Signed, “Sealed,” Delivered . . . and Born Again
“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever” ~ Ephesians 1:13
Before jumping into today’s Gospel (John 3:1-8), I’d like to spend a few moments on the closing words of today’s 1st Reading (Acts 4:23-31), where we find the Apostles in the upper room praying together. Saint Luke tells us that “As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.“ Fortitude is of course one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and God was clearly pouring this gift out to his chosen ones during this encounter, but the reflection point goes far deeper than that.
God wields his power through the Sacraments. We see this for instance in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We partake of this Sacrament not only for the forgiveness of our sins, a gift that God so loves to give freely to his children, but also for the many other divine graces to be gained in the confessional. We see it in the Sacrament of Baptism, which not only washes away the stain of original sin but in fact seals us as members of God’s Kingdom.
Through Baptism, we move from the worldly kingdom of sin, anxiety, death, and hell to the Kingdom inhabited by God’s children, where virtue, renewal, and hope rule the day. This is only made possible because the Father has decided to share that power, His power, with us. By way of this power we now have authority, finally, over our lives, moving on from the despair and hopelessness of the world’s kingdom to God’s Kingdom, where we are awash in an ocean of hope. Where we have life.
Just as the Father wields his power by way of the Sacraments, he does so likewise by way of the Holy Spirit, in today’s 1st Reading quite literally. We’ll see this again in the enigmatic words that close out today’s Gospel. And speaking of today’s Gospel . . .
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
These were the words of Jesus to a soon-to-be-very-confused man named Nicodemus who, in taking these words quite literally, responded to Jesus in befuddled fashion “How can a man once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” As Bishop Barron observes in his daily reflection on this passage, “While Jesus speaks the evocative and analogical language of the soul, Nicodemus hears with the ears of the ego, the rational power that wishes to know clearly and control.”
Jesus responds “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. What is born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of spirit is spirit.“ Jesus’ words speak to the power of Baptism, the necessity of Baptism really. Through the waters of the Baptismal font we pass over from a world of sin to a world of freedom from sin, from the flesh to the Spirit.
But what does this notion of being “born again” actually mean? We know that our Evangelical brothers and sister lean heavily on this idea, some going so far as to specify the fact that they are not merely a Christian, but a “Born Again Christian.” Scripture is clear that we must receive a new birth in Christ. The old self must die and the new self must be “reborn.” We essentially take on a new life in Christ. This happens by water (Baptism) and Spirit, the Holy Spirit to be precise.
As mentioned earlier, Jesus closes out today’s passage with some rather mysterious words, words that will indeed be repeated in the opening words of tomorrow’s Gospel; this does not happen very often. Rather than picking up tomorrow where we left off today, these words will be repeated so as to re-set the stage.
They’re obviously very important.
Jesus says “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.”
“The wind,” in this instance the Holy Spirit as it is so often depicted throughout scripture ~ other times it takes the form of a dove, thus the choice of photos for today’s reflection ~ is in communion with God the Father by virtue of the Holy Trinity. God is of course present too in the swaddling clothes of Jesus . . Jesus crucified as well. Certainly in the resurrected Jesus. But here we see God in the form of the rays, or the “wind” of the Holy Spirit. Mysterious and at times seemingly random to us by virtue of our inability to grasp or comprehend even the stingiest fraction of the big picture, the Spirit always, always moves in rhythm with God’s will. It’s usually you and I that are out of step.
As God’s children we entrust ourselves to His divine plan. The Spirit moves as it wills, and as God’s obedient children, we seek to move likewise and in full harmony.
By water and Spirit, we flourish, grow and thrive... and are born again.
“Come Holy Spirit, renew within me the grace of my Baptism and lead me each and every day in accord with Your divine will. I abandon myself to Your glorious care and trust in the promptings of Your presence in my life.”
Jesus, I trust in You.”