advent wreath

Father Alfred Delp was in the midst of his studies to become a Jesuit priest when Hitler took power in Germany in 1933. Despite increasing difficulties under the regime, he was ordained a priest for the order in 1937.

His first assignment as a priest was on the editorial staff of the influential Jesuit publication Stimmen der Zeit (Voice of the Times), until it was suppressed in 1941. He then was assigned as rector of St. Georg Church in Munich, where he used his position to subtly critique the Nazis and to help Jews trying to escape to Sweden. Aware that the Gestapo were listening in on priests, he nonetheless used his homilies to inspire hope and resistance to the regime in his flock.

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Fr. Delp also joined the Kreisau Circle resistance group, whose goal was the construction of a new social order after the fall of the Nazis. Fr. Delp’s role was to explain Catholic social teaching to the group, and to be a liaison between the group and Catholic leaders.

The priest eventually was imprisoned in 1944 and executed in 1945 by the Gestapo, as he was falsely believed to be involved in the July 20, 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler. Even though he was able to prove his innocence, he was hung for high treason for his involvement in resistance activities. He was offered his freedom if he left the Jesuits; he refused.

Alfred_Delp_Mannheim

Father Alfred Delp

A prolific writer and inspirational homilist, one of Father Delp’s favorite topics was Advent, and how it was more than a spiritual season, but an illustration of each Christian’s journey to and anticipation of heaven. The writings of Father Delp in the latter years of World War II, composed both before and during his imprisonment, have been compiled into a book called “Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings – 1941-1944.”

Below are a few excerpts from his homily for the First Sunday of Advent, preached in war-torn Munich in 1943. His words will inspire hope for anyone suffering or feeling particularly gloomy about the state of affairs today, either personally or more broadly, this Advent:

“Despite this gloomy time, with a certitude about life and faith, we have set up the Advent wreath, even though no one knows how long it will stand or whether all four of its candles will be lit. The course of the liturgical year and the message continues, and we keep on doing things—but not for the sake of custom and tradition. It comes from a sense of certitude about things and mankind and revelation—things that are fixed and valid in and of themselves. These give mankind the right to light candles and to believe in the light and brightness of existence. Not as if it were granted to us to erase all the gloominess! All the gloom must be gone through and endured. Yet, precisely for that reason, the lights of Advent should shine forth from within as we let ourselves be led to the insight that man is not under the law of imprisonment, enslavement, threats… 

Even so, our waiting is not the end. In today’s Gospel about the end of the world, we read: “The people will languish in fearful expectation as they await the things that will come over the entire world; for the powers of Heaven will be shaken” [Luke 21:26]. There is a character of fearful expectation when things start to tremble, when life is felt to be so menacing. Nevertheless, it is bourgeois simply to wait for the sky to become light again. This experience of waiting will continue to be wrongly understood unless one sees that we are meant to learn from it. Man is not permitted to fixate himself too much within his own sphere of life, settling himself too firmly in place until he is chased away. We will wrongly understand this waiting if we forget that the deeper meaning of life is to keep watch…

This should be our first Advent light: to understand everything, all that happens to us and all that threatens us, from the perspective of life’s character of waiting. We must endure all the blessedness and un-blessedness of waiting because we are under way. The character of life is to keep going, to keep a lookout, and to endure until the vigilant heart of man and the heart of God who meets us come together…”

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This sermon and many more of Father Delp’s reflections can be found in “Advent of the Heart”, which is available through Ignatius Press at: http://www.ignatius.com/Products/AOH-P/advent-of-the-heart.aspx