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What do I tell people who ask if I've been saved?

When a visitor to a small town asks an old-timer if he lived in the town his whole life, the man's response is, "Not yet". The visitor is posing a question that supposedly can be answered in terms of what has already happened. But the old-timer hears a question that cannot be definitively answered until his life is complete.

As Catholics, if we are asked whether we have been saved, we can answer, "Not yet," for the same reason as the old-timer. From our point of view it is too soon for a definitive answer. The evangelical friend who poses the question assumes it can be answered from what has already occurred, like accepting Baptism or accepting Jesus. Our Catholic instinct is more cautious; our sense is that if we claim to be saved, we are presuming that our future salvation is assured. Are we saved? "Not yet," we say.

There is some humility and some biblical precedent behind the Catholic caution. The humility is like that of the recovering alcoholic who is reluctant to declare sobriety as a permanently achieved state. Ask if he's sober and he might answer that he hasn't had a drink for so many years, or that he's sober so far today, or that he hopes to remain so. But he will not declare himself sober; rather he identifies himself as a recovering alcoholic. Catholic Christians my age recall that in the years before the Second Vatican Council, when the same Eucharistic Prayer was used in every Mass, the first audible words after the Consecration were Nobis quoque peccatoribus ("To us also, sinners"). We recognize that we are recovering sinners, that our struggle continues.

The gospels include striking reminders that we cannot presume our final salvation. In the final judgment parable (Matt. 25:31-46) it is not only the rewarded who are surprised at the result. The excluded are just as surprised. Evidently they had expected a different outcome, they thought they were among the elect, the saved. In another parable those barred from the banquet plead that they walked with Jesus and listened to his teaching. But they are turned away bluntly, "Truly I tell you, I do not know you" (Matt.25:12). Jesus warns that not everyone who calls to him, "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom and be saved.

The Catholic Church is unwilling to reduce "being saved" to being baptized or "accepting Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior:' These are precious steps in a life of discipleship, in an unfolding relationship, in a process of transformation. But they do not by themselves mean that one is saved--yet.

By JIM DINN, a freelance writer retired in Pennsylvania.
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Title Annotation:Glad you asked: Q&A on church teaching
Author:Dinn, Jim
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2004
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