Welcome to another installment of Theology with Ghym. Today I want to take a look at the theology of salvation found in the Catholic Church.
The Bible gives three phases to Salvation: At times the authors discuss salvation as something already possessed, something received in the past. At other time they discuss it as something which is ongoing, in the present. Still at other times they speak of salvation as something still far off in the future. This is what I was taught when I was a protestant and this is what I was taught after I became Catholic, as far as I am aware these three phases are universally recognized. I've been saved, I'm being saved and I shall be saved.
That being said, Catholics and Protestants have some very different understandings of these three phases. Protestants put a huge amount of emphasis on the initial point of salvation, seeing it as the moment of justification. For Catholics this is simply the starting point, when we enter into the process; justification comes later.
The departure runs even deeper when one considers how it is we come to be "saved", initially. For Protestants God bestows an initial grace on us which can bring about a saving faith, which, when acted upon by us, brings about our salvation. For Catholics this initial point of salvation actually precedes faith, faith and works come later. God bestows initial grace upon us enabling us to respond with either a yes or a no. If no then we stay outside. If yes, we enter into the process and God bestows even greater graces upon us, slowly bringing about faith and works, justification and sanctification.
For Catholics this initial point of salvation is entirely based upon our own receptivity, our willingness to receive the grace of God. However, this is true, not only of this first point, but of every point that follows. God continually offers us ever more grace and we continually say yes or no. As we say yes, through works or prayers or sacraments, God acts upon our hearts to bring about even more faith.
Catholics do not discuss the initial point of salvation overly much because it is simply the first link in a very long chain. It is the first yes we offer up to God, but it is far from the only one. In the second phase of salvation there is an ongoing cycle. God's grace brings about faith, our faith is made manifest in works, our works dispose us towards a greater receptivity to grace, we get more grace which brings about more faith and the cycle continues.
The final point of salvation is achieved when we are made fully open to God. This is that moment of complete surrender when we are brought into the inter life of the Trinity. It is here that we are able to fully embrace the salvation won for us on Calvary. It is only here that we are fully sanctified and thus fully repentant and can fully receive our justification.
It is not necessary that one be a Catholic, or even a Christian, in order to be saved. All that is necessary is that one be willing to receive the grace of God. You must be open to Him, He will do the rest.
The great thing about being Catholic is that we have the fullness of the truth and the sacraments. As we participate in the life of the Church our spiritual life is expedited. The sacraments and sacramentals are tools which help us along the journey. We have saints who serve as examples by which we might live our lives more fully inline with God's will. And most of all, we get to know God, not just personally, but intimately. Every time we participate in the Mass we receive a glimpse of heaven. Every time we receive the Eucharist we receive love incarnate in the most intimate act we could possibly share with God himself.
Truly, it is not necessary to be Catholic, but it really helps.