In the last days of November of 1944, Alfred Delp, SJ, turned to meditate on the meaning of Advent. These meditations on the Incarnation and discipleship necessarily do not match the beautiful, evocative images that we have of the season of Advent. They are rather rough, sober, and difficult to swallow.
Delp’s writings came forth from his particular situation. With wrists fettered in a cold cell with no keyhole that only offered him the space to walk three paces in one direction and three in the other, he wrote drenched in fear, loneliness, and hunger. For Delp, such is the condition of fallen humanity. He believed that many of us are in someway imprisoned. And he argued that the only way to authentic freedom is to be shaken up so that one can face life with some integrity.
Conceivably, Delp’s message of conversion is not needed for today’s world; his message is not timeless. Yet when a culture descends into a consumeristic frenzy as it did this past Friday and the health of a society arguably is measured by such frenzy, one must wonder whether Delp’s summons to repentance is in some small measure apropos for 21st century American society.
Berlin; Tegel Prison; 1944
The People of Advent:
Advent is the time for rousing. Man is shaken to the very depths, so that he may wake up to the truth of himself. The primary condition for a fruitful and rewarding Advent is renunciation, surrender. Man must let go of all his mistaken dreams, his conceited poses and arrogant gestures, all the pretenses with which he hopes to deceive himself and others. If he fails to do this stark reality may take hold of him and rouse him forcibly in a way that will entail both anxiety and suffering.
The kind of awakening that literally shocks man’s whole being is part and parcel of the Advent idea. A deep emotional experience like this is the necessary preliminary. Life only begins when the whole framework is shaken. There can be no proper preparation without this. It is precisely in the shock of rousing while he still deep in the helpless, semiconscious state, in the pitiable weakness of that borderland between sleep and waking, that man finds the golden thread which binds earth to heaven and gives the benighted soul some inkling of the fullness it is capable of realizing and is called upon to realize…
We have to listen, to keep watch, to let our heart quicken under the impulse of the indwelling Spirit. Only in this quiescent state can the true blessing of Advent be experienced and then we shall also recognize it in other ways. Once awakened to an inner awareness we are constantly surprised by symbols bearing the Advent message, figures of tried and proved personalities that bring out in a most forceful way the inner meaning of the feast and emphasize its blessing.
I am thinking of three in particular–the voice crying out in the wilderness, the angel of annunciation, and our blessed Lady.
[excerpt from: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp]