Question: I want to be sure I go to heaven when I die. What exactly should I do?
— John Hahn, Woodbridge, Va.
Answer: A short biblical answer to your question is supplied by St. Peter in Acts. Having heard a sermon that he preached on Pentecost, many were struck to the heart and asked what they should do. Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
But this is not to be understood as a ritualistic observance we fulfill on one day, but is meant to usher in a whole renewal of the human person. And thus we should look at all three things that Peter indicates in some more detail.
The word translated as “repent” is metanoia, which means more than to clean up our act. It means to come to a whole new mind, rooted in what God teaches and reveals, with new priorities and the ability to make better decisions.
To be baptized is not only to be cleansed of our sins, but also to see our old self put to death and for Christ to come alive in us. Baptism ushers in the beginnings of a lifelong healing process that must continue by God’s grace. Baptism also points to all the sacraments of the Church. Having been brought to new life, we must also be fed by the Eucharist and by God’s word, we must see the wounds of sins healed in confession, we must be strengthened for a mission by confirmation. Baptism also makes us a member of the Body of Christ. And thus, we are called to walk with all the members of Christ’s body — the Church. St. Peter also speaks of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. And thus we are taught that our dignity is to be swept up into the life, love and wisdom of God. We are called to be sanctified by the Spirit, to see sins put to death and many virtues come alive.
Finally, something needs to be said about your use of the word “exactly,” which might imply there is some very simple formula for getting saved. But as can be seen, there are many dimensions to the work of God in saving us. Thus, we are to walk in a loving covenant relationship with the Lord. We are to do this in fellowship with his Church, through the grace of the sacraments, obedience to the Word of God and prayer (see Acts 2:42).
Muslims and salvation
Question: How does the Church reconcile the Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 841, which says, “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims” (who deny the resurrection), with 1 Corinthians 15:14, which says, “And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.”
— John Clubine, Etobicoke, Ontario
Answer: God wants to save all and has set plans in place to do so through the preaching of the Gospel. The idea that the plan of salvation aims for all does not mean that all are saved. If people were to knowingly reject Christ after having him effectively preached, they may well forfeit their salvation. However, not all have had Christ effectively preached, and the Church leaves the final determination to the Lord of how culpable they are of their seeming rejection of Christ.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.