– 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.
From The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp, first published in German as Im Angesicht des Todes by Verlag Josef Knechr, Carolusdruckerei, Frankfurt am Main,1958. First English edition © 1962 by Bloomsbury Publishing Co. Ltd. (New York: Herder and Herder,1963).
See a selection of prison meditations written by Alfred Delp