Born Again (and again, and again)

Today’s Gospel John 31:1-8Image

In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches a Pharisee named Nicodemus about what our Church calls, The Necessity of Baptism. In other words, according to Jesus, if anyone is to enter the Kingdom of God, he MUST be born again from above! I once saw a bumper sticker that read I don’t need to be born again, I was born perfectly fine the first time! Oddly enough, I saw this bumper sticker on a Christian’s car! 

John’s gospel reads, “Jesus answered and said to [Nicodemus], ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.’ It is quite clear, from a Christian perspective, at least, that Baptism is the means by which we are saved. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (C.C.C. #1257 – 1261) says it like this, “The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them (MT 28:19-20). Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude;…God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.” Notice, three important things about the Catholic position on baptism: 1. FOR Christians, this is THE way God has revealed the means by which salvation is assured, 2. Christians who know are bound by the Sacrament, but 3. God ALWAYS has the freedom to pour out the generous grace of salvation in Christ on whomever God chooses to do so, with or without the sacrament itself. 

Nicodemus is confused by Jesus’ teaching and seeks some important (I’d say) information! He asks Jesus, “How can a man once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus makes it clear that there are two births in a person’s life, “What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit.” Jesus tells him. All of us are created by God and born of flesh, and enter as human beings into this kingdom called earth as human beings. But to enter into into the Kingdom of God, we must be born yet again–this time not of the flesh but of the Spirit. And this we believe begins at Baptism! Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.  

Notice that there is no certain time frame associated with baptism. Jesus does not anywhere say that being born Imageagain must take place at a particular age! So many Christians wrongly condemn some Christians church’s as “unsaved” simply because they practice infant baptism. I was told by a Southern Baptist minister that my infant baptism did not count and that unless I received baptism as an adult, I had no hope of salvation. My friends, baptism is not something WE DO, it is a celebration of what God does and is doing in the life of the believer. It is always God who takes the initiative in bringing us to the knowledge and experience of salvation. It is God who saved, is saving, and who continues to save!

Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 8, shows a wonderful example of three ways of coming to a relationship with and being healed by the Lord Jesus. First, a leper, aware of his need, approaches Jesus and asks to be healed; and Jesus does (and that’s an example of adult baptism). In the second story, a centurion approaches Jesus with news that his servant is home paralyzed and suffering, but knows that Jesus can help. Jesus offers the example of the centurion’s faith as that greater than all he had found in Israel, and Jesus says to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour the servant was healed–but not by his own faith in Jesus, he wasn’t even there! It was based on the strength of the centurion’s faith that Jesus performed the healing miracle (and that’s a great example of infant baptism). It is the based upon the faith of the parents and god parents that bring the child into the healing relationship with Jesus in the Church, a community of faith. Finally, Jesus enters into Peter’s house. Peter’s mother-in-law was lying in bed with a fever. Jesus just walked right over, touched her hand, and she was healed. She didn’t ask for it, Peter CERTAINLY didn’t ask for it, but Jesus just does it anyway. Such is the freedom of God to save anyone God wants to save. Indeed, “The wind blows where it wills.”

So Baptism is important. It is necessary for salvation, and all who know of it’s necessity should rightfully attend to it and experience the saving work of Jesus Christ through the holy waters! But what about people who through no fault of their own, for whatever reason, are ignorant of Jesus Christ and His Gospel? What about them? The Roman Catholic Church teaches that God is the giver and sustainer of all life. God brings life into existence, nourishes it, blesses it, and makes all people partakers of the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus died for the whole of humanity and no one enter the Kingdom of God except through Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (JN 14:6). If anyone is saved it is by Jesus’ work of redemption and by following Him, who is the way, the truth, and the life–even if they don’t know Him by name.

The Church believes both in a baptism by blood and a baptism of desire. With regard to those who die for their faith before receiving baptism, “The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament. (C.C.C. 1258)

And with regard to those who are not Christian, “‘Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.’ Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity” (C.C.C. 1260).

