Sunday, 30 November 2014

Figures of Advent

I thought this worth re-posting from last year, too...
On the advice of The Dumb Ox on Twitter, I recently bought Fr Alfred Delp's Advent of the Heart. I had not previously known of this heroic young Jesuit priest, who was arrested and ultimately executed by the Nazis.

This book contains both sermons he preached before his imprisonment, and also meditations which he wrote (while handcuffed and under watchful guard) and had smuggled out of prison.  It also has the texts of the Mass (EF) in Latin (and translated into English) for the four Sundays of Advent, as his sermons drew heavily on them.

I have read a few of these and found them profoundly moving.  I wish to write about the first: Figures of Advent, which was written in Tegel Prison, Berlin, in December 1944, some 9 months before he was killed: clearly knowledge of his approaching death lends a particular resonance to the theme of Advent.

He starts with the startling phrase (which is a recapitulation of sermons he has preached previously): Advent is a time of being deeply shaken, so that man will wake up to himself. He proceeds to draw to our attention three types calling out and touching mankind: the Voice Calling in the Wilderness, the Angel of the Annunciation, and the Blessed Mother.

His meditation on the Wilderness is clearly referring to Nazi Germany; but equally clearly to any time and place in this vale of tears, and he concludes: 'They call man to the potential of averting the spreading wilderness, which is about to fall on him and crush him, by means of the greater strength of a converted heart.'

He then moves on to the figure of the Angel; and conjures up the image of the quiet angels of the annunciation who 'speak their message of blessing into the distress, and scatter their seeds of blessing that will begin to grow in the middle of the night'. Again, this is no empty piety: this is written by somebody acutely aware of 'the terror of this time.' So he continues: 'to believe in the golden seeds of God that the angels have scattered and continue to offer an open heart are the first things we must do with our lives. And the next is to go through these gray days as announcing messengers ourselves.'

Finally, he turns to the figure of our Blessed Mother, 'the most comforting figure of Advent.' He reflects on the mythic prefigurement of the divine motherhood, and the wonder of its reality. 'The gray horizons must light up. Only the foreground is screaming so loudly and penetratingly. Farther back, where it has to do with things that really count, the situation is already changing. The woman had conceived the Child, sheltered Him under her heart, and has given birth to her Son. The world has come under a different law.'

I hope that this gives some flavour of the rich and moving quality of his reflections: really the whole thing cries out for quotation, and my comments cannot do it justice.

But I strongly recommend this as Advent reading, if you want, as he proposes, a true Advent of the Heart.

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