Like so many others I watched the funeral service for Reverend Billy Graham this past Friday with a great deal of admiration and respect in my heart for this fearless preacher of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Billy Graham travelled all over the world speaking to millions of people about the Christian faith. When he met Pope John Paul II for the first time – to the great consternation of many Protestant pastors – Billy Graham said that the Pope had embraced him as “a beloved brother in Jesus Christ.” Yes, we have our differences in theology, doctrine and pastoral practices, but the shared core beliefs at the heart of our Christian faith were what touched the hearts of so many people, including large number of Catholics who attended the Billy Graham crusades. Here was a man who preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ with passion, with joy, with urgency – calling people to faith in Jesus Christ. He preached the message of God’s saving love, poured out on us through the gift of Jesus Christ, sent to save us from sin through his suffering and death on the Cross. John 3:16 was so often at the heart of his message and it is the same message we as Catholics understand as the heart of the Gospel message: God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that all who believe in him might be saved. Billy Graham preached the Good News, calling people to accept Jesus Christ and commit their lives to our Lord and Savior. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” Jesus says. “No one comes to the Father in heaven except through me.” This is a message we are need to hear. It is a message that calls us to faith in Jesus Christ, to embrace his way of life, so that each of us may attain the gift of salvation in heaven.
Billy Graham opened the hearts of many people to encounter the power of Jesus Christ in their lives. He strengthened the faith of our nation by his tireless, courageous preaching. Billy Graham helped each of us to understand the need to read the Bible – God’s saving Word – and to respond in faith, to commit our lives more deeply to the Lord. We as Catholics know that this call involves the Church, the very Body of Christ given to us by Jesus himself through which we are lifted up, our sins forgiven, our faith strengthened through the Holy Sacraments. But as fellow Christians, Billy Graham’s call to encounter the person of Jesus more deeply in daily prayer should resonate in our hearts, as well as his call for each of us who are believers to live our faith, never to be ashamed to be called a Christian, to preach the Good News in our culture that is becoming secularized and forgetful of God, and especially where so many in our country are hostile to the Christian faith. How grateful we are to have had such a Christian leader in our country for so long. May we never forget his powerful proclamation of God’s saving love given to us in Christ and inviting us to repentance of sin, to life in his name, and to attain heaven. And I for one can easily join with Billy Graham in his stirring conclusion (with his arm raised to heaven) to everything he ever did or said: “Not to us, not to us, O Lord, but to you be the glory, the honor and the praise, forever and ever. Amen.” May he rest in peace.