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“Ask a Priest: How Can I Comfort an Atheist in Mourning?”
Q: Jesus says we must love our neighbors; presumably this is regardless of whether they are believers or not. What sort of consolation can I give to a bereaved friend who’s an atheist? It’s certainly not the time to start trying to convert him. Thanks. – Declan
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Any consolation we have as Christians in the face of death is very much linked to our belief in God. We shouldn’t shy from sharing that good news.
You could say that you are praying for the person who died, that God be merciful to his soul.
You wouldn’t be “trying to convert” your atheist pal; you are just sharing your faith. It’s up to him to process it.
At a practical level, you might help him to cherish the memories and good times he shared with his deceased pal. This gives you the chance to show the kind of solidarity that resonates with believers and nonbelievers alike.
The work of conversion is ultimately a work of the Holy Spirit. People don’t convert because of our arguments; ultimately, they convert because they open themselves to God’s grace. Yet God often works through our small gestures.
In any case, death can be a good opportunity for evangelization. So don’t write off this opportunity to sow the seeds of the Gospel in your friend’s heart.
This might be the moment when the Holy Spirit wants to work through you to touch the heart of a nonbeliever.
In the meantime, it would be good to pray for your friend. Your prayers and charity could help bring him closer to Our Lord.
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