UNLESS A PERSON IS BORN AGAIN HE CANNOT SEE THE KINGDOM OF GOD. This assertion that Jesus made in response to Nicodemus' expression of confidence in our Lord's credentials proved too enigmatic for the learned man to grasp. Even after the Lord explained further there remained an air of mystery about this teaching. Yet all of us here understand the message that Jesus sought to impart to his interlocutor. Not that we grasp the content of the new life that he speaks of; on the contrary, what we understand is that we are given a new principle of life by the gift of the Holy Spirit of God. His grace enables us to accept the truth and reality of this teaching without understanding the transcendent fullness of its content. Nicodemus at this encounter already had the beginnings of faith in Christ but had not yet come to see that our Lord not only came as a teacher from God but was empowered to impart the Holy Spirit of God to those who accept him. Like Nicodemus, of our self we are not capable of arriving at so lofty a doctrine. Only through faith in the Lord who reveals this teaching does the gate to the Kingdom of God open for us. What Jesus speaks of is as mysterious as the comings and goings of the winds to our limited human intelligence and our dull spiritual senses.
Without receiving God's grace through baptism and the Holy Spirit, our Lord states, we remain alienated from God. We cannot please Him and so we are unable to attain to the one ultimate pur pose for which we have been created. Later on, St. Augustine would point out that in those things that pertain to salvation everything depends on grace; at the same time, on another level, every thing depends on our free choice. It is not a question of sharing as equals with God in the work of salvation. Rather the more fully we recognize and accept our total dependence upon the gift of God, the more freely and completely we can cooperate with His Spirit by giving our assent to His teaching and by carrying out His will in practice. There is an important and reassuring corollary to this radical need of rebirth in the Spirit. It is this. That we now have the capacity to respond to God, even to live as His faithful child in communion with all those who belong to His Son in the Church is a sign that we have already been admitted to His friendship. That we accept this teach ing and strive to live by it is a pledge that we are on the path that takes us into his presence as members of His household.
To be born again of water and the Spirit is a condition for entering the Kingdom, as Jesus teaches. To receive this teaching is already to have a share in that Kingdom. For in giving our assent we yield our self to the working of the Spirit within us. As we do so we learn to recognize His guidance, and the impulses to good that come from Him and are enabled to put them into effect. We know by experience how challenging such a program turns out to be. We cannot expect to see it through without struggle, humiliation and even at times real suffering. But by God's gift we have the Spirit as our Paraclete, that is as one who consoles us and sustains us in the struggle. We also have the Eucharist to give us strength and confidence for in it we receive not only the body and blood of the risen Lord Jesus, but also His Spirit. He, together with the Fa ther, continues to impart the Holy Spirit to us, and nowhere more surely than in this sacrament of the altar. Let us open our hearts in faith to him as we approach the altar and strive throughout this day and this whole season of Easter to labor actively in union with the Spirit on the task of our rebirth to the new life of the children of God.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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