“Ask a Priest: How Can I Comfort an Atheist in Mourning?”

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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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  1. My initial thought is that if the believer has a friend who is ‘atheist’ … IS the friend really atheistic, one who lacks complete unbelief in God. Believers and Unbelievers usually don’t ‘mix together too well.’ So … perhaps the friend ‘has a mustardseed’ of something ‘up there’ . . . perhaps what this one lacks is non belief in religion. The ‘acts of faith’ that draws one to GOD.

    As Father said, share your faith. Have a Mass said for the deceased, explain that the church will speak the deceased name as being the objective of the Mass today, prayers are said to LIFT the soul of the friend. Tell friend you will be amongst the praying… and if he (or she) wanted to be there the door is open. Just sit in back row, if it makes one comfortable. Tell friend ‘and hey, I took day off work so why not also do same and we’ll go have breakfast after Mass, then … unwind with (bowling a few games or playing tennis or golf or whatever is a mutual fun interest ‘as always.’ If the friend does stop in Mass … it might be when
    the Spirit sends that ‘mustardseed’ of faith. Don’t push it, but just giving a Mass card for the friend deceased is to share one’s own faith. NO TALK … just do it. Then, be friend as always. See how the Spirit intervenes.

  2. Father is correct, sharing and speaking our faith in God’s word… is not TO CONVERT (aka change anyone)

    I have heard it often as I have tried speaking FAITH and FAITH practices, and the words speaking of morality that ‘my truth will not change their truth’ or ‘I am not going to change them.’ ?? It is frustrating and baffling but really… THEY really are ‘reacting’ to me in such way because ‘THEY DO KNOW down deep’ they do need to change. (and DOWN DEEP it isn’t my words BUT HIS WAYS AND WORDS prodding and poking them… He the Holy Spirit) Their words are as those of a obstinate teen… YOU WON’T CHANGE ME! It’s ‘guilt’ in them speaking. They know they are not where they should. But PRIDE? (maybe) says out loud YOU WON’T CHANGE ME. (we could say ‘correct I won’t but God will … eventually.’) HE WILL CHANGE . . . if we keep praying for them. If not on this earth, then UP THERE… that’s our hope.

    Unrelated to this case, if however those who are so obstinate in ‘their truths’ and are NASTY, Bullying,
    and keep provoking us ‘to wear us down’ and DENY ‘THE TRUTH’ of He who provided abundant graces
    and blessings to our life (which the one of secularistic truths dismisses and wants to call us LOSER)
    SHAKE THE DUST from the sandals without looking back… ANY WHO LOOK BACK are not fit for God’s kingdom. Do not seek for LOVE on a strictly ‘human level.’ (human only ‘friendship’)

    I had a relative once write “be at peace with myself and with all others.” It sounds nice but . . . knowing this person and her actions to me, it said in spirit the same as the one who said ‘your truth won’t change my truth.’ The better SPIRITED word would be ‘where two or three are gathered in MY NAME (said the Lord)
    there is peace. . . . where He’s not so obvious ‘in some manner’ . . . PEACE of CHRIST will never be.
    They in ‘the world’ (the culture) want to wear us down and hope WE ACCEPT them OVER HE who is
    ‘THE TRUTH.’ And that’s the current game going on out in the world. BEWARE!

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