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“Ask a Priest: What If My Grieving Brother Lost His Faith in Jesus?”
Q: I have a brother who lost his wife due to cancer. She was young and a very strong Christian. She did not want to be put on drugs to save her, for she was in the last stages. She prayed very hard for God to “take the devil out of her.” I believe he did just that when he took her to heaven. My brother, though, does not believe in Jesus Christ any longer. His wife was such a devout Christian, and he thinks Jesus did not hear her pleas. How can I make my brother believe that Christ is truly here with us and hearing our prayers? He believes now that once you’re gone, that’s it. Thanks for any help you can give me. – K.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Please accept my condolences on the passing of your sister-in-law. The presence of death and evil is one of the great mysteries of this world. How do we reconcile this with the existence of an all-powerful, all-loving God?
There is no simple answer. This question has puzzled mankind for millennia. The Book of Job confronted this question, though its answers still leave many people guessing.
Perhaps the best answer is Christ himself. No one was more innocent than he, yet he suffered and died a terrible death for our redemption. Moreover, it was God the Father who sent his Son to die for us. That is a remarkable sign of his love for all of us.
As for pain and evil in the world, it seems that God allows them in order to bring about something good.
Why did the family see your sister-in-law as a devout Christian? Probably because of her faith and charity and humility. And why did she stand out for these virtues? Probably because they are relatively hard to find nowadays.
In other words, her goodness stood out, and was appreciated by those around her, precisely because she was a contrast to the widespread evil in the world. This is one paradoxical way that God brings good out of bad — we can see the beauty of a devout Christian more clearly against a dark background.
Perhaps, too, your sister-in-law offered up her suffering for the salvation of souls. Maybe her example inspired others and led others to a deeper conversion. We won’t be sure about this until the last judgment. But we can have faith that God was able to bring something good out of her suffering.
For now, it is understandable that your brother is grieving. And if his faith is a bit weak, it is understandable that he is seeing things in the worst light.
At an opportune moment it might be good to remind your brother that he can have the hope of being reunited with his wife someday. But he will have to try to stay close to Jesus as she did. How else could her holiness be explained, but by her closeness to Our Lord?
Also, when the time is right, you might want to help your brother remember all the good that he received through the gift of his wife in his life. We are all going to die. Death is a guarantee for each of us.
That his wife died sooner than he would have preferred doesn’t negate the beauty and the goodness of his relationship with her during the years that she was still here. It’s all a matter of what we choose to focus our attention on.
And who is to say that God, instead of giving her a cure for cancer, didn’t give her something better: entrance to paradise?
From what you describe, it sounds as though your sister-in-law was deeply touched by her relationship with Jesus, and that bond strengthened her till the end of her life. We can easily imagine that she now prays that the husband she left behind will discover the value of that same kind of relationship.
For more reading you might look at Making Sense Out of Suffering, by Peter Kreeft.
Count on my prayers for you and your family.
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