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Remembering a Priest and Martyr: On the Ordination Anniversary of Alfred Delp, S.J. |
Abtei St. Walburg
Alfred Delp was born in Mannheim, Germany, on September 15, 1907, and was raised in
the nearby town of Lampertheim. He entered the Society of Jesus on April 22,
1926. Following his ordination in 1937, he lived and worked in Munich, where he
became well known for his preaching and writing. Because of his opposition to
Hitler's government, he was arrested on July 28, 1944. He suffered torture and
solitary confinement without betraying any useful information to his
interrogators. His trial in January 1945 focused on the irreconcilability of
Christianity and Nazism.
his conviction, he wrote that his life had been given a theme "worth living
for, and worth dying for." He was executed by hanging on February 2, 1945, in
Berlin. In Lampertheim, a memorial chapel was built beside his parish church,
and consecrated on the twentieth anniversary of his martyrdom. Special
commemorative events are scheduled throughout 2007 in Lampertheim, Mannheim,
and Munich to honor Father Delp during this centennial year of his birth.
years ago, in the church of St. Michael in Munich, the German Jesuits marked
the 400th ordination anniversary of their founder, St. Ignatius, in a very special
way. On that festive anniversary, June 24, 1937, Cardinal Michael Faulhaber
ordained a group of young Jesuits to the priesthood. Among them was Alfred
Delp. It was the Feast of St. John the Baptist, that prophet who would become a
central figure in Father Delp's preaching.  Indeed, Father Delp himself
would become a "voice calling in the wilderness" of his own turbulent
times. In a 1984 radio interview, a friend and parishioner remembered the
impact of Delp's preaching:
"Of the many Delp sermons I was able to hear, to me the
most moving were those about the prophets. For in these, without his
listeners--or even, probably, himself--being able to guess it, he was
anticipating his own destiny of martyrdom for the faith." 
Delp had entered the Jesuits in 1926. Even during his philosophical and
theological studies, he was known for his interest in current political and
social issues. In the years after Hitler came to power in 1933, Delp gradually
began to recognize the dangers of the path that lay ahead of him. On March 4,
1936, he confided in a letter to his mother a presentiment that it even might
lead to martyrdom:
We [Jesuits] are gradually becoming pretty much fair game.
Over the past few weeks, the first of us were arrested. The season of the
Passion is coming for us; time to go with the Savior to the cross. We are
called to this. We just have to pray, work, do we what can, and ask for the
grace that we may be ready to die. 
his vocation was unshaken. In a letter to a friend, written March 3, 1937,
three days before his ordination to the deaconate:
Finally at the gates of the final things that I seek in this
world. Everything else that has value for me is on the Other Side. And when I
really have this one thing, then let come what may. 
journey to ordination was marked by joy and gratitude is clear in this April
1937 letter to his superior, Provincial Augustin Rösch, S.J.:
For a long time I have wanted to send you a few grateful
words of greeting, in these happy days between the ordinations. It is really a
nice time. I have only had such refreshing and joyful days back when I became a
Catholic, and when I entered the Society of Jesus eleven years ago. For
ordination, someone sent me a card with the text: 'your youth will be
renewed...' [Ps 103:5] It is really true... 
years after the event, with our knowledge that his priestly ministry was
brutally cut short after less than eight years, it is moving to read and
reflect upon Father Delp's own experience of the sacrament. In 1941 he preached
a series of seven sermons on the sacraments. The conclusion of the sermon
"Holy Orders" from this series presents a very personal expression of
Father Delp's insights and ideals.
Orders | by Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J. | Preached in Munich, Autumn 1941
the grace that is in you through the laying on of hands be rekindled." (2
In that great moment of our life when we go to be ordained, we kneel before the
bishop and he silently lays his hands upon us. He is silent. You feel the
blessed and creative burden of this hand through your entire being. And the
congregation is silent. And this silence will surround the priest. This keeping
silent, the still hands of the silent bishop, calls forth the priest from his
former homeland. It calls him forth from his previous refuges, and sequesters
him and encompasses him with this silence, this stillness in which he will be
consecrated, so that it will accompany him all his life. This silence must surround
us. We guard people's secrets in silence. We call our heart to be silent, so
that it does not love where it should not love. Our will for power must be
silent, because we are sent forth to be the hands of the Lord in blessing.
Silent, too, must be our will for all the other things that, otherwise, could
shelter and anchor and secure a life in this world. The silence accompanies us,
because it is always the sign that the Lord God has come especially near.
