The Vigil of Christmas: Concerning the Blessed Burden of God

The Vigil of Christmas: Concerning the Blessed Burden of God

[Tegel Prison, Berlin, December 1944]

There has always been a lot of misunderstanding about the feast of the nativity. Superficial familiarity, sentimental crib-making… have to some extent distorted our view of the stupendous event the feast commemorates.

 

1475882_10201045506691178_573162710_nThis year (1944) the temptation to make an idyllic myth of Christmas will no doubt be less in evidence than usual. The harsh realities of life have been brought home to us as never before. Many who spend Christmas in dugout and shelters that would make the stable at Bethlehem seem cozy by comparison will have little inclination to glamorize the ox and the ass. They may even stumble on the idea of asking themselves what really happened that holy night—was the world made a better, a more beautiful place? Did life acquire a blessing because the angels sang Gloria in excelsis, because the shepherds were astounded and hurried to pay homage, because a king lost his nerve and ordered the innocents to be massacred? Yet at this point the questions have already started to run wild—for this crime took place simply and solely because it was the holy night.

 

Yet Christians probably never pray more fervently than when they offer up the respirare at the conclusion of the vigil Mass. We breathe again because the birth of the Only-Begotten will, we trust, ease our burdens. A load has been lifted from our hearts. Life takes on a new meaning because a new perspective is disclosed, because the decisive moment has been reached again, because the relative security we normally count has not yet been swallowed up by the uncertainties of this abnormal times.

 

To breathe again. To be honest I too long to be able to breathe again, to be relieved of my troubles. How earnestly I prayed the prayer for speedy deliverance in yesterday’s Mass. Each day I have to steel myself for the hours of daylight and each night for the hours of darkness. In between I often kneel or sit before the silent Host and talk over with him the circumstances in which I am. Without this constant contact with him I should have despaired long ago.

 

The question that applies to the whole world applies to me personally and concretely on this feast of the nativity. Is there anything different about celebrating Mass here in this narrow cell where prayers are said and tears are shed and God is known, believed in and called on? At stated hours the key grates in the lock and my wrists are put back into handcuffs; at stated hours they are taken off—that goes on day after day, monotonously, without variation. Where does the breathing again which God makes possible come in? And the waiting and waiting for relief—how long? And to what end?

 

It is necessary to celebrate the feast of Nativity with great realism, otherwise one’s imagination will conjure up magical happenings for which one’s sober reason can discover no justification nor prospect. And as a result of that celebration of the feast could easily lead to bitter disappointment and deep depression. The vigil Mass leads to the necessary restrained, expectant and realistic frame of mind in three ways…

 

We ought to remember we are approaching the feast of God-made man, not of man rendered divine. The divine mystery takes place on earth and follows the natural course of earthly events… God enters our homes, our existence, not only like us but actually as one of us. That is the unfathomable mystery. From this point on the Son is absorbed by history, his fate becomes the part of history and history’s fate is his fate. In the darkest of cells and the loneliest prisons we can meet him; he is continually on the high roads and in the lanes…

 

ImageOfChrist67[The Christmas] vigil further prevents our becoming bemused by the over-glamorized picture of the divine Child by pointing out another fundamental relationship between God and man. Suddenly and unexpectedly the collect reminds us that the Child, whose coming we so joyfully await, will be our future judge–in fact is already sitting in judgment over our lives. That someday the laughing eyes of the Child will harden with adult sternness, questioning and judging. The increased capacity for life which comes heeding this warning, the awakened sense of responsibility, remains with us long after Christmas is over provided we have we have entered the vigil in the proper spirit. And if we remember the divine Child of Christmas is already engaged in the serious business of judging the world how many people who represent the human race today can honestly approach the crib? Most of them don’t even want to. The small and narrow door will not admit those who come riding on high horse. But simple shepherds have no difficulty in getting through. The star leads the regal wide men to it but the arrogance of Jerusalem is thrown into panic by the Child. How much there is in all our lives today that cannot face the Child. How different our lives would be if only we realized that the world’s supreme hour struck midnight when almighty God condescended to come to us as a little child. We should not behave so greedily, so arrogantly, so high handedly to one another if we did. Children do not strike to the wound. But to pretend to be grown up and responsible; we are so proud and self-assured–and look at the result. The world lies in bomb dust and ruins us.

