2013/January 2014 - Vol. 71
by Alfred Delp
What actually is happiness, true happiness! Philosophers have defined
it as contentment with one's lot. That definition may fit certain aspects
of the happy state but it certainly does not describe true happiness. If
it did how could I possibly be happy in my present circumstances?
As a matter of fact we may ask ourselves whether it is worthwhile wasting
time on an analysis of happiness. Is happiness not one of the luxuries
of life for which no room can be found in the narrow strip of privacy which
is all we have left when war occupies almost the whole of our attention?
Certainly it would seem to be so in a prison cell, a space covered by three
paces in each direction, one's hands fettered, one's heart filled with
longings, one's head full of problems and worries.
Yet it does happen, even under these circumstances, that every now and
then my whole being is flooded with pulsating life and my heart can scarcely
contain the delirious joy there is in it. Suddenly, without any cause that
I can perceive, without knowing why or by what right, my spirits soar again
and there is not a doubt in my mind that all the promises hold good. This
may sometimes be merely a reaction my defense mechanism sets up to counter
depression. But not always. Sometimes it is due to the premonition of good
tidings. It happened now and then in our community during a period of hardship
and nearly always it was followed by an unexpected gift due to the resourcefulness
of some kind soul at a time when such gifts were not customary.
But this happiness I am speaking of is something quite different. There
are times when one is curiously uplifted by a sense of inner exaltation
and comfort. Outwardly nothing is changed. The hopelessness of the situation
remains only too obvious; yet one can face it undismayed. One is content
to leave everything in God's hands. And that is the whole point. Happiness
in this life is inextricably mixed with God. Fellow creatures can be the
means of giving us much pleasure and of creating conditions which are comfortable
and delightful, but the success of this depends upon the extent to which
the recipient is capable of recognizing the good and accepting it. And
even this capacity is dependent on man's relationship with God.
Only in God is man capable of living fully. Without God he is permanently
sick. His sickness affects both his happiness and his capacity for happiness.
That is why, when he still had time for leisure man made so much
noise about his happiness. And in the end even that was forbidden. Man's
world became a prison which claimed him so completely that even happiness
was made an excuse for further encroachment on his liberty.
In order to be capable of leading a full life man must stand in a certain
relationship to God and obey certain rules. And the capacity for true happiness
and joyful living is also dependent on certain conditions of human life,
on a serious attitude towards God. Where life does not unfold in communion
with God it becomes grey and sordid, calculating and joyless.
How must we live in order to be, or to become, capable of happiness?
The question is one which ought to occupy us nowadays more than ever before.
Man should take his happiness as seriously as he takes himself. And he
ought to believe God and his own heart when, even in distress and trouble,
he has an intuitive feeling that he was created for happiness. But this
entails clear convictions. For a full and satisfying life man must know
what it is all about. He must have no doubts about being on the right road
with all the saints to back him up, and divine strength to support him.
Such a life is a dedicated one, conscious of being blessed and touched
by God himself.
to next meditation > God
Return to Joy
in the Face of Death - Alfred Delp S.J., by Jeanne Kun, with excerpts
from the book, Even Unto Death: Wisdom from Modern Martyrs, edited by
Jeanne Kun, The Word Among Us Press, © 2002. All rights reserved.
Used with permission. The book can be ordered from WAU
A selection of prison
People of Advent
Death Can Kill Us
at Heaven with All your Strength
Must Take the Other Road
Alfred Delp sailing
Delp was a German member of the Society of Jesus, who was executed for
his resistance to the Nazi regime.
Delp was born in Mannheim, Germany, to a Catholic mother and a Protestant
father. Although baptized Catholic, he was raised and confirmed a Lutheran.
At the age of 14 he left the Lutheran church and was confirmed as a Roman
Catholic. In his later life Delp was a fervent promoter of better relations
between the churches.
joined the Jesuits in 1926. In the next 10 years he continued his studies
and worked with German youth, made more difficult after 1933 with the interference
of the Nazi regime. Delp was ordained in 1937.
for political reasons to continue his studies, Delp worked on the editorial
staff of the Jesuit publication Stimmen der Zeit (Voice of the Times),
until it was suppressed in 1941. He then was assigned as rector of St.
Georg Church in Munich. Delp secretly used his position to help Jews escape
with the future of Germany, Delp joined the Kreisau Circle, a group that
worked to design a new social order. He was arrested with other members
of the circle after the attempted assassination of Hitler in 1944. After
suffering brutal treatment and torture, Delp was brought to trial. While
he knew nothing of the attempted assassination, the Gestapo decided to
hang him for high treason.
was offered his freedom if he would renounce the Jesuits. He refused and
was hanged February 2, 1945. His body was cremated and his ashes spread
on an unknown field.
his physical remains disappeared, Alfred Delp left behind letters smuggled
out of prison. They reveal a man of courage who told the prison chaplain
accompanying him to his death, “In half an hour, I’ll know more than you
from The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp, with an Introduction
by Thomas Merton (New York: Herder and Herder, 1963)]