A few days ago I read a bumper sticker that said: “Born once, and that’s enough.” Apparently the author saw no need for being born again. But it set me to musing.

Maybe the driver of the car saw no need for being born again, but Jesus did. In John 3: 3-5 he says quite clearly: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born anew he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” When Nicodemus states the obvious, that one cannot go back into the womb and be born again, Jesus repeats: “I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of Spirit is spirit.”

Evangelicals will stop you on the street and ask: “Are you born again?” And most Catholics haven’t a clue. If Jesus says we must be born again, why can’t Catholics tell you if they are born again? “Born again” is certainly biblical terminology but is not something you hear anything about in Catholic churches. And I wondered: “Why not?”

And I wondered: “Are Catholics born again?”

My answer to the question would be: Some are; some aren’t.   Please bear with me as I explain my thinking and please straighten me out where I’ve gone astray.

For Protestants, being born again is pretty straightforward. They hear about Jesus, accept that he is who he said he is, read what he taught, repent of their sins, and decide they will follow Him. (“If you love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15) They have altar calls so that they can “confess God before men.” They undergo water baptism and, presto, born again! The road ahead may be rough but they know they have decided to follow Jesus and they look to God for the grace to do it.

Adult Catholic converts are in pretty much the same situation. They study and are baptized (if not previously baptized), confess their sins, receive communion, and are confirmed. They make a heartfelt decision and enter the church, eyes open.

Then there are the others. The vast majority of Catholics are the cradle Catholics. If you ask them they will say they have “always” been Catholic. We Catholics are baptized as babies and are told that water baptism has cleansed us from original sin– that baptism is an indelible mark that makes one a child of God. We grow up doing the Catholic thing – mass on Sunday, receiving communion, being confirmed at the appropriate age. Some during this journey take seriously the idea of following Jesus – not receiving communion in the state of mortal sin (for example), confessing their transgressions and trying to live the Christian life. Confirmation really means something to them and gives them further grace to follow Jesus.

However (and this is a big however) It seems that there are many who “go along with the program” but who have never made a serious commitment to follow Jesus–not just to believe in Him (even the devil does that) but really making Jesus Lord of their lives. They were born into the church, baptized in the church, and accept whatever Catholic teachings appeal to them. There are “born Catholics” who don’t believe that Jesus was divine, to take an extreme example. To my way of thinking they were “born Catholic” but they are not “born again” because being born again takes a decision at some point or another to accept Jesus not only as Savior but as Lord. It takes a decision to seek to do the will of God.

The disconnect between “born Catholics” and God was first brought home to me when I heard a priest who was assigned to teach catechism to the Catholic teenagers in a Catholic high school say that he discovered that “they didn’t need catechizing, they needed evangelization.”  (What happened when some of those teenagers actually decided they wanted to follow Jesus is a whole other story!)

Being born of water and the spirit speaks of the two aspects of baptism. Baptism requires not only pouring water on the person in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but also a personal act of the will.

Augustine in the City of God wrote:

Those who, though they have not received the washing of regeneration, die for the confession of Christ—it avails them just as much for the forgiveness of their sins as if they had been washed in the sacred font of baptism. For he that said, ‘If anyone is not reborn of water and the Spirit, he will not enter the kingdom of heaven,’ made an exception for them in that other statement in which he says no less generally, ‘Whoever confesses me before men, I too will confess him before my Father, who is in heaven’” [Matt. 10:32]

Pope Paul VI in Lumen Gentium (16) repeats:

Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life.

Again, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (1281): “Those who …without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill his will are saved even if they have not been baptized.”

The Catholic Church has long accepted as sufficient for salvation the baptism of blood (should you die for your faith unbaptized) and the baptism of desire (should you ardently desire water baptism but die without it) in lieu of water baptism.

It seems, then, that while water baptism is desirable it is the commitment that is crucial. You can be born again and not Catholic. And you can be “Catholic” and not born again. I write this with a prayer that anyone reading it who realizes they have never made Jesus the Lord of their life, that they have never told God that they want to do his will, will decide to do that now.

For cradle Catholics who wonder if the Catholic church is something they would want to join as an adult, ask yourself if you could say (and mean) the following:

The Renunciation of Satan
Priest: do you renounce Satan?
I do renounce him.
Priest: And all of his works?
I do renounce him.
Priest: And all his pomps?
I do renounce him.

The Profession of Faith

Priest: Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth?
I do believe.
Priest: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, Who was born and Who suffered?
I do believe.
Priest: Do you believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting?
I do believe.


Will you be baptized?

I will.

The entire Rite of Baptism in the Catholic Church can be found here.


And I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you: and I will take away the stony heart out  of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away. Behold all things are
new. 2 Cor. 5:17.