Catholics are to be in the world, just not of the world (cf Rom 12:2). The vast majority of us are not called to cloister ourselves away from the day-to-day world; instead, we're to live Catholic lives out in the world, as we do our jobs and raise our families, to show Christ to everyone.
Jesus is not the exception but our rule. He lived a gritty, hands-dirty life, rather than sit safe on some mountaintop or deep inside a palace. Most laypeople and religious are called to model this aspect of Christ's life - to be in the world, helping and healing and spreading His Gospel. One of our generation's great examples of this call is the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Theresa. I thought of those tough-but-gentle nuns, and of that call to be in the world, when I was recently reading a short-story.
The story is Antivenin by Karina Fabian, part of the Catholic sci-fi collection Infinite Space, Infinite God II. In it, we meet three nuns from the Order of Our Lady of the Rescue, offering oddly-recognizable care to the needy of the space lanes.
Karina's stories are often visibly, clearly Catholic - with nuns, priests, churches, all the "smells and bells" - which is tricky to do without slipping into preachiness. Antivenin is one of those visibly-Catholic stories (I couldn't help but think of nuuuuns in spaaaace*) that also has a nice crunchy Catholic center. It has a Catholic heart, not just a black habit, and after not too long, the story takes a sudden and sharp turn to the suspenseful. A few chuckles at these three spacefaring nuns encountering - rather providentially - a ship labelled Mark 16:18, was disarming, leaving me almost as surprised as Sister Ann when that turn came.
Sisters Tommie, Rita, and Ann are real people. They're in the world and not just idealized fictions that float a few inches above it. They're real, faithful people. Sr. Ann knows her Scripture well, but she (understandably) panics at the sight of a room full of snakes. Sr. Rita questions not her faith but her particular expression of it. "What am I doing here? I could be at home on Earth in a nice, safe university..." I wonder how many people that leave the Church leave not because they doubt the faith but because they misunderstand their place in it or its "usefulness" to them. Why am I doing this, when I could be doing that. Sr. Rita wisely overcomes fear and focuses on the deed at hand - the work, however pleasant or distasteful, that God has put before her.
That is wisdom for us as well - to do the deed at hand, to find an expression of holiness in our particular situation. Quoting Theophilus, St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that Mark 16:18, the central passage in the story, can be interpreted both sensibly and intellectually. The serpents we must pick up may not be actual serpents but other physical or intellectual dangers. Picking up and "drinking" from the wrong book or website can be as dangerous to the soul as poison is to the body. What's the antivenom for the serpents of the world? It's the same today as its been for two thousand years - Christ. "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized is saved..." (Mark 16:15-16).
If you'd like to read the whole adventure and many other Catholic sci-fi tales, pick up a copy of Infinite Space, Infinite God II. You can purchase ISIG2 directly from Twilight Times Books as well as through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Also, the Kindle editions of both ISIG I and II are $2.99 through April 23!
* see Jim Henson's fine documentaries on Dr. Strangepork and crew for the right way to say that
St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Gospel of Mark. Online at http://www.catecheticsonline.com/CatenaAurea-Mark16.php