Tag Archives: Alfred Delp

Fear that enslaves

Since the children share in blood and flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them,
that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death,
that is, the Devil,
and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.
Hebrews 2: 14-15

This passage from the Letter to the Hebrews, which I was surprised to see is today’s second reading, fills me with hope.

Fear of death does not need to enslave us. That is the message of Christ’s death and resurrection.

I see so much fear in our world.

Here in Honduras I hear the fear of gangs and crime that people in the big cities express (and that is found in the US State Department warnings about travel to Honduras – and also El Salvador). I hear it in the concerns of people around me about crime, violence, poverty, and more.

I have noted that fear in what I have been reading about the presidential campaigns in the US, especially expressed in fear of the Other – Syrians, Latin Americans, and more.

But I recall the beautiful essay of Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation, “The Root of War is Fear.”

At the root of all war is fear: not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves. If they are not sure when someone else may turn around and kill them, they are still less sure when they may turn around and kill themselves. They cannot trust anything, because they have ceased to believe in God.

But today in the Gospel (Luke 2: 22-40), Simeon tells Mary that her Son is the Light of the nations but that he is also a sign of contradiction that will cause a sword to pierce her heart.

How can we go beyond the fear of death, how can we be freed from that fear?

Perhaps it means taking seriously the words that the Jesuit priest Alfred Delp wrote from a Nazi prison, especially the words he italicized:

The fate of mankind, my own fate, the verdict awaiting me, the significance of the feast, can all be summed up in the sentence surrender thyself to God and thou shalt find thyself again. Others have you in their power now; they torture and frighten you, hound you from pillar to post. But the inner law of freedom sings that no death can kill us; life is eternal.

But i also think it includes loving, for “love casts out far.” (1 John 4: 18)

Lord, free us from the fear of death and bring us to love.

The Immaculate Conception: Letting God through

God chose us in Christ, before the world began,
to be holy and blameless in his sight,
to be full of love.
Ephesians 1:4

Today the Catholic world celebrate Mary, the Mother of God, who was conceived without sin.


Icon written by Yaroslava Wright Mills

By the merits of the death and resurrection of her Son she was freed from the power of original sin. God then worked through her without interference of sin.

This rather unusual understanding of the Immaculate Conception came to me this morning reading about Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J,, a prisoner in the Soviet Union for 22 years, who died on December 8, 1984. Reflecting on how he had been freed from the fear of death, he wrote:

I realized that true freedom meant nothing else than letting God operate within my soul without interference.

Mary, freed from sin, lived this all her life, letting God operate in her life without interference. She let God through.

This is grace – a grace granted to Mary from her conception and a grace granted to all of us through our baptism and the workings of God’s grace in our daily lives.

Will we let God through? Will we let ourselves give birth to God’s grace in the world?

Another Jesuit, Alfred Delp, S.J., from a Nazi prison, wrote of this openness of Mary to let God through in his meditation of Christmas:

“The fact that this night of nights [Christmas] brought forth the Light, that Mary kneels before the child, that motherhood and the grace of compassion have become a law of our life, that the ice of humanity’s inner solitude can be broken and melted by healing warmth — all this became possible only because the maid Mary yielded of her own free choice to the inner prompting of God’s voice. Her secret is self-surrender and willing acceptance, offering herself to the point of complete obliteration of her personal will.
“This is both her message and her judgment of us. As a generation we are completely concerned about our self-fulfillment, our self-realization, our living conditions and so on. Everything is organized for our self-gratification. And precisely because of this we are getting progressively poorer and more miserable. Mary’s decision was complete surrender to God and it is the only thing that can lead to human fulfillment. Hers is the decisions that obeys the law of life.”

May our will be conformed to God’s as Mary’s way so that God can get through to our world.

Through the eyes of martyrs

Seventy years ago today, on February 2, 1945, a young Jesuit priest, Alfred Delp, was hanged in a Nazi prison. His crime: working together with others to plan for a new Germany after the war, a nation built on Christian principles.

