Let’s talk about work in Heaven. You might think, “I worked all my life! I don’t want to work in Heaven!” And this question of what we will do in Heaven really has puzzled millions of people for centuries.
We can start here: A place of happiness cannot be a place of idleness. We can’t be happy and be idle because, in a sense, we disintegrate: Here on earth, our muscles disintegrate, and, in a broader sense, our nature disintegrates. Remember that even Adam and Eve worked in the Garden of Eden. So, since Heaven, like the Garden, is a place of total happiness, common sense tells us that there must be some kind of work in Heaven.
The Lord’s Work
Let’s just imagine God in His Heaven before He created you and me, when there wasn’t anything but God. There were no angels, no men, no trees, no flowers, nothing except the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God had to create everything — and that was a lot of work! We must remember that everything has been created by God. He worked to create mountains and skies and air and water and animals and vegetables and fruits.
And God’s work continues. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete his work” (John 4:34). Our trouble is that we don’t have any concept of work except as something that takes exertion and creates fatigue. We have lost the joy and the creativity of work because, for most of us, it’s drudgery. The only thing that changes in the Kingdom is the kind of work.
Why do we work here? We work to eat, to sleep, to pay our rent, to pay our bills. We work to maintain our houses, to keep our families and our bodies going. But in Scripture we see a different concept of work, because in Heaven there is no need to make a living or to eat or to sleep. That kind of work will be unnecessary. But there are other kinds of work: “The works my Father has given me to carry out, these same works of mine testify that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36).
And when we look at the life of Jesus, it becomes clear that the greatest work Jesus undertook was our sanctification. Even before He healed people physically, He healed their souls. He would forgive their sins, or He would call for faith and humility before He healed their bodies. This was His greatest work. And this is why we get so mixed up when we talk about work in Heaven. We will no longer have to work to sustain the body, because that kind of life will be over. But we will do the work of the soul.
The Greatest Work
The greatest work is not the kind that changes things but the kind that changes people. The greatest work we will have, even in this life, is not our career or other worldly accomplishments, but our sanctification — and that of our friends and family and everyone else in our lives. Have we given ourselves over to the Will of God so we can be holy as He is holy? That’s the really hard work, because we have to take ourselves in our hands and take control. We have to be gentle when we don’t feel gentle; we have to repent when we feel angry. If we don’t think that’s work, then we haven’t worked.
In the book of Daniel, an angel appears to Daniel and says, “Daniel, do not be afraid: from that first day when you resolved to humble yourself before God, the better to understand, your words have been heard.” And he says, “And your words are the reason why I have come” (Dan. 10:12). This is an angel of the Lord, who is in the same Kingdom you will be in and who is doing the same things you will do. Visiting earth to address God’s people is one of the works of Heaven. St. Thomas Aquinas said that all the galaxies of God’s universe are governed by the angels to keep them on their course. Scientists may laugh at this, but that’s because we tend to forget that God is not just sitting around up there doing nothing. When our bodies are united once more with our souls at the general resurrection, we’re going to have to do a lot of things together.
We might think that we don’t want to do only spiritual works in Heaven. But can we really think of anything better? Is our earthly work that much better? We work all week, and then half of what we earn goes to the government. As for me, I think I’d settle for what’s up in Heaven.
Love & Prayer in Heaven
One of those spiritual works in the Kingdom will be to pray for those still on earth. We might think that doesn’t sound very hard, but let’s think about it for a minute. Imagine that you’re in Heaven and someone you love very dearly is down here on earth making mistakes and going in the wrong direction, away from Christ. You’re going to pray hard for them, and that’s going to be your work, to try to move them in the right direction. I’m sure that God will give us permission to direct the ways of those we love when we’re in Heaven. Many times, I’m sure, we have been saved by friends and family members who have gone before us. We will be up there fighting against the enemies of God, not with the weapons of war that destroy but with the weapons of goodness and compassion and love.
