This Advent, I found myself returning to the writings and homilies of Father Alfred Delp for spiritual inspiration. Fr. Delp was a German Jesuit priest who was imprisoned and martyred in a Nazi death camp in 1945. At the time of his arrest, he was the Rector of St. George Church in Munich and had a reputation for being a gripping and dynamic preacher. He was also an outspoken critic of the Nazi regime and a leader in the Resistance movement.
I like to read Father Delp’s writings because he was a great Christian man, filled with a deep faith and was fearless in his calling as a priest, even in the face of great chaos, fear and hostility.
He has wonderful insights for this season of Advent. Father Delp speaks of Advent, especially, as a time in which we journey towards an encounter with the Ultimate, with the Almighty, with the Lord God. Father Delp writes that to be face-to-face with the Ultimate and Almighty that we must be “in a state of being shaken, with an alert, awakened heart that does not freeze up, does not become weary, or cramped, or deadened, but sees things as they are.” These words are echoed in the passages from the last several Sunday’s readings: to stay alert and sober.
Father Delp also speaks of Advent as a time for us to make a confession. In one sense, his use of confession means to acknowledge and seek forgiveness for sin in our life as we await Christ’s second coming. And so, I do invite and encourage you to join us at our Advent Parish Penance Service tomorrow/this evening, in which we will pray Evening Prayer together and will have the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Father Delp also speaks of confession in the sense of making a public declaration or affirmation. He states that each of us are asked daily, just as John the Baptist was asked in today’s Gospel, “Who are you.” Our response, like John’s is two-fold: who we are not and who we are. In response to the question: “Who are you?,” John responded, “I am not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet,” but I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, 'make straight the way of the Lord,'" as Isaiah the prophet said;” AND “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
John’s confession comes from a wonderful clarity of thought and integrity of action – these are beautiful qualities that we speak of in our Saturday morning men’s initiative as qualities of authentic male leadership. It is this clarity and integrity that makes John focused and determined in his love and service to God.
This is true also of Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians, in our Second Reading; Mary’s Magnificat, which was today’s Responsorial Psalm; and of the prophet Isaiah in today’s First Reading. Each in their own way possess great clarity and integrity in who they are and what they are called to do. Paul’s joy-filled pastoral letter to the Thessalonians show his great love for and service to this community. Mary’s hymn of praise comes immediately after being told the impossible – that she was to conceive a child – and expresses her openness and joy to God’s calling. And Isaiah, who rejoices heartily in the LORD, is clear in his call to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God.
It is not always clear what we are called to do or what brings us joy. Yet, it is from an encounter with the Lord that has come and a Lord that is yet to come that we find clarity of thought, integrity in action AND joy in who we are.
Like Father Delp, John the Baptist, Saint Paul, the prophet Isaiah, and Mary, let us be grounded in who we are through our relationship with Jesus Christ, who taught us how to be in relationship with God and others; and who suffered and died so that we might be in this relationship eternally.
This Advent we rejoice that God became man, in Jesus Christ, and we eagerly await his second coming.
And, when asked: “Who are you?;” rejoice in the comfort and assurance of knowing who you are and what you are calling is.