Alfred Delp, the Jesuit priest executed by the Nazis in 1945, got caught in circumstances vastly bigger than his one small life. The vicious inhuman events of 1933 to 1945 eventually crushed his body.
Believing that Nazism could not survive, Delp joined a group of intellectuals planning for the social reconstruction of Germany after what they believed was the inevitable the fall of the Third Reich. Such activity was deemed treasonous in the paranoid minds of the Nazis.
Roland Freisler, the fanatical Nazi judge who conducted Delp’s “trial”, despised the Jesuits and exhibited nothing but contempt and hatred towards the captive priest over whose “trial” he reigned with the terror of a tyrant. All the mighty powers of the Third Reich were assembled against the weak and helpless Alfred Delp.
But for Delp, power did not reside with the might and the tyranny of his Nazi oppressors. Bound in Tegel Prison, Delp wrote,
To captive eyes, it still appears that the ultimate throw of the dice will be cast here below in these valleys, on these battlefields, in these camps, and prisons, and cellars. One keeping vigil, though, senses the other powers at work and can await their hour.
For Father Delp ultimate power did not reside “here below.” He looked to a completely different dimension for true power. He perceived that, no matter what appeared to be taking place on the surface, there were “other powers at work,” and he was content to “await their hour,” confident that ultimately, in God’s time and in God’s way, justice would be done.
It is not always easy to perceive these “other powers.” We are so often preoccupied with the powers “here below in these valleys, on these battlefields, in these camps, and prisons, and cellars.” The forces at work on the surface of life are so convincing; they seem so self-evidently powerful and so confident in their own effectiveness. We suffer from “captive eyes,” eyes that cannot penetrate to the true nature of reality.
For Delp, if we are going to see clearly we must place ourselves among those who spend time “keeping vigil.” We must withdraw from the crushing blows of circumstance. We must separate ourselves from the gods of this world and allow ourselves to gain fresh perspective on the events that unfold around us.
Delp’s imprisonment may have crushed his body, but it renewed his spirit. It enabled him to find a deeper faith and a more authentic perspective on his own life and on the powers at work in human history. Shut away from these events, he was able to see more clearly.
Advent encourages us to open our eyes, to step aside from the normal busyness and chaos that characterize so much of our lives so that we might see who we are and what the real “powers” are at work in our lives.
Ahead of time, from a distance, we should review our lives and take a sober look at things because reality is still the place where true joy grows and where we build things that can support a load.
History has too often been damned by the superficial schemes and plans concocted by those who are so caught up in the unfolding drama of events that they are unable to see the real picture. Lasting impact in human affairs lies with those who have heeded the call to step aside for a time from the churning machinery of current events in order to gain a deeper perspective on the winding, complicated ways of human affairs.
We all make better choices and decisions when we have spent time “keeping vigil,” in the quiet contemplation of “the other powers” that are at work in all of life. Here we learn to trust in those “other powers.” We grow calm within ourselves and find that we are less caught up in the drama of unfolding events. From the place of “keeping vigil” we will discover a more life-giving path and a more creative way forward.