I’m absolutely convinced that I’m going to Purgatory. I know for certain that I’m going to Purgatory. Even my high school girlfriend told me I was going to Purgatory.
“Why am I going there?” I would ask her.
“Because.” She would reply. “I saw the way you looked at me just now.”
“But I didn’t do anything,” I said.
“You didn’t have to,” she replied. “You thought about it. That’s sinful.”
I’ve even had non-Catholic friends who don’t believe in Purgatory tell me that’s where I’m going. A Rabbi once said to me:
“You’re going to Purgatory.”
“Why?” I asked. “You don’t even accept that as part of your faith. Why?”
“Just because,” was all he said.
I wasn’t going to win, so after several years of being informed of this, I knew I was going to Purgatory.
Not for all eternity, just for several hundred million years. Heaven and Hell are those places where you spend “till the end of time”, which is a kind of play on words because, theologically speaking, time does not exist in those places; therefore, there can be no end …to something that doesn’t exist.
Some things can seem eternal in this world, which does have time, like a Miley Cyrus CD, yodeling, bagpipe music and two hours of outtakes and bloopers from Duck Dynasty. These things will never really end. You just have to do the best you can.
But, I’m all about something very different here.
Theologically speaking, Heaven can be gained at the moment of death if you’ve lived a perfect sin-free life, like Mother Theresa, or Bono.
There’s no need to wash up before this dinner.
At the other end of the spectrum, theologically speaking is Hell. This place is reserved for the truly evil people who will spend the rest of…whatever. We’re talking about individuals who have done unspeakable things to other human beings. People like Hitler, Mengele, Goebbels, Jeffery Dahmer, Bernie Madoff and the person who selects the background music at Wal-Mart. (Sometimes I include Leona Helmsley on this list, but I’m still making a final decision.) Again, no need to shower before dressing for Hell.
Which brings me to Purgatory.
Theologically speaking, this is the “holding pattern” for those who aren’t in Hitler’s league or in Pope John Paul II’s dugout. It’s a time of cleansing. The little insignificant sins and transgressions need to be cauterised off your soul. These sort of actions include telling people that Loni Anderson is your wife, you’ve summited Mount Everest by holding your breath, you’ve gone over Niagara Falls with nothing but a Mylar balloon that says “Happy Birthday, Grandpa!” or telling your wife you’d like to pick up the latest Playboy “to read the fiction piece by Hemingway”.
Now, I’m fully aware that officially, the Roman Catholic Church has distanced itself from the concept of Purgatory, theologically, that is. After Vatican II, they dropped it faster than you can say “St. Christopher”.
Well, I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it. It makes all the sense in the world that you can’t go directly to The Big Creator, without first straightening your tie and spitting on your shoes.
My game plan to override this Toll Booth is rooted in the Middle Ages. This was a time when rational thought and critical thinking skills were at their highest. All one needed was to build a chapel, a convent, an Abbey or simply donate a monthly sum to the local parish, and the years you were destined to spend cleaning up for heaven would be shaved off. These were called Indulgences. Another, and cheaper, method was to pray. Not just any prayer, but certain prayers would carry an Indulgence of, say, 500 days trimmed from Purgatory. I even remember seeing how much trade-in value certain prayers carried printed in my missal. I was an altar boy so I had time do some head math and then find a pew where I could erase my Purgatory time caused by my behavior on a Friday night date.
But, I don’t have my prayer-book now, so what’s a guilty and terrified guy to do?
It’s simple. The answer presents itself to me every day.
Random acts of kindness. These must be the modern means of gaining Indulgences.
So, now when I drive into town, I’m always on the lookout for cars that are stuck in traffic on side streets. I slow and wave them in. Sometimes this causes a back up behind me, especially when the car is unable to make a move because of on-coming cars in the opposite lane. But, hey, I can wait.
I slow for pedestrians who need to cross the street. I sometimes even stop and wait for them. This can be a problem when they didn’t intend to cross the street in the first place; they were just standing on the curb taking to someone.
I make them cross the street anyway.
I’d like to think that the traffic in my town moves more smoothly since I began my efforts to trim my Purgatory time.
One thing I haven’t been able to figure out is exactly how much time (in years, days?) do I get off for my noble and selfless road behavior. I’ve asked priests this question and they just stare back at me and then move slowly away.
In the end, theological speaking, it really doesn’t matter what the algorithm is. I’ll be doing less time in the waiting room, less time waiting for the light.
Less time behind the velvet ropes that will allow me to enter the Big Night Club.
The rest of you who weren’t smart like me and planned for the future beyond your usual funeral highlights, will simply have to bide your next 400,000,000 million years.