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The Mystery Made Present To Us | Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J. |
Pre-Christmas Reflection Preached in Munich, December 22, 1942
The following is an excerpt from Advent of the Heart:
Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings by Alfred Delp, S.J., priest and martyr.
The meaning of our Christian holy days is not primarily our external holiday
celebration, but that particular mysteries of God happen to us, and that we
respond. Something in the deepest center of our being is meant here, more than
the exterior symbols can even indicate. Anyone who lacks spiritual eyes, and
whose soul has not become open and watchful, will not understand the reason we
are so often festive in the cycle of the liturgical year. The Church stands
before us with great gestures and great pomp and ceremonial rites. This is only
an attempt to indicate something that reaches much deeper and must be taken
much more seriously.
We need to celebrate holy days in three ways. First, by recalling a historical
event. The feasts are always based on verifiable, historical facts. We should
not just get carried away with unbridled enthusiasm. What is really going on?
This is a question of discernment and recognition. Seen from God's perspective,
there is always a clearly defined event connected to the mystery, a clear
statement intended, a fact.
This brings us to the second point. Within all of the foregoing, a great
mystery--the Mysterium--is hidden. Something happens between Heaven and earth
that passes all understanding. This mystery is made present to us, continues in
the world till the end of time, and is always in the process of happening--the
These two points are followed by the third way in which we must consider the
feast to be serious and important. Through the historical facts and through the
workings of the mystery, the holy day simultaneously issues a challenge to each
individual life, a message that demands a particular attitude and an interior
decision from each person to whom it is proclaimed.
The Christmas celebration is the birth of the Lord. It is verifiable that
Christ was born on this night. The great mystery behind this is the marriage
covenant of God with mankind; that mankind is fulfilled only insofar as it has
grown into this covenant. Concretely, it is meaningful to establish what this
covenant, which began between divinity and humanity on that Holy Night, signifies
as a challenge and message for each one of us.
In view of these preconditions, we want to read some passages from the Holy
Scriptures about the mystery of Christmas--the three readings of the three
1. The Epistle for the Third Christmas Mass: "In many and various ways God
spoke in times past to our fathers through the prophets; but in these last days
He has spoken to us through a Son, whom He appointed the heir of the cosmos, through
whom also He created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very
stamp of His nature, upholding the universe by His Word of power" (Heb
1:1-3). Basically, before moving on to personal devotions and contemplation or
reading stories of the Holy Night, one should read these weighty verses of
Saint Paul to be spiritually touched by the impact of this holy day we are
celebrating. We Germans run the risk of concealing Christmas behind bourgeois
customs and sentimenta1ity, behind all those traditions that make this holiday
dear and precious to us. Yet perhaps the deep meaning is still hiding behind
all those things. What this celebration is about is the founding of a final
order for the world, a new center of meaning for all existence. We are not
celebrating some children's holiday, but rather the fact that God has spoken
His ultimate Word to the world. Christ is the ultimate Word of God to the
world. One must let this idea really sink in these days when people are seeking
new values. If you take God seriously--this relationship between God and the
world--and if you know how important God is to society as well as to private
life, then this has to touch you. The ultimate Word of God to the world! God
does not contradict Himself and does not repeat Himself. One must use every
ounce of willpower to comprehend this, and let this concept sink in: Christ, as
the ultimate Word of God to the world.
And Christ came and placed Himself before us as a message. That He came as a
child proves how much it matters to God that the message be accepted. From this
Holy Night onward, the world has had the possibility of living in nearness to
God or living apart from God. The entire Epistle wants to communicate one
thing: take this, take what has happened here, really seriously. What came into
the world is the very image of the Divine Being, is God Himself. He lifted
mankind out of every false order in this consecrated night, in this blessed
night. What is said to us here gives life its meaning, individual life as well
as the life of all mankind.
