When I was young, a Baptist girl friend told me if I accept Jesus as my personal savior, I am saved. However, the Baltimore Catechism answers I later memorized seemed to tell me that salvation is not that simple. I’m much older now, and I feel that my relationship with the Lord lacks something. Do you think my childhood friend had the right answer?
– J. M., MINNESOTA
Your childhood friend was certainly on the right track. Someone probably read to her these words of St. Paul from the Acts of the Apostles: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you … will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Or perhaps these words from Paul’s Letter to the Romans were the ones she had in mind: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved” (Romans 10:9-10).
You indicate that you feel you are lacking something now. Take a moment to notice the repetition of the word “believe” in the Scripture texts above. What you might lack now is a lively enough belief — a sufficiently robust faith — to sustain you in moments of pondering that could, at times, be accompanied by a bit of loneliness and anxiety.
The old Baltimore Catechism has yielded primacy of place to what is called the Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated in 1992 by Pope John Paul II. The new catechism stresses the necessity of faith in these words: “Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent Him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. Since ‘without faith it is impossible to please [God] … therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification…’” (161).
But there is more to it than that, and here is where your childhood friend could have learned something from your Catholic tradition. Catholics take seriously these words from the Letter of James: “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Th e action of the sacraments is important for Catholics. We regard it as essential to respond to the word of God with action — to show love of neighbor in deeds of charity; to right wrongs with works of justice; to wash each other’s feet, as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. And to celebrate all this in the action of the Eucharist.
No one can do everything, but even in old age, there is always an opportunity to offer a smile or word of encouragement, extend a helping hand, to do something ever so small for the love of God and neighbor. Those “works,” we’re convinced, help to keep our faith alive, just as our faith helps to inspire our good works. Together, faith and works keep us turned toward God and moving confidently toward eternal life with God. CD