Finally, baptism is not an event in time like when someone asks, “When were you saved or born again?” Baptism, like all sacraments, is an event-ing. It is an event that occurs in history yet transcends the historical moment in which it is anchored. Our Baptism in the Spirit happens (and must happen) at every moment for all time. Every time the Spirit brings me to a deeper and more meaningful reality of the Christian mystery I experience a new birth! Every time I am opened to the reality of the impact of my own actions, for good or evil, upon myself, others, and God, I am reborn anew. We are called not just to be reborn, but to be reborn again, and again, and again until we experience the fullness of rebirth into the everlasting and eternal Kingdom of God.

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Catholics answer the question, Are you saved? with, “I have been saved at my baptism, I am being saved even now as I am reborn daily in the Spirit, and I will be saved as long as I continue to participate in the grace of Christ offered to me each day.” Let us all enter into the waters of salvation every day of our life. Amen?

 

By catholicevangelist

Love Without Limits

The Gospel Reading is John 12:1-11

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Today’s Gospel reading paints the picture of perfect love. It doesn’t calculate, it isn’t afraid nor does it incite fear in others, it does not bind but rather liberates. True love is the stuff of fools some might say, but they could only say so from the outside looking in. It can’t be so long ago, can it, that you spent foolish amounts of money on your beloved? Was it so long ago that the hours passed by as though they were but minutes, and you would give anything for just one more second with your love? Do you still love her (or him) so emphatically? It it still revealed? I recently saw a great movie that focused on marital love and the ways that we need to nurture it so that it may remain alive and growing. The movie is called, “Fire Proof” and I strongly recommend it! Image

When I first met my wife, Jill, almost ten years ago, she was in college at Sonoma State and I was working at St. Stanislaus Parish School teaching 8th grade. She would come home almost every weekend in her beat up old Chevy mini blazer. She had no business putting that kind of mileage on that car! It was crazy (her mom and dad would both have said so–and maybe did on occasion), but she made the drive anyway because she was in love with yours truly. 🙂 And on more than one occasion, often in the middle of the night, I would do the same, driving from Turlock to Rohnert Park to see my beloved. Not the mileage on the cars, nor the gas money that it took to get there and back could keep us apart. Jill still has a card I made for her one time for Christmas. That’s right, I made it on my computer using Adobe Illustrator. Crazy, right? Well, that’s how love is sometimes. And when you’re in love sometimes you do the most stupid, unexplainable, irresponsible things, and through those things your great love is revealed. Love speaks from the heart–not the head. 

John’s gospel today shows this incredible display of love for Jesus, by Mary. She is clearly much in love with the Lord Jesus. She was bound to the slavery of demonic possession and He freed her, gave her a new lease on life, and she was right to make Him her first love in response. As evidence of her love she quite irresponsibly, “took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” You can almost sense that beauty and love in the room as she sacrificed so much for her beloved. Then enters the party pooper, “Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, and the one who would betray him.” Judas notes the obvious reality, THIS STUFF IS WORTH A FORTUNE! WHY ARE YOU WASTING IT ON HIM! You see, Mary was in love and it made perfect sense to sacrifice this incredible gift, and probably more if she had it, for Him. But the Scriptures tell us that Judas was not in love with Jesus, but with money. Image

Each of us must come to terms with our greatest love. Christian discipleship calls us to make Jesus our ultimate concern. He demands that we choose between the love of the world and all that is in it, and the love of God. The Gospels provide a number of examples:

LK 14:26-27 “If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

LK 14:33 In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple. 

MT 10:37 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

You see, for those who lose themselves in the love of God, our actions might seem crazy to those who love the world. We give generously, beyond measure! We love greatly, even to the point of pain out of great personal and communal sacrifice! We give and do not count the cost…because there simply isn’t any way for it to ever add up. It’s crazy love, and anyone who isn’t in it will never get it.

So Jesus said to Judas, “Leave her alone.” There is nothing more beautiful than foolish love. Each of us sees it and mourns the loss of it to some degree in our own life and in our relationships. We can become too calculating, too concerned about “real life,” begin to bear the burden of responsibility, and will begin to hunker down under the weight of the burdens of the world. 

But no so for the one in love with the Lord. Remember the time you first fell in love. Return to it. When was the last time you irresponsibly and senselessly spent time, maybe money on the one you love…just because you can? The world will never have a shortage of worries, don’t let the worries of the world keep you from loving without limits.

ImageLove is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.    –1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (N.A.B. translation)

By catholicevangelist