St. Peter Catholic Church, New Iberia
Are you saved? What a question! So, short and direct… perhaps a bit… existential. Maybe you’ve been asked this before, maybe not. When you hear those three words, it might suggest some kind of ultimate reality. To answer the question presupposes so many things, it’s actually pretty surprising that people answer it all. “Are you saved?” Is there something I need to be saved from? Why do I need to be saved from it? What does it take to be saved? What does being saved mean for me now? What does it mean for the person asking me this question? What does being “saved” mean for me in the future?
If we really listen to the question and think honestly about what it means to answer it, we are faced with a profound reality. And yet, is it even a fair question? Compare it to other short questions: “Are you alive?” is a question about your current condition; “are you human” is a question about identity – about what you are; “are you sure” is a question about your opinion; “are you willing” is a question about your decision-making and freedom; “are you sad” is a question about your feelings. Which category does “are you saved” fit into? Is it an identity? A condition? An opinion? An attitude? A feeling? A little bit of each?
Take a look at the examples of salvation in Scripture. The 11 Apostles; are they saved? Were ten of them saved at the first appearance and Thomas got saved later? St. Paul’s letter tells us a little about salvation. He addresses the trials we will face, but there is also this: “you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” So, do we get saved when we feel that joy? Or when we are tested?
Then there is the community of believers in the Acts of the Apostles. Notice especially that last sentence; it gives us a real shot at answering this question, “Are you saved?” “And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” I asked you “are you saved,” but this passage doesn’t mention people who are saved, only people who were being saved. The grammar there isn’t just a little difference. We’re talking about the difference between ongoing and complete, between a verb and an adjective. Try it with another idea: “you are dead” compared to “you were dying.”
Actually, that helps us understand Paul’s complicated last sentence. “You rejoice… as you attain the goal.” In other words, you rejoice while you attain salvation. The rejoicing is not a one-time thing… it is ongoing. And when does it happen? During, while, at the same time… the salvation of your souls is a process that takes place over time and, thanks be to God, we can rejoice during that process.
And what is that process? What does it mean to be in the process of being saved? The first reading gives us the summary of it: devotion to the Apostles’ teaching, to community life, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers. So, it is not just prayer, it is not just being among other Christians, and not just showing up for Mass, for the breaking of the bread. It also includes devotion to the teaching of the Apostles. Why is that significant? Because of what Jesus Christ tells them in the upper room “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
The Father sent Jesus Christ to die and rise to save us from sins. So, is Jesus sending the apostles to die and rise to save us from sin? Not exactly. There is only one sacrifice for sin, Jesus on the Cross. What does Jesus mean by sending the Apostles in the same way the Father sent him? He means for them to bring his one saving sacrifice to all others. As the Divine Mercy Chaplet puts it “Eternal Father, I offer you the body and blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.”
God the Father sent Jesus Christ to offer himself – body, blood, soul, and divinity – in atonement for our sins. Jesus sends the Apostles to make that same offering throughout time. The sacrifice of the cross happened once, but we can reach through time to share in that offering. Not re-crucifying Jesus, not merely remembering, but uniting ourselves, participating in that one, eternal sacrifice. That is why the breaking of the bread, the sacrifice of the mass, is specifically named in Acts. At Mass, the priest or bishop, successors to the Apostles, do what Jesus did – they offer his body, blood, soul and divinity to the father in atonement for sins.
That is why the Divine Mercy Chaplet is so powerful. It participates in that divine mission in a small way. But that’s not all. Because of that sacrifice, Jesus forgives sins. Today is called Divine Mercy Sunday because we always read this Gospel passage where Jesus gives the Apostles that same power: the power to forgive sins. Jesus atoned for all sins on the Cross, but we must embrace that atonement and forgiveness. Because our salvation is an ongoing process, we need to return to that infinite source of mercy over and over again. Jesus chose to give us the gift of being able access that fountain of mercy in a very human way.
Instead of assuming mercy, which is dangerous; instead of guessing we are forgiven, which can be frightening; we can know that we are forgiven by going to the Apostles, by going to the men that God himself gave the power of forgiveness. When a priest says, “I absolve you,” there is no reason to doubt. What a gift!
So how do you answer that first question, “Are you saved?” In truth, only those in heaven can answer that question with an unequivocal “yes.” But, here on earth, as those devoted to Apostle’s teaching, devoted to community life, to the Eucharist, and to Prayer… as Catholics we can say with living hope “I am being saved.” That hope is answered and strengthened every time we are absolved. If we persevere in belief, if we persevere in repenting of our sins, then we “rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as we attain the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.”