Alfred Delp’s prison meditation on the third Sunday of Advent is his most lengthy reflection on the meaning of Advent. Due the length, I aim to divide the meditation into a few postings.
Meditation for the Third Sunday of Advent
[Tegel Prison, Berlin, December 1944]
Well now, what is joy, true joy? The philosophers say it is satisfaction and emotional uplift in response to the goods at one’s disposal. That maybe true of some phenomena of joy, but it is not joy itself. Otherwise, how could I attain true joy in these times and in this situation?
Is there any point about bothering with joy? Is joy not among those luxury items of life that have no place in the meager private area tolerated by wartime conversations? Certainly it has no place in a prison cell where someone is pacing back and forth, his hands in irons, his heart swelled by all the winds of longings of longing, his head filled with worries and questions.
Someone must experience a situation, must have time and again, that suddenly the heart can no longer grasp the abundance of inflowing life and happiness, that suddenly, and without knowing why or how, the flags are in place once again over existence, and promises are valid again. One time or another, it might be the self-defense mechanism of existence fighting against crushing abuse and violation—but not every time. It was so often a presentiment of good news on the way—such things do happen in our Monastery of the Hard Life. And often, soon afterwards, resourceful love found a way to us with a gift of kindness at a time when this was not customary.
However, this was not all. There have been and continue to be, times where one is comforted and spiritually uplifted: times where one sees the facts of the case exactly as real and hopeless as ever and yet is not grieved by it, but truly manages to turn the whole thing over to the Lord.
Now, that is the decisive word. Joy in human life has to do with God. Creatures can bring us joy in various forms, and can provide and occasion for joy and rejoicing, but the actual success of this depends upon whether we are still capable of joy and are familiar with it. And that again is conditional upon our personal relationship with God.
Only in God is man fully capable of life. Without Him, and over time, we become sick. This sickness attacks our joy and our capability for joy. That is why man, when he still had time, made so much noise about joy. In the end, that was no longer permitted. The prison-world took him over so completely that even joy was valued and presented only as a means to employ for a new end.
In order to be capable of true life, man must live according to a specific order and relationship to God. The capability of true joy and of living joyfully is itself dependent upon specific conditions of human life, upon particular attitudes regarding God. Where life does not perceive itself as taking place in the community of God, it will be gray and gloomy and drab and calculating.
How should we live so that we are capable—or can be capable—for true joy? This question should occupy us more today than it has in the past. Man should take joy as seriously as he takes himself. And he should believe in himself, in his heart, and in his Lord God, even through darkness and distress, he is created for joy. This really means that we are created for a fulfilled life that knows its meaning and is certain of its capabilities. Such a life knows it is on the right path to perfection and allied with angels and powers of God. We are created for a life that is blessed, sent, and touched at its deepest center by God Himself.
How should man live so that this true happiness begins to grow in his heart, giving his eyes and face a brilliant shine and his hands a satisfying ability and success?
Five conditions for true joys and the capability of joy are named in today’s Gaudete Sunday’s liturgy. The meditative reflection upon these conditions for true joy is, at once both a personal examination of conscience and a historical consideration of the development of joylessness in modern life. How could the substitute for joy spread itself so broadly that people now call “joy” what they would never have looked at or touched when they were healthy human beings? Perhaps we can regain a sense of what was within the saints, those great people who were capable of joy and whose eyes that were made for the discovery of joy everywhere. Saint Francis “Canticle to the Sun” is not mere lyrical rambling. It expresses the great inner freedom that enabled him to observe the intrinsic value and discover the fulfilling assignment within all things.
The conditions for true joy have nothing to do within the conditions of the exterior life, but consists of man’s interior frame of mind and competence, which make it possible now and again for him to sense, even in adverse circumstances, what life is basically all about.
to be continued…
[excerpt from Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings]