You’ll recall that I wanted to say something about Our Lady on each Sunday of Advent. For the moment, it seems that I ought to be brief about it this weekend.
But I met someone recently; another priest, actually. I met him through some of his writings, which a kind person recently sent me. This priest’s name is Fr Alfred Delp. He was born in 1907 in the southwest of Germany. He enjoyed study, and was good at it, and joined the Jesuits in 1926. He taught in various schools, as one does in the Jesuits, and was ordained a priest in 1937. He worked on a Jesuit newspaper, until it was shut down by the Nazis in 1941. Then he served in a Munich parish, where was a dynamic and beloved preacher.
But as you’ll recall, they tried to kill Hitler on 20 July 1944; and as a result, hundreds of arrests were made. Fr Delp was one of them. He wasn’t directly involved with the plot, of course, but he knew some people who were. So he was kept in solitary confinement, continually handcuffed, in the cold. But with the help of some ingenious ladies who were caring for his laundry, some of his writings were able to be smuggled out of prison. And they are sitting on my desk in the rectory.
On the 8th of December, 1944—the feast of the Immaculate Conception—another priest came to visit him and received his final vows, a thing he had been waiting for with great longing.
Later, the Gestapo promised him his freedom if he would renounce his vows. But he refused.
In January, his lawyers got him acquitted of the charges of high treason. But that didn’t matter. The war was going badly for the Third Reich, and everybody could see that the likes of Fr Delp stood diametrically opposed to the regime. On 2 February—the Purification of Our Lady—Fr Delp was hanged, at 3:23 in the afternoon. His body was cremated, and the remains scattered over the waste heaps of city. He was thirty-eight.
So in the end, I would like him to say something about Our Lady this weekend. He wrote the following while he was in that Berlin prison:
She is the most comforting figure of Advent. That the angel’s message found her heart ready, and the Word became flesh, and in the holy room of her motherly heart the earth grew far beyond its limitations . . . . That God would become a mother’s son and that a woman could walk upon this earth, her body consecrated as a holy temple and tabernacle for God, is truly earth’s culmination and the fulfillment of its expectations.
Words written through handcuffs. And imagine if we understood them half as much as the man who penned them; imagine if in our moments of difficulty and decision we loved her half as much as he did; imagine what that might mean for us.
 Alfred Delp SJ, Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings, trans Abtei St Walburg, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), pp 27-28; emphasis added.