A Review of As It Is in Heaven: Christian Living and Social Order
by Gary Potter, Loreto Publications, 2017
How, you may ask, would so monumental a task be possible in these disordered times when Christian morality is scoffed at by the majority of Americans, including our own “leaders” (read: politicians and even some clergy) and the media. Thinking as he does in broad terms and taking in the whole sweep of Western civilization from early Christian times, Gary Potter presents the possibility that this seemingly impossible task would again become reality if and when individual Christians resolved to live up to their daily prayer “…Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” This will happen when every Christian reinstates Our Lord Jesus Christ as King of ourselves as individuals, of our own homes, and of society, as He was regarded in Medieval times when Catholic Kings bowed to Him as the King of kings.
“Christendom consisted of peoples whose laws and politics as well as customs were shaped according to Christian beliefs and principles…derived from the teachings of Jesus Christ as recorded in Holy Scripture and those of the Church He founded.” Our own country, although the majority profess some form of Christian Faith, has never been part of Christendom because this nation was founded on liberal principles, that is, the principles of revolution. Our governing document, the United States Constitution does not mention that our rights and privileges derive from God, but from ”We, the people.” That does not mean that we cannot live a thoroughly Christian life. Mr. Potter shows us the way.
Governments in Christendom were never theocracies, but the Church was always present. Mr. Potter compares the Christian kingdoms to a ship where the King or Emperor manned the helm, but the “Pope was up high in the crow’s nest looking out for reefs. In modern times, he has been relegated to a separate little boat bobbing around in the wake of the high and almighty ship of state.” Since the 1500’s, when men decided that they knew better than the Church, Christendom began to fall apart in Europe and countries began being ruled by liberals and “progressives” who thought they knew better than the Church how best man can be governed. So far have we fallen, that today babies can be killed legally before birth, the old and ill can be made to die early, and even laws governing the ancient institution of marriage can be changed. Put in blunt terms, sins against the natural law have been made legal.
“Of liberalism’s fundamental tenets, two are especially important: freedom and equality as the false philosophy conceives them.” Of course, God has given man free will, but that is to choose the good, not the evil. The concept of equality brings its own problems. A candidate running on Christian principles – no divorce, no abortion, no pornography, no “same-sex marriage” would not stand a chance in today’s climate. Even a regular citizen must be careful in expressing such views for fear of being accused of a “hate crime.” How do Christians persevere in such a climate? “Nothing is more needed than courage.” Indeed, one must be courageous in today’s society to remain virtuous because virtue lived publicly is ridiculed and scoffed at.
The Principle of Subsidiarity
Readers of this website should be familiar with the term. Mr. Potter explains that at the beginning of our nation, the principle of subsidiarity reigned. This is actually a basic Catholic principle that allows the most local form of government to make the proper decisions for the people affected by that decision or law. The basic unit of society is the family. In each family, the father and mother make the decisions for their children. In the township, it is the residents of that entity or their representatives who make the decisions governing the civic responsibilities of residents. So on to the state level and then to the national level. So, for example, it is the national government which decides on matters regarding the defense of the country; the state or the town (or the local church for good Catholics), or even the individual family (home-schooling) can decide the proper education of their particular students. “The U. S. was founded as a confederation of sovereign states.” Mr. Potter reminds us, “This was reflected in speech as well as official documents. ‘The United States are,’ Americans said. That changed after 1865 when political power shifted from the states and became concentrated in the central government in Washington. Americans then began saying ‘The United States is.’ This transformation was the principal outcome of the War Between the States and was as momentous as any regime change in France or elsewhere.” There is no doubt that the principle of subsidiarity has been trashed in our country.
Finally, Mr. Potter reminds us that as Christians we are not to engage in hate, except for sin. “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” is the byword of the Christian.
As a “senior citizen,” I appreciated the author’s comments about the use of smartphones and the need felt by younger generations to be so “connected.” “The ubiquity of the smartphone is so nearly total there seems to be but three types of persons without one: the socially marginal, the eccentric and seniors. Almost by definition, Catholics still clinging to the undiluted Faith will fall into two of these categories and sometimes all three. Why?” He answers that serious Catholics need to have “down time” to pray and to meditate; we do not have to be “connected” 24/7. (In our neck of the New Hampshire woods, I might add that the granite hills and isolation from cell towers preclude these things even working!)
