Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Billy Graham

The first time I heard of him was of a mocking sort in my Religion I class as a freshman in a Catholic high school. The teacher was promoting the idea that the evangelist Billy Graham was a prophet. One of his arguments was that he “only” accepted a $65,000 annual salary. The rich kids in class, the majority, snickered. I wasn’t sure whether they considered it hypocrisy or were just laughing at the paltry amount.

The next time I heard of Billy Graham was on the radio, twenty years later, during the memorial services for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack. His deep, pained, soulful voice throughout the sermon at the National Cathedral carried so much weight, so much forgiveness and comfort, that it left both the wife and I truly floored.

The third time I heard of Billy Graham, the second time hearing him speak, occurred nearly eight years later. I was spending my first night in the hospital pre-diagnosed with lung cancer. Turned out it wasn’t, but I did spend the next nineteen days there getting treated for what it ultimately was. That first night was a weird one for me. I wasn’t actually scared but … energized. More than a little uncertain about the future, but my gut told me it wasn’t cancer. Still, there was a finger of fear noodling somewhere in my chest. I couldn’t sleep. I turned on the overhead TV and channel surfed. I came across a Billy Graham crusade.

Forget which one it was, though I watched it for two hours. He was famous for his “crusades” ever since the ones held in Los Angeles in 1949. This was recorded in black and white, and guessing by the fashion styles, must’ve been early 60s. I listened and, despite it all, was quickly drawn in. My parish priest visited me the next day. I told him about watching the crusade the prior night and asked him about Graham’s teaching. “Nothing that Billy Graham says,” my priest informed me, “is incompatible with Church teaching.” I felt similarly, but needed the ecclesial affirmation. It sold me.

When I did get out of the hospital, recuperating at home and looking for work while raising a six-month old daughter, I found time to read The Journey: How to Live by Faith in an Uncertain World. No, I am not a born-again Christian, still Catholic despite the nonsense and non-sense in the Vatican. But the book touched a nerve within. I spent the entire month reading and re-reading it, the second time compiling a list of all the Bible verses Graham quoted. It was quite an extensive list.

Two or three years later I picked up a three-pack of Billy Graham books, three books bound together in a sturdy hardcover. I read them all, and got comfort from them all. I re-read the first selection, Peace with God, which was originally published in 1953, a year ago. I have a fond memory going through it on a warm spring afternoon at the park, just after tax season ended, in the bleachers watching a high school baseball game while my daughter ran practice laps for an upcoming track meet. It’s a good memory.

So when I saw this morning that he just passed away at 99 of “old age,” I wasn’t sad. He had long spoken in interviews and in his writings of a desire to be “called home.” His wife of 60+ years predeceased him by a decade. Though its borderline presumptuous, I’m about a hundred percent certain he has received his eternal reward for a life well-lived. The wife and I plan on sending a donation to Billy Graham ministries tomorrow, and I would encourage you to do the same.

Rest in Peace, good and faithful servant.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The world lost one of the greats! A tear came to my eyes when I heard of his passing although I knew it was drawing near. Yes, I too believe he is in Heaven.

God bless you Billy Graham...RIP