Q. My brother has told me he doesn’t believe in God anymore. I know he hasn’t told our parents, and he’s still going to Mass and Communion with us. What should I do?
A. First of all, it shows that you love your brother quite a bit to be concerned. That’s a good thing. Keep that love for him strong. Sincere love can often do far more than any words.
Without knowing the specifics of your brother’s situation, allow me to offer some general thoughts in the hope that at least some will help.
Interestingly, going through a phase like this while growing up could actually be a sign of a good thing. Sure, it’s never good to lose faith in God, but I wonder if something deeper isn’t happening. In some ways, this is a normal part of growing up. As children, we are taught to believe in God and usually we do. We have the simple and authentic faith of a child. As we grow and mature, that faith must also grow and mature, and we must choose to believe on a deeper and more personal level. In other words, we must believe because we really do believe. The problem is that sometimes circumstances or events get in the way of that process.
For example, something heard on TV or perhaps even said in the classroom might have had the effect of confusing your brother about some aspect of his faith. Though it’s not good to be confused, often the “confusion” one goes through is a result of trying to figure things out and understand. I think that this process of “doubting” is often more of a time of “questioning.” Perhaps your brother told you he no longer believes because he was looking for you to help him believe. Perhaps it was his way of asking for help in sorting things out.
If that’s the case, then I suggest one of the best approaches for you to take is this. Wait for your brother to say something about this again; when he does, simply smile and gently ask him to tell you more. Then, just listen. Listen to what made him think this way. Let him explain it. Let him talk about it. Regardless of what he says, I would encourage you to spend most of the time listening and trying to understand. If he makes some good points and you have a good answer, then go ahead and offer that answer if he will listen. If, on the other hand, you’re not sure how to respond, then simply tell him that. And then spend some time thinking, praying, studying, and asking God for the right answer. If you need to, you could even ask your priest for advice. Once you feel like you have a good answer, look for another opportunity to share that with him. He might be impressed that you took his concern seriously and tried to come up with a good answer.
As for his continuing to go to Mass and Communion, it’s true that we should not receive Communion if we do not believe. But I’d leave that to your brother and God for now. Your brother might actually believe more than he has let on. And going to Mass might be one of the best things he can do during this time of struggle. But in the end, if you feel quite burdened by this, it might be good to talk to your parents about it and let them prayerfully talk to your brother. They will most likely have some good ideas on how to proceed.