“Are you a Christian? When were you born again?” I can’t remember the first time I was asked those questions by non-Catholic Christians that I would encounter. The first one was easy – yeah I’m a Christian, I’m a Catholic, we’re the “original” Christians – we’re the Church founded by Jesus Christ himself that can trace our current Pope back to the first Pope, Peter; thanks for asking – next? … Being “Born again?” – that threw me the first couple of times I was asked. It had these fellow Christians who were asking these questions thinking they had stumped me and somehow demonstrated my Christian credentials weren’t so secure.
I didn’t realize it at the time that I would be in good company with this man Nicodemus we encounter in today’s Gospel reading. He hears Jesus speaking that in order to see the Kingdom of God, in order to truly be one of His followers, we need to be “born again.” Nicodemus is confused by the very idea. He needed to understand that Jesus wasn’t speaking of a physical rebirth – but a birth through water and the Spirit… When we recognize that essential part of the definition, it clarifies things. Now when I’m asked when I was born again I respond somewhat definitively December 2, 1973 – that was when less than a month old, my parents brought me to St. Agnes Church and had me baptized. That forever changed my life, incorporating me into the Body of Christ… I was baptized into his death and resurrection and now enjoyed the privilege of being one of God’s beloved children.
But the reality is from that day forward, there have been times I haven’t lived that way. There are times I reverted to a life simply of being born of the flesh – times when I have fallen, I have sinned, I have rejected God. Which is one reason why we as Catholics go through the whole season of Lent and then move into the joyous season of Easter. It helps us refocus on our need to repent of those things ad re-orient ourselves in who we are in light of our faith in Jesus Christ. It helps us re-commit to seeing life not simply on an earthly, flesh level – where the ups and downs that we encounter in daily life constantly distract and disturb us – but instead recalling, remembering that our lives are in God’s hands, that as His beloved sons and daughters, He has us in the palm of His hand – that when we rest secure in that, even when we encounter trials and tribulations, even when we screw up and fall away, He is constantly thinking of us, waiting for us, lovingly wanting to care, and restore and heal us.
In this season of Easter we rejoice that in our Baptisms, we have already experienced the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in our very lives… that even with signs and the realities of death in the world around us, we’ve already been assured of eternal life when we too were in fact born again.