The People Who Are Not at the Crib
[Tegel Prison, Berlin, Christmas 1944]
Even those who are not at there have a message for us and a judgment to give if only to make us realize what it is that keeps us separated from God. After all as a race today we are not at the crib either. Yet the emotions aroused by all that we are living through ought to make us want to be there.
Those who were not there include the powerful… Neither the Roman procurator nor the recognized native rulers made their appearance at the crib to receive ratification of their power. Power can only be genuine and good when it is rooted in the divine. These people possessed power in their own right and used it only to further their own ends. There is the mystery of power… The French, more realistic than we are, have two different words, force and puissance. Puissance conveys the awe inspiring impression of inner power. Power in itself and as the sum total of all the means of enforcing it becomes destructive in the hands of arrogant totalitarian authority and ruins both the one who wields it and the subjects on whom he exercises it. The tyrant in possession of such power is no longer capable of spiritual sensitivity. He is suspicious of everything that does not fit into the narrow limits of permitted and regimented expression. There was no paragraph in the rules at Jerusalem covering the birth of the Child at Bethlehem. Hence the reaction of perplexity and fear and the prompt recourse to the sword. In circumstances like these the subject beings grow timid and cowardly; they accept that their claim to life is cut to the basic minimum of official permission.
Dare we ignore this message and judgment? The history of power in the Western world is one long history of ruthless force. There is no room in it for the glory of God which is neither safeguarded nor respected. The great are concerned only with their importance and spend their lives jockeying for position. And the consequences, as far as they concern mankind as a whole are only too obvious. Fear has become a cardinal virtue…
The wealthy. There is nothing wrong in a man’s having great possessions. But when his possessions rob him of his freedom and make him a slave then they become evil. It was like that at the time of the Nativity and the palaces and the fine houses were not destined to shelter the Lord. Great possessions can and should be a blessing. But the owners of great treasures are also people who are afraid of any order of things not covered by the official records…
A great many hasty judgments have been made in this connection and much prejudice has been based on them—Marxist socialism, the condemnation of private ownership, and so on. We must keep a sense of proportion. All the same it is clear that the unresolved problems of wealth, of unearned income and so on is one of themes of our time… Evils that were dealt with by materialistic society of nineteenth century were at the mercy of self-interest, expediency, indignation. The highest ideals were lacking and there was palpably no trace of that spiritual attitude based on the divine nature that makes all men free. So it is not surprising that the ordinary man’s spiritual mechanism has rusted and become practically useless. Therefore those endowed with great possessions cannot be found in the devout circle round the crib. Some are absent because their possessions have robbed them of proper insight, others because the things they covet have made them incapable of any other interest. It is undeniable that every human being is entitled to a living space, daily bread and the protection of the law as a common birthright; these are fundamentals and should not be handed out as an act of charity.
The learned. Learning and prayer have little in common and it still so today. Learning is besotted and bemused by the brilliance of its own ideas and has an overwhelmingly high opinion of its own interpretation of the world’s affairs. And whenever the world takes a course not laid down in the books it is immediately suspect.
Western thought is inordinately proud of having “grown up” in the last century. It considers itself completely adult and self-possessed. Meanwhile in obedience to its own law it is no longer spreading its wings like an eagle, no longer venturing to the horizon. It has become a mere appendage to earthbound utility blind and blunted to certain aspects of the truth. But human nature is so constituted that even in its most debased and blinded state it still needs to ape God and set itself on a pedestal a if it were divine. Unconsciously it is reaching out towards a state it might be capable of achieving if it were not so in love with itself and forever leading itself and its world into the icy mire of materialism.
No, the learned are certainly not found among those devout souls kneeling round the crib in the stable. They are the types whom later, when grown to manhood, the Child was to embrace in the lament “Woe, woe”, but then they did not understand that either. The wise men, those who prescience came to the heart knew where they were going and what they were looking for. They were capable of adoration…
[excerpt from The Prison Meditations of Father Delp]