 

Every hour of our Lord’s life from the crib to the Cross by which we are redeemed is a judgment on some part of our existence. That is why we are so defeated and in such trouble. But his last hour was the resurrection, his glorious homecoming. We ought to take the Christ Child very seriously….

 

1479038_189352637937545_1802085770_nLet us reread the gospel of the vigil from a human angle—looking at the episode in our Lady’s life from a purely human point of view. We know how it all ended so it doesn’t disturb us, but at the time there must have been a great deal of heartache. Joseph’s belief in a trusted human has been shattered—but what must Mary herself have gone through? She had dedicated herself to God—her submission was complete and unreserved. She had received the Word in a way no other human being would ever share. And then God became silent. She must have felt her husband’s questioning eyes following her; she must have known the torment he was going through and the blow his sense of justice had received. And God left her alone in this hour with all the weight of her trouble pressing on her. From a purely human point of view what a terrible position to be in.

 

And what about our own fate? We have heard the promises and believed in the messages and accepted the prophecies. And then something unexpected happens and our life is twisted out of shape—human life is subject to that sort of thing, even the life of Christians. Ought it to be different in their cases? It isn’t. And it is precisely when we come up against occurrences like these that our faith is put to the real test. To adhere steadfastly to the Word even when we strike our foot against a stone, even when we feel we are beaten, even when we are fastened in chains and handcuffs—that is the answer. And that is the answer that will be expected when each man is questioned at the seat of judgment; no one can expect it. God is posting that very question to us today in a hundred different ways and we have to see it that we give the right answer. Steadfastness is not an easy virtue to acquire but it makes a man fit to face his Maker and it opens his eyes to actual reality of God.

 

Once a man honestly tries to acquire it the face of the whole world is changed. The stark features of unavoidable accident, of logical consequences and necessity are softened. The world, and life, take on a more friendly look—they seem to assume an almost parental compassion…

 

[excerpt from The Prison Meditations of Father Delp]

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Fourth Sunday in Advent: Binding and Loosing

Fourth Sunday in Advent: Binding and Loosing

[Tegel Prison, Berlin, December 1944]

 

… Before the curtain rises and the scene is disclosed, stretching into infinity, expectation mounts in a crescendo of excitement. Our confidence is well founded and so is the suspense of waiting because the promise is already fulfilled and its truth demonstrated. Day triumphs and the darkness shrinks back into nothingness—like the shadows in the light-in-darknesswings when the stage is set as a temple of light. On the fourth Sunday in Advent the acute awareness of shrouded mystery is deepening for the final hour of darkness that heralds the dawn. There is an awareness of captivity, of crippling disability and despair, but it is already shot through with a premonition of divine grace…

 

No life is ever outside the scope of history or insignificant for it. But there is no such thing as holy, or unholy, history. History is creative being in action… Any attempt to escape history, to live outside of it as it were, to run away from reality, only leads to illusion. Escapism and reaction have no place in real life.

 

The gospel for the fourth Sunday in Advent evokes history. It refers to the mighty who determines the structure of the small room in which the Light of the World will come into being, bringing salvation. In order to recognize that moment of historical crisis is implied here, we have to clothe these names with the memory of the part they played in history. From the imperial throne to the holy of holies the outlook was hopeless; even the priesthood had been corrupted by power politics, family egoism and narrow-minded bigotry.

