Fr. George Klybus’ Thoughts for the Third Sunday in Lent
Billy Graham died Feb. 21, in Montreat, N.C., at the age of 99. Given his long life, it is easy to forget how young Mr. Graham was when he first emerged in the public eye. Mr. Graham was, at 31, leading his first major crusade in downtown Los Angeles. “Crusade” that included an invitation to the crowd to make a public decision to convert to faith in Christ. By luck, providence or charisma, that first big crusade was a hit, and went on for eight straight weeks.
In America’s Pastor, the latest biography of the evangelist, historian Grant Wacker makes a strong claim for Billy Graham’s historical importance: “Graham ranks with Martin Luther King, Jr., and Pope John Paul II as one of the most creatively influential Christians of the 20th century.”
Mr. Graham had a complicated relationship with Catholics and Catholicism. His own 1998 autobiography, just As I am, it detailed how he opposed Communism and was a friend to Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as to President Richard Nixon. It spoke of his opposition to abortion and of how he enjoyed the media attention he often received. But then there were also moments such as this one in the U.S.S.R. in 1988, when Mr. Graham remembered, “sitting on the floor talking with Cardinal John O’Connor of New York about the way Protestant-Roman Catholic relations had changed.” Protestant-Catholic relations did change in those years, in part because of the work of Billy Graham.
In 1964, Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston (who, as archbishop, had even endorsed a Graham crusade in Boston in 1950) met with Mr. Graham upon returning from Rome and the Second Vatican Council, declaring before a national television audience that Mr. Graham’s message was good for Catholics.
Cardinal Cushing said, “God will bless [Graham’s] preaching and crusade.” Mr. Graham responded with gratitude, stating that he felt much closer to Catholics and Catholic tradition.
Throughout the remaining four decades of his public preaching ministry, Mr. Graham was known for warm friendships with other prominent Catholics, including Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Cardinal Francis Spellman, even Pope John Paul II.
It is true that the way of becoming a Christian differs in Catholicism and Evangelicalism, and there are differences between how an evangelical feels confident of eternal salvation following a “decision for Christ,” and what a Catholic reads in the Catechism about eternal security (see No. 1861). Still, referring back to the quote from the Catholic bishop who attended the conference in Amsterdam at John Paul II’s request, there is something unmistakably important about unified Christians sharing an enthusiasm for faith in Christ across denominational lines.
Rest In Peace, Billy.
By Jon M. Sweeney from https://www.americamagazine.org/
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