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“Ask a Priest: Could My Silence on Moral Issues Doom Me?”
Q: I saw a homily on YouTube in which the priest says that if we don’t warn everyone of their errors – “the charity of truth” – then we will be held account by Our Lord for their demise. I have some liberal friends who agree with abortion and gay marriage. Because I as a Catholic have not warned them of these errors and others, does that mean Our Lord will send me to hell for this? Please help me to make sense of this. – Thomas
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: There is a lot to be said for the charity of truth. If we truly love others, we want to point them in the direction of things that will help them, and away from things that will hurt them.
If a friend were reaching out for a plate of tainted food or ready to touch a live wire, and you said nothing, you could be responsible to some extent for the harm he experiences. The same principle could apply to the spiritual and moral realm. So, in this sense, that homily you heard has some merit.
This doesn’t mean, however, that we have to go around lecturing people constantly. We want to use prudence about whether and when to raise certain issues.
On the other hand, we have to be careful that our silence on certain issues is not construed as consent. And there is where it helps to gauge our relationship with a particular person. In the case of parents in regard to their young children, it’s absolutely obligatory to teach them well in the faith.
As Catholics we have a general obligation to evangelize and share our faith with others.
Canon Law in No. 781 says, “Since the entire Church is missionary by its nature and since the work of evangelization is to be viewed as a fundamental duty of the people of God, all the Christian faithful, conscious of their own responsibility in this area, are to assume their own role in missionary work.”
We should try to communicate the Gospel in a language our listeners can understand and put into effect based on their degree of faith and their degree of openness to rational dialogue. It’s not always going to be a conversation about, “If you do this (or don’t do that), you are going to hell.”
True friends want to help one another get to heaven. If your friends embrace beliefs that go against core human truths (abortion and marriage are not just Catholic issues), then you might want to reflect what you are doing to help them see the light.
If your liberal friends are believers, you could dialogue with them about abortion using Church teaching and encyclicals such as Evangelium Vitae.
If they are not believers, it’s a simple matter of engaging in conversation on why you feel abortion and gay marriage are wrong, while respecting that they have a different opinion. This could get heated, but as long as you speak from love, with civility and respect, you are giving witness.
You might help to initiate such conversations by little gestures: a bumper sticker on your car; a pro-life “precious feet” pin on a lapel; a pamphlet visible on your work desk. Or you might share links to videos or articles that do a good job of explaining Catholic teachings.
Failure to make any effort to share the truth with friends could, over time, constitute a sin of omission, even a grave sin. And we know where grave sin could lead us. If you are afraid of alienating friends by bringing up certain topics, you might want to consider how deep (or healthy) these friendships really are.
Another consideration: You might think about ways to actively support pro-life and pro-marriage activities. That could include supporting pro-life crisis-pregnancy centers and chastity-education initiatives.
Do that, and you will find it easier to talk about moral issues. You will also find yourself with more friends who share your moral views.
This might be something worth taking to prayer. And perhaps my colleague Father Bartunek’s 60 Days to Becoming a Missionary Disciple might help. Count on my prayers.
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