 

Hopelessness—that is the iron with which history often seeks to fetter healing hands, breaking the hearts of the enlightened few and reducing them to trembling hesitancy or cheap silence or tired resignation. As Christians we ought to recognize these shackles of history for what they are; indeed to ignore them is sinful evasion. History does not have the last word but it is only through history that the decisive word can be carried into effect. If we fail to recognize this we are performing a masque before a graven image which deceives us, or with which we are trying to deceive ourselves, into a false sense of security…

 

dark-room-light-through-window-hunched-man1The power that will overcome the law of sin is not to be found within the heart of the sinner who seeks it. And he must first fulfill the necessary condition of a change of heart before he can even receive that redemptive power which lies beyond his reach. He must call upon it and then make himself ready so that he may go to meet it. Advent does not offer freedom to the man who is convinced he is already converted. Stir up they power: by the help of thy grace. It is a case of God against sin. Sin is very like a handcuff. It doesn’t matter how fervently I desire it, I cannot rid myself of my handcuffs because I have no key. And sin is like the door of my cell—even if I had a key I could not unlock the door because it has no keyhole on this side. It can only be opened from the outside…

 

There is no cause for depression, resignation or despair in all this—rather it should give us greater confidence and spur on to unrelenting effort. We must make a covenant with God against the evils that surround us: show mercy on us for we have hoped in you. It is essential and is the measure of the demand that God makes of us. He is as near to us as our desire for him; his mercy is as great as the wholeheartedness of our appeal to it; his freedom is as real and imminent as our belief in him and in his coming is unshaken and unshakable. That is the truth…

 

[excerpt from The Prison Memoirs of Father Alfred Delp]

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Meditation for the Third Sunday of Advent: Part IV

Meditation for the Third Sunday of Advent: Part IV

The Conditions for True Joy

[Tegel Prison, Berlin, December 1944]

 

wayfarerThe honesty with which man should be true to himself is an intrinsic selflessness. Through this selflessness, he should not become a disinterested and uninteresting Nirvanist, but should transcend himself by expressing his openness to God in readiness, service, and praise. Through this openness he will attain a great freedom, a freedom from cramps, delusion, and deterioration. Man must travel a great distance before, in that direct encounter with God, he truly and completely finds himself. The distance leads him beyond himself. It consists of interior preliminaries and experiences, more than externally measurable lengths and distances, although it usually takes many exterior blows from fate before our eyes are opened to the real connections. This need to transcend ourselves is part of man’s essence. It consists of interior preliminaries and experiences, more than externally measurable lengths and distances, although it usually takes many exterior blows from fate to transcend ourselves is part of man’s essence. Otherwise, he would become intellectually bourgeois, pompous, stuffy, ponderous, and comfort loving.

 

So, make the great gesture toward transcendence? Yes, but differently. Not as a degenerate and degenerating arrogance, but rather as an honest self-realization of our nature. Human nature is so firmly established that it has imprinted the traces of its true strength and structure even upon man’s decadence. Precisely where man most dangerously errs in deluded and autarkical arrogance, in hubris and proud stupidity, dreaming of a master race, and so forth, he also reveals the essential human vocation: he must be more than human, if he wants to become and remain human. Anyone who wants to be merely human and nothing else—and knows nothing more about himself than the human ordinariness—will soon vegetate into something subhuman. And that is the metaphysical reason for the present crisis on our continent.

 

Here again, man must remain honest in this regard. Great freedom cannot be gained by robbery. Freedom is encounter, not contrariness, rebellion, or arrogance… What man contributes to his great liberation into a fulfilled life consists of honest humility, willing openness, readiness to serve, authentic testimony, and praise. If man sets out upon this Advent road, he will be granted the great encounter, for man’s liberation happens as an encounter. God works a multifaceted liberation within him, meeting him when he rises beyond self in a lived personal experience of being comforted and uplifted…

 

Man will become capable of ultimate realization only through an intervention by God who breaks open the prison, who cancels the debt and brings a blessing. How man gets into this condition is totally beside the point. It is only interesting, in a disturbing and upsetting way, that the Church goes along with the present helpless, shoulder-shrugging attitude of modern society toward these ultimate questions and possibilities. Nevertheless, the consequences are different and curative, while dwelling on the actual powerlessness only makes the evil situation even worse and more hopeless.

