A Meditation By a Fellow Jesuit in Jail
Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J.
The following is a chapter of a journal I wrote while I was in two county jails from late January to late April, 2004, serving a 90-day sentence for “crossing the line” onto Ft. Benning, Ga., in a November 2003 protest against the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA). The School, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), has trained thousands of Latin American soldiers, some of whom have returned to their countries to be notorious torturers, assassins, and other human-rights violators.
For more information: www.soaw.org
During this past week (March 23-30, 2004), I feel that I have not merely read the Prison Writings of Alfred Delp, S.J., but have found a new “friend in the Lord” in this fellow Jesuit who spent 6 months in a Nazi prison before being executed on Feb. 2, 1945, for his opposition to Hitler’s regime.
Of course, I cannot fathom the experience of anyone who is facing the death penalty; but, as a Jesuit in jail for resisting the repressive and imperialistic policies of my government, I do feel a kinship with Fr. Delp. From now on I will refer to him as Alfred since, if we had ever met in life, we would be on a first-name basis.
The first entry in his prison diary, for Dec. 28, 1944 (feast of the Holy Innocents), provides a glimpse of the profound experience he was having behind bars. “In the course of these last long weeks life has become suddenly much less rigid. A great deal that was once quite simple and ordinary seems to have taken on a new dimension. Things seem clearer and at the same time more profound; one sees all sorts of unexpected angles. And above all God has become almost tangible. Things I have always known and believed now seem so concrete; I believe them but I also live them” (Alfred Delp, S.J. -- Prison Writings, Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2004, p. 1).
He goes on to reflect on how he used to mouth the words “hope” and “trust.” But now he knows their meaning and power in the fire of death row, and he can look beyond the bars and the crumbling Third Reich to a new human future.
Perhaps this small first sample of Alfred’s writings can indicate why he has made a deep impact on me. During my 3-month sentence, I have been fortunate to have some deep, inspiring, and thought-provoking material to read: e.g., some writings of Dorothy Day, Gandhi, Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh, and others who write from the heart of their experience. Some of these books I have read twice, reflecting on certain paragraphs, making notes, and bracketing off some parts for a return visit.
Alfred’s journal, however, I have read in this careful way three times, bracketing off about 75% of the text! I return to those sections in meditation and prayer; this is why I feel I have come to know him.
(In regard to reading, one of the blessings in these jails is that the distractions are mainly external: the shouting and hollering of the inmates, the noise and chatter of the TV, etc. One can learn to focus quite well on the book in hand, especially if it is gripping and well-written. On the outside distractions can be more difficult because they enter into our heart and mind: anxiety about a meeting or some task or deadline, anticipation of some big event, need to plan tomorrow’s agenda, etc.)
Alfred’s narratives and reflections have a certain sacred quality about them, not only because of the extremely harrowing circumstances in which they were written but also due to their personal depth and, in a sense, their simplicity. After reading the first few pages I realized that this material demanded careful personal attention, and I felt invited into a dialogue with the author.
In his introduction to the 1963 edition of the book, The Prison Meditations of Fr. Alfred Delp (Herder & Herder), Thomas Merton described this captivating quality of Alfred’s prose: “Written by a man literally in chains, condemned to be executed as a traitor to his country in time of war, these pages are completely free from the myopic platitudes and the insensitive complacencies of routine piety.... These are new and often shocking insights into realities which we sometimes discuss academically but which are here experienced in their naked, uncompromising truth” (Prison Writings, p. xxi). (Merton’s introduction is included in the recent Orbis edition.)
For Merton, “these meditations `in face of death́ have a sustained, formidable seriousness unequalled in any spiritual book of our time. This imposes upon us the duty to listen to what he has said with something of the same seriousness, the same humility and the same courage” (p. xxxii).
Alfred’s spirituality and theology are the best of the first half of the 20th century, without the frills and jargon to which we have become accustomed in spiritual writing. Indeed, it is based on the best -- the most solid and literally edifying -- of our entire Christian tradition. His personal insights, written in a clear and sometimes but not always exciting prose, are traditional and fundamental -- but appropriated to his own situation and applied to his environment in a very real and direct way. If this sustained him and elevated his spirits in the Nazi prison, it invites us to assimilate its truth for our own nourishment in our struggles.
Alfred was ordained in Munich in 1937 at the age of 30. In 1939 he “joined the staff of the Jesuit opinion journal, Stimmen der Zeit. He was the editor for social and political matters, and he wrote on a wide range of topics, some that directly challenged National Socialism” (biographical preface by Alan C. Mitchell, Prison Writings, p. x).
When the Gestapo shut down the journal in 1941, Alfred became the pastor of St. George’s church in Munich-Bogenhausen, where an important part of his work “was to help Jews, by collecting food and money for them and by aiding their escape to Switzerland” (p. xi).
During this time Alfred became “an instrumental member of a resistance group that had been established by Helmuth James von Moltke and Peter Yorck von Wartenberg. The group met in Kreisau in Silesia, and would later, in 1944, be designated the Kreisau Circle by the Gestapo. The group’s purpose was to prepare for the day that National Socialism fell apart, so that it could reconstruct a just society in its place.” (1)
Biographer Mary Frances Coady, in her book which I read shortly after my release, notes that the details of the Jesuit’s decision to join the Kreisau “friends” are not known, but several months earlier he had indicated his attitude toward resistance: “Whoever doesn’t have the courage to make history,” he wrote, “is doomed to become its object. We have to take action” (With Bound Hands: A Jesuit in Nazi Germany, Chicago: Loyola Press, 2003, p. 48).
In June 1944 Alfred made a clandestine visit to Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, who was on a few days’ leave from his job as chief of staff in the General Army Office in Berlin. The Kreisau members, knowing that Stauffenberg had connections with other resistance groups, had tried in 1943 to enlist his help in their work. It is not clear just why Alfred chose to contact him again at this time.
“The two spent an hour in discussion until Delp left to catch the train to Munich at half past eleven. Later, in his own deposition, Delp wrote that they talked in general terms about the state of Germany, the concerns of the bishops, and the relationship between the Church and the government” (Coady, p. 65). They may also have talked about the long-awaited Allied invasion of Normandy, which had started early that morning.