The second symbolic action tells us the meaning of this mission. This happens
when our hands are anointed with the sign of the cross. Anointing is a sign of
mission and authority, of stability and power. But our anointing is the
anointing with a cross. It is, first of all, like that of the body of the Lord,
an anointing to "passio", to the deepest participation in His
vocation as Redeemer. Therefore, we are held and we are bound to give all we
have, really to wear ourselves out, to give ourselves away completely. Being
silent must also be a silence before oneself and one's own will to live; an
entering into the service, into the worship, and into the sacrifice.
And then we receive the chalice and the paten. With the chalice and the paten,
we are commissioned to be guardians of the very holiest that mankind possesses,
the body of the Lord and the holy chalice of His present sacrifice. With the
chalice and the paten, we are commissioned and sent--not to keep for ourselves
the filled chalice--but to bear it onward, to share it, to give it away. With
the chalice and the paten, we are commissioned and sent forth to gather
together into this chalice the world's sorrow, sacrifices, and distress, and
simultaneously to remove them--as much as that is possible to us--and to
consecrate them in this sacrificial chalice of the Lord.
Then there is another laying on of hands and we are told that we are to go
forth and take away sin, that we are sent into this final dialogue, into the
final duel with the demonical. With the guilty, the weak, and the sick, we must
have an endless mercy. There, where help is needed, it is really true [as
Schiller wrote]: "Your duty and your vows are your rampart. And nothing
more remains to you." We must actually roam the outermost trenches, where
it is imperative to take a stand against the demonical.
And once again we turn to the consecrating bishop and extend our hands, and he
takes our hands in his and asks us: "Do you promise?"
answered: "Promitto" (I promise). That was the final commitment,
that--with our very existence, our own salvation, and our eternal destiny--we
bound ourselves to the fulfillment of this life. From this moment of
consecration on, we must be under way, as long as our feet will still carry us,
in order to bless and to help and to consecrate; to share the chalice of the
Lord, and to bring light, and to ban the night and the darkness. That is the
image, and the outline, and the duty, which we carried forward from our
from the perspective of what we priests should be and could be, we are an
answer: the priest is a redemption and is a fulfillment. And look where you
will, wherever people follow a man and follow him completely, finally and
ultimately they expect him to be precisely what the priest should be and must
be for them, if he does not want to betray his office and his consecration: One
who is stable, completely helpful, really in possession of the ultimate in
being; and also able to give, to communicate the great blessings, the great
consecrations, the great graces. Therefore, the consciousness of the fact that
in our community there are men who are ordained, who are blessed, should help
you to stand with certainty, upright and unashamed in this life, whatever the
effort, come what may. There are men placed in your midst whose only meaning
and right to exist is that they be available, and give what they have--and more
than they themselves have to give--the Lord God's entire abundance, which is
entrusted to them. In the consciousness that such is among you, you can grow
and be secure.
However, you must always have the sense, as well, that you are helping us, so
that the fire, which is in us through the laying on of hands and the
consecration and anointing, does not does not go out. Rather, it should glow
and blaze and burn, so that the seekers know where homeland is; and the erring
know where counsel is; and the helpless know where blessing is; and those who
have strayed know where the gates are for the return, which is awaiting them
with the joy of the Lord.
 See Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press, 2006.
Bayerischen Rundfunk: Interview with Dr. Ernst Kessler, June 17, 1984, as cited
in R. Bleistein, Alfred Delp, Geschichte eines Zeugen, © Verlag Josef Knecht, Frankfurt am
Main, 1989, p. 205.
Delp: Gesammelte Schriften, Band V, Briefe,
Texte, Rezensionen. Hg. Von Roman Bleistein, ©Verlag Josef Knecht. Frankfurt am Main. 1988,
 ibid., p. 86.
 ibid., p. 86f.
[Source: Alfred Delp: Gesammelte Schriften, Band III, Predigten und Ansprachen. Hg. Von Roman Bleistein © Verlag
Josef Knecht. Frankfurt am Main. 2. Auflage 1985. pp. 353-355 and 359-360. Used
with permission. Article and translation from the German by Abtei St. Walburg.]
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:
The Mystery Made Present To Us | Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J.
Remembering Father Alfred Delp, S.J., Priest and Martyr |
A Conversation with Father Karl Adolf Kreuser, S.J.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross | IgnatiusInsight.com
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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