 

10965236-grunge-style-image-of-passageway-leading-to-an-old-prison-doorMan often feels every step newly ensnares his foot in some kind of thicket, from which he will never get out. To the close observer, the depressing fact itself that human beings have limitations imposed upon them that are harder, narrower, and more impassable than the limitations of nature. Imprisonment is what the liturgy terms this state, related to iniquitas—guilt. We often use the word imprisonment, but you need to have endured it yourself in order to know what it says about your inner being. You need to have sat in a small room with your hands in irons and have seen the shredded flag of freedom standing in the corner, in a thousand images of melancholy. The heart flees from these images again and again, and the mind strives to lift itself free, only to awaken even more sharply to reality at the next guard’s footsteps sounding in the hall and the next clanking of keys. Then you know that you are powerless. You have no key, and your door has no inner keyhole, and your window is barred and set so high that you cannot even look out. If no one comes and releases you, you will remain bound and poor in misery. All the mental struggles do not help at all. This is a fact, a condition that exists and must be acknowledged…

 

Man is challenged again to stand and deliver. Only, he does not merely exchange one set of fetters for another. God’s calls are always creative. They increase the very reality within us that is called upon, precisely because of their realness and authenticity.

 

Therefore, our own lives absolutely, urgently, and immediately need an ongoing conversion and abandonment to God, so that His will to save us can become redeemingly, creatively effective. We must begin this immediately and keep on with it.

 

Western man is suffocating. This is not limited merely to personal existence, the personal earthly and heavenly salvation of the individual…

 

Freedom is the breath of life. We sit in musty bomb cellars and cramped prisons and groan under the bursting and destructive blows of fate. We should finally stop giving everything a false glamour and unrealistic value and begin to bear it for what it is—unredeemed life. As soon as we do this, the jangling of chains and the trembling of nerves and the faintness of heart transform themselves into a litany… We should much more definitely unite our concrete destiny with these connections and call upon God’s redeeming freedom. Then the narrowness widens, our lungs breathe in fresh air again, and the horizon has promises again. Existence still weeps and mourns, but already a soft, joyous melody of longing and knowledge is ringing through the broken voices of the mourners.

 

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

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Meditation for the Third Sunday of Advent: Part III

Meditation for the Third Sunday of Advent: Part III

The Conditions for True Joy

 

Tegel Prison, Berlin, December 1944

… Man must be brought to an absolute clarity about himself and honesty before himself and others. He must come down from the high horses of vanity and self-deception that, for a time, let themselves be trotted forth so proudly. Finally, though, the horses shy or willfully run away and throw their “master” off in the wilderness—or else they turn out to be miserable nags that someone has curried to a shiny, smooth, and competent appearance.

 

olsh0002Sincere modesty, meaning knowledge of boundaries and jurisdiction, as well as a sober insight into the capability and potentiality one has been granted are the first steps to life’s truth. “The truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). After all the freedom to live a full life is what it is all about.

 

Man always starts to dream again. There is the authentic, creative dream, the vision that calls us forth from the tired slave’s pace of the habitual and usual. Woe, if young people lack vision and their minds are not quickened by the movement of the Holy Spirit! However, there is also a false and foolish dreaming, which obscures the limits of human possibility and reality and conceals them from our consciousness. So instead of expanding his boundaries through sincere watchfulness and authentic exertion, man oversteps them. Overstepping boundaries on the ultimate level of being, however, is deadly.

 

Two criteria are available to identify whether we are following an authentic impulse or a foolish and presumptuous will-of-the-wisp. Both of these criteria are found in the figure of John the Baptist: service and annunciation.

 

The voice calling in the wilderness is precisely what it is about: that man remains true to himself and not inflate his own importance. Human honesty requires man to see himself as a servant and perceive his reality as a mission and an assignment. The idea of authentic service and authentic duty belongs to the essence of man’s self-concept…

 

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

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Meditation for the Third Sunday of Advent: Part II

Meditation for the Third Sunday of Advent [Part II]

Tegel Prison, Berlin, December 1944

 

Today with St. Paul, the liturgy names the first prerequisite for making true joy possible … Holiness and happiness intrinsically belong together. To the intellectual and challenging perspective of one who seeks to understand the whole, both the question of religiousness, as well as the question of joyous fulfillment versus joyless emptiness and desert wilderness, present themselves in an inseparable manner—whether applied to an era, a culture, or a personal life.

