Fr Alred Delp SJ
Written in Tegel Prison
“Surge et sta in excelso—Arise and stand on high” (Bar 5:5). Value or lack of value, depth or lack of depth in human life depends greatly upon life remaining sculptured, knowing and affirming all of its dimensions, and not rendering itself innocuous by flattening out or encapsulating itself into insignificance. Foreshortening and falsification of perspectives with loss of the full dimensions come under the heading of general Occidental development and individual personal development. We are the result. This has to do with risks that always accompany human idiosyncrasy, but in our generation these have increased and become more widespread.
The great historical and personal hours of grace will always mean some form of awakening and return to a true order of reality. This is also the meaning of Advent: not only promise, but rather conversion and transformation. Plato would say, “Orientation to a capability for truth”. John the Baptist put it more simply, “Repent” (Mt 3:2). The prayers and messages of Advent push man out beyond every surface and bring him to a consciousness of the full sculptural dimensions and drama of his situation.
Therefore, the First Sunday had the recurring theme of violent shaking. Revelation of man’s vulnerable situation (see the Gospel and second half of the Collect). Movement toward God, out of that self-certain autarchy. Life’s central priority is within this movement (Introit, Epistle, Gradual, Offertory, etc.). Calling upon the divine freedom to come and meet the helpless motion of our powerlessness (Collect from First Sunday: “Excita potentiam tuam. . . [Awaken Your power. . .]”).
The Second Sunday directs these thoughts further and concretizes them through personal decision. The message contains three clear statements.
The first statement:
—God’s promise to continue this movement toward man. God is always the One who is coming, but not just some day in the future; He is right now, and always, in the process of coming (Introit, Epistle, Gospel, Secret).
—God’s promise that He comes as the God who wants to heal and save (Introit and Gospel, first half).
—The challenge to mankind to take this God seriously, “ut abundetis in spe. . . [that you may overflow with hope. . .]” (Rom 15:13). A person filled with confidence in God will profit from this time and stand up to the test.
The second statement:
—This has nothing to do with trivializing or flattening life out, as if there were some bourgeois existence connected with the divine. God’s blessing takes neither the pleasure of freedom away from us, nor its burden. The encounter with this God who wants to save is not arranged according to our discretion, nor in the way or the place we might choose.
—Thus, in the midst of this message for the Second Sunday of Advent, we read the Word of the Lord: “And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me” (Mt 11:6). That means that God is on the way, but He has His own style, His own ways of coming. It means that anyone who makes his salvation dependent upon his own personal taste is a lost man.
—Furthermore, this means that the concrete place to find this healing movement is the encounter with Christ. The way of salvation for the world is the way of the Savior. There is no other. One must see this and say it clearly, not water it down.
The third statement gives this Sunday its theme: decision for salvation in Christ.
—As a decision for eternal life (Postcommunion). This “amare cælestia [love of heavenly things]” is a difficult and important matter.
—As a decision for freedom from petty entanglements and viewpoints: “Surge et sta in excelso [Rise up and stand on high]” (Communion Prayer). The lofty standpoint determines the field of vision a life will have and gives the air that a soul breathes.
—As a decision for character and attitude (Gospel: the austere figure of John the Baptist, Mt 11:2-10).
—As a decision for Christian mission: individual salvation comes only through this commitment to the Christianization of life, through the personal bond with the figure and mission of Christ Himself (Gospel, Collect).
—As a decision that is a grace, activated within us by the Lord: as in the Collect: “Excita corda nostra. . . [Awaken our hearts. . .]”, which is the counterpart to last Sunday’s “Excita potentiam tuam [Awaken Your power].” May God break open the narrowness that confines us within ourselves, and make us capable of Him, and capable of His mission.
So this Sunday too, we need to fold our hands again, and bend our knees and bow our egos in adoration before God, so that His salvation can be effective in us and make us capable of being called and touched by Him. All of modern arrogance breaks down here, but at the same time, all of our helplessness and loneliness—in which we often almost freeze to death—will be opened up and filled with divine warmth and healed by divine consecration.
Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings, 1941-1944, Ignatius Press, 2006