There is a modern idea that God will forgive everything on one’s death bed and let everyone into heaven, but the collect in the Traditional Latin Mass for Epiphany (prayed all week, several times a week in both the Divine Office and every Mass until Sunday) teaches us something very important about getting to heaven.
The collect for Epiphany week in Latin is: Deus, qui hodiérna die Unigénitum tuum géntibus stella duce revelásti: concéde propítius; ut qui iam te ex fide cognóvimus, usque ad contemplándam spéciem tuæ celsitúdinis perducámur. Per eúndem Dóminum nostrum Iesum Christum Fílium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitáte Spíritus Sancti, Deus, per ómnia sǽcula sæculórum. R. Amen.
The English is: O God, Who by the leading of a star manifested on this day Your Only-begotten Son to the Gentiles, mercifully grant that we, who know You now by faith, may after this life be led unto the contemplation of the Beauty of Your Magesty. Through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, Our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. R. Amen.
Notice that the goal of this life is the Beatific Vision (seeing God face to face) where we are led (perducámur) unto the contemplation (usque ad contemplándam) of the Beauty of Your Majesty (spéciem tuæ celsitúdinis). Of course, to get there, the beginning of the Beatific Vision here on earth is not just being a good boy-scout, but knowing Jesus Christ by supernatural faith. Notice again the Latin here: ex fide cognóvimus.
Yes, the term ex fide first implies a life of trust. As St. Paul wrote to the Hebrews:
“For, yet a little while,
and the Coming One will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith (ex fide vivit)
and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”—Heb 10:38
But ex fide also implies obedience to the revealed Catholic Faith that was given to the Apostles alone. St. Paul writes at the beginning of his letter to the Romans about “Jesus Christ our Lord, through Whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.”—Rom 1:4c-5. Notice that St. Paul and the Apostles have received grace and Apostleship (accepimus gratiam et apostolatum) for the sake of bringing the nations not to a faith of good feelings but to the obedience of faith (ad oboediendum fidei.)
Thus, keeping to the Catholic faith in word, action, trust and obedience is the beginning of seeing God face-to-face. The notion that “God will forgive everything in the end” is not true. While it is true that God may give the gift of perfect contrition and an implicit desire for baptism to the invicibly ignorant (those who could not have known the Catholic faith) and thus be saved on rare occasions, one must bare in mind that for this to “work” (so to speak) all of one’s heart, mind, soul and habits will have to be re-wired (so to speak.) Of course, nothing is impossible for God (and re-wiring that is the goal of Purgatory for the few who are saved via this extraordinary way of implicit baptism) but most people are not going to be feeling up on their deathbed to an entire re-wiring of their mind, soul and habits.
Why not? Because besides the humility required for repentance, arrival at the Beatific Vision will include the re-wiring of all of one’s habits. Again, nothing is impossible for God, and the fires of Purgatory purifies this for most of those who are saved, but turning an ocean-liner on a dime may prove to be as of an rare event as the death-bed convert having all of his life’s decisions overturned by his cooperation with God’s grace. Yes, all of our life’s decisions made in our bodies and souls are nothing short of the trajectory of an ocean-liner. We must ask: Will most people have the humility to admit most of what they had believed up to that point was wrong? This is a question we must ask even they are given that rare gift of perfect contrition to become a Catholic seconds before cardiac arrest without the sacraments. I hope it happens more often than the saints say, but the Church considers this the extraordinary way of salvation. Regardless of frequency, we would be foolish to bank on it without baptism and/or confession.
By contrast, knowing Christ and the traditional Catholic faith is how we are led to the contemplation of the Beauty of His Magesty (perducámur…ad contemplándam spéciem tuæ celsitúdinis) by knowing by our faith (ex fide cognóvimus) Christ here on earth, as it says in the Collect all week for Epiphany in the ancient Catholic rite. This is why God became man, coming from heaven to earth, so that we might know him as a human in the Catholic faith and move from earth to heaven. This is the ordinary way of salvation. And this is why it’s so important to have the Catholic faith in both trust and obedience to the Apostolic teachings.