Sunday, December 15, 2013

*BEST OF DTB #195* The Catholic Defender looks at "Born Again"

My last year in college I studied more in religion than any of my classes.

It became a real struggle for me. I would be at baseball practice and I would have a fan club out there in the bleachers waiting for me with their King James version of the bible waiting for me to talk about their faiths.

I was being challenged with their interpretations. I was told that all I needed was a "personal relationship" with Christ, that all I needed to be was "born again". I was told that I needed to be "saved" and all it took was a "Sinner's Prayer".

I was being told you could not be saved through an institution. To them it was not a religion, it was a relationship. I could be in the Dining Hall and they would gather around me, or I could be at the Student Union and they would find me there.

I would have people gather around me to talk about their faiths and why the Catholic Church was in error. My Room mates would invite people over to our room to debate with me which would always go late at night.

They were sharing their Jack Chick publications warning me that the Catholic Church was the "Whore of Babylon" and the Pope was the "anti-Christ". Because of this I spent about two hours a day in the library discovering the roots of my Catholic Faith.

After one particular night when the debate got heated, I slept hard, I remember a dream that was so real, it has had a great impact on me for the rest of my life. In my dream it was clear that God's Church was dead. I felt such sorrow and despair, and through the sadness, I began to cry shedding tears for His body, the Catholic Church.

I found myself suddenly in a ruin where a Church had been built.  I began  walking through the wreckage until I came to where the Sanctuary had been.

It looked like Mass had not been celebrated there for a long time as the ceiling overhead was gone.  Behind where the Altar there was a large crucifix when I saw a vision of Christ on the Cross.

Jesus looked very sad and I felt such great despair that I began to cry.  I heard a voice tell me that Jesus was crying because of the plight of His Church. From this scene, which seemed to last a good while, I never felt such anguish.

I cried so much that I woke up out of my sleep totally wet from the tears I was crying.  (The above picture was taken years later when I was stationed in Germany.  That is me at the door of this Church in ruins.)

My pillow, the bed, the blankets, sheets, everything were all wet. I sat up as it took me a couple of minutes to realize this was only a dream. Instinctively, I recalled my Confirmation that took place in Blue Springs Missouri by Bishop Sullivan at the age of twelve. I renewed my vows and told the Lord that I will be a Soldier for Him.

I will not betray Him nor abandon His Church even when people around me do. I will do my best to remain loyal to Him and upon This Rock, I will stand. A promise that I have been graced to keep ever since. I began to see what being "born again" was to really mean:

One of the most popular, widely-asked questions is ‘Are you born again?’ People refer to this ‘being born again’ as an experience. Others call it their ‘reality.’ Nicodemus told Jesus, “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.”

“Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” What did Jesus mean when he made this statement? For one thing, a change of heart must occur. Any individual who experiences being born from above will manifest certain signs. The first sign will be repentance.

We must recognize our sinfulness and renounce all sin, and our need for the Savior Jesus Christ. This cannot, however, be a once-in-a lifetime experience, but anew, and continual way of life. Jesus established the Sacrament of Confession for this reason. Faith is a journey and it requires growth.

Nicodemus goes on to ask, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again?” Jesus then says, “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.” 

St. John the Baptist foretold his followers that the one who comes after him would “baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit.”

At the news of Jesus public ministry, St. John says, “He must increase, while I decrease.”

The over all increase of Jesus (thoughts, actions, intentions, etc…) in a person’s life is one elemental sign of the born again experience.

Jesus states, “No one can come to the Father unless you do the will of the Father. We must seek to do his will.”

Some Pentecostals maintain that a person cannot be born again without speaking in tongues, an outward sign of the Holy Spirit.

This position has brought dissension among them. Pope Gregory the Great (604 A. D.) in his encyclical Homiliae in Evanfelia, Hom 29.4 observed that such charismatic signs decreased after the first days of the Catholic faith.

Pope John XXIII is reported to have prayed for those gifts of the early Church to aid in these final days. A Charismatic Renewal was sparked in the 1980’s and continues through today. The Holy Spirit, beginning with the ‘born again’ experience, guides and directs each individual believer.

On the corporate level, however, the Holy Spirit has guided and directed the Catholic Church since the first Pentecost. For some 2000 years, the Holy Spirit has handed down the teachings of Christ through Apostolic Succession. The Holy Spirit has guided Apostolic authority with infallibility despite our sinfulness.

The Holy Spirit has utilized the Church in writing the New Testament, by putting the scripture together at the Council of Hippo (393 - 396 A. D.). The Holy Spirit has guided the great Councils of the Church beginning with the Council of Jerusalem (49 A.D.) continuing to the ‘1960s with the Second Vatican Council.

The Holy Spirit touches people through the Sacraments, particularly Baptism and Confirmation. The Holy Spirit is present and participates in the life of Christians on every level, from public and elaborate liturgies to private, closet prayer.

It has always been manifested through the Church, its ministers, and people. The evidence of being born again is our living the teaching of Christ. Baptism and Confirmation cannot be subtracted from the born again experience due to the Holy Spirit’s working within communities and individuals in relation to the Sacraments.

When you are asked whether you’ve been born again, let your life demonstrate the results of being born again. This is putting ‘yes’ into action.

The fruits of the Holy Spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength (fortitude), knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, varieties of tongues, and interpretation of tongues (I Cor 12: 4-10).

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