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Marriages, families, filial and fraternal relationships as well as close friendships sometimes break up and often remain broken for all sorts of reasons. “Incompatibility” is a favorite pretext for divorce; sexual infidelity, selfishness, insensitivity, physical and psychological abuse and cruelty frequently destroy marriages. Parents and children can find themselves in conflict, alienated from each other, for other reasons : a father wants his son to be a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer, a farmer, a plumber or an accountant like himself, and his son wants to spend his life on the stage; a daughter has an extra-marital pregnancy; children get into trouble with the law; parents hearing the famous challenge “Guess who’s coming to dinner !” discover that their son or daughter intends to marry someone of a different color or … of the same sex. Children run away from home, and prodigal sons and daughters disappear, never to be seen again.

But one of the most painful breaking of bonds between family members and among friends is perhaps that caused by decisions to join, leave or change religions. “Amici usque ad aras” (“friends as far as the altars”) – the subject of a reflection in my “From Illusions to Illumination”, page 193 – sums up the principle : people can differ in their opinions on many subjects and remain friends, with one exception, which is religious belief.

The received wisdom expressed in the Latin adage found its contradiction in my brother. Father Jim O’Meara, pastor during his 55 years of active ministry in no less than 16 parishes in Sydney, remained faithful to his Christian beliefs and his commitment to the priesthood until he died, just a few days ago. He was shattered by my own abandoning the priesthood and later the faith itself. However he not only never rejected me for my apostasy, but remained till the day he died the best friend I ever had. We had bonds that could not be broken even when I denied, and my book and this Blog militated against, everything he believed about God, the Catholic faith and the celestial life he felt he was sure to enjoy now that he’s dead. He does not, he cannot, know how mistaken he was. He lived and died, convinced that I was the one who was mistaken. But he showed me the meaning of tolerance, respect for the person, even when respect for the other’s beliefs or rejection of beliefs is impossible. For Jim it was self-evident that the bonds of family and true friendship should transcend differences in beliefs. His life proved that they can.

(True Friendship Lasts Forever)