Alfred Delp’s reflection on the Litany of the Heart of Jesus now moves on to the invocation Heart of Jesus, holy temple of God, have mercy on us. He understands this as the fourth invocation, though it shows up as the fifth invocation in the contemporary English version.
I must confess that I have been surprised at the density of Delp’s reflections on the devotion to the Sacred Heart. I did not expect someone placed in solitary confinement and with his hands bound to delve into such depth and abstraction.
This post reminds me of recent interpretation on a theme of the Gospel of John. According to Mary L. Coloe, the Johannine community reinterpreted Israel’s Temple traditions firstly in terms of Jesus and eventually in terms of the believing community. In such an interpretation, one can become the “place” where the presence of God dwells–that the words, actions, and bodies of the believers, who have been transformed by the encounter with Christ, can become sacramental. The last paragraph of Delp’s reflection on this invocation can allude to such essence of the Body of Christ.
[translated from Alfred Delp: Gesammelte Schriften IV: Aus dem Gefängnis]
Berlin-Tegel Prison, November 1944
The Heart of Jesus–Holy Temple of God
This and the following invocations stem from the cultic language of the Old Covenant. It is the expression with which the Temple and through it vouchsafed the special relationship of God to the people of the Covenant. At the same time, it is the expression which we have taken on from there to describe the dignity of our houses of worship and the closeness to God given to us in them.
Everything, which in that model and in our churches, as the fulfillment and the holy legacy of a genuine and effective divine presence, is expressed with apodictic simplicity from the hearts of people of God.
Objectively speaking this invocation means the same as what is expressed later: in whom dwells all the fullness of the Divinity. But here it is more about the emphasis of the sanctuary, of the sacred place of prayer, more about the emphasis on the centre, which our faith and our love is gathered, more about the emphasis on the divine abundance as such.
Moreover, later in the litany there is a very specific relationship to the spiritual character of the time when God offered his people His heart anew. For our life and our credibility there are two important realizations from this invocation.
The first realization is one of absolute commitment of one’s life to the living Christ. What used to be the temple: the only gathering place for the faithful people – the only place to meet God – the only altar of the valid sacrifice: this is now all in Christ.
The exclusivity of such order brought about in Christ is something we have to say again today against much softening and which we have to stress to ourselves. There is salvation in no other name (Acts 4, 12). Everything that lives, lives before God, lives through Him and because of Him. Even if a person realizes this only very late that he nonetheless drank from this source. This is not intended to be a hardening but rather a security, not a restriction but freedom and only those who are secure are capable of this.
All of the major spiritual undertakings which the human spirit attempted in recent centuries have essentially not advanced humanity. They have mostly loosened a piece of the past and discovered that it is outdated; they have merely forced living claims from history and from people’s sheep-like patience to justify or redeem themselves.
For a while they were a high ideal, for a while a fashion and a catchphrase and an intoxication and then they disappeared into the respective circles of the scholars, into the yearbooks, into the memorial halls of the learned societies (the Kant Society, the Goethe Society and so on) in an effort to obtain a lasting dedication in their Ph.D. theses for their grandchildren.
Christ is the last word of God to the world and a truth can only be sure of itself as being such if it has stood the test of the encounter with Christ. Only then is it too a blessing.
At the same time, this invocation announces to us the replacing of the order of stones by the order of hearts. The new centre of life is not the temple and its rituals. The new fixed point is the heart of the Son of God. The challenging and loving heart of the Lord.
No new order out of stone or convention or law or human calculation can come between. Even things have to first endure an encounter with the living heart of the Lord before they can offer themselves to the world as a testimony. And there, in this loving atmosphere of the divine heart they are all going to be relativized. They are aids, means not purposes. Their only purpose is to prepare the path for people to meet their God – and not to block the path. This awareness leads many to freedom and should lead many people to humility and the willingness to serve.