Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C. (1917–2015), known affectionately by the Notre Dame community as Fr. Ted, served as President of the University of Notre Dame from 1952 until 1987. A highly respected servant leader, Hesburgh served as a member of the United States Civil Rights Commission, beginning in 1957. Throughout the 1960s, he continued to advocate strongly for civil rights, speaking at a rally in Chicago in 1964 organized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an event that has been immortalized in an iconic photo of Hesburgh and King standing side by side, amid other activists, hands joined, singing “We Shall Overcome.”
For nearly a decade I’ve coordinated a dedicated and deeply faithful group of parishioners who visit the sick and homebound of our faith community. Whenever a new volunteer worries that she or he lacks the knowledge to be a minister to the homebound, I advise them to trust in the importance of their presence. When visitation ministers fear they don’t know how to console, I assure them that their mere presence conveys caring and love—words are secondary to presence.
Last year, the Notre Dame Office of Life and Human Dignity launched a new offering, Teaching Human Dignity. The Teaching Human Dignity series is a one-of-a-kind collection of units/lesson plans, curriculum resources, and expert guides that empowers teachers to incorporate life and human dignity issues into existing curriculum. These resources are meant to be used in traditional academic disciplines, such that students are formed to recognize the worth of the human person while discussing poetry, analyzing historical events, or learning about biology.
When I first started brainstorming how to teach the topic of human dignity to my eleventh-grade Morality class, I was eager but intimidated. Covering the topic of abortion was a must, but when I sat down to think about how I could cover the topic in a nuanced and compassionate, yet firmly pro-life manner, I was stumped. Many questions flooded my mind: ‘How do I take a firmly pro-life stance, while also expressing compassion for women who have suffered abortions?’ ‘How do I present the pro-life standpoint in a way that is transformative but not preachy?’ ‘How do I help my students see that all people have a right to life, even when that life involves suffering?’
“‘What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’” They paid him thirty pieces of silver…” —Matthew 26:15
It is particularly haunting to see an exact price exchanged for a human life; the juxtaposition of a finite monetary amount and the life of an infinite being is incomprehensible. In Mathew’s Gospel above, the thirty-pieces figure has been traced back to earlier scriptural references, and is thought to signify the compensation due a master when a slave is killed.
No matter how the amount is derived, calculating the worth of a human life is at once both so absurd and crass that it renders the act of killing for a specific financial gain singularly troubling.