Billy Graham

Generations past, my mother’s side of the family was Protestant. I don’t know what denomination. I don’t think it matters. According to family lore, Great-Grandpa Luigi was the lone Protestant in his neighborhood of Italian Catholics, and the Catholic kids used to throw rocks at him. (Way to show God’s love, kids.)

Maybe it’s no surprise that the family ultimately moved away from that. Maybe there was something about the church that his son, my grandfather, never quite agreed with, and he searched for something more. But one day in the 50s, or 60s, or whenever it was, Grandpa was watching television, and he turned the channel to a charming, Bible-thumping televangelist—Billy Graham. Suddenly, we were nondenominational. We were Evangelists, independent, not following any evil church’s rules. We attended the Baptist church, because it was the closest church to the truth of the Bible, the only thing we needed.

Billy Graham popularized the sinner’s prayer—asking Jesus into your heart, a one-way ticket to Heaven that requires nothing further on your part. It had been around before, but no one had the reach he did. He spoke to millions upon millions on television, across decades, spreading this false doctrine.

But I have the same attitude about it that I do about the Baptist church as a whole: It’s a good start. It’s not the best start, but it’s good if that’s all you know. I listened to many sermons about the “real way” to Heaven, and we’re the ones with the real truth. But don’t be afraid for your friends, because there’s still hope for them. And it’s not like Baptists are the only people in Heaven. I’m sure there will be some Catholics there, too!

So let’s turn it around: I’m sure there will be some Evangelists in Heaven. I’m not saying what Billy Graham preached is entirely wrong—yes, you should love Jesus. Yes, you need to trust Him with your whole life. But I fear for those who don’t commit past the “sinner’s prayer,” and who honestly believe that one thing is all they need for eternal salvation.

I pray Billy Graham does rest in peace. But I also believe he has a lot of explaining to do.

“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.” —James 3:1

Lent 101

The Rite of Continuing Conversation—where candidates descend upon the heart of the diocese, filling the cathedral and armed with those supporting them. We were recognized individually, the bishop smiling as each was called by name. He welcomed us all, not simply into the cathedral for the hour-long service but into the very Church itself. As my sponsor put his arm around me, confirming my own dedication to the Church, I was filled with the overwhelming sense of belonging to something so much bigger than myself.

There’s no mistake that this Rite occurs at the start of Lent. It was a rough start to the new liturgical season: not merely with fasting, though that was a challenge in itself, but emotionally. Spiritually. “What can you give to those who have not?” the Church asks. “What is the Lord inviting you to give away?” These simple questions remind us of how much more we can do. Relatively speaking, it’s easy to drop a check in the collection basket. Money is merely a number in an unseen bank account. But what else can we do? How can we give of our time, our talents, our possessions? It’s much harder to joyfully share these things when we think we “need” them ourselves.

This is where I fall short. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I felt the severity of a life without Him as I received the ashes for the first time. It’s fitting that this is the first occasion I get out of the pew to receive: not His body, not yet. But dust. I receive nothing. But in that nothingness, I recall something more—in my weakness is where God fills in the gaps. I was hungry, but He sustained me. Next time I rise to receive, it will be to receive Him.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am!” —Isaiah 58:9

I was feeling pretty crummy about all those shortcomings of mine. I was deep into the understanding of my sin, crying out to Him because of my imperfections. But then, on a cold but beautifully sunny Saturday morning, He gathered His people together. I watched the procession, conscious of all those people there supporting our journeys, and I was awed. Not merely in the beauty of tradition, but also for being a part of it. The fact that God, in His infinite power and glory and love, would want someone imperfect like me. I may have cried, but I cried for an entirely different reason.

Preparing for Lent

“We are called not just to abstain from sin during Lent, but to true conversion of our hearts and minds as followers of Christ. We recall those waters in which we were baptized into Christ’s death, died to sin and evil, and began new life in Christ.”US Conference of Catholic Bishops

One of the first things I learned about Lent is that it’s not necessarily about giving something up. That’s relatively easy: We vow to abstain from alcohol. Or cookies. We won’t use profanity. While these are admirable goals (but… cookies…), Lent can, and should, be about doing more.

When I started my journey, I absorbed anything and everything I could get my hands on. I won’t say I’ve been slacking off (not directly), but I’ll admit my studies aren’t what they once were. But Lent is an ideal time to get back into gear, to live out that new life in Christ he blessed me with. Thus, I mapped out a weekly “God schedule” for Lent, in which I do something for Him each day—whether it’s study, worship, or simply being in His presence.

Sunday – Mass (clearly)
Monday – RCIA (or Bible study, if there’s no class)
Tuesday – Readings on the saints
Wednesday – Adoration
Thursday – Visio divina study
Friday – Daily Mass
Saturday – Public declaration – i.e., update this blog

Each day will also consist of Bible reading (I will get through the apocrypha!) and prayer time with the little black book for Lent. During the week, I’ll learn more of Jesus and his devoted. I’ll read of the saints (finally getting to those writings of St. Augustine I bought months ago). I’ll study Mary. And at the end of the week, on Saturday, I’ll tie it all together. I’ll share it with you. Because it’s great to learn, but it’s more important to spread that knowledge.

That “public declaration” isn’t simply online, either. It’s talking with others. It’s (finally) telling my family of this journey I’ve been taking. If there’s opportunity to volunteer, and to help others, it’s taking it. So often I get stuck in this rut of “I don’t know what I’m doing,” but I don’t have to understand two thousand years of Catholic teachings. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel,” Jesus said (Mark 16:15).

And, fine, maybe I’ll cut back on the cookies as well.