The Rev. Billy Graham, the famous U.S. Evangelical preacher, who was immensely famous in the 20th century for his “Crusades” and acted as an advisor to many U.S. presidents, passed away Feb. 21 at the age of 99. Rev. Graham was known for going beyond the thought of many Evangelical Protestants with an openness to Catholicism, seeing the shared faith and the good works that came from the Catholic Church.
Rev. Graham described hearing St. John Paul II’s message by stating, “He gives moral guidance in a world that seems to have lost its way” and openly described the pope as his friend. St. John Paul II was reported to have told Rev. Graham “Listen, Graham, we are brothers.”
Rev. Graham, like another popular evangelist, the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (who counted Rev. Graham as a good friend and an ally in the preaching of the Gospel in a secular world), was a product of a simpler time, a time of a lived ecumenism, an ecumenism which rises out of seeing the Lord’s powerful presence in the world and in the hearts of people.
Surely, there are massive differences between the worldview of a Roman Catholic and an Evangelical Baptist. Theologically, these perspectives differ on some basic, non-negotiable aspects, like the Sacramental order and the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We agree that we share a common baptism and a common faith in the Trinity and in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. We agreed on there is a natural law, that there is a basic morality of being a good and decent human being, that there is objective truth. Rev. Billy Graham, Pope St. John Paul II and Venerable Fulton J. Sheen all taught this.
In an age of infighting among Catholics which is sadly played out more and more in the press, both secular and religious, and especially on internet blogs, in an age of agnosticism, aggressive secular humanism, and a lack of respect for God and the things of God, how can ecumenism even take place? The only way is for Christian people, regardless of their ecclesial traditions, to follow the example of the relationship of St. John Paul II and Rev. Graham.
“Listen, Graham, we are brothers” has to be the model. Catholics and Evangelicals do not agree on every item, but we must unite, not in what Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro has described as an “ecumenism of hate,” but in an effort to see Christ in one another and in the world, and, by doing so, to help make the Lord’s love just a little bit more real to our suffering brothers and sisters.