In prison he wrote a series of amazing meditations, including some of Advent and Christmas that I have read many times since they were published in the 1960s as The Prison Meditations of Father Delp, with an introduction by Thomas Merton. Recently Orbis Books has released them in Alfred Delp: Prison Writings.

Today I ran across this sentence in one of his Christmas meditations:

The world is full of miracles but no one perceives them; our lives have lost the power to see.

For Delp, death is not the final word; oppressive regimes will fall; love will triumph – even if we must suffer. There is hope, even in a prison cell.

His witness and writings have been a light for me, sustaining me and challenging me to live love and justice. He has opened my eyes and heart to the poor and oppressed of this world.

It is not easy, when evil seems to triumph and when our efforts seem so small, but, as Father Delp wrote,

If through the life of a person, there is a little more love and goodness, a little more light and through, that person will not have lived in vain.

Fittingly Father Delp died on Candlemas, the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple by Mary and Joseph, the say when candles are blessed.

When the holy family arrive at the temple, the priests and the leaders do not recognize the presence of God in this child. An old man, Simeon, and a very old widow, Anna, see in the child the light of the nations, the salvation of the world.

Their long lives have opened them to see in the little child, in the small and despised of this world, the presence of God.

May the witness of Father Delp – as of Simeon and Anna – open our hearts to live in love and kindness.

Waiting for a Miracle

Today we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple.

Simeon001Simeon was awaiting the liberation of Israel. When the poor couple from Nazareth arrived with their first born son, Jesus, he recognized the child as “a light of revelation for the Gentiles and the Glory of God’s people.”

Do we recognize the coming of the Light? Do we see the miracles around us?

Father Alfred Delp, S.J., who was hanged by the Nazis on February 2, 1945, recognized the Light even in the darkness of prison. In a meditation on the shepherds who came to the crib, he wrote that the shepherds were men still “capable of registering wonder,” “still able to believe in miracles.”

But, in the darkness of prison he lamented:

 The world is full of miracles but no one perceives them; our eyes have lost the power to see.

Yet, in a final message to friends he wrote:

If through one person’s life there is a little more love and kindness, a little more light and truth in the world, then that person will not have lived in vain.

Alfred Delp, like Simeon and Anna, waited for the miracle – the Light that comes into the world to console and free us.

And that Light, Jesus, has come – as the Letter to the Hebrews says (2:15) to “free all those who, because they fear death, live as slaves.,” or as the lectionary puts it to “free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.”

Fear of death enslaves us, blinds us to the miracles around us. Perhaps time in prison or old age can open us to live as free people. As Alfred Delp wrote:

 I am not yet scared and not yet beaten. The hour of human weakness will no doubt come and sometimes I am depressed when I think of all the things I hoped to do. But I am now a an internally free and far more genuine that I was before.

He was waiting for a miracle as Simeon and Anna were waiting to see the Messiah.

They had eyes open to see miracles.

One of my favorite songs of Bruce Cockburn is “Waiting for a Miracle.” In the refrain he has several beautiful images

Your rub your palm on the grimy pane
in the hope that you can see…
like the ones who have cried,
like the ones who have died,
trying to set the angel in us free.
while they’re waiting for a miracle.

May we open our eyes and wait for miracles – like Alfred Delp, Simeon, Anna, and many others who have died, “trying to set the angel in us free.”

Seeing the light

“my eyes have seen your salvation”
Luke 2: 30

 On this feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple forty days after His birth, one of the central figures is the aged Simeon who had been assured by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah (Luke 2: 25-26).

Why did he see in Jesus “the light revealed to all the nations”?

If Jesus is the Messiah, why was this not apparent to all who encountered Him?

Perhaps it’s because we do not wait in hope, as Simeon did. We think we have everything figured out and can see what is real.

Perhaps it’s because our eyes are not open for the miracles around us.

Today is also the anniversary of the execution of the Jesuit priest Alfred Delp in 1945. From prison he wrote an incredible set of meditations – on Advent, Christmas, the Lord’s Prayer, and the hymn “Come, Holy Spirit.”

