Work out our salvation by how we live Print
Bishop Hying's Column
Written by Bishop Donald J. Hying   
Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 -- 12:00 AM
Bishop Donald J. Hying's column

"Are you saved?" is a classic evangelical question which we have probably all been asked once or twice. Those posing the query usually view salvation as a specific event, the precise moment when they gave their lives to Jesus and experienced his forgiveness.

A gentleman told me once that he was saved at a Billy Graham crusade in 1978, which for him was a powerful spiritual transformation. As Catholics, we may fumble for an articulate answer to the question of salvation, which is a sign perhaps that our understanding of this central reality of faith is more nuanced.

Baptism is first step

In Baptism, we are born again, of water and the Spirit. Claimed for Christ, cleansed of original sin, filled with sanctifying grace, joined to the life of the Most Holy Trinity, a baptized Christian is set on the path of salvation won for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This primal, foundational experience of salvation teaches us that we do not save ourselves. The whole Christ event is a mission of mercy, a rescue operation, God's initiative to save humanity from the clutches of sin and death. In Baptism, God takes the first step to reach out and redeem us.

We need to cooperate with that saving grace! By studying God's Word, receiving the sacraments, growing in prayer, and living the abundant life of the Gospel, we accept the gracious gift of salvation so freely offered by the Lord and let His life grow and flourish within us.

Faith, actively lived, becomes our response to God's gracious initiative. Baptism plants the seed of salvation in our souls, but we must cultivate that beginning throughout our lives. This needed response from us implies that we can reject the gift of salvation. If that is not true, it would mean that God does not respect our freedom, which cannot be the case.

Jesus' words on salvation

As Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, someone asked Him, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" Jesus' response is compelling, "Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough" (Luke 13: 22-24).

In Matthew 7: 13-14, Jesus says, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few."

A common tendency today is the presumption that all people are automatically saved. If God is all good, how could He ever allow someone to go to hell? In the end, everyone goes to heaven and right away, so the thinking goes.

Such conclusions fly in the face of the Gospel passages I just quoted above. Jesus clearly states that holiness is a difficult struggle, that many people do not find the right path, that the road is rough and the gate narrow.

These words from our Lord emphasize two fundamental truths we can never forget. Salvation is dependent on our response to the invitation to conversion and God absolutely respects our freedom, even if, in the end, we make the most fundamentally wrong decision, i.e., a radical and total rejection of His love, mercy, and grace.

The Church has never said that anyone is in hell; only God can judge that, but the possibility exists. The Lord gives each of us the freedom to choose life or death, the blessing or the curse. How are we responding to this remarkable offer?

Take call to holiness seriously

As Catholic believers, we live our faith in the healthy tension of knowing that God freely invites us to accept salvation and mercy on a constant basis because of His infinite love but that we can never presume on that mercy without taking seriously our baptismal call to holiness and conversion.

We trust in God's mercy and forgiveness but never take the gift for granted. When I read the Gospels, I hear an urgency in Jesus' voice. He is calling us to turn from sin, to repent, and to believe in the Gospel now. His miracles, preaching, institution of the Eucharist, death, and resurrection are all personally offered to us now, to melt our hearts and lead us to love God with every fiber of our being.

I ponder this Gospel urgency often. Even if I live another 40 years, this time on earth is so limited. We have only a short span of days to embrace Jesus' invitation to enter into a saving relationship with Him through the Church, to leave sin behind, to live the glory of our vocation to holiness which began in Baptism.

Everything matters

In light of this earthly brevity, everything matters. Whether I pray this morning, attend Mass on Sundays, give to the poor, allow the grace of confession to strengthen me against sin, all of it matters. How I do my work, treat others, spend my time and money, struggle to forgive and be forgiven, all of it matters.

The details of our daily existence assume a supreme importance when we view them in light of our death and particular judgment before the throne of Christ. Few of us are privileged to make a dramatic sacrifice of martyrdom or accomplish some great miracle, but what we will bring to Jesus at the end of our days will be the fruit of our steady, loving, faithful response to His gracious offer of salvation.

The drama of each human life lies in how it will all turn out. What good will we accomplish? How far will we grow in holiness? How deeply will we fall in love with God? How profoundly will the abundant life of the Gospel captivate our hearts? Will we be saved?

We absolutely trust in God's mercy, but we must work out our salvation here on earth by how we live now. What a blessing to share the road to the Kingdom with our brothers and sisters on this pilgrimage to the Father's house.

When I go snowmobiling, I regularly see the signed admonition, "Stay on the Trail." Good advice for us Christians!