Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,
There is kind of a confusion about the reality of redemption and salvation going around today. Have you ever had a Protestant brother or sister ask you in a challenging tone, "Are you saved?" I remember the first few times I was asked like this I kind of broke out in a sweat. First of all, the whole choosing Jesus thing as my personal Lord and Savior is confusing language to me. "I was not you who chose me, but I who chose you, to go out and bear much fruit." If I'm the one doing the choosing then I am somehow placing God under myself. I have the power to choose God, like Coke or Pepsi. There is really no other options in the category where God is, although we might be tempted to think that other things are as important, like popularity, prestige, power, comfort or wealth. Really, there are only two options: God, and me. It's where you put your heart.
Am I saved? This is one of those pivotal questions that drive people through life down various paths. In responding to this question, we make a point of clarification as Catholics. The power of the Cross has saved us from the fires of hell as a default. The work of salvation is done by Jesus on the Cross, there is no other offering necessary to make reparation for mankind's sin. And yet, unlike other Christians, we don't believe that it is automatic. We must live into the reality of our being redeemed, which depends always on the choices we make everyday. Do we choose God? or do we choose ourselves?
I know I talk about this a lot but here I go again. The fact that many are fooled into thinking that faith is an individual relationship just between me and Jesus. This is a modern misunderstanding. It is true, I receive my baptismal identity in Christ, but by being conformed to Christ I am automatically brought into the vast Communion of Saints, the family of God, the Body of Christ which is the Church. In this case we know that the Church here is not just Roman Catholic: we acknowledge the validity of all Christian faiths who baptize with proper form, formula and with the intention of the Church. Anyone can baptize, and it is God's will that all be baptized. With baptism we are delivered from our isolation, and connected in a mystical way that forms us as one family, a community. To deny this is to be something other than a follower of Christ.
Am I saved? At the moment of baptism, yes. Every moment after that is a choice we make to draw closer to God, or move away. If God is far away in our life, and since he is the Unmoved Mover who is literally in all places, then it is we who have to move to him.
I am redeemed. This is a step that many forget. The simple and total gift of the Father's only Son on our behalf, emptying himself of his life that we might receive it, is the one defining event which gives us hope and the grace to move toward that end which is God's Plan for each of us, in the community of all of us. We must move.
We fall into a sleepiness and can too easily be consumed by the distractions of the day. It is true, there is simply too much for me to accomplish in one day. Maybe even one lifetime. But I am not meant to accomplish this for myself, by myself. Together, as I believe the Plan goes, we will accomplish it for God. Not even for ourselves, the community, but for God. Communities can be narcissistic, too. There are two choices: God, or ourselves.
So, then, are all saved? This has been the topic of many books and papers by popes and professors: dare we hope that all are saved? The answer is, of course. Without that hope, what hope is there for me, unless I have placed myself above another. The Church is in the business of proclaiming saints. We know in faith that there are scores of saints in heaven. It is interesting that the Church has never dared to declare that someone is in hell. There might be two reasons for this. First, we may never judge the secret movements of the heart, even in people who appear to be most evil. You have to be in your right mind to sin. Second, to do so would be to underestimate the power we share in interceding for one another. Do not forget: prayers are powerful and we can call upon Mary and all the saints to go to bat on our behalf when we seem to be failing and wish profoundly for renewal and reconciliation.
Now, we come to the final point. If we are, indeed, saved at the moment of baptism, saints in the Communion of Saints, perfect creations without sin, then here is the source of our hope. With true contrition (sorrow for our sins) and the desire to make reparation (to heal the scars of sin in us and in our community) the sacrament of reconciliation / penance / confession (whichever you prefer is fine) has the ability to restore us to that moment of perfect holiness which we once knew as newly-baptized persons, whether we can remember it or not. Redeemed, and saved.
God bless you.