From the darkness of prison his writings are full of light and truth.

As he wrote, “The world is full of miracle buts no one perceives them; our eyes have lost the power to see.”

He could see the possibilities of a new world even as he recognized the horror and evil of Nazism. It was not easy. After he had been condemned to death he wrote, “I can’t yet see the way clear before me; I must go on praying for light and guidance.”

But he had an open heart, as did Simeon, and so could see God’s presence and, in his writings, help us also see God.

In his reflection on the phrase “Send Thy Radiant Light” from the hymn “Veni, Sancte Spiritus,” he wrote:

“Light is symbolic of one of the great longings of human life…. God created human beings as light-endowed, radiant beings, and as such sent us forth into the world; but we have blinded ourselves to the truth…. [This prayer] is a despairing cry for divine help to disperse our self-imposed, sinful darkness, wiping the dreams and the fear from our eyes so that they may see again.

“But there is another imperative need for light in our lives; God’s radiance dazzles us. We get presentiments and glimpses but they are transitory and usually lead nowhere. Those who are dedicate and prepared pray for divine light which will heighten their perception and raise them to the realization of that fullness they had hitherto only dimly guessed at. Once a person has arrived at this stage he know what the strength of God is even in the darkest and most hopeless situations of his life.”

Let us pray for eyes that see the Light of the Nations, in the midst of darkness. Let us not contribute to that darkness by despair or incessant grumbling. “Let us wait in joyful for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And, in the meantime?

As Father Alfred Delp also wrote:

If through one man’s life there is a little more love and kindness, a little more light and truth in the world, he will not have died in vain.

Quotations from Alfred Delp, SJ: Prison Writings. Orbis Books, 2004.


Give us prophets like John the Baptist

John the Baptist, Chartres Cathedral

John the Baptist, Chartres Cathedral

These last few days of Advent the Gospels speak to us of the time immediately preceding the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Today the Gospel, Luke 1: 5-25,  is the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah.

John the Baptist played a central role in preparing the way for Jesus’ public ministry. He is also one of the central figures of Advent.

For many years during Advent I’ve been reading the prison meditations of the martyred German Jesuit, Alfred Delp, S.J. His meditation on John, written from a Nazi prison in 1944, is particularly apt. In part it reads:

…woe to any age in which the voice crying in the wilderness can no longer be heard because the noises of everyday life drown it out — or restrictions forbid it  — or it is lost in the hurry and turmoil of “progress” — or simply stifled by authority, misled by fear and cowardice….

…There should never be any lack of prophets like John the Baptist in the kaleidoscope of life at any period…They warn us of our chance, because they can already feel the ground heaving beneath their feet… They cry out to us, urging us to save ourselves by a change of heart before the coming of the catastrophes threatening to overwhelm us.

Oh God, surely enough people nowadays know what it means to clear away bomb dust and rubble of destruction, making the rough places smooth… Oh may the arresting voices of the wilderness ring out warning humankind in good time that ruin and destruction actually spread from within. May the Advent figure of St. John the Baptist, the incorruptible herald and teacher in God’s name, be no longer a stranger in our wilderness. Much depends on such symbolic figures in our lives. For how shall we hear if there are none to cry out, none whose voice can rise above the tumult of violence and destruction, [above] the false clamor that deafens us to reality?

Would that we had move people like John, aware of the violence and hunger and oppression in our world, willing to cry out, so that we might be “a people fit for the Lord.”

The passage cited is taken from Alfred Delp, SJ: Prison Writings (Orbis Books, 2004).


Joseph and the dreams of God

As we celebrate the Birth of Jesus, Joseph is often the hidden member of the Holy Family. Fr. James Martin, S.J., recently wrote about this recently in an article in Slate.


Only in the Gospel of Matthew do we learn anything significant about Joseph.

Like his Jewish counterpoint, Joseph, the son of Jacob, he is a dreamer. In fact, dreams change his lives.