“Stauffenberg, who, like most of the resisters, knew to reveal only what was absolutely necessary, almost certainly did not inform Delp about what was foremost in his own mind -- that another plan to assassinate Hitler was in the works, and that he himself was to be the assassin.”
(All footnotes in this article were written after my release from jail.)
Alfred was arrested by Gestapo agents on July 28, 1944, and within ten days was taken to Berlin. There were three phases to Alfred’s imprisonment. First “he was placed in a Gestapo prison on Lehrter Street. It was a harsh and hard place, and doubtless he was beaten there, as the blood stains on one of the shirts collected with his laundry would indicate” (Prison Writings, p. xiii).(2)
Coady observes that in his prison writings Alfred spoke obliquely of being beaten. In one letter he described one of the lowest points in his prison experience. “After beating and humiliating him repeatedly, reducing their Jesuit captive to the helpless state of a wounded animal, his interrogators had thrown him back into his cell, jeering, `You’re not going to be able to sleep tonight. You’ll pray, but there’ll be no God and no angel to deliver you. But we’ll sleep well and tomorrow morning we’ll have our strength back to give you another thrashinǵ” (p. 76).
Alfred was able to pinpoint this as the moment when he first “let go of his misery and heaved himself into God’s care.... An abyss lay before him; the way across did not depend on his own prowess as it might have done in the heroic stories of his youth, but rather the complete opposite: what was demanded of him now was nothing less than a total surrender to the loving mercy of God.” He found comfort, Coady notes, in the gospel figure of Peter, “who flailed about in the water whenever he relied on his own strength and who walked in safety only when he surrendered himself in trust” (p. 103).
Second, in September he was moved to a prison in the Tegel section of Berlin. “The conditions were somewhat better there, and his friends could receive more news about him, since the Lutheran chaplain ... was a member of the Kreisau Circle. He actually saw to it that Delp had hosts and wine with which to offer Mass. Delp remained there through his trial” (Prison Meditations, p. xiii). (3)
Alfred “shared Tegel prison with Dietrich Bonhoeffer for the last twelve days of the latter’s stay there; Bonhoeffer’s cell was in another part of the prison where more privileges were granted, so the two most likely never met” (Coady, p. 78).
“Third, on Jan. 31, 1945, he was transferred to the execution site in the prison at Berlin-Plötzensee. The present volume of writings comes from those months in prison, as he reflected on the Advent season and wrote letters to his friends, as well as other meditations and reflections” (Prison Meditations, p. xiii).
Alfred pronounced his final vows as a Jesuit in jail on Dec. 8, 1944. His vow of obedience -- to God as discerned in the Jesuit order as part of the Church -- must have taken on special poignancy as he realized that he would soon be tried and probably executed for obeying “God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29). -- i.e., for giving his ultimate allegiance to God rather than to the Führer. He joked that the vow formula would be a “fitting substitute for the letter he would have written asking to leave the Jesuits, had he followed the advice of the Gestapo. They had offered him a deal that he could go free in exchange for his exit from the Society of Jesus” (p. xv).
In prison he was usually bound with handcuffs, but sometimes the jailer would loosen them so Alfred could remove one hand and thus be able to write and celebrate Mass. (I have not been in handcuffs -- except at the moments when we were arrested in November, taken into custody at the end of January, and then transferred to this jail in February. I have not had the wherewithal to celebrate Mass, except when I have concelebrated with the visiting pastor.)
Alfred was accused essentially of participating in the Kreisau resistance group, of having prior knowledge of the July 20 attempt on Hitler’s life, and of having a general attitude critical of National Socialism. (4)
Coady explains that “the most incriminating charge against Delp was that he knew about the plot against Hitler’s life. Franz Sperr, the Bavarian leader of the Sperr Circle that Delp had kept in touch with, had visited Stauffenberg the same day as Delp and had apparently been aware of the plot. Under interrogation, he stated that Delp had been told about the plot as well. Nikolaus Gross, from the Cologne Catholic workers’ association, was also in custody and had made a similar statement about Delp. Knowing of the assassination plot and not reporting it to authorities was sufficient to incur the death penalty” (p. 78).
The trial, which ran from Jan. 9 to11, 1945, was “high theater. The chief judge, Roland Freisler, notorious for his hatred of priests, especially Jesuits, was ruthless and mean-spirited. At one moment he expressed his contempt for Jesuits in an outburst of venom, claiming that he disliked them so much that, if he came to a town or a city and discovered a Jesuit Provincial were there, he would leave it immediately.
“In the end Delp was not found to have known of or to have participated in the July 20 assassination attempt. What it all came down to was his association with von Moltke and the fact that he was a Jesuit. All other charges were of no interest to Freisler. His mind had already been made up about Delp.... Freisler condemned him to death. The day after Delp’s execution, Freisler himself was killed in a bombing raid” (Prison Writings, p. xvi). (5)
A July 21, 2004 article in Pravda about the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the July 20, 1944 plot against Hitler describes Judge Freisler: “More than 5,000 death sentences for state treason were brought down from 1934 to 1945. Freisler signed almost all of them. Hitler was benevolently watching his career. The Nazi leader entrusted the case of the attempted coup to Freisler. He would sit at table against the background of the scarlet banner with swastika in the middle. The judge would yell at exhausted and tortured people, the death sentences of whom he signed personally. He would feel Hitler's look with the back of his head: the bronze head of the Nazi leader was standing behind him on a tall pedestal.
“Hitler developed the execution procedure himself. He wanted the plotters to be hanged like slaughtered cattle. They were hanged on steel hooks in a prison cell. The execution was photographed and filmed for Hitler, who watched the tape in the evening.”
In a letter of January 10, 1945 to Franz Tattenbach, S.J., Alfred wrote: “The trial was a big farce. From an objective point of view, the main charges -- relationship to July 20 and Stauffenberg -- weren’t raised at all. Sperr had corrected his statement very well. It was a gross insult to the Church and the Society. A Jesuit is and remains a degenerate. It was all a retaliation for Rösch’s disappearance and my refusal to renounce my vows” (Coady, p. 166).
