Advent Light in Darkest Night

Sunday, December 18, AD 2011

 It is time to awaken from sleep. It is time for a waking up to begin somewhere. It is time to put things back where God the Lord put them.

Father Alfred Delp, SJ

During Advent 1944 Father Alfred Delp, a Jesuit, wrote a reflection on Advent.  Go here to read it.  It is a fine Advent meditation.  The circumstances of its writing demonstrate that the light of Christ, which I have always felt most strongly during Advent, can permeate any darkness.  Father Delp wrote it while he was a prisoner of the Gestapo in Nazi Germany.

Alfred Delp first saw the light of this world on September 15, 1907 in Mannheim Germany.  The son of a Catholic mother and a Protestant father, he was raised as a Protestant although he was baptized as a Catholic.  He was confirmed in the Lutheran church in 1921.  Following a bitter argument with his Lutheran pastor, he embraced Catholicism, made his first communion and was confirmed.  His Catholic pastor, seeing rare intelligence in the boy, arranged for him to continue his studies.

In 1926 he joined the Jesuits.  In 1937 he was ordained as a priest.  His further philosophical studies curtailed at  the University of Munich due to his anti-Nazi beliefs, Father Delp worked on a Jesuit publication until it was suppressed by the Nazis in April 1941.  He was then assigned as rector of Saint Georg church in Munich.  All the while he was helping Jews escape into Switzerland.  Father Delp’s Jesuit provincial Augustin Rosch was active in the anti-Nazi underground.  He introduced Father Delp to the Kreisau Circle of anti-Nazi activists.  Father Delp taught Catholic social teaching to the Circle and arranged contacts between them and  Catholic leaders.

Father Delp had no involvement in the July 20, 1944 assassination attempt, against Hitler, but he was arrested by the Gestapo in the mass arrests that convulsed Germany following July 20.

While in prison Father Delp said Mass clandestinely, thanks to bread and wine smuggled to him by friends, and wrote on spiritual subjects, an example of which is his Advent reflection.  These were smuggled out of prison.  On December 8, 1944, by way of a visiting Jesuit priest, he was able to take his final vows as a Jesuit.  The Gestapo offered to release him if he would abandon the Jesuits.  He refused.

On January 9-11, 1945, he went through a mockery of a trial before a Nazi “People’s Court”.  Sentenced to death, he was hanged on February 2, 1945, the feast day of the martyrs of Ebsdorf who died in Germany by the swords of pagan Norsemen.  His body was cremated and spread among the sewage fields of Berlin.  He is regarded today as a national hero in Germany.

Space is still filled with the noise of destruction and annihilation, the shouts of self-assurance and arrogance, the weeping of despair and helplessness. But just beyond the horizon the eternal realities stand silent in their age-old longing. There shines on us the first mild light of the radiant fulfillment to come. From afar sound the first notes as of pipes and singing boys, not yet discernible as a song or melody. It is all far off still, and only just announced and foretold. But it is happening. This is today. And tomorrow the angels will tell what has happened with loud rejoicing voices, and we shall know it and be glad, if we have believed and trusted in Advent.

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