The ultimate Word of God to mankind. This idea is expanded upon as follows:
2. The Epistle of the Second Mass of Christmas: "The goodness and kindness
of God our Savior appeared; He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in
righteousness, but by virtue of His own mercy" (Tit 3:4-7). The impact of
these facts is further developed in two ways. What does this mean for man's
inner reality, where he must come to an understanding of himself? And what does
it mean for the fundamental attitudes toward life, the point at which the
mystery becomes present and calls for a concrete response? To begin with the
first question: What has happened to the measure of our being, through this
Word that God has spoken into the world? The goodness and loving-kindness of
God have appeared, so that we know and seriously must recognize ourselves as
the substance of a divine commitment to man. Since then, God has taken no other
position in relation to us than this "benignitas et humanitas [goodness
and lovingkindness]". Because God's commitment upholds each and every one
of us, even to the extent of His sharing in the very poorest and most helpless
phase of human infancy, He has fully realized and made Himself accessible in
the Incarnation. And now, in the background, our great, gruesome time stands
"Not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but by virtue of His
own mercy" (Tit 3 :5). The second tiling we need to know is that it is not
because man is proud and worthy, but because God upholds us. Man needs to know that
we live from grace; we live from God's merciful commitment to mankind, from His
mercy. Not as miserable wretches, however, but renewed in spirit; so that we
know our intrinsic dignity, know that we are raised up above and beyond all
else, because we mean so much to God. This is how we attain maturity in the
presence of God.
3. Now--in the Epistle of the First Mass of Christmas--the effect of the
foregoing is described. We will not be abused and violated, not even forced to
be good or forced to love. We are challenged to do so, but it calls for a
decision. The grace of God our Savior "teaches us to renounce godlessness and
to live moral, upright, and pious lives in this world" (Tit 2:12). There
are three great fundamental attitudes there, three great, foreign qualities of
Christians in the world, three great commandments for perfection of life.
First [renouncing godlessness]: if the meaning of our lives is that God is
really in covenant with mankind, then there can be no more godlessness--that
would be loss of being--there is no more will to live. Godlessness is a calumniation
of the divine life.
Second [regarding moral, upright, and godly living]: man should recognize that
his innermost purpose is to find the way home to God and to be caught up in His
life, to seek God for Himself. The fundamental concept of man in this world
never can be that of certainty, but rather that of wait- ing for this ultimate
revelation of that which began in the Holy Night. Such people, who know they
are hastening to meet a great fulfillment, are always people under way.
Third [to become His own followers]:  these are people of loneliness, the
people whom God wanted to have as His people, gripped by a great passion that
God be well pleased, and ablaze with the divine fire that will be cast upon the
And now, here is the last question: What does all of this mean today--the
message of the great Kyrios, the
Lord, the message of the fundamental attitude that the Holy Night demands? This
is no Christmas life today. Neither is it a Christmas life according to
people's inner attitude. Neither is it a Christmas holy day according to a
religious perspective. The world is hostile and rejects everything. But we are
experiencing the other side of Christmas. All of these blessings have already
been taken away, and the night has descended again.
The first message is that the Kyrios,
the Lord, is coming. The Lord does not stand in the center anymore. He is
replaced by the power brokers. How man keeps lapsing into heresy! The power
brokers, under whose power man has gone astray, stand in the center. One no
longer sees God as the center of the world, as the foundational support. And what
has developed out of this? We are standing without any foundation--we have
nothing permanent anymore. There is no more talk of man's life being dependent
upon mercy. Therefore the world has become so unmerciful. When has anyone taken
away more from man than this? This is a time in which "apparuit benignitas
et humanitas [the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior
appearing]" is no longer acknowledged. What has become of man, that he
does not want to be human in relation to God anymore? Beforehand, the Christmas
words were sent packing.  This is a world in which it no longer can be said
that "we await the great revelation of the Lord", a world that must
cling to each day because it already knows that, in mere seconds, everything can
be over. There is nothing left of peace and security. This is a world that no
longer knows of the Holy Night, of the Consecration-Night, the Christ-Mass. 
That is the one thing that we honestly have to see. The world in which we stand
is un-Christmaslike, not because
God is unmerciful, but rather because man has outlawed the message, and there
is no room anymore for the promise.
