"All of life is Advent": On the life and death of Alfred Delp, S.J. | Abtei St. Walburg | Ignatius Insight | November 12, 2009
The author of Advent of the Heart wrote his reflections on Advent from a unique--and harrowing--perspective
In a letter from prison, Father Alfred Delp penned the words, "...all of life is Advent." In Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press made available Father Delp's Advent writings for the first time in one volume. Most of the texts had never before been translated into English, and this is the first translation that faithfully follows the original wording of the texts. The book is designed to be used as spiritual reading for the Advent season, with two sermons and one meditation for each of the four weeks of Advent. The relevant liturgical readings and prayers introduce each week's texts. A biographical introduction and a historical chronology provide additional material, making the book ideal for parish reading in an adult religious education setting.
But who was Father Delp and what makes his message about Advent unique?
First of all, the danger of the time and place in which he lived gave Father Delp a unique perspective about Advent. Not only did he live and work in an area of Munich that was being bombed regularly, his life was also in constant danger because of his resistance activities as an opponent of the Nazi regime. That sense that the "end" was imminent--whether that meant the end of his own life, the lives of loved ones, or the longed for end of the war--inspired Father Delp to ponder the true meaning of Advent.
He would spend the last Advent of his earthly life in a Nazi prison, and become perhaps the only Jesuit to have made his final vows to the Order secretly, while imprisoned and awaiting trial for a capital crime. Father Franz von Tattenbach, S.J. was able to travel from Munich to Tegel Prison in Berlin, with the necessary documents and permission from superiors, so that Father Delp could make his vows prior to facing trial. Just one month later, in January 1945, a government tribunal would convict Alfred Delp of high treason, condemn him to death, and declare his name to be forever dishonored.
What was Father Delp's crime? Had he hidden Jews, or helped them to escape from Germany? Had he listened to forbidden foreign radio broadcasts? Had he publicly criticized government policy or urged others to resist the government? Such things were crimes punishable by death in Hitler's Germany and he had, indeed, done all of these, but without being caught. It was his participation in a Resistance group known as the Kreisau Circle that led to his arrest, imprisonment, and execution. That discussion group, led by Count Helmuth von Moltke, had planned a new future for Germany in preparation for Hitler's foreseen defeat. Alfred Delp's role had been to inform the group about Catholic social teachings.
Father Delp's arrest on July 28, 1944, had been part of a special Gestapo action that decimated the regime's opposition even as Germany was losing the war. Despite torture and isolation, Father Delp had managed to avoid betraying anyone or giving any useful information during interrogations. His trial had focused on his priesthood and his membership in the Jesuit Order, and he had given courageous testimony to the irreconcilability of Christianity and Nazism.
Father Alfred Delp was hanged on February 2, 1945, which was not only the feast of the Presentation, but that year, providentially, also First Friday of the month, devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. His friend, Father von Tattenbach, later reported that the Jesuits in Munich had received a number of false reports of Father Delp's execution. However, when they heard that he had been executed on the feast of the Presentation, even before the news could be confirmed, they believed it. They saw it as a clear sign that God had accepted Father Delp's sacrifice.
At the time of his death, Alfred Delp was denied a grave or any kind of memorial, and even publishing the fact of his death was forbidden by the government. In contrast, Germany now remembers him with honor and gratitude. His hometown of Lampertheim built a memorial chapel that was consecrated on February 2, 1965, the twentieth anniversary of his martyrdom. In January 1990, the Munich parish where he had last served forwarded documentation supporting his beatification process to the Archbishop of Berlin, Cardinal Sterzinsky. The German Conference of Catholic Bishops approved Alfred Delp's inclusion as a twentieth century martyr in the German Martyrology, published in 1999.
More recently, the centennial of Father Delp's birth, September 15, 2007, was celebrated with pontifical Masses in such cities as Mannheim, Munich, and Berlin. His image adorns a 1962 West German postage stamp, while artists continue to publicly commemorate him with bronze sculptures and monuments, stained glass windows, oil paintings, and even musical compositions. Over fifty German schools, public buildings, and memorial sites have been dedicated to him, and streets are named for him in more than 100 different German towns.
Nevertheless, in the words of his friend, Father Karl Adolf Kreuser, S.J. (1927-2008), "Father Delp's greatest legacy to us is the writings he left behind..."
Related Articles, Interviews, and Links:
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.
Remembering a Priest and Martyr: On the Ordination Anniversary of Alfred Delp, S.J. | Abtei St. Walburg
Faithful Even Unto Death: The Witness of Alfred Delp, S.J. | Fr. Albert Münch
Alfred Delp Society website (German language only)
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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