Augustin Rösch, Alfred’s provincial superior, had become a member of the Kreisau group, as had another Jesuit, Lothar König. It seems that Rösch asked Alfred to join the group as an expert on Catholic social teaching. By the time Alfred was arrested, both Rösch and König were living clandestinely as fugitives from the Gestapo.
After the verdict Alfred described the tight parameters of the trial process: “The only questions asked were those that suited the accusers’ purpose, and the findings, naturally, were in accordance. Our case was aimed at the destruction of von Moltke and myself, and all the rest was mere window dressing. I knew from the moment we began that my fate was already sealed. The questions were all prepared and followed a definite plan, and woe betide any answer that did not fit into the prearranged pattern” (Prison Writings, p. 156).
In our trial and other trials for civil disobedience in the U.S., the range of testimony permitted is also very limited. Prosecutors’ questions always have to do with the mere facts of the case. Defendants are sometimes granted a bit of leeway to present the issues and reasons behind the action, especially if it is not a jury trial, as was the case with us in Columbus, GA. However, it is almost always certain that the judge will not consider those aspects (e.g., constitutional or international law, Nuremberg principles) relevant to his/her verdict. In a jury trial such considerations will be ruled out from the start.
Alfred described the prejudices he was facing: “Scholasticism and Jesuitism were paraded as the real villains,” he wrote. “It is a common belief that a Jesuit commits a crime every time he draws breath” (pp. 156-7). Even Alfred’s new lawyer, replacing a previous one, was of no help: “As the new man became aware of the anti-Jesuit complex, he told me, while the proceedings were still in progress, that as a matter of fact he was against Jesuits too” (p. 159).
Toward the end of this journal entry, Alfred asked forgiveness from “those I have hurt” and from those “to whom I have been unloving.” And in a final “Letter to the Brethren” he again explained the verdict: “The actual reason for my condemnation was that I happened to be, and chose to remain, a Jesuit. There was nothing to show that I had any connection with the attempt on Hitler’s life, so I was acquitted on that count.... There was one underlying theme -- a Jesuit is a priori an enemy and betrayer of the Reich.... It was not justice -- it was simply the carrying out of the determination to destroy.
“May God shield you all. I ask for your prayers. And I will do my best to catch up, on the other side, with all that I have left undone here on earth.
“Towards noon I will celebrate Mass once more and then in God’s name take the road under his providence and guidance” (p. 163). (6)
In a January 11 letter to two friends, Alfred summarized the “incriminating” evidence that was used against him: “The grounds for the charge boiled down to the following four incriminations:
1. Thinking about a future for Germany after a possible defeat (`We will all die together, the last German, the Nazi party, the Third Reich, and the German peoplé-- Judge Freisler).
2. The incompatibility between Nazism and Christianity. Thus my thinking was false and dangerous, because it was based on this conviction (the `re-Christianizing ideá that they’ve accused Moltke of is an `attack against Germaný).
3. The Society of Jesus is a threat and any Jesuit is a degenerate. We’re fundamentally an enemy of Germany.
4. Catholic teaching on iustitia socialis [social justice] as the basis for a future socialism” (Coady, p. 170).
In my trial I expressed my love for the U.S., its people, and its best traditions and values. Protest looks toward correcting the deviations and betrayals, toward forming a more just and human cultural and political entity. My fellow dissidents share the same vision and hope. And so we can make our own Alfred’s profession of hope in his people, making the obvious distinctions and qualifications: “So farewell. My offense is that I believed in Germany and her eventual emergence from this dark hour of error and distress, that I refused to accept that accumulation of arrogance, pride and force that is the Nazi way of life, and that I did this as a Christian and a Jesuit. These are the values for which I am here now on the brink waiting for the thrust that will send me over.
“Germany will be reborn, once this time has passed, in a new form based on reality with Christ and his Church recognized again as being the answer to the secret yearning of this earth and its people, with the Order the home of proved men -- men who today are hated because they are misunderstood in their voluntary dedication or feared as a reproach in the prevailing state of pathetic, immeasurable human bondage. These are the thoughts with which I go to my death” (pp. 161-2).
Some may be offended and incredulous at the mere suggestion of any analogy between the enormous, hideous evil which Alfred and other resisters in Nazi Germany were facing and the contemporary policies and realities of the U.S. system. It is indeed important, not only for the sake of accuracy but also for the sake of effective communication and therapy, to avoid overly facile and imprecise applications of terms like “nazism,” “fascism,” “totalitarian Gestapo tactics,” etc.
And yet alarming similarities, or at least disturbing parallels, between Hitler’s empire and ours suggest themselves and demand critical consideration:
1) FOREIGN POLICY. In terms of foreign policy, each system shows a history of invasions and occupations of other countries -- Nazi Germany’s invasions of some countries during a relatively short period, our invasions of many countries during at least a century (and still counting).
In some cases, after invading, we have set up a truly fascist regime in the image of Nazism. In other instances we have supported such regimes because, under the banner of anti-communism, they have protected and fostered our capitalist interests.
It is also noteworthy that a powerful military-industrial complex can be discerned as the driving force of both Nazi and U.S. militarism.
2) GENOCIDE. Hitler committed a holocaust against millions of Jews and eliminated other political and ethnic minorities. The U.S. committed genocide against the Indian peoples and, in World War II, against German and Japanese cities, slaughtering their civilian populations; in the Vietnam War we machine-gunned and bombed vast sectors of the civilian population; in various military incursions, such as the present one in Iraq, we have taken an inordinate number of innocent lives and called it “collateral damage.”
Moreover, how many millions of innocent lives have been wiped out not by our bombs and bullets but by the heartless, selfish economic policies and structures which we and our capitalist allies put in place and enforce?
We are also seeing how bigotry can be used to support such violence against peoples, as it was in Nazi Germany. Racist and ethnic prejudice, which has a long and stubborn American tradition, can be stirred up to harmful proportions in sectors of our population taking their cue from governmental language and actions.
