In the Last Gospel of the Mass from St. John we read:
"But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
What does the bold faced quotations mean - what does it refer to? Does "born" refer to baptism. It seems pretty clear to me, but I may not be understanding it clearly. Could you give me a take on what it might mean? I read it every Sunday at Mass and wonder it's meaning.
Thanks for the question. Yes, we have an opinion about this verse. This was actually mentioned in our book Outside the Catholic Church There is Absolutely No Salvation (section 22). While we cannot say infallibly what this particular verse means since the Church has never issued any infallible declaration on this specific verse, here is what is said about it in the book. We think the correct conclusion is pretty obvious:
John 1:12-13-“But as many as received Him, to them He gave power to become the sons of God: to them that believe in His name: WHO ARE BORN, NOT OF BLOOD, NOR OF THE WILL OF THE FLESH, NOR OF THE WILL OF MAN, BUT OF GOD.”
The context of the passage is dealing with “becoming the sons of God,” that which St. Paul called “adoption of sons” (Rom. 8:15). This is the theological and scriptural term for Justification, the state of sanctifying grace (Trent, Sess. 6, Chap. 4). The term signifies the transition from being a child of Adam (the state of original sin) to becoming an adopted son of God (the state of sanctifying grace). Pope St. Leo the Great, in fact, confirms that this passage of St. John’s Gospel is talking about becoming a son of God by the Sacrament of Baptism.
Pope St. Leo the Great, Sermon 63: On the Passion (+ c. 460 A.D.): “… from the birth of baptism an unending multitude are born to God, of whom it is said: Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn. 1:15).” (The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Vol. 2, p. 151.)
So as God, through St. John, is describing man’s being “born again” to the state of grace in Baptism, He speaks of those who are born, “NOT OF BLOOD, NOR OF THE WILL OF THE FLESH, NOR OF THE WILL OF MAN, BUT OF GOD”! The “will of the flesh” is desire. The “will of man” is desire. “Blood” is blood. In my opinion, what God is saying here in this very verse is that in order to become a son of God – in order to be justified – it does not suffice to be born again of blood or desire (i.e., baptism of blood or desire). One must be born again of God. The only way to be born again of God is to be baptized with water in the name of God: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Mt. 28:19).