware that this treasure of life is safeguarded only by a weak earthen vessel. This fact is so clear when we see how we may disappoint an elder, bring unnecessary sorrow into the life of a married couple, dim the bright eyes of a child, hedge on the trust between friends, extinguish the joy of others by jealousy. Our capacity to fragment, alienate, belittle, and disvalue the treasure of life is our broken, sinful state.
How do we bridge the chasm between God and our broken lives? How do we let God have his rightful place in our lives?
There are times, when He wishes to take up residence and we turn Him away. This may be for a variety of reasons. Most often it is because we do not want to rearrange our lives for His coming. Instead we choose to distance ourselves, to hide like Adam and Eve did after their sin. We actually choose against Him even when it is most natural for us to welcome His desired entry.
When we become aware of our conscious or subconscious effort to push God to the periphery of our life we then realize the brokenness of our relationship with Him. We cannot storm the heavens to effect the mending of this union – we can only prepare ourselves properly to receive His heavenly gift. It is He who stands at the door and it is He who knocks, yet only we can open the door from the inside.
To welcome Him is our rebirth. Baptism is our rebirth. If we have not done this, why not hasten to do it? If we have done this once, why not do so often so as to open ourselves completely to His great love.
Nicodemus asked the Lord how he could be born again. Jesus replied “The Spirit blows where it wills.” In the imagery used by the late Pope Paul IV, let us therefore “open wide our sails” to this holy and gentle wind.
“No one can see the reign of God unless he is begotten from above.” John 3:3.
+Gregory J. Mansour
(Reprinted with permission.)