Heaven Is Only in Heaven

Secularism tries to turn this world into a atheistic heaven. Our only defense against this lie is the Ascended Christ.

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No morning passes these days when a Catholic does not wake up to the unsettling presence of that two-headed beast that roams about our society: secularism. One of its heads is atheism—modern man’s passion to be god, and the other is utopianism—man’s other obsession to turn this world into some kind of heaven. These are twin evils, feeding off one another. Seldom can a culture survive their terrors. Christ’s grace alone can slay them. 

Christ’s grace alone lets us even see them, for their greatest triumph is to convince men that they are his greatest triumph. Thus, Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass: “Nothing, not God, /Is greater to one/Than one’s self is.” Percy Bysshe Shelley is even more chilling in Prometheus Unbound, when he shrieks at an image of Christ Crucified, “O Horrible! Thy name/I will not speak/it has become a curse.” Indeed, this is nothing less than a beast in our midst.

Today, atheism appears with two faces. More familiar is the face of man emancipating himself from all manner of authority save the authority of the Self. Whittaker Chambers called this the cult of Almighty Man. Not only does God fall before Almighty Man, but morality, religion, law, the family, and even gender itself. The second face of atheism is more insidious, as it is camouflaged in the smarmy vanities so beloved to secular man.  

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This species of atheism does not toss out God but merely relocates Him. The Old God was purely God; the New God is now Me. An eminently convenient switch: for God is now being me at my best. With his usual trenchancy, G.K. Chesterton saw this new God (actually atheism for the fainthearted) for the fraud it truly is: “Of all the horrible religions the most horrible of all is the religion of the God Within. For when Mr. Jones is speaking to the God within, Mr. Jones is only speaking to Mr. Jones.” 

Secularism’s other side is utopianism, the idea that man can create a perfect world here and now. It is a relentless ideology that brooks no opposition as it strives for a designer universe, made in the image and likeness of one fanatic, or, more likely today, a faceless team of experts at a drawing board. Sometimes it is a Marx, most times it is a seemingly anodyne bureaucracy that promises everything and leaves man with nothing. Bloated assurances of a risk-free existence are touted with one obligatory mandate: that eyes be closed to the means for obtaining them. 

Things that once were horrifying are today viewed as the price of progress. Who protests now that the wombs of women have been turned into killing fields in the breathless quest for the perfectly timed, perfectly healthy, perfectly wanted, and perfectly formed child? 

Perverse ideas of equality are commonplace where all must have the same thing, by everyone coerced into surrendering everything. Add to these the terribly modern aspiration for a world without physical or emotional pain or slightest inconvenience. All of this is purchased at a very high price, the sacrifice of our very humanity. Yet, before this ruthless cost, modern man raises nary a whisper of protest.

Before such formidable foes, mankind’s only defense is the Ascended Christ. Deeply woven in the ineffable folds of this feast’s mysteries are the instruments of our victory. Christ leaves this world, a world affectionately crafted by His loving hand, to take the majesty of His Sacred Humanity to the world of Heaven. He often taught us that “my Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Our imaginations stumble before this mystery. It becomes easier to comprehend if we consider that if the Savior created this world with such dazzling loveliness, what possibly awaits us in this Kingdom to which He ascends. Truly, we would be the dullest of men to treat this world as any kind of proxy for the Kingdom where He now reigns at the right hand of His Father.

Our Savior instructs us that He leaves this world only “to prepare a place for you” (John 14:3). It is foolhardy to settle for a home here when God announces that He is waiting for us in a home that sates every desire without limit. Dr. Johnson remarked once, “man’s entire endeavor is to be happy at home.” In that sage insight, he was reminding us that joy is not to be found in grand projects, cerebral philosophies, or accumulated wealth, but in the profound delights of family and the very simple things that surround them. 

Heaven is the enlargement of those joys beyond what any man could fathom. Trying to fit Heaven into the meager vessel of this world results in shattering both—with devilish consequences. Gulags and concentration camps were attempts at creating a perfect world—a heaven—on earth. Only hell results. Eliseo Vivas expressed it piquantly: “imagined utopias are always the real hells.”

Without demeaning the beauty of this world, the Ascended Christ raises our eyes to the perfectly beautiful one. This world is only a proving ground where we deepen the most important possessions of any man—Faith, Hope, and Charity. As these become greater and occupy vaster parts of men’s souls, this world is seen for the very small—albeit “very good” (Genesis 1:31)—place that it is. As grace expands our souls, we clearly see that expecting Heaven’s joys here in this world is like trying to capture a sunset in a thimble, or squeezing Halley’s Comet in a bottle.  Without demeaning the beauty of this world, the Ascended Christ raises our eyes to the perfectly beautiful one. This world is only a proving ground where we deepen the most important possessions of any man—Faith, Hope, and Charity.Tweet This

Mother Church is so right to call this world of ours a “valley of tears”; not that we are perpetually sorrowful, but that we are perpetually disappointed. We desperately crave Heaven, and this world is simply not it. To be sure, Catholics will make of this world what God wants it to be, each one of us carefully honing all the powers with which He has blessed us. 

But we shall never expect from this world what we only expect from the next. Grace furnishes us with a supernatural immunity to utopianism. Leo Strauss wrote that modern man is fated to the “joyless pursuit of joy” precisely because he demands from this world what this world cannot give. Catholics know where joy is found, so they possess joy, making their joy the envy of the world. 

Even the best of Catholics must be reminded of Our Ascended Savior’s blessed truths: that this world is not Heaven; only Heaven is Heaven. Seems to be simple enough; but even the best of us persist in trying to find in this world what Our Lord is saving only for the next.

[Image: “Ascension” by John Singleton Copley]

Author

  • Fr. John A. Perricone

    Fr. John A. Perricone, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Iona University in New Rochelle, New York. His articles have appeared in St. John’s Law Review, The Latin Mass, New Oxford Review and The Journal of Catholic Legal Studies. He can be reached at www.fatherperricone.com.

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