3) FASCISM. The word “fascism” (coming from fasces, the bundle of rods which symbolized Roman power) characterized the absolute, arrogant power of the Nazis in ignoring civil and legal rights. In the post-Sept. 11 era in the U.S., we are becoming accustomed to the word “authoritarian” (not yet totalitarian) to describe the suspension of civil liberties and constitutional guarantees. While this transformation of American traditions is carried out, and accepted by many, as a necessary weapon in the “war against terrorism,” many see it also as providing the mechanisms of social control which may be needed in the galloping war against the poor in this country.
Fascism commonly strips prisoners of all rights, even subjecting them to torture. My cellmate, Mike Walli, pointed out in our conversation today that the U.S. government not only has admitted teaching torture to Latin American soldiers (at SOA/WHINSEC and other training centers) but is now subjecting hundreds of Muslim prisoners to severe conditions at Guantanamo, Cuba, while they are being interrogated and denied due process. Whether this is torture or “robust” coercion is a matter of definition and degree.
It is common knowledge, however, that outright torture is performed by some governments and that the U.S. turns over certain detainees to these regimes for interrogation. And in at least one instance a U.S. officer, Lt. Col. Allen B. West, threatened to beat and shoot an Iraqi detainee who was suspected of having information about terrorist intentions. When the U.S. Army initiated disciplinary action against this officer, the case became known publicly; and some American leaders expressed considerable sympathy with and support for the accused officer.
This one case became known. How many others have not been brought to light or justice? This is a matter of deep personal concern to Mike, since a nephew of his is fighting in Iraq. If his nephew or other Americans are captured by Iraqi resisters, wouldn’t they have a better chance of being treated with some basic respect if their government were respecting the rights of prisoners?
As for the treatment of prisoners in the U.S., the International Court of Justice (World Court) has ruled that the U.S. violated the rights of 51 Mexicans now on death row by not informing them they could receive help from their government. The Court said that the U.S. should provide meaningful review of the convictions and sentencing of the Mexicans.
4) RELATIONSHIP TO RELIGION. As Alfred brings out clearly, the Nazis found an anti-religious element in modern western civilization and carried it to an extreme, absolutizing the state as a new idol in place of God. Using a thin veneer of Christian talk, they also co-opted the churches into their anti-communism and pacified them into quiet collaborationism.
The idolatry of super-nationalism in the U.S. avoids a frontal attack on religion. Indeed, it co-opts the churches to reduce them to spiritual and ideological servants of the government’s purposes.
FOUR FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN ISSUES
I would like to indicate Alfred’s thought and recommendations concerning four fundamental human issues: 1) his diagnosis of the ills of modern Western society, exemplified particularly though not exclusively by Nazi Germany; 2) his recommendations on the role of Christians in healing society as it lies prostrate and bleeding on the side of the road; 3) the need for committed and loving action in this response; and (4) the wellsprings where hope can be found in this daunting task. In this I will limit myself (with great difficulty) to only a small sampling of his passages on each of these themes.
In a nutshell Alfred saw humankind as mortally wounded, cut off from God and thus alienated from its true self, incapable of love and hope, and enslaved to tyrannical idolatries. In response, Christians should first immerse themselves in this reality in order to understand the sickness and then proclaim the way of Christ in all its radicality as the road to temporal and eternal salvation. In this Christians would dedicate themselves to the struggle for a more human society, showing the active love of the Good Samaritan for the beaten humanity on the side of the road.
Finally, Alfred saw hope as part of the presence and life of God in the world; only in receptive contact and faithful union with God could people find hope reawakening in their hearts.
1. Diagnosis of the Ills of Society
By cutting themselves off from God and from God’s universal order, people become slaves: “Hunted and driven and bewitched, we are no longer masters of our own fate, no longer free” (p. 30).
And this loss of freedom and order affects not only individuals but also collectivities: “That is the way a race, a nation, an individual, wandering in the wilderness, can go to hell in a life without happiness. One terrifying factor about such a state of affairs is that it gets progressively worse. People grow to hate one another, all creation is disrupted and the harmony of the spheres is shattered by an orgy of violence and destruction” (pp. 30-31).
Noting that modern liberty for many means libertine self-centeredness, he speaks of “the undisciplined passions and forces which, in our name and by bemusing us with delight in our own ego, have made us what we are. This is not a disparagement of passions. Woe to the person who tries to live without any -- that is the way to disintegration. Humanity must take itself as it is with all the undercurrents and the fire of its nature. But the destructive element in passions, the element which knows neither limit nor restraint, must be brought under control or it will tear us to pieces and destroy us. Our passionate preoccupation with self must be subordinated; we must retain all the strength and fire of devoted human love but without the blindness, the irresponsibility ... that makes it destructive.
“Humans want to be happy and it is right that they should. But by thinking only in terms of self we destroy ourselves.... We need other people to give us a sense of completeness; we need the community. We need the world and the duty of serving it. We need eternity, or rather we need the eternal, the infinite. And there we come to the new, God-conscious humanism” (pp. 86-7).
Here perhaps Alfred was thinking of St. Paul’s caution about selfishness masquerading as freedom: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal 5:13-15).
Failing to recognize our bonds with one another in God’s order of things, we become wolves to each other: “We attack one another in enmity, deliberately and thoughtlessly, through greed, through indifference, through hatred and sometimes through love. There is no end to the wounds we can inflict on each other....” (p. 141).
Analyzing the “middle-class style of life,” Alfred points out that at one time “it had its virtues and served a purpose,” but it was always a potential danger “because it allied itself with human weakness and ran the risk that the possessions people hoarded, and which they needed for their task and mission, would end by mastering them” (p. 148).
Alfred had made the 8-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius every year as a Jesuit, and in the novitiate and tertianship (a year of preparation for final vows) he had done the full 30-day version. Thus a key part of his spirituality was Ignatius’ exhortation to all Christians to become free of “inordinate attachments” especially to wealth and honors.
Alfred felt that for many the sense of duty had died out and what remained was “middle-class gluttony, idleness, comfort, ease and all that went with material possessions. Dividends, stock, shares, bank balances -- these were the symbols of respectability, the ideals men strived for.” A type of person developed “to whose hearts one might almost say God himself could find no access, because they were so hedged around with security and insurance. The type still flourishes. It laid down the lines on which our present progress is developing” (p. 148).
