Monday, April 16, 2007

Monday in the 2nd Week of Easter
Born Again… & Again…

Readings: Acts 4:23-31; Psalm 2:1-3, 4-7a, 7b-9; John 3:1-8

At some level, it’s really quite easy to identify with Nicodemus in his perplexity. What Jesus is saying simply does not compute. It defies logic. How can a grown man be born? Can he go back into his mother’s womb and be born again? But Jesus challenges Nicodemus to look at things in a new way.

As we well know, Jesus is speaking not so much of a physical birth as a spiritual rejuvenation. Unless a man is born through water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God. And, as Christians, we quite naturally equate this rebirth of which Jesus speaks to the sacrament of Baptism. Thus isn’t it true that Jesus’ words in today’s gospel no longer hold any surprises for us? After all, have we not already been baptized in water and the spirit? And doesn’t the Church teach us that baptism is once and for all? Once we have been imprinted with the baptismal character we cannot be baptized again. What other significance does this passage have for us then, except to provide us with a reason to congratulate ourselves and perhaps a slogan for persuading others to accept baptism?

And yet, could such an approach to Jesus’ words actually lead us to defeat their purpose? I’m reminded of an exchange some friends of mine once had in the days when I was actively involved in a charismatic prayer group. We had just concluded a meeting to discuss prayer group matters, when along came a much-respected person in church circles, who challenged us with the following question. If we believe that the Holy Spirit is poured out upon those who are baptized, and if we have all already been baptized, then why do we pray for the Spirit to come into us again? Isn’t the Spirit already within us? A very logical question, isn’t it? Why indeed? Can someone who has already been baptized be re-baptized? Echoes of the Nicodemus affair in a new key.

Still, logical as the challenge may sound, it does belie the experience of the early church in the first reading of today. In the Acts of the Apostles, this episode takes place after Pentecost, that is, after the Spirit had already descended upon the disciples. Yet, when faced with persecution, the community gathers to pray. And even though we might imagine that God already knows everything, they continue to present to God all that they are undergoing, especially their trials and tribulations. Lord, take note of their threats and help your servants to proclaim your message with boldness… And even though the Spirit already dwells in them, we are told that the disciples are once again filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ words to Nicodemus are thus again fulfilled in their experience. They are spiritually rejuvenated and begin to proclaim the word of God boldly, as Jesus did before them.

Clearly, to understand Jesus’ words to Nicodemus and to continue to claim their power, we must not only transpose them into strictly sacramental terms, important as this may be, but we must also be willing continually to allow Jesus to challenge our way of looking at things, to move us beyond the strictly logical to the truly spiritual. For, as we proclaimed in the response to the psalm, it is not so much logic as it is God in whom we put our trust.

How is the Crucified and Risen One inviting us to be born again today?

1 comment:

  1. I've always grappled with this notion of being "born again". Today, 18th April 2007, the daily reflections of Good News Ministry, gave me a new perspective on being re-born. I'd like to share it with you.

    It's been said that the Roman Catholic Church's Sacrament of Reconciliation imprisons individuals in a cocoon of guilt and shame. What is "guilt" and what is "shame" that so overwhelms some?

    "There's a difference between guilt and shame.

    Guilt comes from doing something evil. When we sin, we are guilty, and when we repent, we return to the freedom gained by Christ when he took our punishment on the cross. Shame, on the other hand, comes from the false assumption that, due to our sinfulness, WE are evil. Shame continues long after we've been forgiven. Jesus doesn't condemn us, but shame does. Shame won't free us from guilt, won't let us enjoy the forgiveness of God, won't allow us to forgive ourselves. Guilt tells us the truth about ourselves and invites us to grow from it; shame lies to us and paralyzes our growth.

    The truth is: Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, there is no shame in realizing our sinfulness, because facing it frees us to change and become holier. There is no shame in exposing our sins in the light of Christ, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to help us become who we REALLY are."

    Knowing the difference between guilt and shame is one step towards truly being born again.

    Peace of Christ to all who read this.