This spiritual decision for Christ cannot be identified with water baptism or with any so-called saving works and certainly there is no foundation for infant baptism.
John 3:3,7: “Jesus answered him, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew (again), he cannot see the kingdom of God. . . . Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’”
This spiritual rebirth is intensely important for Catholics. Ours is no juridical imputation of righteousness; rather, we are literally remade into a new creation. Deleted from the pericope by our protagonist is this line, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Faith in Jesus and an abiding trust and obedience to him brings us to the baptismal font.
The Scripture citation here is still incomplete. It also states, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (John 3:5). The font of life-giving waters is known as the “tomb and womb” of the Church. We die to our old self, to sin; and we are reborn to Christ and the life of grace. We become temples of the Holy Spirit and are configured to Christ’s likeness as adopted sons and daughters of God.
Our rite of initiation is not circumcision, but baptism into the name of the Trinity. Faith and baptism also makes us members of the new People of God, the Church of Christ. This theme of unity has always been important among the faithful. The Scriptures themselves narrate that sometimes whole households were converted to the faith (see Acts 16:15; 16:33; 1 Corinthians 1:16).
During this historical period and again with the development of second penance and regular confession, babies were also brought forward for initiation. The bond joining the members of Christ’s body was understood to be so intimate that parents and sponsors could make a profession of faith for a child who had not yet reached the age of reason. Mortality rates being high, this was of crucial emotional importance to parents and had eternal ramifications for the children.
Jesus himself had urged, “Let the children come unto me, and do not hinder them.” Over time, the final anointing of the baptismal ceremony was separated from the first part, often reserved for the visiting bishop. Similarly, first Eucharist was also delayed until the child was older.
When records are not available or when there is some doubt of validity, the Catholic Church will offer a conditional baptism to candidates seeking entry into the believing community. However, if their prior baptism in a Protestant community is deemed authentic, then they make an act of reception and subsequently receive confirmation and holy communion. Baptism is a one-time sacrament which forever configures a person to the Lord.
Technically, we equate the “born again” experience with baptism, although it can be personally affirmed with confirmation and a more full sharing in the gift of the Holy Spirit. We might also experience an exaultation at prayer which might give an emotional high or a special satisfaction to our faith. Christians baptized in the Catholic Church, even as infants, who seek and receive baptism in Protestant churches are in fact disavowing their prior baptism. What they are saying is that our baptism is null-and-void and that Catholics are not Christians nor are they “saved”, to use their language. This is a terrible happenstance. Catholics were the first Christians and Catholicism is the TRUE Church. We love and pray for our Protestant brothers and sisters; we join their chorus in praising God for giving us such a wondrous redeemer as Christ; however, we cannot rejoice in the ignorance of our own or the bigotry which steals them from our ranks.