“Ask a Priest: What to Do About an Atheist Brother?”

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Q: I was taught growing up that believers go to heaven and non-believers go to hell. Religion was forced upon me and my siblings. My sister and I are Catholic, while my brother is a devout atheist. My mom and sister have tried to do everything in their power to bring him back to God. However, the more they try, the more he opposes religion. With the way things are going, it sounds like he’ll spend eternity in hell. Isn’t it cruel to spend eternity in heaven while your loved ones spend eternity suffering? — Rebecca

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Religion shouldn’t be forced on anyone. Religion is about our relationship with a loving God who created us out of love and who wants our happiness and holiness.

As for your brother: It might be better if everyone eases off on the pressure. People don’t embrace the faith because of pressure.

Rather, what might help to win over your brother is a lot of charity and a lot of prayers and sacrifices. He needs a special grace from God to convert.

Conversion is something the Holy Spirit brings about; it’s not something that we can do. We can do our part, of course, through the prayers and sacrifices.

As for his eternity: God alone knows the heart and mind of each person. God might have his own timetable for bringing your brother around. So don’t get discouraged.

It would be good to prepare for the long haul, however. Conversions can take time; sometimes we won’t live to see them.

None of this should get us down, though. Remember, God loves your brother even more than you do. God is as interested in his conversion as you are.

If you want to pray to a special saint, you might pray to St. Monica. Her prayers helped win the conversion of her son Augustine, who became one of the Church’s greatest theologians.

And no, it’s not “cruel” to spend eternity in heaven if a loved one ends up in hell. Souls in hell are there by choice. What would be lamentable is if a person set on perdition causes someone else to lose heaven.

Rightly did Our Lord warn in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”

Count on my prayers.

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2 Comments
  1. How pertinent a question in these days ‘that can try any good soul’ seeking to LOVE GOD with WHOLE heart, mind, and strength and LOVE neighbor AS we love ourselves.

    My difficulty is with a lot of persons who ‘on the surface’ speak that they are CHRISTian, (note the emphasis in the word CHRISTian) So many have ‘fallen’ because of confusing one’s purpose for this earthly life. I personally believe it began in that decade called the 60s, and a group who sang of love, love love but really was seeking to BE LOVED, rather than TO LOVE., because OF LOVE which is the God who came to earth, was born of flesh, (of woman). The spiritual truth in this is that by GOD’S OWN INITIATIVE He connected again to a ‘young girl’ name Mary, for the purity of Love… NO SIN, which was also God’s doing at the conception of her soul. YES, in this human and divine connection ALL BY GOD’S GRACE, FAITH in GOD was planted… in one, and IN ALL… by ‘working out our salvation’ (FAITH is gift from God, but MAN must cooperate with the gift TO GROW the FAITH, again by God’s grace) The growing of the seed planted within soul at Baptism, is ‘nourished’ by the ACTS OF FAITH as taught by Jesus Christ. ACTS OF FAITH is FAITH IN PRACTICE or ‘religion.’

    With the understanding of need for religion (acts of faith) we are IN THE WORLD but NOT OF THE WORLD.

    We are ‘already in heaven’ (HOLY COMMON UNION . . . Holy Communion . . . with the Church Triumphant) So to those not with us in this HOLY common union . . . WE PRAY FOR THEM, speak as opportunity (grace) so allows, and as you said Father, ‘OFFER UP’ in union with Christ, our life.

    If we are aware, we will see that ‘those in the world fully’ are NOT happy people. It isn’t cruel on our part to BE HAPPY. (perish that thought) The worldly try to show us how happy they are with the shiny car, great career’ ‘freedom’ (they think) to ‘do their own thing’ without RULES . . .. do own thing is SIN… S-elf I-ndulgent N-ature. I have a ‘supposed’ church going brother who allows his child to SHACK UP without HOLY matrimony. He admonished me, as so wrong when I gently HAD TO WRITE to this ‘child’ that if this there was a ‘slip’ . . . before one does take the official vows, do go to the Lord and ask forgiveness. Sacramental marriage is a marriage of ‘3’ (man, woman, and Christ) The grace and blessings are not going to be there where souls DO THEIR OWN THING without remorse of conscience. I was CONDEMNED as the bad … subjectively. So, is it cruel to enjoy ‘the peace of Christ’ HERE ON EARTH and one day in heaven? NOT if WITH ALL LOVE , we attempted to ‘instruct the ignorant’ (act of Spiritual Mercy) If we TRUSTED GOD with this difficult brother, neighbor, co-worker AFTER we tried to make them aware, by TURNING it all OVER TO GOD in prayer and sacrifice. GOD wants all happy, so YES, if we spoke our faith when need be, prayed for ‘them,’ and OFFER UP for such souls… WE CAN REST PEACEFULLY in persevering in LIVING THE FAITH . . . (it does not matter what ‘THEY’ wish to think of us)

    I’ve been told that IF WE DO SUCH, GOD WILL RAISE US UP ‘and’ those we PRAY FOR ‘IN LOVE’ (quietly pray for) If on the other hand, WE ARE PULLED DOWN TO THE WAYS OF THE SECULAR EARTHLY … all WILL BE PULLED DOWN. REST IN PEACE THAT in the Father’s House are many mansions… levels of faith…. BUT we all well SEE and all will be OF THE ONE BODY…. Just as a school system in ‘total’ is made up of K thru 12) REST in the peace that THE GATES OF HELL shall never prevail AGAINST CHRIST’S CHURCH… aka HIS BODY. Because of BAPTISM. For a time ‘human nature’ will try to RULE THEMSELVES . . . but BY OUR PRAYERS AND OUR FAITH IN CHRIST WHO LEADS US and DOING THE GOOD ‘for brother, niece, co workers… HE WILL HEAR US AND ANSWER … converting them.

    HOLD FIRM AND KEEP THE FAITH IN WHO GETS THE LAST WORD.
    atheistic neighbor,

  2. i Left off the last line:

    HOLD FIRM and KEEP THE FAITH in who gets the last word always. The athiest, the agnostic, the human
    secular ‘successful’ in material living never do. WE SERVE GOD… he directs our steps and in that we speak
    by example, we hold NOTHING against the ‘know nots’ of spiritual living. (how can a mom stay angry at a
    two year old?) TAKE THEIR WAYS from whence it is: TWO YEARS OLD seeking their own pleasure. (or
    any age up to age ‘7’ when reason begins to form) Childhood years are for training in how to go, so as to
    have the good life. It isn’t FORCING RELIGION on the know not child… it is showing THE WAY established
    by CHRIST. (be baptized, take and eat with purity of love for God, and live as an adult faithful after anointed
    (confirmation) to grow in wisdom and stature with GOD and mankind.

    And if the adult ‘still can’t get it’ and wants to live by their own set of rules … YET wants the BLESSING
    of family celebrations and the yummy food and gifts at table / well… TOUGH THAT IS… to reward those
    who BERATE our way of being. If they get TO BERATING … it’s ok to say refrain from socializing.
    WE LOVE ‘NEIGHBOR’ AS WE LOVE OURSELVES AND HE WHO DWELLS IN US.

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