New book offers spiritual wisdom from Father Ted Hesburgh
"Come, Holy Spirit: Spiritual Wisdom from Fr. Ted Hesburgh" edited by Todd C. Ream, Gerard J. Olinger, CSC, and Hannah M. Pick. Ave Maria Press, (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2022). 256 pp. $18.95.
"God, Country, Notre Dame." That was the title that Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh chose for his autobiography. The title reflected the order of importance of these elements in his life.
Well known for his 35-year career as the president of the University of Notre Dame, he also served the country on numerous boards and commissions. Most important to "Father Ted," however, was his service to God and church as a Catholic priest.
It is not surprising, therefore, that he produced limitless homilies and pastoral reflections on myriad spiritual issues. Unfortunately, most of his thoughts were never published but remained among his personal papers in the Hesburgh Library at Notre Dame.
To share his spirituality with a larger audience, Ave Maria Press has published a handy, substantive selection of his remarks over the course of a momentous life. Commentary was provided by friends and scholars who knew and collaborated with him.
The collection is divided into seven parts -- each a selection of Father Ted's thoughts and advice on specific values. The first section, for example, focuses on "Lives of the Baptized." The emphasis here is the transformative role of that first sacrament as it incorporates us into the body of Christ. Baptism is the spark to begin a life of vocation, faith, prayer, learning and action.
The second part shares his thoughts on vocation -- both to the clerical and the lay life. In this section, Father Ted stresses his conviction that priests and laity alike must "actively participate in the life of the church and the redemptive work of Christ." The work will be hard; all will face inner doubt and frustration; the rewards will be "glorious and life-giving," he says.
Lives of faith are the focus of the third part. "Faith is a highly personal matter," Father Ted begins. "Faith gets at us in the depths of our personality and being, what we do or do not believe and why, and what this belief or unbelief does to our lives at the innermost level of our personality."
The fourth part concentrates on the life of prayer. "Real prayer is simply talking with God," he notes, "who has a personal interest in each one of you and is only too glad to listen to you and to help you whenever you speak up and ask for help." There is a calming influence in Father Ted's words.
Learning, the fifth part, was a central part of Father's Ted's daily life and inextricably linked to spirituality. The editors use his invocations from convocations and commencements to stress the bond between the divine hand of God, the wonders of creation and our ability to understand the mysteries and intricacies of nature.
Part six addresses "Lives of Action." Father Ted was passionate about civil rights, world peace and social justice. His thoughts in this section call us to join in his passions to do better for this world.
The final part reflects on lives lived well. The editors begin with a question: "What does a Christian life well-lived look like?" Father Ted offers a thoughtful answer in an expression of hope: "May all of your lives, today and every day, be living sermons to those with whom you live."
"Come, Holy Spirit" is a wonderful selection from the head and heart of an exceptional American priest, who died in February 2015 at age 97. It's a book that will resonate with anyone in need of spiritual guidance far beyond the campus at Notre Dame.
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Walch is a historian of American Catholicism and the author of "Parish School."