Sunday, March 15, 2009
What is salvation? Why do we seek salvation? How can we receive salvation?
Salvation is the act of saving or protecting from destruction or harm. As Christians, we seek and find salvation in Jesus. He entered the world, died on a cross, and rose from the dead so that we might be saved. We seek this salvation because we strive to be closely united with Jesus in Heaven. It is unthinkable to us to be without God's eternal and unconditional love. We know what salvation is and why we seek salvation, but answering the question about how we become worthy of salvation is much harder to answer.
Salvation is, in my opinion, somewhat of a mystery. We humans here on earth can never fully know without question who is or is not worthy to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Only God truly knows, but we have been given a road map to help guide us toward our destination in heaven. Jesus is our road map, our guide to salvation. Because we do not know without question who is or isn't worthy of heaven, nor do we know the hour of our death, we must always be ready. How can we be ready?
As Catholic Christians, we believe that we can only reach Heaven through faith and good works. To me, this is just common sense. If we have faith in Jesus, but fail to do good works we should not expect to enter the kingdom of Heaven. On the other hand, if we do good works but do not have faith in Jesus, we should not expect to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Honestly, faith and good works should go together no matter what. If we have faith in Jesus, would we not then be inclined to do good works? We should. If we do good works, what is our reason for doing such things? Most likely, good works is the result of a love of God and one another.
I was baptized Catholic as a baby. Had I died immediately after baptism, I could expect to enter the kingdom of Heaven because at that moment of baptism, my original sin was wiped clean. My parents spoke for me and confirmed their desire for me to become a member of the Catholic Church. It became their responsibility to raise me and teach me to come to know the faith. My parents are exceptional people and did an exceptional job raising me and all my siblings. Through their example, their dedication to God and to us, they have produced 8 good, holy and lovely Christian children (if I must say so myself).
My older brother, Mark, married a beautiful and loving wife who now have 2 children of their own. They are now responsible for raising their children to learn the faith and are doing a wonderful job. The Catholic family is growing. I also married a wonderful and beautiful young woman. She is the love of my life. She was raised in a good Baptist family and is the nicest, most loving girl I ever met. Her kindness and love reminds me of my own mother, who I also love so much. When I met my wife, I could see the love of Christ in her. It did not matter to me that she was not Catholic. I could see that she had the love of Christ in her. She comes from a great and loving family who did a wonderful job raising her and one in which I'm glad to also now be a part of with her.
My faith has always been important to me, very important. When I was looking for a girl to marry, my first concern was that this person was a person of faith. As Shelly and I dated, I wanted to get to know her better. I wanted to know who she was as a person. I came to love everything about her. I guess she liked me a little bit too. She noticed how important it was to me that I attend mass every week. I never pressured her in any way, but her interest in me led her to attend Catholic mass with me. It certainly was a shock for her at first. She had lots of questions and I had some answers. Those I didn't know at first, I learned so that I could explain to her. In this way, I found that I was learning much more about my faith. As she started coming to mass more and more often, she began to understand the mass better. She started to understand the Catholic faith and the great beauty and wonder of the church. She started mentioning to me a desire to become Catholic. Of course I was very happy to hear this, but I never pushed her to do this. The first couple times she told me this, I asked her why she wanted to do it. Did she want to because of me? I did not want her to feel pressured to make such a big decision simply because of me or to please me. She assured me that the reason was because she truly loved the Catholic Church, and she felt that it was where she was called to be. When she thanked me for leading her to the Catholic Church, my heart almost exploded with joy and I had to hold back tears. In a very real way, she has helped me to better love and understand the Catholic Church. Shelly is now entering the final stages before the Easter Vigil, when she will come into full communion of the Church. I ask that you keep her, and baby Julie, in your prayers.
Why did I share this long, personal story with you? I share this with you today because it helps me explain my understanding of salvation. I believe that salvation can only be found through faith and good works. The fact that I was baptized Catholic as a baby does not mean that I have a reservation in Heaven. My parents can't just say, well that's it, we did our part. No. There are several instances in the bible that suggest otherwise. Salvation is not a one time event. I can't point to one time in my life and say definitively that it was the day I was saved. Baptism and Confirmation brought me into the church and were significant sacraments I've received, but I must continue to do good works. I must live a good Christian life. I must constantly strive to become a better person. I must pray continually. I must constantly ask for forgiveness and be willing to forgive others constantly. By participating in the sacraments of church, I do not guarantee myself a spot in Heaven, but it sure doesn't hurt. I believe that the Catholic Church offers the best means of reaching our goal of Heaven. It is like taking a boat to get across a lake as opposed to trying to swim across the lake. I have a much better chance of getting across that lake if I'm on a boat than if I rely on swimming (especially since I'm a terrible swimmer). That does not mean that our church is the only means. If I had never met my wife and she was never introduced to the Catholic Church, I believe she and her family would be saved because of their faith in Jesus based on their understanding, and on their loving heart and good works. God knows our hearts. He knows and sees what others cannot. That is why it is not we but God who is judge. I also feel that those who grow up without ever being introduced to God, may also enter the kingdom of Heaven if they do good works and live a Christian life. Their lack of faith in God can be attributed to their lack of knowledge, but a desire to do good works shows that they understand the love of God whether they recognize it themselves or not. If however, one has the knowledge of good and evil, a knowledge of Jesus and truth, yet willfully rejects this truth, they should not expect to enter the kingdom of heaven. This person rejects God in his or her heart. If we come to know Jesus and the truth, we have a responsibility to live out our lives according to the truth. To do otherwise is gravely sinful.
Salvation is a mystery, but we have been given a road map. Jesus is the way to salvation. We all must follow Him. We all must continue to grow in our faith, lest we lose it. If we lose our faith, we should expect to lose our place in Heaven. It is so easy to lose faith if we do not constantly work on growing our faith. As we near a midway point during Lent, let us refocus on our Lenten promises and work as hard and as diligently as ever to grow in faith and in love of God. May God bless and guide you all!