In this syndrome we can detect not only the collective egocentrism of the Nazi venture but also the destructive selfishness of capitalism today. Sixty years later we would add sexism and the human destruction of nature to the hostilities under examination.
2. The Healing Response by Christians to a Sick World
Alfred felt strongly, facing the enormous evil of the Nazi system which had destroyed so much and which would soon crush him as well, that the Church had to place a top priority on ministering to a world which was ruined both spiritually and physically.
All of us who have made the Exercises of St. Ignatius can recognize Alfred’s broad vision of world history as God’s perspective presented in the meditation on the Incarnation. Ignatius asks the retreatant to see the people on the earth in all their diversity: “some are white, some black; some at peace, and some at war; some weeping, some laughing; some well, some sick; some coming into the world, some dying; etc.” (The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, by Louis J. Puhl, S.J. -- Westminster, Md., The Newman Press, 1957, p. 50.).
The Trinity, beholding “all nations in great blindness, going down to death and descending into hell,” decides to work the redemption of the human race.
After considering what the persons on the face of the earth do, “for example, wound, kill, and go down to hell,” the retreatant then contemplates the Incarnation and begs for the grace to join in this mission of the Lord. It is not a trivial task, but rather an attempt to change history and human persons.
This call to constructive engagement with the world should take precedence over concern for intra-mural reforms. Alfred felt he was condemning “present-day religious endeavors as sterile because they do not help humanity in the depths of need but merely skim the surface” (p. 94). He believed that none of the contemporary religious movements “take as their starting point the position of humankind as human beings.” Rather, they concentrate on the difficulties of the “religious minded person who still has religious leanings. They do not succeed in coordinating the forms of religion with a state of existence that no longer accepts its values.”
Efforts must be made to better humanity but not in order to acquire power. “For the next few centuries Europe is hardly likely to tolerate alliances between altars and any kind of throne.” Ministry should reach out to the “outcast lying by the wayside.” He or she is the one who must be restored to human dignity “by the release of his latent virtues and all the inherent good in his nature.” We must be concerned with a person’s reverence, devotion, love; “only when he is using these capacities is he a human being at all. We must direct our efforts toward reawakening love.”
In his Introduction written in 1962 Merton observed that “since 1945 other voices have joined themselves to Fr. Delp’s and have reiterated the same criticisms.... There is a widespread recognition of the fact that the Church is seriously out of contact with modern man and can in some sense be said to have failed in her duty to him” (p. xxxii). Merton points to the Second Vatican Council as a response, in the mind of John XXIII, to “precisely the situation which Fr. Delp described with an almost brutal forthrightness.”
Alfred was convinced that, in order to present God’s truth and love to the world, the Church needs a new birth. “The only thing that really matters” is not to regain the institutional power of a previous era but to develop “the inherent power of the Church as a religious force in the countries concerned.... Religious minded people must become more devout; their dedication must be extended and intensified” (p. 8).
He believed that religion had died, from various diseases, “and humanity died with it. Or perhaps it is truer to say that humanity died of great possessions, of modern development, of the pace of modern life and so on -- and religion died as humanity succumbed.” In this spiritual void, how can any word or act on the part of the Church “awaken the slightest echo in world affairs?” Along with nations and states and the western world in general, the Church shares responsibility to deal with human problems such as housing, food, and employment. “In other words we need social and economic regeneration ... and intellectual and religious regeneration.” These are problems for the world and the Church -- “far more so, for instance, than the question of liturgical forms. If these problems are solved without us, or to our disadvantage, then the whole of Europe will be lost to the Church, even if every altar faces the people and Gregorian chant is the rule in every parish.”
I didn’t know that the liturgical movement with its desire, for instance, for altars facing the people had been under way so long before Vatican II. Now that’s perseverance and hope! Changing the place of the altar and the position of the priest was in fact a very significant liturgical reform, with important implications for people’s participation in the Mass and for the fostering of communication and a sense of community. And yet Alfred, facing the stark realities of his world, knew that such intra-mural change was not the most urgent necessity for carrying out the fundamental mission of the Church. What would he think of today’s liturgical issues and their predominance in ecclesiastical assemblies and pronouncements? Would Merton consider such items as examples of “spiritual trifling” (a term he used in some talks to his fellow Trappist monks)?
If some ministers of the Good News to the world can get their priorities right and engage society in serious dialogue based on mutual respect and love, what is the healing and liberating message to be presented?
God’s Spirit can save the self-centered, isolated modern person “by rekindling the divine spark in his heart.... Present-day humanity’s incapacity for love, for reverence, for appreciation has its roots in arrogance and in this petrifying of existence” (p. 145).
People who rekindle their capacity to love others will be living in the world order established by God: “In all sincerity humans must loyally observe the rule of the road along which they are traveling.”
In this connection Alfred shares his own process of unfolding, of learning to love: “When I think back I realize how conceited I was about my own firmness. It was all self-deception and arrogance, this fine idea I had of my independence.... I had my suspicions about it even then, for I found that whenever I caused anyone pain that pain hurt me also” (p. 146).
Contact with God helped Alfred in those moments, and he noticed that the more honest that contact became “the more I was forced to give up my arrogant attitude and my unloving approach.” He saw the “overcoming of icy isolation, of lack of love and self-sufficiency” as “the task of the Holy Ghost in us.”
As I see it, the Spirit sensitizes us so that we can recognize when we have hurt others and so that we can be constructively conscience-stricken and repent, asking forgiveness. In this way I have recognized sin in my own life and in the behavior of institutions and structures of the U.S. and the Church for which I bear some responsibility.
Alfred also makes the interesting personal observation that he owes the quickening of his relationship with God chiefly to the intensifying of his relationship “with my fellow human beings” (p. 146). Each person has but one heart with which to love both God and neighbor.
He considered it beyond dispute that the culture of the west, “where documents and monuments are at present being rapidly destroyed, has frozen to death” (p. 147). One is only human, and great, “in so far as one is capable of loving. In the west it is long since humans loved greatly and had a passion for the absolute.” Things, power, authority, pleasure, and possessions have been the objects of people’s passions, but they have been incapable of a “genuine passion for humankind. Our hearts no longer trembled when we thought of ultimate realities like God, humanity, mission, and so on.”
