A Jesuit priest’s last Advent reflection from a Nazi prison

In December 1944, 37-year-old Jesuit Father Alfred Delp was imprisoned in Tegel Prison in Berlin, having been arrested months earlier by the Gestapo on the (accurate) suspicion that he was part of a Resistance movement against the Nazis. 

It was the last Advent of his life. 

He wrote a pre-Christmas reflection, among several other writings, which was smuggled out of prison before his trial. 

I stumbled across it recently and found it exceptionally moving. 

Granted, this was written by a man who probably had a pretty good idea that his trial was to be a sham legal process and the Nazis would end up executing him. So there’s an intensity there that we, in relative peacetime abundance, understandably have difficulty mustering. 

But there is also a warning he offers, and paid for with his life: If we cling to false securities and believe in our own power, eventually our world will be rocked and descend into chaos and darkness. 

“There is perhaps nothing we modern people need more than to be genuinely shaken up,” he said, so that we reestablish God, and not ourselves, at the center of our lives. 

Interestingly, Pope Benedict XVI made a similar point this year at the beginning of Advent. He noted the “building, work, economy, transport, science, technology, everything seems to depend only upon man. And at times, in this apparently perfect world, terrible things happen, either in nature or society, which make us think that God has withdrawn and has, so to say, left us to our own devices. 

“In reality, the real ‘master’ of the world is not man but God. ... Advent comes every year to remind us of this fact, that our lives might find their just orientation towards the face of God. The face not of a ‘master,’ but of a father and a friend.” 

God forbid that any of us ever finds ourselves in the situation that Father Delp did. We ought to take advantage of the clarity of vision his situation gave him.  

“The great question to us,” he writes, “is whether we are still capable of being truly shocked or whether it is to remain so that we see thousands of things and know that they should not be and must not be, and that we get hardened to them. How many things have we become used to in the course of the years, of the weeks and months, so that we stand unshocked, unstirred, inwardly unmoved. 

“Advent is a time when we ought to be shaken and brought to a realization of ourselves. ... Being shattered, being awakened — only with these is life made capable of Advent. In the bitterness of awakening, in the helplessness of ‘coming to,’ in the wretchedness of realizing our limitations, the golden threads that pass between heaven and earth in these times reach us. These golden threads give the world a taste of the abundance it can have.” 

May your Advent be full of the taste of God’s abundance! 

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