 

Moreover, they present themselves in a double sense. The first sense is that of the First Commandment. Life is ruled by eternal lordship and eternal order. It has to do with eternal values and attitudes. “Dominus prope est” [The Lord is near] must then mean that people have let this nearness sink into their consciousness, not merely into their memories, or into their repertoire of truths of which preachers regularly remind them. Then man can maintain the necessary tension, which is the only way a moral-eternal being can live.

consumerismThen the abundance of reality is not a jumble of variables to which man attains, according to the various values he assigns to them; instead, it follows a hierarchically established order. Then man escapes the greedy imposition of a value that tries to own him, or at least he finds a fixed standpoint from which he can afford defense and resistance.

 

At the same time, however, the liturgy names the great joy-killers to which the godless life has abandoned itself. If man excludes himself from the temporal-eternal tension, he will be strangled by the senselessness that permeates everything and that forces itself upon him as the result of his life. Then he will fall into the confusion of an unenlightened existence, into whose twilight no illuminating sun can break through to him. He will find himself distracted by the multiplicity and the opposition of various values to one another, if no divine order prioritizes his tastes, works, and affections. In the end he will succumb to the barbarism of the most popular values and the most trivial material goods of the time.  He will be possessed and hunted and driven, no longer a free man and no longer master. Through all of this, he is not merely offered certain basic experiences of existence that everyone must pass through, but he is delivered over to them…

 

He experiences himself, and the world, and all things as limitations, even though the colorful wings of his mind, of his yearnings, press beyond all limits. Left to his own devices, he cannot rise above these limitations. He falls prey to the impression that the world is futile and, what is worse, that human life is futile. At this point, he is in danger of remaining in that experience of melancholy into which fate sends him again and again, because he no longer hears the intrinsic message of circumstances and the intrinsic song consumerism1of events. The world readily becomes a place without comfort, to which it is hardly worthwhile to become accustomed, although he does not know any way out. Alternatively, all these experiences, which repeatedly offer opportunities for a view of the whole, can be rashly passed over and a cheap “Carpe diem” is raised as a colorful banner. The great deception begins, the time of noise and crowds, organized feeding-frenzies, and massive festivities. Until suddenly the earth quakes and the subterranean thunder—which one wanted to drown out with screaming, because one failed to understand it—breaks forth fully and mightily and fills the day with its call to judgment.

 

That is the path—of a people, of a generation, of an individual—into the wasteland and void of a life without joy. Moreover, if people and things are permitted to remain in this condition, it will only get worse. An aversion to one another has seized hold of creation. The harmonic song of the spheres dissipates in an orgy of gore and of willful annihilation that creatures are beginning to perpetuate against all creation…

 

This is the first meaning of “Gaudete in Domino.” Separated from the Lord, the whole thing atrophies! We must keep telling people this. It is the most important announcement of these days. And we must know it and visibly live it as examples.

 

olsh0002With that, we touch upon the second meaning of the Scripture verse: “In Domino—in the Lord.” The Lord must and will enkindle anew the light within us, but not only because of natural order or divine precept. “Dominus propus est—the Lord is near” tells us He is the God of personal nearness. The theological truths about providence and guidance, about the ever-presence of God, and about His merciful indwelling in us must become concrete, lived possessions. Then will succeed in living through the experiences and events of workdays and holidays, of bright hours and dark hours, right up to that central point at which God reveals Himself as their deepest meaning. The secret, holy cargo entrusted to these events we are living through consists His questions, His guidance, His leadership, His punishment, His consolation and help. Temples of God are located not only where churches are still standing. Rather, let the great temple arches stretch and raise themselves up wherever the spirit opens itself, and where man’s highest potential is fulfilled by those who worship and love.

 

And finally, may valiant words of Saint Augustine, Meister Eckhart, and others like them be taken seriously and become lived realities. The life of God is lived within us, within the deepest center of our being. Man becomes truly himself precisely at the point where he recognizes that the highest and brightest Being dwells within him. Moreover, he will rediscover himself and his own identity, as well as his faith in his own individual value, mission, and life options, to the degree that he comprehends human life as streaming forth out of the mystery of God. Then all that is negative and threatening is surmounted, its futility is exposed from within and simultaneously disempowered.

