The People of Christmas: Figures Linked with the Feast

These next three Christmas excerpts from Alfred Delp concern his prison meditations on the liturgical feasts of St. Stephen, the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, and St. Thomas of Canterbury. It is interesting that these three feasts of martyrdom during the Christmas season offered someone, who was awaiting trial and execution, material for his reflection. These figures probably gave Delp greater freedom to witness through the gift of his life. A Christian can be called a martyr if he gives his or her life freely. Yet, there is one further point that calls attention. The Christian gift of self is never primary; it is secondary. The initiative of the gift of self comes not from humankind, but from God. Delp’s gift of self was in response to the initiative of God’s gift of self in the Incarnation and the Cross. That Delp’s freedom to give was undergirded by an even greater freedom.


Figures Linked with the Feast

[Tegel Prison, Berlin, Christmas 1944]

So many figures come to mind when we are thinking about the feast of Christmas. All of them have a special message for us. The innocents of Bethlehem even have a place in history. The others are so intimately associated with the mystery of contact which is the essence of this feast that they throw a penetrating light on our question—how is the human soul prepared and fitted for this great encounter—and further, how can we help make it ready? What are the essentials decisions of the heart for establishing a real and living contact with God?


StephenSt. Stephen. His secret is easy to discern. He saw clearly that mankind had been lifted to a new plane through the miracle of the holy night and the encounter with Christ; that man now had new strength and the new responsibility of bearing witness. What had been long enough before was enough no longer. Hence the expressions full of grace and strength—signs and wonders. But these things have not yet been given to man merely for him to master himself. Since Christmas God is with us and injustice and even murder are sanctified and transformed into signs of grace and strength and salvation. St. Stephen’s law is that of extraordinary self-surrender and extraordinary witness.


This is his message and his judgment. He challenges us to get out of our rut. As we draw near to God the old and familiar become useless. God will transform us into faithful witnesses if we earnestly and with complete surrender turn to him for help.


[excerpt from The Prison Meditations of Father Delp]

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