This sickness of heart cannot be remedied by humans on their own. We must “pray for the fire from heaven” and open ourselves to this Spirit in repentance and trust. “The Holy Ghost is God’s passion for himself. Humanity must make contact with this passion, must play its part in completing the circuit. Then true love will reign again in the world, and humanity will be capable of living to the full” (p. 148).
Alfred enumerates 6 tasks which show the contours of the new society he hoped to see emerge from the rubble of the old:
1) “An `existence minimum,́ consisting of sufficient living space, stable law and order and adequate nourishment, is indispensable. The `socialism of the minimuḿ is not the last word on the subject but the essential first word, the start. No faith, no education, no government, no science, no art, no wisdom will help humankind if the unfailing certainty of the minimum is lacking.
2) “A minimum of honesty in every field is equally necessary.
3) “A minimum of personal standards and human solidarity is necessary.
4) “There must be a minimum of worldwide dedication and service....
5) “A minimum of transcendence is essential -- we must have something to look up to, to reach for, some kind of aspiration, if we are to be human at all.
6) “In addition to these minimum essentials there must be qualities to which one’s desire can be wakened, which one can feel oneself capable of attaining.
“All this is the `existence minimuḿ that I would like to sum up in the words respect, awe, devotion, love, freedom, law -- the words which, in my opinion, represent genuine fulfillment” (pp. 88-89).
In conclusion Alfred emphasized that the “existence minimum” will only work if all the essentials are “coordinated to work in harmony with each other. Individually this adds up to character; collectively it means the family, the community, the economy....”
3. Active Love and Service as the Heart of the Good News and Evidence of its Authenticity
First of all humanity must feel that the Church is genuinely concerned about its plight and sincerely committed to helping rather than condemning. “Humanity must feel that the concerns of the modern age and the problems of the new generations are not simply filed away as records but are matters of active and urgent concern to those who have assumed the task of dealing with them” (p. 95).
But many people do not consider the Church a potential dialogue partner and ally in the search for a more human way of life: “The new generation is separated from the clear conclusions of our traditional theology by a great mountain of boredom and disillusion thrown up by past experience. We have destroyed people’s confidence in us by the way we live. We cannot expect two thousand years of history to be unmixed blessing and recommendation -- history can be a handicap too.
“But recently the person turning to the Church for enlightenment has all too often found only a tired man to receive him -- a man who then had the dishonesty to hide his fatigue under pious words and fervent gestures.” Alfred predicts that “at some future date the honest historian will have some bitter things to say about the contribution made by the churches to the creation of the mass-mind, of collectivism, dictatorships and so on.”
If the Church is to “find its way to the heart of modern humanity,” it must strive for Christian unity and return “to the service of humanity in a way that conforms to human needs, not to private tastes or to the code of a privileged clergy. The Son of Man came to serve.... By this standard the realities of many religious institutions would be found wanting. No one will believe our message of salvation unless we work ourselves to the bone, physically, socially, economically or otherwise, in the service of ailing humanity. Modern humanity is sick....” (p. 96).
Real service must be done in the context of solidarity. We must meet the man in the street “on his own ground, in all circumstances, with a view to helping him to master them. That means walking by his side, accompanying him even into the depths of degradation and misery. `Go forth,́ our Lord said -- not `sit and wait for someone to come to yoú There is no sense in preparing a fine sermon while we are losing contact with the listeners and leaving them to their fate. I look on the spiritual encounter as a dialogue, not a monologue or an address, a monotonous drone of words” (pp. 96-7).
In another summary of the Church’s mission, Alfred presents 3 tasks: “First we must preach the divine order and center our hopes on it. Secondly we must restore human order and await a general improvement as a result. And thirdly we must bring order to the chaos of human living conditions and then trust to the emergence of a new human being” (pp. 90-91).
This new human being must be accompanied by more just conditions of life: “But if I preach till I am black in the face, trying with whatever skill I may possess to persuade humans to resume their proper status, yet as long as they have to exist in inhuman and unworthy conditions, the majority will succumb to them and nothing will make them either pray or think. Nothing short of a complete change of the conditions of life will have the least effect. The revolution of the twentieth century has need of an ultimate aim: it ought to be to guarantee every human being space to grow in.”
Education must show people “how to help themselves; they must be physically and spiritually strengthened in order to rise to full stature. This involves education toward self-reliance, responsibility, judgment, conscience; education that will instill good-neighborliness and eliminate the countless forms of superficial thinking and mass-mindedness; education toward transcendence, purposeful education toward perfect adulthood, education toward God.”
The development of a sense of responsibility, judgment, and conscience obviously militates against the conformist mass-mindedness of the Nazi Germany of Alfred’s era or of any other system which demands unthinking obedience from its subjects. Combined with promoting good-neighborliness toward all our human neighbors, this remains an important goal of Christian education today.
Teachers with such ideals must embody a sense of service and must be spiritually alive. In Alfred’s opinion “all the direct religious effort of the present time falls short as far as any permanent effects are concerned. As long as a person lies bleeding, beaten and robbed by the wayside, the person who tends and helps him will be the one who wins his heart -- not the one who passes by on the other side on the way to his holy offices because the person doesn’t concern him” (p. 93).
Alfred proposes a fuller and deeper Christian development of religion teachers who “already have the genuine kernel of religious knowledge in them.” They must be equipped so that they can “go to the rescue of the rest of humanity and cope with the task of healing them.” Humanity must be educated “to resume its proper human status” and religion must be taught “intensively by truly religious teachers. The profession has fallen into disrepute and it will have to be reestablished.” Alfred recommends that those chosen to teach should be truly religious and “ready to cooperate in all efforts for the betterment of humankind and human order.”
This recommendation is taken to heart today by teachers and administrators who, passionately in love with Christ and the world, participate in the anti-SOA/WHINSEC movement and other campaigns for justice and peace while encouraging students to analyze issues and join in the struggle.