 

Only a person like this will be capable of breathing deeply, and life and the world will not refuse him… And such a person becomes someone of great joy—the great joy that he lives and experiences, as well as gives and enkindles in others. Gaudete!

 

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

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Meditation for the Third Sunday of Advent

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?

 

gaudete 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.

 

050811-066However, 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?

 

gaudetesundayFive 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]

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Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, 1942

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

[Preached in Munich; December 6, 1942]

On the First Sunday of Advent, we talked about how, during this season of Advent, man should pray through and endure his own individual reality. We said that this saving self-knowledge should not remain purely theoretical or just words. Rather, it means decision and responsibility… We have talked about the first responsibility, about how it is our responsibility to make a disturbance in the world that is strong enough to tear this chaos out of its cycle and to lead the world back to its source. Christians bear the responsibility to generate an authentic unrest within creation, through our existence, our word, and our work.

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The Second Sunday in Advent points out a second responsibility today, one that weighs heavily on our souls. We are obliged to be concerned about the destiny of the world. Moreover, we must know that we gamble away our own individual salvation if we don’t play, or, to word it better, if we don’t fight, for salvation and order in the world.

Two basic ideas about this second area of responsibility are mentioned in today’s Mass. In the Introit, the Lord, the Kyrios, is described as God who comes to save the nations. This does not refer to a ghetto, but to “the nations.” His will to save knows no bound. In the Collect, we pray: Shake our hearts awake, O Lord, to prepare the way, in Your people, for Your only-begotten Son. Here the keynotes have sounded: the will to save the whole, the universal, and the will coming from a personally experienced responsibility, which demands the very beating of our hearts. The Epistle (Rom 15: 4-13) says that we are of one mind, that He comes to be Lord over the nations, and that we are filled with faith, peace, joy, hope. The Gospel (Mt 11:2-10) discusses mission as necessarily stemming from personal commitment from personal participation.

What do old truths say about our lives today? Let examine this from the other side. An officer serving in this war, with no connection to the Church, has written a letter in which we will recognize the second responsibility I just spoke of. I will read some passages from his letter.

“From the wreckage of the medieval world view, the inevitable conclusions will be drawn. People risk setting up their material existence, dare to handle things without anything sense of dependence upon a divine hand. In Nietzsche’s words, ‘God is dead.’ … One thing is sure, if we are discussing guilt, then there is historical guilt with immense consequences, and a responsibility that neither the people of the Church, nor anyone else, can evade. Some may say, ‘Our dear God is dead.’ In any event, there can be no doubt that in the existing churches something is coming to an end.”

Icon-to-be-on-earth-the-heart-of-God4That is the first paragraph of the letter. This God is dead, no longer plays a living role in human life. When does modern life concern itself with God? How is this or that measure, this plan, or that intention connected with the order of God? Who even asks about God? The question of the Lord God’s approval has become secondary to public as well as personal life. Be honest. Ask yourself about your workdays and Sundays, about your plans with the youngsters. Who asks, before beginning something, “How does that fit in relationship to God’s plans and commandments?” Do we not first have an idea and then ask, “Can we still combine that with God?” And then we try the cheap road of compromise. God is no longer the Lord of hearts that beat passionately for Him.

The Christian truths are treated as objects. Viewed that way, the entirety of faith is not perceived as an urgent presence or a real challenge to human hearts. Has anyone tried opening the catechism to experience these things, not abstractly, but as a nudge to your individual heart, to tear you away from your habitual perspective? Who has ever considered that the wonderful story of the Lord, the Kyrios, is not complete, but that His birth, suffering, and death should be continuing to happen anew within us and within our Church … Our life itself depends upon this living faith. We are no longer attending to it with heart and soul, but rather because of custom, or fear at the uncertainty of life, or scrupulosity—instead of in such a way that this universal God might, through us, touch the world and draw it home to Himself…

 

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

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