“Are you born again?”
How would you answer this question?
As a Catholic, it’s always a toughie.
When someone (that someone is always an Evangelical Protestant Christian) asks me this question, “Taylor, are you born again,” he is usually asking this question:
Taylor, did you have a moment in your life when you suddenly realized that you were a sinner and that you were on the road to hell and then by God’s grace you believed with all your heart that Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior and that by trusting in Him, all your sins are washed away?”
In other words, did I ever have a “darkness to light” moment.
Catholic “Born Again”: Is it Just Baptism or Something More?
Now the smart aleck Catholic response goes like this, “Dude, I’m a baptized Catholic. Baptism = born again. John 3:3-5 is talking about the sacrament of baptism. So yes, I’m born again. I’m baptized.”
This is theologically true. Baptism = born again.
As Saint Augustine says:
It is this one Spirit who makes it possible for an infant to be regenerated through the agency of another’s will when that infant is brought to Baptism; and it is through this one Spirit that the infant so presented is reborn…’Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit.’ The water, therefore, manifesting exteriorly the sacrament of grace, and the Spirit effecting interiorly the benefit of grace, both regenerate in one Christ that man who was in one Adam.” -Augustine, To Boniface, Epistle 98:2 (A.D. 408).
Saint Augustine and all of the early Church Fathers taught that being born again was related to baptism. However, does the Church teach that there more to it? Are we post-Reformation Catholics minimizing what Christ meant by “born again”?
Catholic Cynicism about “Born Again”
Due a Protestant over-emphasis on “being born again,” some Catholics have become a little cynical about “being born again.” I’ve heard Catholics say, “Oh he’s one of those born again Christians,” or “I’m not born again, I’m Catholic!”
Of course this kind of answer just reconfirms the Protestant suspicion that we are false Christians trying to earn “salvation brownie points” with a God that we don’t know.
This is tragic. I think we need to rethink how we understand baptism, being born again, and a continually renewed life in Christ. We should reflect on our lives in the context of those “darkness to light” moments even if they aren’t as dramatic as the conversion of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus.
Being Born Again Could Be a Dynamic Reality Present in Your Life Today
Yes I was “born again” on the day I was baptized. I was regenerated and justified in Christ our Lord. But there is something richer entailed by all of this. Being born again is not just a past event – it’s a present reality.
Consider all your sins, your mistakes, the people you’ve hurt, the evil things you’ve said to hurt other people. Through faith, hope, love, and the sacraments you are experiencing a continual renewal or rebirth. It’s not just a past event associated with a past baptism, because your baptismal identity and the power of sacramental baptism endures into this very moment as you’re reading this blog post. This is something that Paul is always drilling into the minds of his first century disciples: “Experience now what you became then in Christ!”
So “being born again” applies to today. Christ is offering you a fresh grace today. Christ offers you a fresh anointing. Christ offers you a new identity in His status as “New Adam” and an offer to escape from the “Old Adam.” The grace of your baptism can be renewed tomorrow morning in a powerful way. Oh, and he throws in a bonus: The Holy Spirit is transforming your soul, and you are being re-formed and re-developed in the spiritual womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not too mention, you have the Bible, the Catechism, the sacraments, and millions of saints and angels surrounding you throughout the day.
When Jesus said that we must become like children, I think He is telling us to return to an age closer to our birth – but not our natural birth – our spiritual rebirth in baptism. Return to your baptism.
Stir Up Your “Born Again-ness” Every Morning
As Saint John Paul II reminded us, our greatest dignity is our baptismal identity. Baptismal dignity is the sign that says “You are born again.” It’s something that we must recall daily. It cannot be a past event isolated to a photograph of your baptism. It has to be lived now by grace. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote:
Their example gives witness to the fact that baptism commits Christians to participate boldly in the spread of the Kingdom of God, cooperating if necessary with the sacrifice of one’s own life.”
– Pope Benedict XVI
So recall your baptism daily and by doing so, you will recall you regeneration or “born again-ness.”
PS: Holy water is a fantastic way to continually renew and recall your baptismal born again identity.
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