Many of our younger citizens won’t appreciate the significance of Rev. Graham, who died last week at 99, because he has been out of the public eye for over a decade. But he had a huge impact on our nation and the world, traveling exhaustively over decades for a very simple purpose: to invite people to give their lives to Jesus Christ.
Rev. Graham was a very committed Baptist, and there are significant differences between what Baptists and Catholics believe. It may be hard to believe, but as recently as 1960, many Christian denominations harbored suspicion toward us as Catholics, based on serious misunderstandings of what we believe. In those same days, there were greater divides between Christians and Jews, and between black and white. Many forms of discrimination were tolerated and defended that we would not imagine today. Rev. Graham was born into that environment, but he rose above it. He formed a friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, and later, with Pope John Paul II. Rev. Graham went on to foster very good relations with Catholics, and he made a powerful contribution to knocking down all kinds of bigotry.
We live in cynical times, and we know about shady preachers who seem to be all about themselves, who line their pockets and who live the high life. We cringe to hear about priests who fail their vows shamefully. We are numb to public figures, even at the highest level, who are crude and whose behavior toward women is despicable. Billy Graham was something refreshing. He was faithful to his wife; he loved his family; he did not amass riches for himself. He simply wanted everyone to know Jesus Christ, and he gave all his considerable gifts to that task.
We wonder what happens on Judgment Day for someone who was not Catholic, and it does matter whether one embraces the entirety of what Jesus handed on to the Apostles. But we also know that God sees the heart, and looks at what we did with what we were given. We pray for Rev. Graham’s soul, full of hope that the Lord he tried so hard to serve faithfully, will receive him into the heavenly Jerusalem.