You’ve already partially answered your own question: “Sadly though, I saw people profess Christ and follow Him in baptism never to be seen again.” Strictly speaking, baptism doesn’t save, it justifies.
It is possible to be baptized and yet not attain to salvation. So, baptism justifies us – it provides us with God’s grace and enables us to cooperate with Him through acts of supernatural virtue. Only by persevering to the end and dying in a state of grace are we saved. At the end of our lives, having been justified and cooperating with the graces we’ve received in whatever way has been made available to us, we hope to attain to heaven. Baptism is the first step – but not necessarily the only step – in that process.
Let me explain what I mean. In my formation as a baptist we made a profession of faith as most of you probably know. Being baptized just made you a “member” of the church and part of the bride of Christ.
Right; and the Catholic understanding of baptism is that it actually does something: we receive God’s grace through baptism in a way that we do not by simply professing our faith or filling out a registration form to become a member of a particular parish church. But, we don’t believe in a “once saved, always saved” doctrine, either: baptism invites us to participate in the life of the Church, such that, through the reception of God’s grace (in the sacraments), our actions (which redound to God as merited by Him), and our faith in Christ, we look forward to salvation and eternal life in heaven.
receiving the sacraments throughout our lives works together to form and strengthen our relationship with the Lord. How can it not for if we truly & genuinely seek him and our disposition is right we find Him alive and well in us!
One thought, though: if you listen to a symphony, you’ll hear a performance that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Yet, each part has merit which belongs to it alone: if the tympanist plays well, the symphony sounds better; if the 1st chair violinist gives a virtuoso performance, the symphony’s performance is sublime – but, each of these individual performances are credited solely to the individuals. Even if we consider the conductor, we realize that he is only coaching, directing, and coordinating the individually meritorious performances. Not so with our salvation. God gives us the grace; we cooperate with the grace; our works are merited primarily by Him. (We share, in a certain way, in the merit; but it is God who deserves the praise and credit for our works, not us.) In no way would we as Catholics suggest that we, on our own behalf and through our own efforts, merit salvation!