Sunday, December 16, 2018
“Is there any point in bothering about joy? Is joy not among those luxury items of life that have no place in the meager private area tolerated in wartime conversations? Certainly, it has no place in a prison cell where one is pacing back and forth, his hands in irons, his heart swelled by all the winds of longing, his head filled with worries and questions.”
So begins the reflection on the Third Sunday of Advent of the Jesuit priest, Alfred Delp from his prison cell in Tegel prison outside Berlin on December 17, 1944.
At first glance, it may even seem like a rejection of Paul’s insistent “Rejoice in the Savior always. I’ll even say it again, REJOICE!” And, given his circumstances, who could blame him? Given our circumstances, who could blame us, if we also on this “gaudete” Sunday find the spirit of joy that Paul urges upon us, a little difficult to embrace.
In a week where our headlines shout:
A 7-year-old girl dies while in the custody of our Border Patrol after surviving a perilous, desperate walk of 1,500 miles from her homeland in Guatemala.
Her sad end reflects the desperate plight of refugees everywhere as nations, especially our own, ignore that most ancient of Biblical commandments, to welcome the foreigner and care for the strangers in our midst.
Power grabs, rigged elections and dirty politics in our own state.
The specter of famine grips much of Yemen as outside powers fight a proxy war within their borders.
The perilous state of our entire planet, which is rapidly warming with massively destructive consequences while our “leaders” deny and dissemble.
And, so it is no wonder that we also might find ourselves asking, “is there any point in bothering about joy?”
In recent years I have found Alfred Delp to be an invaluable guide on the pilgrimage that is Advent. In part, it is because his story is so compelling. It is the story of the courage of ordinary men and women who consistently find ways large and small to resist the great evil of their time.
But even more than the heroism of Delp and all others who resisted the Nazi regime, the reason I keep picking this book up year after year during this season is very simple: the man JUST GETS ADVENT. And, I think he understood it, never more profoundly than in that dark, damp prison cell outside bombed out wreckage that was Berlin in December of 1944.
Advent–the word means arrival–begins exactly where we are, in the world exactly as it is at this moment. There is nothing Pollyanna-ish, there are no rose colored glasses (pardon the advent pun) in the rejoicing that Paul proclaims to us across the centuries. We need to remember that at the time that he wrote this letter, he too was in chains during his own imprisonment by the Romans.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone
Our Savior is near.
It’s kind of amazing the depth of faith that can be found in prisons.
Alfred Delp puts it this way:
“To believe in the golden seeds of God that the angels have scattered and to 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. So much courage needs strengthening; so much despair needs comforting; so much hardship needs a gentle hand…so much loneliness cries out for a liberating word.”
This is the spirituality of advent: With all of our headlines, with heads and hearts filled with our own worries and questions, we do not seek to ignore or gloss over all of the suffering that is so much a part of our own world. We do NOT turn a blind eye to the cruelties, stupidities and injustices of our own time.
Rather, in the midst of our world, exactly as it is, we seek to offer an open heart.
-open to the kindness of others
-open to acts of compassion and generosity
-open to acts of justice, in resisting the evil of our own time
-open to God breaking in
And, in our openness to the presence of God we go out in these gray days as announcing messengers.
I would like to end today with Alfred Depp’s concluding thoughts on Gaudete Sunday:
“How should we live so that we are capable–or can become capable–of true joy? This question should occupy us more today than it has in the past. We should take joy as seriously as we take ourselves. And, we should believe…that we are created for joy. This really means that we are created for a fulfilled life…Such a life knows that it is on the right path to perfection and allied with the angels and powers of God. We are created for a life that knows itself to be blessed, sent, and touched at its deepest center by God’s own self.”