In today’s Gospel, Matthew1: 18-25, he is told not to put Mary away but to take her as his wife. Then after the visit of the Magi another dream leads him to escape to Egypt; in another dream he is told when to return home.

God continually send him dreams to change his plans – and Joseph responds faithfully. He is open to God’s plans.

From his prison in Nazi Germany, Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J., wrote this of Joseph:

Joseph is the man on the outskirts, standing in the shadows, silently waiting, there when wanted and always ready to help. He is the man in whose life God is constantly intervening with warnings and visions. Without complaint he allows his own plans to be set aside. . . .

Willing, unquestioning service is the secret of his life. It is his message for us and his judgment of us. We have crabbed and confined God within the pitiable limits of our obstinacy, our complacency, our mania for ‘self expression.’ We have given God only the minimum of recognition.

May our hearts be opened this Advent season to the dreams that God sends us, opening our hearts and lives to God’s Reign, welcoming the Child and protecting Him and all other children of the world.


A German martyr against Nazism

Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J., was executed by hanging by the Nazis in the Plotenzee prison,  in Germany on February 2, 1945. He formed part of a small group that met to discuss ideas for a post-war Germany. Imprisoned in 1944 one of the proofs that he was treasonous was that he was a member of the Jesuits.

While in prison he wrote incredible reflections some of which are published in Alfred Delp: Prison Writings. In the midst of the darkness of Nazism and prison they are words of incredible hope. As he wrote:

“What use are all the lessons learned through our suffering and misery if no bridge can be thrown from our side to the other shore? What is the point of our revulsion from error and fear if it brings no enlightenment, does not penetrate the darkness and dispel it? What use is it shuddering at the world’s coldness, which all the time grows more intense, if we cannot discover the grace to conjure up visions of better conditions?”

St. Stephen, first martyr

Today, immediately after celebrating the birth of Jesus, the Church celebrates Stephen, the first martyr of the community of followers of Christ. The manger and the cross are not really separated. The one born in the poverty of the manger dies in the poverty of the cross, a God who became poor and emptied himself for us. This means a new way of living and thinking.

Fr. Alfred Delp, the Jesuit killed by the Nazis in 1945, wrote in prison that Stephen was one who recognized that something new had begun with the incarnation

He saw clearly that humankind has been lifted to a new plane through the miracle of the holy night and the encounter with Christ; that human beings now had new strength and the new responsibility of bearing witness. What had been enough before was enough no longer….

This is his message and his judgment. He challenges us to get out of our rut. As we draw near to God the old and familiar become useless. God will transform us into faithful witnesses if we earnestly and with complete surrender turn to him for help.

May we be witnesses (which is the literal translation of martyrs) to God made flesh, God-with-us.


Mary, the Lord’s servant

Mary’s “Yes” to the angel Gabriel is central to the last week of Advent. In Mary the God who made all that is becomes flesh, like us.

Again I turn to the prison meditations of Father Alfred Delp, S.J.:

 Our blessed Lady. She is the most comforting of all the Advent figures. The fact that the angel’s annunciation found a motherly heart ready to received the Word, and that it grew beyond its earthly environment to the very heights of heaven, is the holiest of all Advent consolations….

The golden threads of reality are already shining through; if we look we can see them everywhere.

Mary was aware enough, full of the grace of the Lord, to recognize the call of the Lord, the signs of what is truly real, in the words of Gabriel.

And she said “yes.”

May we have hearts open to recognize the call of the Lord to reveal the Lord’s presence in our world – despite the pain, the misery, the suffering, and the darkness.

Light comes to us and is made flesh by the “yes” of a young virgin.

In the words of the twelfth century Cistercian monk, Blessed Isaac of Stella – quoted in the commentary of Fr. John F. Kavanaugh, SJ, The Word Encountered:

 In a way every Christian is also believed to be a bride of God’s Word, a mother of Christ, His daughter and sister, at once virginal and fruitful. These words are used in a universal sense of the church, in a special sense of Mary, in a particular sense of the individual Christian…. Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb. He dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the church’s faith.