Many who get asked this question do not know the true Catholic salvation message. For most, they believe the lie that Catholics are all about meriting salvation from God, rather than coming to a real relationship with God.
But this is not the truth. The Church presents a gospel message about us joining a family of faith not a mere religion.
We know this because of how we are made. We are a people who are constantly in search of the God that created us. This search is the reason why there are so many religions. That and our own sinfulness, because sin separates us from the family that God desires us to be united with Him as a member of.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1: God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.
Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. (John 14:23).
Our relationship with God is hindered by our sinfulness. This is what causes us to lack a relationship with Him.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1033: We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves …
Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
The gospel message about salvation is based on God loving us so much, that while we were separated from Him, He chose to make it possible for us to have the relationship our sins ruined for us.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 620: Our salvation flows from God’s initiative of love for us, because “he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10). “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19).
Jesus said: "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me." (John 14:6)
This new beginning with God is not the result of something we caused, but rather because He first loved us. All we have to do is realize what He did and cooperate with Him as He renews us in love.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 153, 154: ... Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. “Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and ‘makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.’” ... Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 160: To be human, “man’s response to God by faith must be free, and . . . therefore nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will. The act of faith is of its very nature a free act.” “God calls men to serve him in spirit and in truth. Consequently, they are bound to him in conscience, but not coerced... This fact received its fullest manifestation in Christ Jesus.” Indeed, Christ invited people to faith and conversion but never coerced them. “For he bore witness to the truth but refused to use force to impose it on those who spoke against it. His kingdom . . . grows by the love with which Christ, lifted up on the cross, draws men to himself.”
You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father (John 15:14-15).
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 682: When he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each man according to his works and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace.
I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
You must admit that you are a sinner in need of God’s mercy and love:
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 208: God is holy, he can forgive the man who realizes that he is a sinner before him.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 847: “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us.” To receive his mercy, we must admit our faults.
"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" (Romans 3:23)
"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:" (Romans 5:12)
"If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." (1 John 1:10)
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 615: By his obedience unto death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who “makes himself an offering for sin,” when “he bore the sin of many,” and who “shall make many to be accounted righteous,” for “he shall bear their iniquities.” Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (John 3:16).
For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly ... But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:6,8).
… 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 (Romans 10:9).
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1430: ... interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.
I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God (Luke 12:8-9).
For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. For the scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:10-13).
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?” Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one 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 2:37-38).
· Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1257: The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.”
· Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16).
· …. are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).
· Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 982: “There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest.” Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin.
· Jesus said: "But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!" (Luke 13:5)
· God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now he demands that all people everywhere repent because he has established a day on which he will ‘judge the world with justice’ through a man he has appointed, and he has provided confirmation for all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31).
What can you do if you fail to live a repentant life and fall back into sin?
· Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1811 It is not easy for man, wounded by sin, to maintain moral balance. Christ’s gift of salvation offers us the grace necessary to persevere in the pursuit of the virtues. Everyone should always ask for this grace of light and strength, frequent the sacraments, cooperate with the Holy Spirit, and follow his calls to love what is good and shun evil.
· Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1446: Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as “the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.”
· If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing (1 John 1:9).
· Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the (priests) of the church, and they should pray over him .... If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful (James 5:14-16).
· Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” He rose and went home (Matthew 9:5-7).