Today as I drove from a funeral to the cemetery I turned on the car radio and they were broadcasting live from Billy Graham’s funeral service in Charlotte.
His son, Franklin was preaching, and he was preaching the old, old story. It was his father’s only tune and he played it over and over again. Later at the parish fish supper someone asked me why everybody thought Billy Graham was so great. I said it was because he preached the simple message of a human race locked in sin and in need of a savior, and that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son so that all who believe in him might have everlasting life.
That’s it. That’s really it, and there wasn’t anything more.
And I wondered today what would happen if another Billy Graham came along and preached that message and nothing else. I expect the reaction would be the same today as it has always been. Intellectuals would sneer, the self righteous religious people would dismiss it as naive. The theologians would say it was too simplistic. Sinners would scorn it and laugh and turn away.
But many, many ordinary people still long to hear that simple message.
Furthermore, our Catholic churches would also be stronger if we we took a lesson from Billy Graham. Oh, yes I know he’s not a Catholic. Yes, I know his theology is faulty. I realize we do not preach that simple, easy message of eternal security–“Just say yes to Jesus and you can know you are going to heaven.” I realize that we stress the sacraments and membership in the church and being a Catholic is more complicated and full and abundant than the reductionist Christianity of the Baptists.
But. But. But, on the other hand, isn’t the core message still the same? Do we not call sinners every Sunday at Mass to repent of their sins and come forward in an altar call to accept Jesus? Do we not call sinners to come to confession, get down on their knees and say they are sorry for their sins and accept the forgiveness of Jesus, and if we do not say that they can know today that they are going to heaven, we can certainly say that they can know today that they are on the road to heaven if they say “Yes” to him and strive to live in a state of grace.
And I reckon the main reason our churches are full of hypocrites who win prizes for humanitarian efforts while they vote for the dismemberment of unborn children, and while our churches are full of people who are more concerned to save the planet than to save their souls, and our churches are full of vain, greedy, ambitious and shallow prelates and people–I reckon the main reason our churches (and I mean Catholic and Protestant alike) are full of such people is because we have all taken our eye off the ball. We’ve missed the target. We’ve forgotten what it is all about.
And what it is all about is that same old, old story. It is Billy Graham’s message of a sinful humanity in need of a savior.
I reckon if, underneath all the other religious stuff your’e doing and underneath all the peace and justice stuff you’re doing and underneath all the liturgical stuff you’re doing and all the wonderful fund raising you’re doing and all that great educational and social work you’re doing– if that is not your message, then you’re in the wrong business and you ought to be honest and get out and go get another job.