The Final Test

Take a deep breath and hold it.

Think about the person in your life whom you hate the most. Maybe it’s your old boss who treated you terribly for years and fired you six months before you retired. Maybe it’s someone who abused you, stole from you, or cheated you out of something important. It could be a parent, a sibling, or your best old ex-friend Ray. Maybe it is not a particular individual, but a type of person: homeless, immigrant, Republican/Democrat…

Exhale and return to your normal breathing.

Next, I want you to imagine that you have just died and you find yourself approaching the Pearly Gates of Heaven. Wow! They are amazingly beautiful. And, just like in all the picture books, there is St. Peter, complete with flowing robes and a long, white beard. As he sees you coming, he greets you with a smile that somehow warms your soul.

“Welcome to Heaven! We’ve been waiting for you!”, he shouts with great Spirit. “Have a seat here, there are a few things for me to do to process your entry.”

“Let’s see…Baptism? Check. Prayers? Check. Taking care of the ‘Least of My People’? Check.

Looking very, very good! You’re all set!”

A huge smile comes over your face as you stand up. As you walk with St Peter towards the gates, he explains that they have arranged for a “Welcome Ambassador” to show you around Heaven and get you settled in.

As the gates open, your face falls. Your Ambassador is none other than the person whom you hate the most.

You turn to Peter, unable to contain your surprise, much less your disgust.

“How did THEY get in here? I’m not going anywhere with them. Please, Peter, find me another.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that,” Peter says with a frown. He checks his books. “I’m sorry, but, unfortunately, there is no one else available at the moment. Would you like to wait?”

“Sure, I’ll wait,” you say defiantly. You watch with dismay as the beautiful gates close.

Just behind you, a door that you didn’t notice before opens with a clang. Looking inside, you see a very large waiting room that is filled with blank-faced people all staring up at the wall. It is an exact replica of a DOT driver’s license waiting room.

As you enter the room, an attendant who looks a lot like Rod Serling gives you a number. You look at your ticket and it says, “19279”. You look at the wall where everyone else is staring. In a glowing red font, it says “Now Serving: 5.” With a heavy sigh, you take a seat in a plain and very uncomfortable chair.

You don’t see the sign on the back of the door as it closes with another heavy clang. In small, plain black letters, it says “Purgatory”.


There is nothing to do but waiting. No one talks to anyone else. They all just sit there. You sit for what feels like an eternity with nothing but your angry thoughts.

“I can’t BELIEVE that person made it into Heaven after all they did to me. I hope that Peter can find me somebody else. Mom or Dad would be great. Or my best friend that died a few years ago. How long is this going to last? I’m so bored.”

After a forever of waiting, your number is finally up.

St. Peter smiles again as you approach his Dais. “Welcome back!” he says with his booming voice. “How was your wait?”

“Terrible!” you reply. “Can’t you get some better chairs, or at least give me a phone that has TikTok on it?”

“TikTok?” Peter says with a visible shudder. “Sorry, that’s not allowed up here. Anyway, let’s see who is available.”

As the gates begin to open, you close your eyes and say a silent prayer, “Please let it be Mom, please let it be Dad…..”

Opening your eyes, you have to blink twice. To your horror, it is the same person as the first time.

Peter sees your face. His bushy white eyebrows arch high above the glasses at the end of his nose. “Still no good?”

“No way,” you reply.

So back you go into the waiting room. Your number this time is 1,279,682.

“What?!” you cry.

“Oh, sorry. There was a big war and we got slammed,” the attendant explains.

You return to your seat and wait. How long, you have no idea. There is no sense of time.

Over the course of another eternity, something strange happens. You feel your thoughts slowly change. “Maybe I don’t understand how God decides who gets into Heaven. Maybe that person somehow changed after what they did to me. I guess they might have had their own problems at the time that I never knew about. Maybe they aren’t so bad. I guess they aren’t that different from me.”

Finally, your number is up again. Peter smiles as you approach.

“How was your wait?”

“I’m ready now Peter,” you say.

“Excellent! Congratulations on passing your final test. We don’t allow any hate or resentment here.”

As the gate begins to open, you bow your head, preparing yourself to be greeted by your previously-most-hated person.

“Welcome!” says your ambassador.

You lift your head with surprise.

“Mom!” you cry.

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Joe Baumgarten is a life-long Catholic and had had articles published in the Ligourian, the Witness and the Iowan.

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