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