Nevertheless, we must also look at this in a positive way. For us personally,
this message of the Holy Night still does contain its great meaning and
content. There are two things we need to have in terms of consciousness and
attitude, and we should take possession of them today: we should not come to
Midnight Mass as if we do not live in the year 1942. The year must be redeemed
along with everything else. And from the Gloria, we have to take with us the
peace and faith in the glory of God. There is nothing else that surpasses this night,
and nothing that should be taken as more important than this event. Whatever
may happen around us, let us not break down, for then we would not be taking
the Lord seriously, or what we know about consecrated people seriously, or what
we know about these messages. Therefore, deep down, we are the people who are
comforted; and we are the last refuge for the homeless people who do not know anything
about the Lord anymore. May we know about the indisputable fact of this Child
and not let ourselves be disconcerted, not even by our own great un-freedom. "Apparuit
benignitas et humanitas [the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior
appearing]" (Tit 3:4). That should find its expression in the positive
attitudes we take with us from this experience of the Holy Night. May we impart
the goodness. May we attend to humanity again, and witness to the Lordship of
God again, and know of His grace and mercy, and have gentle hands for other
people again. And may we go away from Christmas Eve with the consolation that
we mean so much to God that no external distress can rob us of this ultimate
consolation. Our hearts must become strong, to make the divine heartbeat into
the law of life again. God's readiness is established, but our gates are
These should be the meaning of our wartime Christmas:
-- that we petition Him,
-- that He redeems us through the mystery,
-- that we are rich and capable enough through God's comfort to give mankind
the comfort that it needs so much,
-- that we go away from this celebration as the great comforters, as the great
knowers, the great blessed ones who know what it means to be consoled by God.
 The context of Tit 2:12 clarifies Fr. Delp's point. The complete text, translated
from the Latin, reads: "The grace of God our Savior has appeared to all
mankind. It teaches us to renounce godlessness and the worldly passions, and to
live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world. Meanwhile, we await, in
blessed hope, the glorious coming of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,
who gave Himself up for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify us so
that we become His own: a people who are pleasing to Him, who follow in good
works" (Tit 2:11-15). -- TRANS.
 References are to Nazi regulations restricting or forbidding Christian practice
and customs. -- TRANS.
 The German word for Christmas is Weihnacht, but Fr. Deip wrote "WeiheNacht" (Consecration-Night). Compare "Meditation
for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 1944", note 13, p. ii. -- TRANS.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:
Remembering Father Alfred Delp, S.J., Priest and Martyr |
A Conversation with Father Karl Adolf Kreuser, S.J.
Christmas: Sign of Contradiction, Season of Redemption |
James V. Schall, S.J.
Full of Grace": Mary, the Mother of Believers | Joseph Cardinal
by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary" | Hans Urs von Balthasar
Sheen on Advent and Eternity
The God in the
Cave | G.K. Chesterton
Mary, Matchless in Grace | John Saward
by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary" | Hans Urs von Balthasar
Alfred Delp: Priest and Martyr | Advent
of the Heart
Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings, 1941-1944
Fr. Alfred Delp was a German Jesuit priest who was imprisoned in Berlin. At the time of his arrest, he was the Rector of St.
Georg Church in Munich, and had a reputation for being a gripping, dynamic preacher, and one who was an outspoken critic of the
Nazi regime. He was an important figure in the Resistance movement against Nazism.
Accused of conspiring against the Nazi government, he was arrested in 1944, tortured, imprisoned, and executed on Feb 2, 1945.
While in prison, Fr. Delp was able to write a few meditations found in this book, which also includes his powerful reflections
from prison during the Advent season about the profound spiritual meaning and lessons of Advent, as well as his sermons he gave
on the season of Advent at his parish in Munich. These meditations were smuggled out of Berlin and read by friends and parishioners
of St. Georg in Munich.
His approach to Advent, the season that prepares us for Christmas, is what Fr. Delp called an "Advent of the heart." More than
just preparing us for Christmas, it is a spiritual program, a way of life. He proclaimed that our personal, social and historical
circumstances, even suffering, offer us entry into the true Advent, our personal journey toward a meeting and dialogue with God.
Indeed, his own life, and great sufferings, illustrated the true Advent he preached and wrote about.
From his very prison cell he presented a timeless spiritual message, and in an extreme situation, his deep faith gave him the
courage to draw closer to God, and to witness to the truth even at the cost of his own life. These meditations will challenge
and inspire all Christians to embark upon that same spiritual journey toward union with God, a journey that will transform our lives.
"As one of the last witnesses who knew Fr. Alfred Delp personally, I am very pleased this book will make him better known in
America. The more one reads his writings, the more one clearly recognizes the prophetic message for our times! Like his contemporary,
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Delp ranks among the great prophets who endured the horror of Nazism and handed down a powerful message
for our times." -- Karl Kreuser, S.J., from the Foreword
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