4. Where Can Hope Be Found for Nourishment in this Challenging Task?
To put it briefly, both in his personal experience during life and “on the brink of the precipice” of the gallows, and in his understanding of the world’s hunger for hope for the renewal of society, Alfred located the source of hope firmly and simply in God. “How it will end, what still awaits me sitting here on the brink of the precipice, and how long I shall have to stay here before I must take the plunge, I have no idea. Nor do I know for certain that the gnawing worm within may not become active again. We must guard against every kind of false security -- only then will we find access to God’s great peace and omnipotence.... We have only God to fall back on in such a moment” (p. 114).
In getting acquainted with Alfred, I was especially interested to see whether and how he would deal with this question of hope. On death row, facing his own destruction and the devastation of his country in the final months of World War II, did life have any meaning for him? If so, what would he say about it?
I found no less than 22 passages where he discusses hope. In a few of these instances he talks about despair, but a despair conquered by its opposite.
Although there were moments in his 6 months in prison when he felt acquittal might be possible, these were fleeting fancies. Especially near the end he saw practically no earthly way out of his predicament.
A “living reality” for Alfred was “divine life within me as faith, hope and love” (p. 4). At Christmas “God lit an inner light in my soul and it has revived my hope.... Things still look very grim but I hope and pray. I have learned a great deal in the past year. God seems much nearer and more real.... I have just learned that the presiding judge is anti-Catholic and a priest hater; yet another reason for leaving everything in God’s hands. It always comes back to this -- only he can handle this situation ” (p. 11).
Although he was confident that “God will be with me during the proceedings” (p. 13), he also wrote on Jan. 6: “Sometimes I feel like going raving mad and I have to pull myself together. I have to remind myself of the courage of my friends.” He felt more afraid of the actual trial than its possible outcome. “Although literally everything is in the balance, I have complete confidence in life; and inwardly too I feel not the slightest temptation to despair.” Whether the outcome were acquittal or the death penalty, life would ultimately emerge victorious.
During Advent he had felt “true happiness” as a companion to hope “that all the promises hold good”: “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” (p. 27).
He experienced this “sense of inner exaltation and comfort” in situations where “outwardly nothing is changed. The hopelessness of the situation remains only too obvious; yet one can face it undismayed..., content to leave everything in God’s hands. And that is the whole point. Happiness in this life is inextricably mixed with God.”
On Christmas Eve he reflected on his friendship with Christ: “I often kneel or sit before my silent Host and talk over with him the circumstances in which I am. Without this constant contact with him I should have despaired long ago” (p. 51).
In his reflections on his prayer to the Holy Spirit, he wrote that he knew “what the strength of God is even in the darkest and most hopeless situations” (p. 118). Through the Holy Spirit “we can be shaped to the likeness of the Son. He gives us new life and makes us capable of living. He heartens us, strengthens our will, heightens our understanding so that we may believe and hope and love -- that is so that we may draw nearer to God and live in unity with him” (p. 119).
And “through the power of this Spirit we are armed to meet and overcome our moments of despair. We have only to keep on believing and praying” (p. 122). Even in our darkest hours “we should never despair.... We should have this inner confidence, not mere self-reliance, but because we know beyond a shadow of doubt that God is sharing his life with us” (pp. 142-43).
After the delivery of the guilty verdict, Alfred wondered whether he should continue to hope for a release from the death sentence: “Ought I to resign myself to the inevitable, and is it cowardice not to do this and to go on hoping? Should I simply stand still, free and ready to take whatever God sends? I can’t yet see the way clear before me; I must go on praying for light and guidance” (p. 159).
In his final hours he, like Jesus, experienced the complex interweaving of hope and weakness: “I don’t know. Logically there is no hope at all. The atmosphere here, so far as I am concerned, is so hostile that an appeal has not the slightest chance of succeeding. So is it madness to hope -- or conceit, or cowardice, or grace? Often I just sit before God looking at him questioningly” (p. 160).
But all signs were pointing toward his impending death. “One thing is gradually becoming clear -- I must surrender myself completely. This is seed-time, not harvest. God sows the seed and some time or other he will do the reaping. The one thing I must do is to make sure the seed falls on fertile ground.
“And I must arm myself against the pain and depression that sometimes almost defeat me. If this is the way God has chosen -- and everything indicates that it is -- then I must willingly and without rancor make it my way. May others at some future time find it possible to have a better and happier life because we died in this hour of trial.”
He urged his friends to carry the torch and continue the struggle: “Do not give up, ever. Never cease to cherish the people in your hearts -- the poor forsaken and betrayed people who are so helpless. For in spite of all their outward display and loud self-assurance, deep down they are lonely and frightened. If through one person’s life there is a little more love and kindness, a little more light and truth in the world, then he will not have lived in vain” (p. 161). (7)
In a January 16 letter he wrote: “Whoever isn’t able to accept death hasn’t lived right. Death isn’t an assault, a foreign power, but rather the last part of this life. The two are connected.
“Let’s keep on praying and hoping, no matter what God decrees.... God protect you. Good-bye” (Coady, p. 192).
A larger kind of hope also filled Alfred’s heart -- not just his own personal deliverance but a new dawn for the German people and for all humanity: “My offense is that I believed in Germany and her eventual emergence from this dark hour of error and distress.... Germany will be reborn, once this time has passed, in a new form based on reality with Christ and his Church recognized again as being the answer to the secret yearning of this earth and its people....” (Prison Writings, pp. 161-2).
Through the prism of hope a true picture of humanity can be seen: “Only someone who really believes and hopes and trusts can form any idea of humanity’s real status or catch a glimpse of the divine perspective” (p. 1).
During Advent he meditated on the redemption of the whole world, not just his own salvation: “Never have I entered on Advent so vitally and intensely alert as I am now. When I pace my cell, up and down, three paces one way and three the other, my hands manacled, an unknown fate in front of me, then the tidings of our Lord’s coming to redeem the world and deliver it have quite a different and much more vivid meaning” (p. 17).
Hope, or the “knowledge of the promises,” runs smack into the horror of the times: “It would be impossible to endure the horror of these times -- like the horror of life itself, could we only see it clearly enough -- if there were not this other knowledge which constantly buoys us up and gives us strength: the knowledge of the promises that have been given and fulfilled” (p. 18).
