Am I in Heaven?

Father Steve Mattson on Dec 9, 2020

That was a question I found myself asking a few days ago. It resulted from my recent decision to get rid of the internet at my rectory. It was a great decision, and I encourage you to think hard about following suit.

Prior to Covid, I didn’t have the internet at the rectory. I had enjoyed the quasi-cloister prior to this year. I installed the internet out of “necessity,” and I found it very useful–indispensable even–during the Covid shut-down. “Zooming” with friends & family, colleagues at the parish, and praying with people who were struggling were all made possible by that technology.

I’m aware of the challenges and dangers of tech. Aren’t we all? Tech is a mixed blessing. For me, after getting things hooked up, I found myself tracking Covid-data like my life depended on it. Twitter seemed among the best ways to keep track of the latest, and, boy, did I keep track. As spring of Coronatide turned into summer, my Covid-data tracking gave way to Twitter monitoring of BLM, Antifa, Anti-Racism, and non-stop updates about the Woke Left.

I’m a priest. And I did spend time in prayer. I prayed the Office, and took time with my daily holy hour. But, I’m sad to say that I could be at times pulled out of prayer by a “pressing question” or a passing thought.

A wiser, more self-disciplined man or woman might have easily been able to resist the itch of curiosity and distraction. But that wasn’t the case for me. Alas.

The evil one knows us. Each of us. The devil and his minions watch us and tailor temptations to tap into or stir our particular anxieties, appetites, fears, self-reliant commitments, etc. One strange trajectory of temptation for me was premised on my genuine and pastoral concern for my parish and community.

Like most pastors, I want to be a good shepherd. The Lord wants that too. Satan, the Tempter, is shrewd, and knows it too. I realize now that my desire to be a good and faithful shepherd had become an effective target for the evil one’s lies and temptations. Conspiring with my tendency for self-reliance, the evil one “encouraged” me to do things in my own strength, to dream that I could actually protect my parish from the looming dangers, as it were, on my own.

Thanks be to God, beginning a couple of months ago, I sensed that I needed to increase my time of prayer. And it bore fruit. The Lord showed me that my own “need” to track the many developments and concerns in the world and in the Church was making it more difficult for me to trust the Lord and His care for me and my parish. The evil one had been successfully getting me to scratch my itch for self-reliance and control.

Thanks to what was surely an inspiration from the Lord, in a time of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, I got a strong sense that I should simply get rid of the internet at the rectory. Since I live only a few blocks from the parish, I knew it was “doable.” Thanks be to God, I listened.

I know that some of you may believe that getting rid of the internet would be “impossible” in your circumstance, and you may be right. But count me an evangelist. Here are a few of the fruits of this change for me:

  • First, unsurprisingly, I have time. There’s no more streaming of anything at all, no Twitter, no websites to monitor, no emails to check. No work at home.
  • Second, my prayer is freer and more abundant. The digital distraction of devices is gone, and I’m able to focus once again.
  • Third, and more generally, I think that I’m becoming a better, more balanced person. I’m spending time reading, cooking more for myself, listening to good music, returning to my very rudimentary banjo playing, and exercising and sleeping more. Not a bad list, that.

Even if you doubt that could pull the plug, so to speak, let me encourage you, as I encouraged my parishioners this past weekend, to pull back from (especially social) media. As I mentioned in that homily, I’m very concerned about the effects of social media on our children, which is a point that I’ll address in greater depth in a future post.

One last note: the picture above was taken while I was listening to Ein Deutsches Requiem by Johannes Brahms and reading Carl Trueman’s brilliant new book. (Here’s a good summary/review.) I texted the picture to some friends–admittedly using my device–wondering with them whether I was in heaven.

It was a great evening–refreshing, renewing, joyful and deeply incarnational. The answer, of course, was, no. I wasn’t in heaven. Not yet. But with less internet, I believe I can be more fit for heaven than I would have been otherwise. Cheers!

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