“Ask a Priest: Am I Wrong to Hang Out With Sinners?”

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Q: I have an ongoing argument with my mother. She is a faithful Catholic, and I admire her for all she does in our church. Recently, however, she seems to be allowing the sins of others to affect her. To get to the point: she basically said that God would strike down my father and me for hanging out with our friends and family who engage in adultery and other sins even though that does not reflect our beliefs or actions. I thought the Lord would want us to treat everyone with respect and just pray for our brothers and sisters, to find their own way back to him. So, is my mother right to be angry with whom I choose to be friends with even though I am a law-abiding, good citizen? – S.P.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s good to mention at the start that God isn’t some kind of fierce judge, ready to hurl down thunderbolts on people who step out of line. Rather, he “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Now, you mention that you and your dad hang out with friends and family “who engage in adultery and other sins.”

This could have a wide range of meaning. Many of us know and are friendly with people who don’t live saintly lives. It could be the cashier at the gasoline station who is living with someone. It could be the co-worker who is addicted to gambling. This is the human condition. For these folks we want to pray, and share our faith in opportune moments.

What we want to avoid is anything that gives the impression that we support the sinful behavior of others. I’m guessing that this might be an area where your mom is seeing things one way, and you and your dad are seeing things another way.

Let’s say that you have an aunt who is living with a divorced man. Are you visiting them, dining with them, going on day trips with them?

You might perceive your behavior as simply being respectful toward them. But your mom might interpret it as your implicit approval of an adulterous relationship. She might perceive your proximity to the couple as complicity in their irregular situation.

This is just an example. Possibly your particular situation is much different. Nevertheless, the example might help you to step back and look at the big picture.

It’s one thing to reach out to the lost sheep and to try to bring them back to the practice of the faith. It’s another to socialize with them and to send the message that you are OK with an objectively sinful arrangement.

Also, you mention “other sins” and then point out that you yourself are “a law-abiding, good citizen.” This seems to imply that the “other sins” involve violation of laws.

If your friends or family members are illegally downloading a few Elvis Presley songs, that’s one thing. It’s a much different situation if they are smuggling weapons to ISIS or dealing in heroin.

In any case, a basic moral principle is that we should avoid giving the impression of supporting any kind of evil.

This doesn’t mean that we always have to cut ties with people in less-than-ideal situations. Even Jesus ate with sinners. Still, prudent discernment needs to be made.

One more thing to consider is Mom. Is there something under the surface triggering her concerns? Perhaps you might want to address it with her in an opportune moment.

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