Looking For The Authentic
Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J.

Looking For The Authentic

It is the time of sowing, not of harvesting. God is sowing; one day He will harvest again. I will try to do one thing. I will try at least to be a fruitful and healthy seed, falling into the soil. And into the Lord Godʼs hand.

These are the words of the German Jesuit priest Alfred Delp, who was executed by the Nazis just weeks before the end of World War II. In 1944, when an assassination attempt failed to kill Hitler, hundreds of Germans were arrested, including Father Delp. How much he knew of the actual plot is uncertain, but there is no doubt that he was part of a resistance movement that wanted to restore the role of Christianity in Germany once the Nazis were defeated. The Gestapo tortured him for days, yet he never gave any names or information about the resistance. On February 2,1945, Fr. Delp was executed by hanging and, thus, fell into the hand of God.

While he suffered in solitary confinement in prison, he was able to write homilies and spiritual reflections on small pieces of paper and smuggle them out through the help of a friendly laundress. After the war, these writings, as well as many of the homilies he had written before his arrest, were collected and published.

Advent was a particular theme that Fr. Delp often explored in his writings. In fact, he considered Advent as a “way of life.” His insights and wisdom are so profound that in 2006, Ignatius Press published Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings–1941-1944. It is the message of one of these sermons that I would like to share with the reader, for I believe it has great relevance in our political world today.

In a December 7, 1941, homily, Fr. Delp reminded his parishioners that Advent is a time when man should consider his ultimate destiny, which will place him before God, the Absolute. If he does this seriously, then he must look at his life and determine if his thoughts and actions reflect not only a recognition of God but a true desire to do His will. If one sees that he is far from where he needs to be, then he must dramatically change his life and become, in the words of Fr. Delp, an “authentic” person.

How does a truly authentic person live? Fr. Delp writes, “All compromise shatters . . . All half-truths, and all double-meanings and all masks, and all poses shatter there . . .” He then urges his listeners to “Try removing everything that is inauthentic in being. Remove all cramps . . . all arrogance and hubris, and all human rebelliousness . . . Take all the lies away . . . If a word were a word again, and a sentence were a sentence again, and a fact counted as a fact, how very different life would be!”

Fr. Delp regarded John the Baptist as a model of true authenticity. Referring to Johnʼs courage in confronting King Herodʼs lifestyle, Fr. Delp sees two laws about authenticity. The first is that an individual cannot “permit regard for private security or personal existence to make you into inauthentic person.” John knew the dangers of telling Herod that he was living in sin. After all, when prophets tangle with kings, the prophets almost always lose. He also knew that he would undoubtedly be arrested for doing so and eventually executed. There would be no “private security,” and even “personal existence” would cease. And yet he remained authentic to the end.

The second law of authenticity is “Futility or ineffectiveness do [sic] not dispense one from speaking the truth, declaring what is wrong, and standing up for what is right and just.” Then Fr. Delp unequivocally condemns those who ignore this rule:

Whoever considers success, or makes his decisions or attitudes dependent upon whether something is futile or certain of success, is already corrupt. Then authenticity no longer means his personal encounter with what it real; it is rather his personal dependence upon success, upon being heard, on popularity and applause, and on the roar of the great throngs. He is already corrupt. And woe, if the prophets are mute out or fear that their word might not be heeded.

Of course, these words apply to all people at all times. But I was particularly struck by its easy application to the world of politics and, specifically, politicians. We are inclined to think of corruption as a money matter, that a politician is taking bribes or making money in some other nefarious way. But Fr. Delp sees corruption as something deeper. It is a profound cowardice manifested by taking the path of least resistance. It is a pragmatic approach that proclaims the truth only when it is politically expedient to do so. Its hero is Pontius Pilate, who washes his hands of the blood of Christ after cynically asking, “What is truth?” And how many Pontius Pilates are there in local, state, and federal governments today? I would say far too many. In fact, I would say a majority, and it saddens me to say so.

After reading the words of Father Delp, I am forced to conclude that my first criterion for voting for a certain candidate should always be authenticity. If he lacks that, then the rest is just lipstick on a pig.

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Written by
Thomas Addis