Let me tell you two stories about chemicals that produced quite a reaction in me. In summers when I was a kid, I liked to go to the Osseo city pool. They had there a brown door with red letters warning something to the effect of: “Danger, Deadly Chlorine Gas, Staff Only!” I needed no further persuading. Years later, my high school science teacher put a bucket in the snow, and in the bucket he put some water, and in the water he put in a chunk of pure sodium, using tongs. The water steamed and bubbled and exploded a couple of time. It was awesome, but also rather threatening.
What do you get if you put these two dangerous elements together? You get sodium chloride. I warn you that this compound is now found in our environment and in our homes. The oceans are full of it. It’s on our city streets. It’s even in the food we eat and feed to our children. Sodium chloride sounds rather threatening, but you know this benign compound by another name: Salt.
Like salt, Christianity is pervasive, it’s everywhere. Like salt, people can fear and oppose Christianity, thinking it’s harmful for people and bad for our world. But in truth, Christianity, like salt, is necessary for life. Christians, to the extent that they are truly Christians, are the salt of the earth.
The world’s irrational fear and opposition to our faith is nothing new. Listen to this anonymous letter written to a man named Diognetus that dates from the second century. Listen for how Christians resemble the salt of the world, ubiquitous, helpful and good, and feared and opposed:
“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. … With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh.
They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.
Why does the world oppose devout Christianity, now as then? One reason is that the Christian dedicates himself exclusively to Jesus Christ, in a way that worldly people think is disproportionate and dangerous. They imagine the believing Christian behaves like sodium in water, hot with intolerance and hatred, violent in their reactions. In fact, a Christian’s total commitment to Jesus Christ is what leads Him to have mercy for all and extend love toward all. Who is more responsible for ‘sharing bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, and clothing the naked’ in history of the world than Christians in general and the Catholic Church in particular?
Another reason why the world hates Christianity is that worldly people think it lethal to the joys of life. Like inhaling chlorine gas, they fear that Christianity stands to afixiate their happiness. This too is nothing new. In Roman times Christians were charged with “hatred of humanity” for it was thought, “whoever loves man will love what man loves.” As the writer to Diognetus observed in the second century, “The world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because [Chritians] are opposed to its enjoyments.” It is still so today. It is as Jesus said: He calls us the light of the world, and elsewhere notes, “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.” We tell the world that some things that it loves are false roads to happiness, and it hates us for it.
So what are we to do? First, realize that the modern world’s hostility to Christianity is nothing new. Don’t wait for the world’s hostility to pass, it won’t. And don’t think your faith is a shameful thing, it’s not. Instead, do as Jesus teaches, “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” If you are a Christian, people who know you should see something different in you and ask, “What’s your secret.” And when they do you should say, “It’s because of my relationship to Jesus Christ and His Church.” Pray for this grace. Pray that you may be a witness to Christ in both your words and deeds. Then, as the psalmist said, you will be “a light in darkness” and you will help to save many souls in the world.