Tegel Prison; Berlin; December 1944
The Angel of Annunciation
Never have I entered on Advent so vitally and intensely alert as I am now. When I pace my cell, up, and down, three paces one way and three the other, my hands manacled, an unknown fate in front of me, then the tidings of our Lord’s coming to redeem the world and deliver it have quite a different and much more vivid meaning. And my mind keeps going back to the angel someone gave me as a present during Advent two or three years ago. It bore the inscription: “Be of good cheer. The Lord is near.” A bomb destroyed it. The same bomb killed the donor and I often have the felling that he is rendering me some heavenly aid. It would be impossible to endure the horror of these times—like the horror of life itself, could we only see it clearly enough—if there were not this other knowledge which constantly buoys us up and gives us strength: the knowledge of the promises that have been given and fulfilled. And the awareness of the angels of good tidings, uttering their blessed messages in the midst of all this trouble and sowing the seed of blessing where it will sprout in the middle of the night.
The angels of Advent are not the bright jubilant beings who trumpet the tidings of fulfillment to a waiting world. Quiet and unseen, they enter our shabby rooms and our hearts as they did of old. In the silence of the night they pose God’s questions and proclaim the wonders of him whom all things are possible.
Advent, even when things are going wrong, is a period from which a message can be drawn. May the time never come when men forget about the good tidings and promises, when so immured within the four walls of their prison that their eyes are dimmed, they see nothing but gray days through barred windows placed to high to see out of. May the time never come when mankind no longer hears the soft footsteps of the Angel of Annunciation, or his cheering words that penetrate the soul. Should such a time come all will be lost. Then indeed we shall be living in bankruptcy and hope will die in our hearts.
For the first thing man must do if he wants to raise himself out of this sterile life is to open his heart to the golden seed which God’s angels are waiting to sow in it. And one other thing; he must bring himself throughout these gray days go forth as a bringer of glad tidings. There is so much despair that cries out for comfort; there is so much faint courage that needs to be reinforced; there is so much perplexity that yearns for reasons and meanings. God’s messengers, who have themselves reaped the fruits of divine seeds sown even in the darkest hours, know how to wait for the fullness of harvest. Patience and faith are needed, not because we believe in earth, or in our stars, or our temperament or our good disposition, but because we have received the message of God’s Angel of Annunciation and have ourselves encountered him.
[from The Prison Memoirs of Father Delp]
Around this time of the year I often preach that Christians are a Marian people—that we are called to receive and give birth to divinity in the world. This demands that we notice the angels of Advent in our midst and to have them to speak to our interiors. To say “Yes” to such encounters, there entails a mindset of stillness and receptivity. It also demands an imagination that says “No” to modernity’s inclination to snuff every bit of mystery out of existence. To live without such an imagination can impair the maturation of oneself; it would hinder any possibility of newness in the person. As Kathleen Norris points out: “The first thing Gabriel does when he encounter Mary, is to give her a new name: ‘Most favored one.’ It’s a naming ceremony.” Here, Mary discovers in herself a deeper reality. “A mystery; something holy, with a potential for salvation.”
The difficult pilgrimage towards reaching Christ is also the pilgrimage of bearing Christ in the world. This is a beautiful paradox of our lives as disciples in and with Christ. The radical Christian lives a Marian existence—an ecclesial existence, and thus nurtures the Body of Christ in the world.