Mr. Potter fills his short book with many observations about democracy, one of which was the French observer Alexis de Tocqueville’s (d. 1859) criticism of the educational and governmental systems of the United States which keep its citizens “in perpetual childhood by regulating every aspect of their lives, sparing them the care of thinking and all the trouble of living.” His book Democracy in America is often cited but rarely read thoroughly. It was Plato who explained how democracy always devolves into tyranny. Too bad the “institutions of higher learning” today do not teach their students the thinking of “dead white men!”
Can a Catholic government exist and be successful in modern times? Yes. It can and it has. Mr. Potter spends a number of pages relating the story of the holy president, Gabriel Garcia Moreno, president of Ecuador from 1859 until his assassination in 1875. This was after the revolutionary period in Latin America when most of the nations of central and South America fought for their independence from the mother countries. Young Gabriel was a Catholic who had liberal tendencies. During a time of conservative government in Ecuador, he exiled himself to Paris. Here he saw what revolution wrought after the wave of violence in 1848 swept the continent. He became convinced that neither conservatism nor liberalism was the answer to good government, but only a nation that dedicated itself to Christ could be truly good.
Returning home to Ecuador, Garcia Moreno resolved to do all he could to make his homeland Christian. He won the presidency in 1859 and began the transformation of Ecuador. He built schools, hospitals, roads, and began construction of the country’s first railroad, running over and through the mountains to Guayaquil on the ocean. He brought back the Jesuits and other religious teaching orders that had been expelled by liberals to teach in those schools. Most important of all, he consecrated his country to the Sacred Heart. His was the only country to protest the stripping of the Papal States from the Holy See. Astoundingly, he sent ten per cent of the country’s annual tax revenue to the Pope – a national Peter’s Pence offering. Needless to say, during these years, he made the liberals very unhappy. They were always plotting against him, and in the year 1875, a cadre of Freemasons opposed to everything Christian succeeded in assassinating him – in front of Quito’s national Cathedral, into which, he crawled to the altar bleeding and died shouting “Dios no muere!” – “God does not die!” The saintly Pius IX called him a true Catholic martyr. Interestingly, in their papal visits to Ecuador, neither Pope John Paul II nor Pope Francis mentioned his name. That would have upset the liberals in power.
Two More Christian Heroes
I will briefly mention two more great Christians of the last century featured in Mr. Potter’s little book. The first is the great Russian, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who spent many years in Soviet forced labor camps because of his “anti-social” writings. Raised by his mother and grandmother as an Orthodox Christian, he only returned to God during his sufferings in those Siberian camps. When the Soviets exiled him from Mother Russia to the West, the family spent a number of years in Vermont. Invited to give the commencement address at Harvard in 1978, Solzhenitsyn blasted the West’s liberal “values” causing many of the Harvard professors to walk out during his speech. He spoke of a “lack of manliness,” a “decline in courage,” “vulgar materialism,” and branded American pop music as “intolerable.” He recalled the older generations during his own childhood, when Communism had a stranglehold on Russia, speaking of the horrors that had befallen that nation as a result of it. “Men have forgotten God,” they said. Over the fifty years he spent reading about and experiencing the Revolution first-hand, he could put it no better than “men have forgotten God. That is why all this happened.”
Another Catholic hero of the twentieth century is Blessed Emperor Karl of Austria, the last Catholic emperor who was exiled with his family to a place where his health, never robust, was sure to decline, as indeed it did. After their wedding, he told his bride, Empress Zita of Bourbon-Parma, “Now we must lead each other to heaven.” Both of these holy royals are on their way to sainthood. Mr. Potter includes this sweet exchange between the Emperor and his bride to illustrate the social nature of our salvation. No one goes to hell alone, just as no one goes to Heaven alone.
I will close with the author’s emphasis on the finer things in life and their importance in our salvation. “Christian life is lived at a higher level than the average person lives today, the average person being modern. Elevating ourselves will entail reading worthwhile books instead of best-seller drivel, listening to serious music instead of pop, taking time to go look at great paintings instead of spending all of it staring at electronic screens. In short, instead of settling for average we should fill our mind and feed our sensibility with the rare and excellent.” (I LOVE that last sentence!) Does this not bring to a Catholic mind the beauty and sublimity of our Traditional Catholic sung high Mass? High art indeed.
This is an essential and important short “how to” book on making our lives more Catholic in the face of the seaminess and bawdiness of modern life. We can do this, whatever our state in life, if we are careful not to forget God. We can make ourselves, our households and our church communities more Catholic as an example to the wider community. Let us make the effort to feed our minds and souls, as my friend Gary Potter so eloquently states it, with “the RARE and the EXCELLENT.”
This little book is a very meaty read.