Are Catholics Born Again?

Are Catholics Born Again? November 25, 2011

Did you see this by Deacon Mike Bickerstaff?

My mother was a Catholic and my father was a Baptist. Both were committed, after serious consideration on my father’s part, to raise their children Catholic and baptize us at infancy. Years later I met non-Catholic Christians who would invariably ask me if I had been saved and if I was born again. Of course, the question perplexed me at first, but I had the advantage of a Baptist father who could explain to me the nature and meaning of the questions. Because of his study of the Catholic faith, he was also able to provide a positive explanation consistent with Church teaching….

Here was the challenge. Catholics believe in the necessity of being born again (though we did not ordinarily use that term). But, “born again” meant at least two different things – one thing to Catholics and another to Protestants….

The crusade was quite good in terms of it inspiring people to make a commitment to Christ – to surrender their lives to the Lord and accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. So far – so good. We know from the teaching of Jesus that not all seed will mature, so there is no need to discuss how committed the commitments were, tested by time. The problem is found in what the leaders and speakers at the crusade meant by becoming “born again”.

The crusade evangelists meant that people needed to make a decision to follow Christ, to believe in Him, to respond to the altar-call when those who committed their lives to Christ would come forward to pray the “sinner’s prayer” –“Dear God, I’m a sinner. I’m sorry for my sins. I want to turn from my sins. I believe that Jesus Christ is your Son. I believe that He died for me. That He rose from the grave. That He’s alive. I want to invite Him to come into my heart to take control. From this day forward forevermore. And I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen”

Do the above and, according to the crusade evangelists, you would be born again. It is a simple message and John 3 was the focus. But is this understanding supported by John 3? Before we look at that, let’s see the Catholic teaching.

The Catholic teaching on what it means to be “born again” is also simple. A person is born again when he is baptized. Baptism is available to those who profess belief and ask for baptism and to those infants whose parents’ faith leads them to request baptism for their children….

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34)

We know from the testimony of the other Gospels that it was during this encounter that Jesus asked John to baptize Him (cf. Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22)….

Following the opening verses of the Gospel concerning renewing the original, fallen creation… following St. John the Baptist’s baptizing of the people, including Jesus… and following the strong reference to the renewal of the Jewish Rite of Purification by baptism contained in the sign performed by Christ at Cana… we arrive at this exchange with Nicodemus, Christ speaking of the renewal of the person. Is it not obvious that the context in which Jesus gave His discourse to Nicodemus is that of baptism? If it is not obvious enough, this episode is immediately followed by this passage:

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people came and were baptized. For John had not yet been put in prison.

Now a discussion arose between John’s disciples and a Jew over purifying. And they came to John, and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:22-30)

Wrapped completely around the verses regarding being born again, is baptism, baptism and more baptism. St. John’s Gospel is filled with sacramental theology. The signs performed by Jesus are related to us to teach that the Christ has come to fulfill and renew the old with the new. Jesus does not dismiss baptism as unnecessary; He renews it and institutes the Christian sacrament that is His work in our time.

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