Homily for the First Sunday of Advent 1943

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent; Preached in Munich; November 28, 1943

Despite this gloomy time, with a certitude about life and faith, we have set up the Advent wreath, even though no one knows how long it will stand or whether all four of its candles will be lit. The course of the liturgical year and the message continues, and we keep on doing things—but not for the sake of custom and tradition. It comes from a sense of certitude about things and mankind and revelation—things that are fixed and valid in and of themselves. These give mankind the right to light candles and to believe in the light and brightness of existence. Not as if it were granted to us to erase all the gloominess! All the gloom must be gone through and endured. Yet, precisely for that reason, the lights of Advent should shine forth from within as we let ourselves be led to the insight that man is not under the law of imprisonment, enslavement, threats….

candle in the darkThe message of the First Sunday of Advent is to attain to the source. It is a Sunday whose basic insight gives a particular expression to the objectivity of our existence. It enlightens our lives and dismisses what is questionable, so that we can believe in brightness. Man must learn once again that the fundamental character of time is not one of activity. Occidentals, increasingly busy, seeking to have and to possess, easily gamble away the meaning. Man must realize that is a wayfarer, a scout, hungering and restless. He is dependent upon an angel approaching and touching him with wingstroke reminder of a higher message.

Even so, our waiting is not the end. In today’s Gospel about the end of the world, we read: “The people will languish in fearful expectation as they await the things that will come over the entire world; for the powers of Heaven will be shaken” [Luke 21:26]. There is a character of fearful expectation when things start to tremble, when life is felt to be so menacing. Nevertheless, it is bourgeois simply to wait for the sky to become light again. This experience of waiting will continue to be wrongly understood unless one sees that we are meant to learn from it. Man is not permitted to fixate himself too much within his own sphere of life, settling himself too firmly in place until he is chased away. We will wrongly understand this waiting if we forget that the deeper meaning of life is to keep watch.

Here is what lies behind it: man must notice and feel that the longing for the sun, for happiness, is only the foreground; that it is his affliction to hunger for something more; that he is not really human until the good is actualized before him and love is activated within him…

There is nothing more blessed in life that true waiting, but there is also no greater un-blessedness than “having to wait”, for each plan is thwarted and left in fragments. Why is this way? You must reach out, but you will not essentially get beyond yourself if the Other does not come to meet you. Man is truly human when he transcends himself. He becomes small when he is content with things and values from his own life sphere…

This is why the Lord calls each one of us to this awakening, to this self-reflection. The liturgy today should not just mean pious words to us, but, in these difficult times, this should become a season of reflection. We should discover life and its fundamental order.

wayfarerThis should be our first Advent light: to understand everything, all that happens to us and all that threatens us, from the perspective of life’s character of waiting. We must endure all the blessedness and un-blessedness of waiting because we are under way. The character of life is to keep going, to keep a lookout, and to endure until the vigilant heart of man and the heart of God who meets us come together…

People who fail to live out of the center can be alienated from themselves so easily by outside influence. Other values of secondary importance impose themselves, making life inauthentic and bringing it under an alien law and an alien paradigm. Are we living out of the center of our being, or from memory, from impulses, but not because we are settled in the center of reality and find our stability nourished there? This is the deeper sense of Advent: that we scrutinize this center, little by little, and set up lights of recognition in our lives, and from the center, master life’s gloominess. There is no absolute darkness…

[excerpt from Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings]


Alfred Delp was aware that the Gestapo were watching and listening to the homilies of Catholic priests. His confrere–Rupert Mayer was arrested and imprisoned for his outright criticism of the Nazi regime in his homilies. Therefore, Delp crafted his homilies to deliver subtle critiques of the Nazis during his time as rector at St. Georg’s Parish in Munich.

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