He has to be counted amongst the Greats of the 20C. A Good Man: not a hero as such and unlikely to become a Saint, but undoubtedly recognised and favoured by my Supplier as one who may join the throng in Heaven. He is the Judge, not me, and while I personally would like to see him welcomed through the Pearly Gates I do not make the Rules. Nevertheless, let a poor and hairy old Catholic help you take a look at this man. Billy Graham was God's Salesman.
Billy Graham very likely brought more people to Christianity than the next ten together in the past thousand years. Just how they fared is not known but at least they had been sold The Word in great number. He did well.
He travelled the world attracting enormous crowds. His message was clear, uncompromising, welcoming. He made expert use of the communications media, marketing and venue management of the day. Those may sound prosaic but they were tools he put to the use of God.
He was invited to meet and even advise Presidents and Popes: he spoke to crowds of over 100,000. In Oz he packed Melbourne's MCG with 130,000: a number not seen before (in an age of the Beatles and Frank Sinatra who both had crowds) or after. It was and is a record.
Catholics sometimes have an undeserved hubris, with the occasional pronouncement that only Catholics will get to Heaven. Some, that is, as there are many backsliders who won't even get to stop by the Tavern let alone climb further up the hill. As I said, I do not make the rules, but we are all sinners and Mr Graham brought more people to Faith and Hope and Charity than most others, attracting people from the wastelands and swamps, dark forests and even chasms of the Soul, to the road that passes my Tavern. Catholic most may not have been but there is still chance and time for many to become.
It is instructive to take a quick look at the traffic flow between Catholic and Protestant, before we go on to look at his effect on both.
Conversion from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism has received attention over recent years, partly on account of autobiographies that describe the movement. For example, in 1993, a Presbyterian graduate of Gordon-Conwell, Scott Hahn, published Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism. In 1994, Professor Thomas Howard wrote his story, Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome. Two years later, David Currie wrote Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic. In 2009, Frank Beckwith, after his election to the presidency of the Evangelical Theological Society, wrote Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic.
In 2011, radio host and columnist, Michael Coren wrote, Why Catholics Are Right. And in the same year Professor Christian Smith of Notre Dame wrote his story in a how-to book titled: How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-Five Difficult Steps. These narratives and others like them have garnered considerable attention.A little focus shows....
A peculiar thing has been happening at Southern Evangelical Seminary in North Carolina. This is an institution that values the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas and many other thinkers one would not expect to find on the shelves of an evangelical seminary. While producing a number of successful and popular Protestant pastors, SES has also been the site of a mass exodus across the Tiber.
In the decade from 2004 to 2014, more than two dozen faculty members, students, and alumni of SES have entered into full communion with the Catholic Church. Keeping in mind that only around two dozen students graduate from SES each year, this is rather a significant percentage. The obvious question is: “How can a school co-founded by an Evangelical theologian-apologist known to be critical of Catholicism produce so many Catholics?” In an effort to answer this very question, Douglas M. Beaumont has collected the accounts of nine conversions from SES, including his own, in a new book, Evangelical Exodus: Evangelical Seminarians and Their Paths to Rome, published by Ignatius Press.Not that the attractions, the push-pulls, are all one way.
The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life has put hard numbers on the anecdotal evidence: One out of every 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic. If they were a separate denomination, they would be the third-largest denomination in the United States, after Catholics and Baptists. One of three people who were raised Catholic no longer identifies as Catholic.One weeps. But into fine Ale.
Billy Graham was a powerhouse who had a personal and historic impact on Christianity, Protestants and Catholics. Looking at his burial a little later we shall see his personal impact. For now though we heard from Jon Sweeney.
How Billy Graham shaped American Catholicism
It did not hurt that Mr. Graham was handsome, with a thick head of wavy brown hair. He was tall and thin. He spoke commandingly and convincingly.
One of his early biographers, William Martin, wrote in A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story:
Only the large expressive hands seem suited to a titan. But crowning this spindly frame is that most distinctive of heads, with the profile for which God created granite, the perpetual glowing tan, the flowing hair, the towering forehead, the square jaw, the eagle's brow and eyes, and the warm smile that has melted hearts, tamed opposition, and subdued skeptics on six continents.
Mr. Graham’s early commitment to relationships with Catholics was muddled, at best.
During the 1960 U.S. presidential election, for example, according to biographer William Martin, the evangelist made it clear to many that Richard Nixon was his man and that he was deeply concerned at the prospect of a Catholic president. Soon thereafter, however, Mr. Graham seems to have changed his perspective.
He experienced a warming and openness to expressions of Christian faith that had been previously foreign to his Southern, fundamentalist, Southern Baptist roots.
In Just as I Am, Mr. Graham would explain that ecumenical notions began stirring in him back at the very beginning of his ministry, before the Los Angeles Crusade. These took time to develop, he said, and he had to move carefully.
By 1961, Mr. Graham and President Kennedy prayed side by side at a Washington prayer breakfast. A few years later, 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 than he did to what was more alien to his message: liberal Protestantism.
Such an embrace of Catholic understandings of faith over liberal Protestant ones would give birth to the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” initiative of Richard John Neuhaus and Charles Colson 30 years later. Their joint ecumenical document, published in 1994, used biblical and theological principles to rally around shared political issues such as the right to life. Catholic co-signers of the ecumenical document included George Weigel and Jesuit theologian and frequent Americacontributor, Avery Dulles, S.J.
Throughout the remaining four decades of his public preaching ministry, Mr. Graham was known for warm friendships with other prominent Catholics, including the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., who even gave his permission for Mr. Graham to hold a crusade on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in its famous football stadium. Of course, Mr. Graham filled the stadium. Then there were notable and public friendships with Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Cardinal Francis Spellman, even Pope John Paul II.
