Star Trek fans might recall my favorite episode in which aliens test a woman to see if her race is worthy of saving on another planet. The woman is an empath, someone who can absorb the suffering of others. Her test is to take on the pain of Dr. McCoy when he is dying, and thereby give her life for his. She passes the test. This theme echoes the situation we are in. We are each given a certain number of days on earth to prove that we deserve to live in eternal bliss in another world. The fallen angels failed their test. Our first parents, representing the human race, also failed their test. Thanks to the mediation of Jesus, we have the chance to retake it.
Some people are fortunate to have short tests. Saint Therese of Lisieux, for example, only lived for twenty-three years. Others have tests that last for decades.
Teens cram for SAT tests. We prepare for our life tests by studying Jesus and the saints (who aced their tests), the Scriptures, and what the Church teaches. Jesus has provided us with a cheat sheet. In a parable he explains that to be rewarded with entry into the kingdom we are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned. God has even given us each a personal mentor, a guardian angel to suggest the right answers.
Catholic school children were known to pray during tests, “Holy Spirit, Lord of Light, help me choose the one that’s right.” This Person of the Trinity is in charge of our sanctification. We can call upon the Holy Spirit for supernatural assistance as we go through life’s tests.
The tests are often difficult multiple choice tests: which course of action will you take? Some tests are identification: what is truth? Some tests in life are like stress tests: how do you endure suffering? Other tests are like driving tests: how good are you at following the rules? Pop quizzes are the norm: how will you act on the spur of the moment? Each test in some way measures love, love of God and love of others. St. John of the Cross stated that at the end of our lives we will be judged on love. Jesus, the Teacher, will look over the story of our lives (our essay test) and evaluate it. Ultimately, there are no grades for our lives, no B+’s or D’s. We either pass or fail.
Some people (like St. Ignatius) have found a daily examination of conscience, a self-evaluation, helpful in deepening their spiritual life. If you have too, how do you carry it out?