Monday, April 20, 2009

Daily - 4/20/09

John 3:7b-15

7b (Jesus said to Nicodemus), 'You must be born from above.'

8 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."

9 Nicodemus answered and said to him, "How can this happen?"

10 Jesus answered and said to him, "You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?

11 Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony.

12 If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

13 No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.

14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."

This passage is of course a point of debate between Protestants and Catholics -- both of whom are recipients of this email. The crux of the debate in my eyes is this - what does it mean to be born anew, and what does it mean to believe.

Catholics believe that being born anew, or "born again", occurs through baptism. From the catechism:

1212 The sacraments of Christian initiation - Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist - lay the foundations of every Christian life. "The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity."

Catholics also believe that following this, we go through a "second conversion" throughout our lives as we spiritually grow. At times this is gradual, and at times it comes forcefully and with great emotion. I've personally experienced it both ways. From the catechism:


1427 Jesus calls to conversion. This call is an essential part of the proclamation of the kingdom: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel." In the Church's preaching this call is addressed first to those who do not yet know Christ and his Gospel. Also, Baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion. It is by faith in the Gospel and by Baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is, the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life.

1428 Christ's call to conversion continues to resound in the lives of Christians. This second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who, "clasping sinners to her bosom, [is] at once holy and always in need of purification, [and] follows constantly the path of penance and renewal." This endeavor of conversion is not just a human work. It is the movement of a "contrite heart," drawn and moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first.

This is getting long, but on to "belief" --

"Belief" isn't just a mental understanding of who Christ was and why he came. It is a full acceptance of that, which includes submission to God's will and obedience to Christ's commands. Christ says this directly on multiple occasions. Remember, the man who built his house upon the sand is the man who hears Christ's words, but doesn't put them into practice (Matthew 7:26).

There are numerous examples. Here is one from John:

John 3:3636 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.

Christ himself states that disobedience is the opposite of belief. I’m sure that I had read this more than a dozen times before it really sunk in with me. Obedience to God and acting on his commands aren’t a result of belief, they are belief, by Christ’s own definition.