Mr. Graham sought out the pope in 1981, requesting a private audience at the Vatican, something his core audience surely found strange. A photo op with the pope was never something desired by an evangelical leader in the past. Later, Mr. Graham proudly—and perhaps again somewhat indiscreetly—repeated John Paul II’s private words to him:
“We are brothers.”
He died aged 99. A damned fine run. The Obituaries are everywhere so I will let you find them. His impact was sometimes quite unknown to the public. Here is an account. It concerns Angola Prison.The effect was powerful, and evangelicals and Catholics warmed to each other.
Inmates at Louisiana prison built casket for Billy Graham
In 1995, as inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola lowered the makeshift, cardboard casket containing the body of fellow inmate Joseph Siegel into freshly dug ground at the prison’s cemetery, Siegel’s body fell through the bottom of the coffin.
Then, as the pallbearers positioned the casket with care over his body and began shoveling dirt, the top collapsed.
Burl Cain, in his first year as warden at the nation’s largest maximum-security prison, where all but a fraction of the 5,000 men will die without ever walking back through the gates, had seen enough.
Cain gathered inmates for what, by Angola standards, would be an unusual warden-prisoner talk. Many of the prisoners were skilled craftsmen, who had worked for years to set up the popular Angola Prison Rodeo.
“I told them, ‘Men, you’re going to die here, and we’ve got to do this with dignity,'” Cain recalled.
“‘Y’all are going to build a coffin, and it’s going to be a nice coffin. When you die, you’ve served your sentence, and there’s no reason for anybody to kick your body.'”
That event more than two decades ago led to inmates at the prison building the casket for the Rev. Billy Graham, the charismatic evangelical Christian leader who died Feb. 21 at age 99.
Cain served as warden at Angola for 21 years and is credited with changing the violent and deadly prison culture through an emphasis on what he calls “moral rehabilitation.”
“I coined that term because everybody liked ‘morality’ and everybody liked ‘rehabilitation,’ and the ACLU would leave me alone,” Cain said.
“I couldn’t say ‘faith-based’ and I couldn’t say ‘Christian.’ That would get me sued.”
Cain established seminary education, sponsored by the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and built several interdenominational chapels, including a hospice chapel funded by Catholic entities and an Alamo chapel, a replica of the original Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, used often by Catholic inmates.
Cain said he was being “selfish” when he decided to open Angola to the outside world, with an emphasis on theological training.“I realized this:
Moral people don’t rape, pilfer and steal,” Cain said.
“So, if I could get these guys to become moral, I’d have a safer prison, I could survive.”
In 1997, Chuck Colson, an evangelical Christian who had served prison time for obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal and who had begun a national prison ministry, visited Angola with Tex Reardon, who was associated with the Rev. Graham and his worldwide evangelical crusades.
“In the 1950s, my mother would send a check for $5 every month to Billy Graham, even though she was a school teacher and my parents were poor,” Cain said. “So, I asked Tex Reardon if there was any way he could get Billy Graham to come here — because this prison needed him.”
Not long after that, Graham’s son Franklin visited Angola and was so impressed he set the wheels in motion for the construction of two more chapels — one for the inmates and another, Cain said, for “the employees of our little city.”
“They wanted their own people to come build it, because it was a ministry for them,” Cain said. “They wanted the pews to be just old-timey so that it would look like an old-timey church.”
They put an old bell in the top of an imposing steeple. The bell came from a locomotive that hauled sugar cane around the 18,000-acre Angola plantation the late 1800s, before it became a prison that was larger than the island of Manhattan.“The Grahams wanted that steeple to be tall enough so that you could see the church from death row,” Cain said.During one of Franklin Graham’s visits to Angola, he walked into the prison museum and saw an inmate-made casket. He was overwhelmed by the beauty and simplicity of the treated plywood. The white bedding for the inside of the coffins comes from Walmart.“He told me, ‘This is one my Dad would want to be buried in. It’s so plain, but it’s built by prisoners. We’ve got to have these,'” Cain said.Franklin Graham ordered six coffins, including for Rev. Graham and his wife Ruth, who died in 2007.Three inmates — Richard “Grasshopper” Leggett, Clarence “Mr. Bud” Wilkerson and David Bacon — had the special assignment. Of the three, only Bacon is still alive. He was paroled in December 2012.“They would pray before they started every day and ask that God would anoint their work, because this was a very serious thing,” Cain said. “Billy Graham was a human — he wasn’t God — but he was one of the godliest humans on the earth. They took it very seriously. And, it was a reverent operation.”At Franklin Graham’s request, the three inmates wood-burned their names into the outside of each casket.
When a great man dies, or even a not great but loved-one, we sometimes say, "We shall not see his like again".
Rev. Graham was to be laid to rest March 2, in that Angola coffin, after lying for two days in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
Cain said the convergence of sacred circumstances — how Rev. Graham and faith brought peace to Angola and how Angola brought peace to the Graham family — leaves him almost speechless.
“If my mother in heaven knows what’s going on down here, she would be so proud, because when she wrote those little $5 checks, it influenced her son to like Billy Graham,” Cain said. “She led me in that direction.”While, because of ill health, Rev. Graham never could visit Angola, Cain sent him a key to one of Angola’s old cells. A few years ago, Cain traveled to the mountains of Montreat, North Carolina, to offer his thanks for all that Rev. Graham and his son had made possible at Angola.“I got to spend the afternoon with him, and he said, ‘I pray for you every day, and my nurse can verify it,'” Cain said. “And then he took out that key and he said, ‘Every day, I have a devotional, and I hold that key in my hand, and I pray for you and I pray for your prison.’ No wonder we were successful.”
I hope we do.
He was a Great Man and we could do with more.
Drink to the Soul of Mr Billy Graham.
A Good Man.