“Unless a man has been shocked to the depths at himself and the things he is capable of, as well as at the failings of humanity as a whole, he cannot possibly understand the full import of Advent.

If the whole message of the coming of God, of the day of salvation, of approaching redemption, is to seem more than a divinely-inspired legend or a bit of poetic fiction, two things must first be accepted unreservedly.

First, that his life is both powerless and futile in so far as by itself it has neither purpose nor fulfillment…

Secondly, it must be recognized that it is God’s alliance with man, his being on our side, ranging himself with us, that corrects this state of meaningless futility…

Advent, even when things are going wrong, is a period from which a message can be drawn. May the time never come when men forget about the good tidings and promises, when, so immured within the four walls of their prison that their very eyes are dimmed, they seen nothing but grey days through barred windows placed too high to see out of. May the time never come when mankind no longer hears the soft footsteps of the herald angel, or his cheering words that penetrate the soul. Should such a time come all will be lost. Then indeed we shall be living in bankruptcy and hope will die in our hearts. For the first thing a man must do if he wants to raise himself out of this sterile life is to open his heart to the golden seed which God’s angels are waiting to sow in it. And one other thing; he must himself throughout these grey days go forth as a bringer of glad tidings. There is so much despair that cries out for comfort; there is so much faint courage that needs to be reinforced; there is so much perplexity that yearns for reasons and meanings. God’s messengers, who have themselves reaped the fruits of divine seeds sown even in the darkest hours, know how to wait for the fulness of harvest. Patience and faith are needed, not because we believe in the earth, or in our stars, or our temperament or our good disposition, but because we have received the message of God’s herald angel and have ourselves encountered him.”

–From The Prison Meditations of Alfred Delp

Fr. Alfred Delp (1907-1945), a Germanconvert and a priest, fell into the hands of the Nazis during WWII.  His crime, as he observed, consisted simply in being a Jesuit.

He was relegated to a solitary cell with both hands shackled. While awaiting trial, he managed to work one hand free and to write, among other things, a stunning series of Advent Meditations.

One incident speaks volumes about his humility and his capacity for mercy. The Nazis were beating him and calling him ‘Liar!’ because he wouldn’t. give up the names of his friends. He wrote, “I prayed hard, asking God why he permitted me to be so brutally handled, and then I saw that there was in my nature a tendency to pretend and deceive.”

Sentenced to death, awaiting execution, Fr. Delp didn’t waste his time hating. He hoped, he wrestled with his conscience, he asked forgiveness, he apologized to all those to whom he had been unkind, unfair, and prideful. He wrote, “I will honestly and patiently await God’s will I will trust him till they come to fetch me. I will do my best to ensure that this blessing, too, shall not find me broken and in despair.”

Fr. Delp was executed by hanging on February 2, 1945. The Nazis scattered his ashes over a manure field.


  1. Meg GINNETTI says: Reply

    “Count it all Joy”
    Wow – thanks Heather for meeting Fr Delp and for that encouragement from you both!

  2. Lawrence McDonald says: Reply

    Fr Delp’s Prison Writings is my go to reading for Advent. Your presentation of it, Heather, is perfect.
    There are so many aspects that deeply inspire and inform. The clarity of thought and quality of writing is
    astonishing, especially given the fact that he was staring death in the face, to be delivered by a regime of hellish cruelty. To maintain a sane vision in the face of such madness- it puts me in mind of Ignatius of Antioch and most assuredly Julia de Beausobre.

    Thank you, Heather. As always –

  3. HEATHER KING says: Reply

    Thanks, Meg and Lawrence–yes, I got my copy used at a bookstore in I think Minnesota, intro by Thomas Merton, and every time I open Fr. Delp’s meditations I am astounded anew. For one thing, they could have been written yesterday, so astute, far-reaching and prescient are his insights into the spiritual bankruptcy of the world, and the part we all play in it…and yet his tone is hopeful, buoyant even, though he clearly knows he is facing death. I can’t believe his cause for canonization hasn’t been opened–he def belongs in a side chapel in San Bartolomeo, the church of the modern-day martyrs in Rome…I should do a post on Beausobre’s “The Woman Who Could Not Die”…or I might have already, in the archives…will check…Blessed Advent!