Sunday, December 15, 2013

Conditions for True Joy

“Man should take joy as seriously as he takes himself.” 
            So wrote German priest Fr. Alfred Delp, in his reflections for Gaudete Sunday, 1944. This Jesuit had a particular affinity for Advent, the season of waiting and preparing for God's coming to us.
            Living in Nazi Germany, he knew all too well how one could question, “Is there any point bothering about joy? On that third Sunday of Advent, whose theme is joy, he encouraged belief in the possibility of true joy:
            “[Man] should believe in himself, believe in his heart and in his Lord God, even through darkness and distress—that he is created for joy.... We are created for a life that knows itself to be blessed, sent, and touched at its deepest center by God Himself.
“The conditions for true joy have nothing to do with the conditions of our exterior life, but consist of man’s interior frame of mind and competence, which make it possible now and again for him to sense, even in adverse external circumstances, what life is basically about.”
       Delp knew something about “adverse circumstances.” An outspoken critic of the Nazis, he had been arrested and tortured; he wrote these words from a Berlin prison, wearing handcuffs day and night and awaiting his execution.
       No wonder then, that he would ask: “How should we live so that we are capable—or can become capableof true joy?”
       Still a pastor, Fr. Delp did not ask merely for himself. He wrote reflections from his cell, which were smuggled out and shared with his flock. The answer he gives in part is this:
         “Joy in human life has to do with God. Creatures can bring us joy in various forms and can provide an occasion for joy and rejoicing, but the actual success of this depends upon whether we are still capable of joy and familiar with it. And conditional upon our personal relationship to the Lord God. Only in God is man fully capable of life.
            “Holiness and happiness intrinsically belong together.”


From Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings; 1941-1944, a collection of Fr. Delp's Advent reflections published by Ignatius Press.