The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C died on Thursday, February 26, at the age of 97. Fr. Ted, as he was known, served as the president of the University of Notre Dame from 1952 to 1987. His was truly a life well lived. He was not only a leader in American higher education—Fr. Ted was a key figure on many social issues, including civil rights, the peaceful uses of atomic energy, campus culture at American universities, treatment of Vietnam draft evaders, Third World development, and immigration reform. This is an impressive list for any human being, let alone a man who spent his entire adult life living in South Bend, Indiana…not quite the middle of nowhere but certainly not a center of global power!
First and foremost, Fr. Ted was a priest, continuing to serve the Notre Dame community through his daily prayers and work on our behalf. In this capacity, he wrote many a reflection and gave many a sermon over the years, none perhaps so clear, concise, and profound as this:
God became man and dwelt amongst us. History is now centered in this all important fact. All before Christ prepares for and anticipates his coming. All after Christ is the fulfillment of what he came to do. And all of us have a part in the doing, and in history, even though we are free to do our part well or poorly. Christ is the central focus and meaning of history in the Christian scheme of things.
There is no human event, no human progress in knowledge, science, or art that cannot be consecrated to a higher service, now that God has literally become man and dwelt amongst us. Historians can recognize the unique influence of the man of Galilee. Only faith can see the utter uniqueness of God’s great liturgy which is realized in Christ, in whom, and through whom, and with whom all creation is drawn to the service of God as divine symphony in which all of us play a significant part.
If you wonder what Christianity is all about, it is in these paragraphs. God became man, reorienting all of history and human life around Christ who is the center of all things, and God invites us to participate in the work of renewing all things. Fr. Ted knew this and dedicated his entire life to the work of reconciliation as part of Christ’s work. We would all do well to do the same.