Hi, Brandon —
Just to expound on Mary Ann's answer,
salvation is ultimately a work of
God in us, with which we must cooperate
by an assent of our free will. Jesus
is the author and perfecter of our
As St. Paul writes:
He who began a good work in you
will be faithful to complete it.
In the twelfth chapter of Hebrews,
we read in the presence of God are "the
spirits of just men made perfect."
(Hebrews 12:23) As Catholics,
we believe that this process of being "made
perfect" starts with faith (and
baptism normally), but no matter
when we start this journey, God will
complete it in us, even after physical
That is why the Church teaches that
most (saved) souls after death go
through a condition or place called
purgatory. It is the final process
of purification that God puts us
through. So a person accepting Christ
in his last breath stands forgiven
of all his sins, but he is not yet "made
perfect" so, in most instances,
there will be some kind of purification.
That is why we continue to pray for
the dead as well as the living. Not
that they might be saved; they are
Although they died in faith and are
saved we pray for them as they undergo
the last phase of their sanctification.
This in no way implies a gospel of
works for it is God who purifies
and sanctifies us with His love.