A Wartime Christmas Homily (1942) from Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J., Priest and Martyr

The following is an excerpt from Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings by Alfred Delp, S.J., priest and martyr.

This is from a wartime Christmas midnight Mass in 1942.




The meaning of our Christian holy days is not primarily our external holiday celebration, but that particular mysteries of God happen to us, and that we respond. Something in the deepest center of our being is meant here, more than the exterior symbols can even indicate. Anyone who lacks spiritual eyes, and whose soul has not become open and watchful, will not understand the reason we  are so often festive in the cycle of the liturgical year. The Church stands before us with great gestures and great pomp and ceremonial rites. This is only an attempt to indicate something that reaches much deeper and must be taken much more seriously.

We need to celebrate holy days in three ways. First, by recalling a historical event. The feasts are always based on verifiable, historical facts. We should not just get carried away with unbridled enthusiasm. What is really going on? This is a question of discernment and recognition. Seen from God's perspective, there is always a clearly defined event connected to the mystery, a clear statement intended, a fact.

This brings us to the second point. Within all of the foregoing, a great mystery–the Mysterium–is hidden. Something happens between Heaven and earth that passes all understanding. This mystery is made present to us, continues in the world till the end of time, and is always in the process of happening–the abiding Mysterium.

These two points are followed by the third way in which we must consider the feast to be serious and important. Through the historical facts and through the workings of the mystery, the holy day simultaneously issues a challenge to each individual life, a message that demands a particular attitude and an interior decision from each person to whom it is proclaimed.

The Christmas celebration is the birth of the Lord. It is verifiable that Christ was born on this night. The great mystery behind this is the marriage covenant of God with mankind; that mankind is fulfilled only insofar as it has grown into this covenant. Concretely, it is meaningful to establish what this covenant, which began between divinity and humanity on that Holy Night, signifies as a challenge and message for each one of us.

We Germans run the risk of concealing Christmas behind bourgeois customs and sentimenta1ity, behind all those traditions that make this holiday dear and precious to us. Yet perhaps the deep meaning is still hiding behind all those things. What this celebration is about is the founding of a final order for the world, a new center of meaning for all existence. We are not celebrating some children's holiday, but rather the fact that God has spoken His ultimate Word to the world. Christ is the ultimate Word of God to the world. One must let this idea really sink in these days when people are seeking new values. If you take God seriously–this relationship between God and the world–and if you know how important God is to society as well as to private life, then this has to touch you. The ultimate Word of God to the world! God does not contradict Himself and does not repeat Himself. One must use every ounce of willpower to comprehend this, and let this concept sink in: Christ, as the ultimate Word of God to the world.

And Christ came and placed Himself before us as a message. That He came as a child proves how much it matters to God that the message be accepted. From this Holy Night onward, the world has had the possibility of living in nearness to God or living apart from God. The entire Epistle wants to communicate one thing: take this, take what has happened here, really seriously. What came into the world is the very image of the Divine Being, is God Himself. He lifted mankind out of every false order in this consecrated night, in this blessed night. What is said to us here gives life its meaning, individual life as well as the life of all mankind.

Man should recognize that his innermost purpose is to find the way home to God and to be caught up in His life, to seek God for Himself. The fundamental concept of man in this world never can be that of certainty, but rather that of waiting for this ultimate revelation of that which began in the Holy Night. Such people, who know they are hastening to meet a great fulfillment, are always people under way.
This is no Christmas life today. Neither is it a Christmas life according to people's inner attitude. Neither is it a Christmas holy day according to a religious perspective. The world is hostile and rejects everything. But we are experiencing the other side of Christmas. All of these blessings have already been taken away, and the night has descended again.

The first message is that the Kyrios, the Lord, is coming. The Lord does not stand in the center anymore. He is replaced by the power brokers. How man keeps lapsing into heresy! The power brokers, under whose power man has gone astray, stand in the center. One no longer sees God as the center of the world, as the foundational support. And what has developed out of this? We are standing without any foundation–we have nothing permanent anymore. There is no more talk of man's life being dependent upon mercy. Therefore the world has become so unmerciful.   This is a world that no longer knows of the Holy Night, of the Consecration-Night, the Christ-Mass. That is the one thing that we honestly have to see. The world in which we stand is un-Christmaslike, not because God is unmerciful, but rather because man has outlawed the message, and there is no room anymore for the promise.

Nevertheless, we must also look at this in a positive way. For us personally, this message of the Holy Night still does contain its great meaning and content. There are two things we need to have in terms of consciousness and attitude, and we should take possession of them today: we should not come to Midnight Mass as if we do not live in the year 1942. The year must be redeemed along with everything else. And from the Gloria, we have to take with us the peace and faith in the glory of God. There is nothing else that surpasses this night, and nothing that should be taken as more important than this event. Whatever may happen around us, let us not break down, for then we would not be taking the Lord seriously, or what we know about consecrated people seriously, or what we know about these messages. Therefore, deep down, we are the people who are comforted.  That should find its expression in the positive attitudes we take with us from this experience of the Holy Night. May we impart the goodness. May we attend to humanity again, and witness to the Lordship of God again, and know of His grace and mercy, and have gentle hands for other people again. And may we go away from Christmas Eve with the consolation that we mean so much to God that no external distress can rob us of this ultimate consolation. Our hearts must become strong, to make the divine heartbeat into the law of life again. God's readiness is established, but our gates are locked.

These should be the meaning of our wartime Christmas:
— that we petition Him,
— that He redeems us through the mystery,
— that we are rich and capable enough through God's comfort to give mankind the comfort that it needs so much,
— that we go away from this celebration as the great comforters, as the great knowers, the great blessed ones who know what it means to be consoled by God.

Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J. –born Sept. 15, 1907 (Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows) and was a German priest priest who was executed for his resistance to the Nazi regime in Germany on February 2, 1945 (Feast of the Presentation). While he was in prison, the Gestapo offered Delp his freedom in return for his leaving the Jesuits, but he rejected it.  


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