The Legacy of Billy Graham
Just days before Billy Graham died, I found myself at Mass at the tomb of Pope John XXIII, in St. Peter’s Basilica. This pope is famous — or infamous, depending on your point of view — for opening the Second Vatican Council in the middle of the 20th century. It ushered in changes that both haven’t been fully realized and have run amok — again, depending on what we’re talking about and your point of view.
Billy Graham, the Protestant preacher to presidents — as he is so popularly known — was grateful for these reforms, for the opportunities for Protestant fellowship with Catholics that they presented. Some branded him an apostate for these views at the time, but Graham was always working from a larger perspective.
John XXIII’s successor, Paul VI, would close the Council, and not with a sense of triumph. He knew there were miscues, miscommunications and divisions that had crept into the Council and its interpretations. But Paul VI (who Pope Francis has indicated will be named an official saint before the end of the calendar year) had faith. He was prophetic about how the world was tearing men and women apart from one another and alienating them from their very natures — 50 years ago writing a document that saw ahead to everything that we have seen exposed in the #MeToo cultural avalanche of misery brought to light in recent months.
In one homily in particular, Paul VI talked about the Christian’s need to proclaim Christ to the world. “All things, all history converges in Christ,” he said. “A man of sorrow and hope, he knows us and loves us. As our friend, he stays by us throughout our lives; at the end of time he will come to be our judge; but we also know that he will be the complete fulfillment of our lives and our great happiness for all eternity.”
He also spoke of the importance of Jesus and his example: “He is our bread, our source of living water who allays our hunger and satisfies our thirst. He is our shepherd, our leader, our ideal, our comforter and our brother.”
Paul VI said of Jesus: “He is like us but more perfectly human, simple, poor, humble, and yet, while burdened with work, he is more patient. He spoke on our behalf; he worked miracles; and he founded a new kingdom: in it the poor are happy; peace is the foundation of a life in common; where the pure of heart and those who mourn are uplifted and comforted; the hungry find justice; sinners are forgiven; and all discover that they are brothers.”
This is what Billy Graham was about. Introducing people to the most important person he ever encountered, Jesus Christ. It was as simple as that: What could be the point of doing anything else? That’s the common ground he saw with other Christians and humans in general.
He may have been a counselor to presidents — and had his regrets along the way about getting too close to politics during some of those years — but the most important part of Billy Graham’s story is that he knew what he was about. Being Christian brings with it life-changing responsibilities to live and share the Gospel. He would want to link arms and open doors to God together, because people need that light of hope he knew in Christ.
However people might interpret or debate any of these Christian leaders, if this is the launch pad for common cause, we may just be able to get somewhere together. The miseries of this world — you don’t have to look far in life or the headlines to find them — can be mitigated if one lives the words of the Sermon on the Mount. And so, thanks be to God for the likes of Billy Graham, who saw that and tried to help others to see it as well.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at [email protected].