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“Ask a Priest: What If Family and Friends Don’t Believe in Jesus?”
Q: I’m so worried and concerned about my family. I have an agnostic father, very good Islamic friends, and other friends who are atheists. I really love these people, but they are not the type to listen to me talk about Jesus. They are quite confident in their own beliefs. My Islamic friends are brought up in that lifestyle and don’t believe in Jesus the way I do. My atheist friends don’t believe in anything in the Bible. And even though I respect that, I worry. I understand that the only way to God is through faith of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. But can you say there might be a chance that the people I love are judged as individuals by God? Is there any hope for those who have different beliefs? – S.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: The short answer is yes, people of other faiths and even of no explicit faith could attain salvation.
Permit me to quote from a Church document, Lumen Gentium, which came out of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965):
“But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place among these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Savior wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life” (No. 16).
The idea of salvation for atheists would need to be qualified, however, since people can reach a certainty of the existence of God based on reason. But in theory they too still have a chance, as Lumen Gentium says.
One observation might be good to keep in mind. If you find that you can’t speak about Jesus around these folks, you might want to be sure you aren’t endangering your own spiritual life.
One of the things that helps us in our Catholic faith is being able to share it and live it with others. In your relationships with these people, you need to keep learning how to do that in a loving, creative, constructive way.
To that end, you might want to consider using this book of meditations written by my friend and colleague Father John Bartunek: Go! 30 Meditations on How Best to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.
If you find that you need to bracket off your religious beliefs from your interaction with your friends and family, that isn’t healthy.
Ideally, our faith should encompass all aspects of our lives — what we speak about, what we read, etc.
One suggestion would be to look for ways to network with believers with whom you can speak of the faith. Perhaps this is something to take to prayer. And keep praying for those people you love so much.
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