I once heard a homily in which a priest conjectured that heaven would be something like working on a computer all day. (This homily was given in pre-Internet days, I might add.) At the time, I couldn’t understand what he was getting at. Heaven like a computer? Heaven was meant as a place to do thinking, and asking questions? It sounded terribly dull.
While perhaps needing to be fleshed out, there is some truth to the analogy, and we see this truth in the life of Mary, whose Assumption we celebrate every August.
The doctrine of the Assumption states that Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. The end of her time on Earth is unique, in that she is the first one (other than Christ) to possess a glorified body. Yet, her fate is not unique. We have the hope that one day, our bodies will be resurrected and glorified, too.
If the life we are destined for is the same as that of Mary, then there is value in contemplating the way in which she lived her life. In order to be prepared for life in heaven, we need to live life on Earth in the way that she did.
Mary’s words in the Gospels are few, but they are coupled beautifully with her actions. In more than one place, we are told that Mary, “treasured these things in her heart.” This phrase indicates a contemplation, a pondering of what has occurred. However, the word “treasured” is significant, too. For Mary to “treasure these things” signifies more than a mere thinking about them, but rather a love. For Mary, contemplation is the work of love.
How does contemplation (even contemplation in love) relate to the Assumption? Simply put, contemplation is what joins together our actions and the work that we do, with our minds and hearts. Contemplation enables us to respond in love, and to unite all that we do to Christ’s love on the cross.
It is no great feat to perform the actions of any given day. It is a step to sainthood to perform these actions in love. However, it isn’t possible to perform those actions in love without prayer and contemplation. It is through prayer and contemplation that we come to know the heart of God, and the plan that He has for our lives.
Here is where computers come in. It has now been about twenty years since I heard the aforementioned homily, and computers and technology have improved exponentially in that time. The idea of asking questions and doing research on a computer for eternity doesn’t seem so boring anymore. We all know the pull of computers, smart phones, tablets, etc. We know what it’s like to spend hours reading articles, Facebook posts, and comment threads. We know the draw of Wikipedia and the like, and the incredible amount of information we can acquire from these sources. We also know how addictive acquiring that information can be.
I’ve heard many people wax and wane on the dangers of too much screen time. I’ve heard many people exhort us to spend less time in front of screens. What I have yet to hear is an acknowledgement that our desire to spend time in front of screens is actually a grasping at something that is very good. Granted, it is grasping at an inferior good, but it is (when used properly and chastely) a grasping at the good to want to acquire information and to learn about new ideas via the internet.
Likewise, our society’s modern desire to be busy is also a grasping at the good. Work is a very good thing. Wanting to be productive is also a good thing. However, our desire for productivity must fit into the overall scheme of our lives. Work, like time on a computer, has its proper place.
This is where a poor woman from the first century has much to teach us. Mary was a woman who knew hard work (living in a time with far fewer conveniences than our own), but she was also a person who knew the place of rest and prayer. Mary knew the significance of doing God’s will, but she also knew the importance of contemplation.
But Mary is more than a mere example for us. She is an icon of the Church. The Church is meant to work, to seek knowledge and understanding, but only within the context of love. Time scrolling through screens and working endless hours can be good – but it is only a grasping at the ultimate good. Mary intuits that, and reminds us to do the same. She shows us the value of longing for knowledge and understanding, but she shows us that that desire can only find true satisfaction in God.
By Mary’s Assumption into heaven, we see that there is something wonderfully good and worth saving about our humanness. Our humanity matters – soul and body. Our physicality, and what we do with our bodies (especially our brains!) matters. When we give ourselves over to regular prayer and contemplation we see, as Mary did, the true purpose of the union of our body and soul. We see the wisdom and understanding we are truly longing for, and we see how our desires find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ.