He rubbed his wrists. It couldn’t be helped.
The manacles had been on since Father Alfred Delp’s arrest and the hard-edged steel bit into his flesh. Constantly. It was a special torture for all “conspirators” implicated in the July 20th (1944) Plot against the Fuhrer. But Father Delp wasn’t a conspirator. He had been asked as a Jesuit and sociology expert to meet with Count Helmuth James Graf von Moltke and a circle of German citizens (later dubbed the Kreisau Circle) in 1942-43 to discuss rebuilding a social order rooted in Christianity should continued German losses lead to a Nazi downfall. To the eyes of Fr. Delp, it was ostensibly a peaceful group intent on recovering the German soul after a potential Armageddon.
And then, on July 20, 1944 the bomb went off. Adolf Hitler’s strategic inner sanctum, “The Wolf’s Lair”, in East Prussia was rocked by a time bomb assembled by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (famously played by Tom Cruise in the 2008 historical thriller, Valkyrie). The bomb injured, but failed to kill Hitler. Shortly thereafter, a vicious Gestapo-led dragnet rounded up the chief conspirators and snagged others with even the loosest affiliations. After seven thousand arrests, nearly five thousand would be executed.
Fr. Alfred Delp was arrested on July 28, 1944.
And as the months brought him to December, separated from family and friends, forbidden the practice of his faith, tortured, shackled and crushed into a 9 ft. x 9 ft. cell, Fr. Delp awaited his trial and certain execution by hanging. But this is not what Fr. Delp focused on. He focused on Advent. And from ragged scraps spirited out by a sympathetic visitor, here is what this condemned priest had to say:
“Unless we have been shocked to our depths at ourselves and the things we are capable of, as well as at the failings of humanity as a whole, we cannot possibly understand the full import of Advent. If the whole message of the coming of God, of the day of salvation, of approaching redemption is to seem more than a divinely inspired legend or a bit of poetic fiction, two things must be accepted unreservedly.
First, that life is both powerless and futile in so far as by itself it has neither purpose or fulfillment…Life clearly demands both purpose and fulfillment. Secondly it must be recognized that it is God’s alliance with humanity, his being on our side, ranging himself with us, that corrects this state of meaningless futility…
It follows that life, fundamentally, is a continuous Advent; hunger and thirst and awareness of lack involve movement toward fulfillment…All we have to rely on is the fact that these promises have been given and that they will be kept. We are bound to depend on them – ‘the truth shall set you free.’ That is the ultimate theme of life. All else is mere explanation, compromise, application, continuation, proof, practice.”
As a doomed prisoner of the most ruthless regime about to receive its most draconian sentence, Fr. Delp was counseling us. Open your eyes and see!, he implored. Be filled in your hope! The Truth is alive, though the world does not see Him, though the world does not know Him. He is coming. He is coming. And all will be well.
How could this be? How could this dead man walking not rock inconsolably in a prison corner anticipating the viciousness that awaits him? Because it is Advent. Continuously. And the unimpeachable God of undeniable promises will make our hope into blinding and glorious reality.
“On the grey horizon eventually light will dawn. The foreground is very obtrusive; it asserts itself so firmly with its noise and bustle but it does not really amount to much. The things that really matter are farther off – there conditions are different. The woman has conceived a child, has carried it in her womb and has brought forth a son and thereby the world has passed under a new law. You see this is not just a sequence of historical events that stand out in isolation. It is a symbol of the new order of things that affect the whole of our life and every phase of our being.”
The world has passed under a new law.
Fr. Alfred Delp would be hanged by the Nazi regime on February 2, 1945. Three months later, the war would be over. But only five weeks earlier, on Christmas Eve, the last day of Advent before the arrival of the Christ Child, Fr. Delp would scrawl (purportedly on his prison wall with his manacles on),
“Let us trust life because this night must lead to light. Let us trust life because we do not have to live it alone. God lives it with us.”
This night must lead to light.
It is Advent. Continuously.