September 23, 2011 – To Be “Born Again”

I have learned that one of the signs of getting older is that the signs of getting older seem to be popping up more often.  Besides the graying edges of hair, the spot without hair, the growing girth, etc., etc., this past week I paid a visit to my friendly Catholic optometrist and words came up such as “bifocals”, “cataract”, and “well, since you are over 40 now … “.  Oh well, I least I could still hear the conversation.

This year as you probably know is a Confirmation year for our parish.  In PSR the first chapter of our books talks about our Baptism.  It talks about the relationship between Baptism and Confirmation and also tells the story in the Gospel of John about Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night.  Nicodemus is only mentioned in the Gospel of John (3:1-21).  Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the highest judicial body of the Jews – sort of like our Supreme Court.  So obviously he was highly respected among the Jewish people.  Yet when he approaches Jesus, he is told that this is not enough to enable him to enter the kingdom of God.  Jesus tells him that unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of god.

Nicodemus becomes confused at this point, going so far as to ask Jesus how an old person can re-enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time.  This of course is not what Jesus meant at all.  He is speaking of a “spiritual” birth, being born of water and the Spirit through our Baptism.  Jesus even goes so far as to scold Nicodemus, saying that he is a teacher of Israel and yet he does not understand the concept of being born in the Spirit.  This leads to perhaps the most recognized Bible verse there is – John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish, but have eternal life.”

Going through the lesson plan for my class and reading again through the story of Nicodemus got me thinking about “rebirth”, or being “born again”.  We hear the term “born again Christian” quite often, particularly as a part of other denominations.  However, depending on who you talk to, there are mixed opinions about this phrase.  A priest that I knew years ago was particularly adamant that there was no such thing as a born again Christian.  Once you have been Baptized, you are a Christian, no matter if you stop attending church, or if you break every commandment, when you are Baptized you are a member of the Christian community.  There is no such thing as being able to be “born again.”

But of course there are many people who consider themselves born again Christians.  They are people who were believers at one time and for whatever reason, God took a back seat in their lives.  They then found inspiration to practice their faith once again.  So does this mean that they ceased being a Christian for a time and then returned once again, or were they a Christian all along, and just stopped practicing their faith for a period of time?

My personal opinion may sound like that of a politician, but I can see both sides.  On one hand, Baptism is a sacrament which we only receive one time.  If we as Catholics stray away from the church for some time and then decide to return, we of course would not be Baptized again.  We may profess our faith once again, but we would not be Baptized again, which would seem to suggest that we do not need to be “re-declared” a Christian.

On the other hand, when I hear a self-professed born again Christian speak of their experiences, I can see where they are coming from.  For whatever reason, whether they feel they were abandoned by God or if they simply chose to maintain their distance from God, they feel that they were no longer a Christian and that it took an act of God to bring them back into the fold, or in other words, they were indeed “born again”.

OK, so who is right?  Or maybe a better question is whether there is a clear right or wrong in this situation.  Perhaps the terminology is not the most important thing – it’s the fact that those who stray away from God can indeed come back, and in fact be welcomed back with open arms, as the parable of the prodigal son tells us.  So call it being “born again”, call it pressing the reset button, call it what you want.  I’ll let those who are more intelligent than myself hash this one out.  The bottom line is that it is never too late to be born of water and the Spirit.

Well I can’t think of a better test of faith than being a St. Louis sports fan.  the Rams, after winning every pre-season game and looking like they were making progress, have lost their first 2 games thanks to all kinds of stupid mistakes, by players and coaches alike.  And the Cardinals have made a great run to get close to making the playoffs, only to give up 6 runs in the 9th inning yesterday and lose to a lowly Mets team.  But I keep the faith because 1) the Cubs are here, and no matter what happens from here on out I can always tell myself that it could be worse – I could be a Cubs fan, and 2) the Rams play the Ravens, and I know ahead of time that there will be no surprises in that one – the Rams will get their tails handed to them.  Disappointment goes down a little easier when you know it is coming.

Have a great week.  Enjoy the fall weather.  Peace.

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