When people we love die, it can be difficult for us to think they still know and understand and care about us. But they do, just as we will know and understand and care about our loved ones on earth after we die! If they cared for us in this imperfect earthly state, they do so all the more now in a perfect state! They have even more power now to inspire us.
In this world, I find spiritual work much more fatiguing than physical work. When we finish some physical work, it’s finished for good. But spiritual work is never finished. The hardest work I do is trying to get other people to understand the depth of their being and spirituality so that they can rise above the mundane. But in Heaven, there will be no fatigue; we can go about that work continuously without worry or tiredness. Our work in Heaven will be tremendous, because we will be dealing with souls. And only God knows what other things we will be assigned.
My parents divorced when I was a young child. Six months before he died, my father told me that he was sorry about everything, but I still worried about him a lot. The first thing I did when I heard he was dead was to call the hospital to make sure he had received the last sacraments. Well, when my mother was dying, she looked toward the door and saw my father — the man she couldn’t live with (nor he with her, apparently), the man I saw very little of in my life, the man who left one day and never came back — who had come back for the bride he couldn’t keep on earth, the woman he thought he didn’t love. I thought it was an amazing grace! My mother said, “But he looked so handsome and so beautiful.” I wonder if that was his work as a kind of reparation for leaving her alone so many years ago. I wonder if it was his assignment from God to take care of her after death since he neglected her in life.
We often feel very lonely when we lose someone we love. But they’re working for us — not with hands and feet, as we remember them, but they’re working. They’re trying to direct us, to comfort us, to give us hope, to make us understand in some way that there is something greater ahead. And I’m sure that, if they could weep, they would do so when they see us going after the wrong things.
Our Eternal Work
It doesn’t matter what we have or don’t have here on earth. The work of everyday living is important work, but it’s not the most important work we are called to. Our greatest work on earth is to cooperate with the Will of God in the present moment so that the Spirit of the Lord can transform us into His image. If we miss that, no matter how hard we might work on our careers or other things, we’ve lost everything!
Everything is going to pass except that main spiritual work, and that work will carry over into the Kingdom. We won’t sit there disinterested in our loved ones or in mankind. If the angels rejoice over that one sinner, they must know the sinner: they must know what he has done; and they must have been praying for him in order to rejoice. If that’s true of the angels, how much more true is it of glorified humans, who knew so many people while living on this earth?
You know, we get so tired on earth. Sometimes we feel as if we don’t even look forward to continuing on. But we say that only because we’re tired of what we’re doing. We would never get tired of something that made us ecstatically happy. When we doubt that our loved ones are helping us from Heaven, we’re judging the glory of the Kingdom by the standards of a body that’s getting weaker after years of earthly labor. But this body is going to go. We can’t compare the physical and the spiritual.
A lot of people are afraid to go to Heaven because they’re ashamed of their actions and they’re afraid that everybody up there is going to know exactly what they did wrong. But we can’t think that way. Every time we go to Confession, the Lord forgives and forgets. Everybody has a skeleton in a closet. Do you think Heaven is a place where God parades around everybody’s skeletons? That’s not the God we know and love. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isa. 1:18).
It’s very important to understand that everything we do, even the sins we commit, God will bring up for our good. You and I are created by God and have been placed in a testing ground — that’s what life is, a big testing ground — to prepare us for a place in the Kingdom. That’s why we were created: to cooperate with God.
It is very important that you arrive in His Kingdom. If you should turn away from God at the moment of death and have the terrible misfortune of losing your soul, your place in the Kingdom will never be filled by anyone else for all eternity. It’s not like a big party where, if one person is missing, somebody else takes his place. Your place in the Kingdom will be empty forever unless you occupy it.
Preparing to take our place in the Kingdom is the greatest and most difficult work on earth. But then we will continue that most glorious work of all — praising God, enjoying the beauty of His Kingdom, praying for those who are still outside of it, loving those we loved on earth, directing them, interceding for them — all in a place of perfect joy and perfect happiness, with power we never had on earth. That is our work in Heaven, the greatest work of all.
This article is adapted from a chapter in Mother Angelica’s What is Heaven? It is available from Sophia Institute Press.