The character Mary Poppins is famous for the phrase, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” At some point, however, no amount of sugar can sweeten the bitter taste of reality. In our lives as young adults, the rose-colored lenses we have been wearing will eventually smash to the floor. We will realize that those in power often do not share our beliefs, most particularly our belief in the sacredness of every human life, and that we as faithful Catholics are part of a small (albeit vocal) minority. We will understand that, barring a vocation to the cloistered religious life, reality means that we must operate in this world, in an environment often hostile to Christianity.
It is no small coincidence that many young people, even those with a strong faith foundation, will suffer a crisis in faith at this period in their lives. The world is broadening, opening up before their eyes, and the faith seems narrow in comparison. This faith no longer seems to be connected with reality, for reality places us with people and in situations that seemingly disagree with it.
But Christianity was not meant to be lived in isolation. Faith is not proven by the ability to place one’s self in quarantine. Christ came to redeem the world. He took on human nature, in all its “tainted glory,” as Oscar Wilde so beautifully phrases it. We are called to live in the world, not to be of it. St. Augustine illustrates this understanding in his exploration of the City of God and the City of Men. Christians live for the City of God, for the heavenly kingdom. But they live on earth, among those who live only for the City of Men. Augustine admits that the path of the Christian is not an easy one, but it is profoundly possible.
Living in the world can bring us to to what I like to call the “Us v. Them Mentality.” The notion of allies and enemies is one as old as time itself. It is all to easy for the Christian met with opposition to fall into the idea that we are at war with those who disagree with us. But as Pope Francis said in his Message for the World Day of Peace, “In Christ, the other is welcomed and loved as a son or daughter of God, as a brother or sister, not as a stranger, much less as a rival or even an enemy.” We must learn to love those who disagree with us, not as our ideological opponents, but as our brothers and sisters in Christ. In his message, the pope emphasizes the Catholic teaching of fraternity and solidarity, even among those who vehemently disagree.
He uses the example of Cain and Abel to illustrate this “vocation to be brothers”:
Abel is a shepherd, Cain is a farmer. Their profound identity and their vocation is to be brothers, albeit in the diversity of their activity and culture, their way of relating to God and to creation. Cain’s murder of Abel bears tragic witness to his radical rejection of their vocation to be brothers. Their story (cf. Gen 4:1-16) brings out the difficult task to which all men and women are called, to live as one, each taking care of the other… The story of Cain and Abel teaches that we have an inherent calling to fraternity, but also the tragic capacity to betray that calling… Many men and women die at the hands of their brothers and sisters who are incapable of seeing themselves as such, that is, as beings made for reciprocity, for communion and self-giving.
We cannot forget that we were made for communion, even in the face of hostility. We must separate ourselves from the flawed understanding that the world is made up of “Us” and “Them,” Christians and those who oppose Christianity, for this does not correspond with the reality that we are all brothers and sisters, and that we have a profound calling to live out fraternity and solidarity.