Sunday, February 4, 2018

February 4 - Alfred Delp, Martyr, Falsely Accused, Opponent of the Nazis

Alfred Delp's was born in Mannheim, Germany, shortly after the turn of twentieth century. His mother was Roman Catholic and his father was a protestant. He was baptized in the congregation of his mother but was sent to a Lutheran school for his education. At the age of fourteen he was even confirmed in a Lutheran church and it would seem that he had a relatively spiritually involved life up that point. However, he had a falling out with the minister of the congregation and soon thereafter began attending the congregation of his mother. Some time later he was confirmed in the Roman Catholic church and his faith continued to remain stable though within a different tradition. It is suggested that Alfred's ecumenism is a product of his split denominational upbringing but there is no doubt that Alfred was a man with hope for the power of ecumenical theology and fellowship. He was convinced that there was much more to ecumenism than simply pretending to get along and avoiding the points of disagreement. Instead, he advocated that we should learn to "carry the historical burden of our separated churches, as baggage and inheritance." He felt that there was little room for continued infighting between Christians when there was so much room for ministry in the world. On this piece in particular, Alfred was very right.

Alfred eventually joined the Society of Jesus and began pursuing the path of priestly ordination. He was an intelligent man and a capable student and so he asked to be allowed to study for his PhD in Munich. Painfully, he was rejected not because of lack of talent or intellect but because he was affiliated with the Jesuits and they were becoming increasingly unpopular in Germany. As the Nazis gained power, they chafed against the Jesuits and retaliated for perceived slights and injustices. At first, Alfred's resistance was literary and editorial but soon he was hiding Jews in nearby towns and helping them escape to Switzerland. In perpetrating these acts of mercy and grace, he was burning any bridges that might lead him back to the safety of silence before the Nazi oppressors--he had made an indelible statement in his resistance and in his associations and friendships. Eventually, it cost him his life.

Alfred's mentor and guide was retaliated against as an individual Jesuit and this led the man to become increasingly involved in underground resistance to the Nazis. He introduced Alfred to the Kreisau circle and he continued to form friendships with people who recognized what great evil was being committed in the name of nationalism. Alfred's involvement was as a religious adviser and teacher who dreamed of a day when the Third Reich would fall and prepared for the aftermath of its collapse. He worked with his mentor and two Lutheran pastors, as well. But the Nazis brooked no resistance and soon had arrested the members of the Kreisau circle and imprisoned them. While Alfred was imprisoned, he continued to offer pastoral care and say mass for the interested. He continued ministry even though he knew his own death was fast approaching. One day a Jesuit priest was sent by Alfred's mentor to finalize Alfred's involvement with the Jesuits. Behind bars and facing certain death, Alfred took his final vows without the guards having any idea what had happened. He was tried in a mockery of justice and sentenced to die. The guards agreed to set him free if he would deny his faith and the Jesuits but he refused. They murdered him on February 2, 1945. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered across sewage fields near Berlin.

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