Fr Alfred Delp SJ: Meditation on the third Sunday in Advent, Part 3

In order for man to attain to this density of life and ascend to this capability of deep breath and deep joy, a great conversion is needed, a great transformation of his being. This will be the result of individual exertion and, equally, the result of a great liberation that God will work in man, to prevent him from locking up and enclosing himself in autarchy, and isolation, and arrogance. The question is, how does man attain to this creative nearness to God that so enables and empowers him?

And the first answer is found once again in the figure of John the Baptist, who personifies Advent. “Et confessus est, et non negavit: Quia non sum ego. . . [And he confessed, and did not deny, I am not He. . .]” (Jn 1:20). Man must be brought to an absolute clarity about himself and honesty before himself and others. He must come down from all the pedestals of arrogance onto which he always climbs. 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.

Sincere 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 remain 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. Anyone who undermines this has smeared his own image and corrupted his own self-knowledge.

Duty and service can take a variety of concrete forms. Here again, though, man can secretly or openly take on displaced priorities and corrupt this clean idea. The second criterion keeps us on track: “Ipse est—He is the One” (Jn 1:27). This calls us to annunciation, testimony, and praise of the Lord. Here, man releases himself from all cramps and becomes truly honest and clear sighted. Moreover, an extended personal effort is required to keep giving oneself the impulse to rise above self, to move away from self. But at the same time, this is how man attains the necessary openness in which he must continue if he sincerely wants to strive toward the great realities God has prepared for him.

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