The other day I got into a conversation that reminded me of one of my early experiences of religious people.
Folks like to make fun of St. Augustine and the big deal he makes about stealing the pears in the Confessions, but I get it. I get how childhood experiences become ways into an understanding of the depth of the problem of sin.
I was in the first or second grade. Some earnest religious kid asked me if I was 'saved.' Partly curious and partly making fun of him I answered his question with another: "Saved from what?" The kid didn't have a ready answer.
When I think of having said what I said, it fills me with awe before the mystery of sin. For that from which I needed to be saved was with me always: I was a sad and anxious kid, and already at that age I felt--felt, not knew--that there was something very out of sorts with my particular being-in-the-world.
Sin is not just the unreality that robs us and our societies of the good that ought to be there, but it also clouds our minds and perverts our thinking so that we lose our sense of the most fundamental thing of all, our need for salvation. If we were well aware of our need for God and the deliverance that God wills to give us, we would immediately become filled with such devotion and missionary zeal as to become like the saints. Indeed this is what sanctity is; not that we should conform ourselves to some religious standard by agonistic effort at 'personal holiness,' but that we should surrender to the need and desire for God which is our own deepest identity.
Even for us who are baptized and have been delivered from the burden of the guilt our first parents earned for us by their sin, the injury left by original sin remains in us. All of the actual sins of our life have kept the wound festering. The whole rotten business makes it hard even to think straight about things, which is something that should teach us theology students a lot of humility.
Even in my unhappiness I could ask from what I needed to be saved. That's the mystery of sin in its deepest and most sinister.
This is not to say that the purpose of salvation is to make us feel better or to help us arrive at a better mental health situation. The purpose of salvation, at least as long as we remain in the Church on earth, is to get us free from carrying our own selves around as a burden so that we can give ourselves to each other in love, open and responsive to how God wants to make use of us for the salvation of others.