Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him."
Jesus answered and said to him, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."
Nicodemus said to him, "How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother's womb and be born again, can he?"
Jesus answered, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
Nicodemus answered and said to him, "How can this happen?" (John 3:1-9)
Have you ever had an Evangelical Protestant ask you the question, "Are you born again?" Of course, if we, like Nicodemus, are thinking of being physically "born again" or are unfamiliar with this term, then we may answer this question as Nicodemus did, "How can this happen?"
Let's first look at our physical birth. How did most of us come into this world? By passing through our mother's birth canal and being guided by the hand of a doctor. And how do most of us come into the kingdom of God? By being born from above by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the guidance of our heavenly Father.
How and when this rebirth occurs is something that various Christian traditions understand differently. For instance, an Evangelical Christian might say he is born again when he "accepts Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior." A member of a Pentecostal or Charismatic church might say she is born again when she is "baptized in the Spirit" and receives the gift of tongues as a confirmation. The words may be different, and the expectations may vary, but each person is reflecting on his or her own experience of God bringing someone from darkness to light.
As Catholics, we understand that sacramental baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the means by which we are born from above (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1262-1270). Every Easter, in fact, the church asks believers to renew their baptismal promises as a way of reminding ourselves of what it is that we have received and how we have received it. By renewing these promises, too, we have a regular opportunity to embrace and deepen the grace that we received when we were baptized. It is our opportunity to confess that baptism is not the end but the beginning of our faith journey. Just as our birth is the beginning of our earthly life, so too is our baptism the beginning of our spiritual life. And just as a baby needs physical nourishment, so do we need spiritual nourishment if we want to grow up and become mature believers.
If you have been baptized but don't feel "born again," you may want to check for obstacles that may be impeding the flow of the Spirit in your life. Ask yourself, "Have I ever committed my life to Jesus Christ, and asked him to be the center of my life?" Examine your life and ask the Spirit to uncover whatever sin, hurts, or other traumas that may be holding you back from a deep faith commitment to Christ or a whole-hearted trust in his love and mercy. Through Confession, let God sweep away anything that hinders your full participation in — and enjoyment of — the kingdom of God! Let that seed of faith that was planted in your heart at Baptism blossom to full maturity. Then you will be able to declare with St. Paul,
So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
"Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful; enkindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and we shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth."
Many thanks to The Word Among Us for allowing us to adapt material from daily meditations in their monthly devotional magazine. Used with permission.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men
1. If you have ever had someone ask you if you are "born again," what was your response? After reading this article, how would you answer that question now?
2. In the article, we read these words, "Just as our birth is the beginning of our earthly life, so too is our baptism the beginning of our spiritual life. And just as a baby needs physical nourishment, so do we need spiritual nourishment if we want to grow up and become mature believers." What are some ways you receive "spiritual nourishment"? What steps can you take to increase your spiritual nourishment?
3. What are some obstacles in your life that "may be holding you back from a deep faith commitment to Christ or a whole-hearted trust in his love and mercy"? What steps can you take to deal with them, beginning with prayer?
4. If you are in a men's group, end your meeting by praying to the Lord for one another that he would heal you and remove any obstacles to deepening your faith in Christ.