Out From the Shadows: Modernity vs. The Kingdom of Heaven

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by Joshua Feibelman

While it makes sense that today’s secular man would adhere to many of Modernity’s doctrines about reality, it is troubling to notice the manner in which many Catholics do likewise. It is so easy to pay lip service to “heaven” and the “spiritual realm” while living our lives as if the material realm constitutes the really real. Christ exhorts us to “seek first the kingdom of heaven”, promising that in doing so we will receive everything we need for our earthly life (Matt. 6:33). Yet we often live according to a different mantra. We often seek the material world first and then add in some halfhearted heaven-seeking at the end. Indeed, how has it come to this? How have we as Catholics come to assent so readily to the dogmas of Modern Man?

If we step back to the age of early Christendom, we find a splendid vision of reality quite distinct from the nebulous ideas of modernity. Let us attempt to recover something of this vision via analogy. Begin by imagining a house with two stories. This house is an analogy for the whole of reality. On the first floor we find the temporal sphere. It is the sphere of matter and spirit (spirit being something Modern Man neglects). But this is only part of reality. Indeed, there is a second floor. There we find the heavenly sphere. It is the sphere permeated by God’s presence, the sphere of the beatific vision, the sphere where choirs of heavenly angels sing with heartrending beauty. It is the sphere wherein mankind’s perfect happiness and joy await.

The catch is this. It is this sphere that is most real!

Further, I should mention that there is something strange about the alignment of this analogous house. It’s foundation is not rooted in the earth. Rather it is rooted in heaven. The first floor of the house depends on the second floor for its existence. This claim may shock many of us as Catholics. But this may be because we are accustomed to perceiving reality through the lenses offered us by Modern Man. We think the first floor is most real. That matter is most real. The second floor is the place of myth and fantasy. But the Catholic vision is otherwise. In it, the second floor is most real. Heaven is most real. The things of earth are mere shadows of the things of heaven.

In George MacDonald’s story entitled The Golden Key, MacDonald invites us to accompany his protagonists, Tangle and Mossy, through the “Land of the Shadows.” As they pass through this shadowy realm, Tangle and Mossy realize that shadows cannot exist on their own. Rather, shadows depend on another reality, a higher reality, a reality that is more real. They discover that shadows are signs that point to something greater than themselves. The shadows depend on something else for their existence. As they are overcome with a longing to discover what is most real, they begin to search ardently for the “Land from whence the Shadows Fall.” Only once we recognize that heaven is our home will we, too, truly begin to seek the “Land from whence the Shadows Fall.”

Maybe the Catholic vision is hard to accept. Indeed, it proposes that reality is larger than our minds. It suggests mystery. It suggests that man’s knowledge is limited or finite. For as long as we remain in this life, we lack direct apprehension of the heavenly reality. Undoubtedly, it is easy to dismiss what we cannot fully comprehend. But what if the Catholic vision of reality is true? What if Hamlet is right when he declares, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Hamlet (1.5.167-8). What if heaven is brighter, bigger, and realer than earth? Perhaps C.S. Lewis is right when he suggests that we are like children content to make mud pies in the slums when infinite joy in heaven is offered to us (The Weight of Glory).

Why do we content ourselves with the “first floor” when the real treasure is up stairs? When will we begin to seek heaven as ardently as Tangle and Mossy do? Let us take to heart Paul’s reminder: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Let us remember that just because our senses cannot apprehend heaven doesn’t mean it is less real. Indeed, the world of the senses pales in comparison to that splendorous place where God dwells.

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