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home : opinion : perspectives

3/8/2018 9:00:00 AM
My letter to Billy Graham

Dear Rev. Graham,

I never met you while you were in the world, but I thought it was a good time to write. If you are where I think you are, you'll be able to read this.

Congratulations on receiving your eternal reward! I'm assuming this is true, but it's reasonable to do so. After all, it was you who once said, "I look forward to meeting God, face to face."

In another interview, you added this qualification: "Well, I'm going to heaven not on my good works or because I've preached to all these people or read the Bible. I'm going to heaven because of what Christ did on the cross."

I wonder how many of my fellow Catholics or other Christians believe as you did? To some, your statement might seem overconfident or simply wrong. Yet, every time I perform a "A Visit with St. Paul," I proclaim what the great Apostle himself wrote: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God. It is not from works, so no one may boast" (Eph 2:8-9).

Some people might have a problem with what evangelicals call a "saving faith." That's a shame. It is the Gospel for which Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead, and woe to us if we spurn so great a salvation!

I write to you now, Billy, to thank you for not spurning the Gospel of Jesus. St. Paul suffered much and ultimately died for a similar proclamation of the Gospel. It's Paul's message that supplied some of your most powerful preaching. Thus, I suspect that one of the first to greet you in heaven was that former persecutor of Christians who met Jesus on the road to Damascus.

I didn't always appreciate your work while you were with us. Many years ago, your name came up in conversation and a pastor said, "Billy Graham is doing God's work." I was pleasantly surprised. I expected criticism from a Catholic priest, but heard the opposite. It helped me to reexamine who you were and what your ministry was.

Here's another testimony: My wife, Maeve, was a young adult growing in faith during her days as a missionary in Bolivia. She read your book, "Living with Christ," and it moved her deeply. It was a turning point in her walk with Jesus.

Many Christians have derived help from your writing and preaching. Maybe someone reading this will look up one of your books, or go to YouTube and find inspiration in your words.

I ask for your prayers, Billy. We Catholics believe that those in heaven can pray for us; we acknowledge a whole body of men and women as "saints." Since you are now in all likelihood among that number, I have no hesitation in requesting your intercession.

Please pray for us who profess to be Christian, that we may have the courage to proclaim the Gospel -- with our mouths. Our actions count for something, but actions alone will not be an effective witness for Christ if we never speak up and tell others just what it is we believe.

This is what St. Paul did. "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel" (1 Cor 9:16)!

Billy, there is no mistaking one fact: You preached the Gospel. Lives were changed. Jesus entered the hearts of those who responded "yes" to your proclamation of the Gospel.

Our world is a better place for your faithfulness to the call of the Lord. Thanks, Billy!

(Mr. Smith attends Our Lady Queen of Peace parish in Schen­ectady and blogs at www.turntowardgod.com/blog.)

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