Alfred Delp SJ: Meditation on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Part 2

Today, with Saint Paul, the liturgy names the first prerequisite for making true joy possible: “In Domino [In the Lord]. Gaudete in Domino [Rejoice in the Lord]. Dominus prope est [The Lord is near]” (Phil 4:4-5).

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 the 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. Then 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 the 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 is instead delivered over to them. He has fallen into the experience of limitation. 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 stuck 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 of 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! [Seize the day!]” 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 perpetrate against all creation.

Only one thing will help, and that is to hear the call of John the Baptist. The great conversion will consecrate and transform the wilderness for mankind. It will open new perspectives and unseal the ancient springs to us. Man should lift himself up to God, and not merely to the purposes of his own life. In the same way that life opens itself up and yields the center again, simultaneously and just as intensely it wins its freedom and mastery back. The view for connections and content will be reopened to life, and the earth will be fruitfully flooded again by the streams of mission, confirmation, and mastery. These are the streams that still carry the ship of life and lead it onward.

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.

With 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 we 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 of His questions, His guidance, His leadership, His punishment, His judgment, 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 human heart worships, wherever the knee bends, wherever the spirit opens itself, and where man’s highest potential is fulfilled by those who worship and love. And finally, may the 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. They will give all that they rightly have to give, because it is demanded with the sovereign goods of divine jurisdiction, which have been put at his disposal. He will feel the eternal brilliance of creation again, regarding it reverently and protectively. He will award things this intrinsic brilliance again because his mind and heart, his hands and works, have the creative gift and strength to pass the test. 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!

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8 Responses to Alfred Delp SJ: Meditation on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Part 2

  1. Michael says:

    Excellent reflection – the third paragraph here is one of the best descriptions of the deadening effects of sin (that is, in its root sense of making a decision, consciously or otherwise, to turn away from God and erect the self as final arbiter and guide for one’s life, as opposed to one or all of the range of possible sinful acts) I have read. Similarly, the description of the liberating effects of faith in a life put forward by Fr. Delp really gets to the heart of the relationship between joy and faith/faithfulness. Splendid.

  2. Michael says:

    This reflection also reminds me of something Pope Benedict XVI said in his Christmas address to the Roman Curia of 2012:

    The Church represents the memory of what it means to be human in the face of a civilization of forgetfulness, which knows only itself and its own criteria. Yet just as an individual without memory has lost his identity, so too a human race without memory would lose its identity.

    http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2012/december/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20121221_auguri-curia.html

    There’s a lot contained in that short passage, and much to reflect on. Plus, as it’s getting near to Christmas, here’s a link to Pope Benedict’s Christmas Eve homily of the same year, which touches on some similar themes as well (and is always worth a re-read):

    http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/homilies/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20121224_christmas.html

  3. toad says:

    “Yet just as an individual without memory has lost his identity, so too a human race without memory would lose its identity.”
    Well, yes, it would, but the human race shows no sign of losing its memory. In fact we now “remember” far more about our past than we have ever done until now.
    For example we “remember” only now that our connection with domesticated dogs goes back 33,00 years.
    http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/dec/15/dog-dna-study-reveals-the-extraordinary-journey-of-mans-best-friend

  4. The Raven says:

    That’s not remembering, Toad, that’s, at best, rediscovering; at worst, hypothesising.

  5. toad says:

    Fair point, Raven. I was being a bit verbally “tricky” to be sure. But humans today do know far more about themselves and history than they ever did, and it’s recorded for good or worse – and for posterity. But, “at worst,” hypothesising?
    Man is a hypothesising animal. It’s not reprehensible to do so. It’s essential.

  6. The Raven says:

    Toad, collecting a series of facts about the past to be studied in elite universities as mere abstractions is hardly the same as the popular recollection of a lived experience. For example, generations of poor men and women were raised with the language of the KJV ringing in their ears (we can skip over the fact that there were deficiencies in the translation from a catholic perspective). This gave those people a tangible linguistic connexion with their ancestors and, collaterally, gave many a way to access Shakespeare, Herrick, Donne and a world of poetry, drama and literature which would otherwise be closed to them. The movement into more quotidian translations in the twentieth century broke this connexion: many of the commonplaces in our language, which derive from the KJV have become decontextualised and largely meaningless; and the authors and poets who defined our culture have become incomprehensible to all but an elite.

    Take another example: I was born in a village in the Midlands, where my family had lived since the seventeenth century (probably earlier, but the records of common folk like us don’t go back that far). The village had its own distinct traditions, identity and dialect terms. In my lifetime the village became a suburb of the county town and now my parents are the last members of our family to live there and many of their neighbors have a closer link with Kashmir than they do with the Midlands. The culture of the village is gone, forgotten, erased.

    I am sure that an academic could write an interesting monograph on the culture of the place, but lived experience of the memory of that culture is now vanishingly scarce and will not be recovered.

  7. toad says:

    I’m not sure what’s to be gained from this line of talk, Raven, but – true, “my” culture, of Bing Crosby movies, ‘Music While You Work,’ ration books, packed Catholic churches with claret-faced priests fulminating from the pulpit about contraception, The Wizard and Rover comics, Victor Sylvester’s strict tempo music, Stan Matthews, “the Wizard of Dribble” – all that has gone where Saturn keeps his years.
    Forever. Inevitable,
    Sad? In parts, maybe.

  8. Robert says:

    Leaves me bewildered and frankly cold.
    I mean what on Earth does he mean?
    “..Only a person like this will be capable of breathing deeply, and life and the world will not refuse him. They will give all that they rightly have to give, because it is demanded with the sovereign goods of divine jurisdiction, which have been put at his disposal. He will feel the eternal brilliance of creation again, regarding it reverently and protectively. He will award things this intrinsic brilliance again because his mind and heart, his hands and works, have the creative gift and strength to pass the test. 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!..”

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