His prison cell symbolizes a humanity closed in upon itself: “May the time never come when men and women forget about the good tidings and promises, when, so immured within the four walls of their prison that their very eyes are dimmed, they see nothing but grey days through barred windows placed too high to see out of.”
Reflecting on Mary’s generous response to God’s design for redemption, Alfred challenges us to respond in order to bridge the gap between the possibility of the promised “better conditions” and the present reality in which we live: “What use are all the lessons learned through our suffering and misery if no bridge can be thrown from our side to the other shore? What is the point of our revulsion from error and fear if it brings no enlightenment, does not penetrate the darkness and dispel it? What use is it shuddering at the world’s coldness, which all the time grows more intense, if we cannot discover the grace to conjure up visions of better conditions?” (p. 19). Our practical response, like Mary’s, is necessary if the Good News is to become incarnate in the world.
The coming of Christ is not simply an experience in the individual heart but is a “symbol of the new order of things that affects the whole of our life and every phase of our being.... The world is greater than the burden it bears, and life is more than the sum-total of its grey days. The golden threads of reality are already shining through; if we look we can see them everywhere. Let us never forget this; we must be our own comforters. Those who promote hope are themselves people of promise, of whom much may be expected” (pp. 20-1).
Christian hope struggles within the history of this world. “Any attempt to escape history, to live outside it as it were, to run away from reality, only leads to illusion. Escapism and reaction have no place in real life” (p. 44). At the coming of the Light of the World, “from the imperial throne to the holy of holies the outlook was hopeless; even the priesthood had been corrupted by power politics, family egoism and narrow-minded bigotry.
“Hopeless -- that is the iron with which history often seeks to fetter healing hands, breaking the hearts of the enlightened few and reducing them to trembling hesitancy or cheap silence or tired resignation. As Christians we ought to recognize these shackles of history for what they are.” Alfred does not elaborate on this latter point here, but I believe that such shackles are made and imposed by human beings to prevent liberation; God calls us to break those handcuffs.
“Since the birth of our Lord we have been confirmed in the hope with which we turn to God’s throne for grace: God is on our side. But ... this does not mean that God has dethroned himself any more than it means that human life has been turned into a primrose path by that stupendous event” (p. 54). God, who is on the side of all humanity, is not an instrument for the self-exaltation of any one nation or race.
“Certainly God became man, a man among others; but nevertheless God, master of all creation. Therefore human beings must approach this God-made-man with reverence and adoration, subjugating themselves in order to find themselves -- it is the only way” (p. 55). Nations and races must find their true place in the community established by their Creator.
As Alfred peered out of his prison cell in the waning months of World War II, he saw his own imperialistic and idolatrous nation collapsing in ruin and entering its final decline. He hoped that upon the rubble of the old empire a new German community would arise and take its place in God’s family of nations.
Thus it seems he was able to discern the death phase of the paschal mystery as happening at that moment. Perhaps this quickened his hope in the near advent of God: “It may be in the very darkest hour -- as the fruit and the mystery of these terrible times” (p. 21). Perhaps he felt that the darkest moment had arrived, and so the first pale rays of light would be coming. Amid the rumble of destruction he could hear “the first tentative notes of jubilation.”
As we face the historical reality of our U.S. empire, we do not have the same indication or hint of a new dawn arising. Our empire has existed steadily, growing enormously through the centuries. We can’t even tell whether it is now at midnight and moving toward the darkest hour before dawn. Are we on the decline, or just entering a new century of a more overt, arrogant, and violent imperialism?
Some may discern signs of national crumbling in the Sept. 11 attacks and in other terrorist acts against us and our partners in imperialism; they may also perceive our weakness and morbidity in the course of events in Iraq, or even in our government’s recent commitment to develop a new variety of nuclear weapons, thus inviting further proliferation which could spell our own destruction and the ruination of much of the planet.
Curiously, some of the graphic images Alfred used in depicting the demise of Nazi Germany seem to want to superimpose themselves on our dreaded images of 9/11. On Dec. 31, 1944 Alfred wrote that hardship, hunger, and violence “have intensified and are all now more shattering than anyone could have imagined. The world lies in ruins round us. It is full of hatred and enmity. Everyone clings to their few miserable possessions because these are the last remaining things that they can really call their own.
“Spiritually we seem to be in an enormous vacuum. Humanly speaking there is the same burning question -- what is the point of it all? And in the end even that question sticks in one’s throat. Scarcely anyone can see, or even guess at, the connection between the corpse-strewn battlefields, the heaps of rubble we live in and the collapse of the spiritual cosmos of our views and principles, the tattered residue of our moral and religious convictions as revealed by our behavior” (pp. 4-5).
The spread of hunger, violence, and hatred in our own time rivals their devastating march in his. And spiritually we too are in an enormous vacuum, unable to discern any connection between the “heaps of rubble” of 9/11 and the “collapse” of our moral behavior as revealed in our unjust and arrogantly unilateral international behavior.
Very few, today as in 1944, are open to drawing from the facts a suggestion for change: “Even if the connection were fully understood it would be only a matter for academic interest, data to be noted and listed. No one would be shocked or deduce from the facts a need for reformation. We have already travelled so far in our progress toward anarchy and nihilism.”
Alfred used the verbs “to shake” and “to shatter” in his description of what humanity was undergoing, and he spoke of the necessity of a “deep emotional experience like this” (presumably, the fall of the Reich) to kindle the inner light: “Humanity is shaken to the very depths, so that we may wake up to the truth of ourselves.... A shattering awakening; that is the necessary preliminary. Life only begins when the whole framework is shaken” (p. 15).
Will we in the U.S. wake up to the truth of ourselves and let go of our arrogant and deceptive pretenses?
“Woe to any age in which the voice crying in the wilderness can no longer be heard because the noises of everyday life drown it -- or restrictions forbid it -- or it is lost in the hurry and turmoil of `progresś -- or simply stifled by authority, misled by fear and cowardice” (p. 16). Those “voices in the wilderness” which would offer the slightest suggestion that official U.S. perpetration of or support for terrorism has contributed to the hatred and violence of those who terrorize us are “restricted and stifled by authority” or by the often-violent defensive reaction of many people.
“Yet for all this, where are the voices that should ring out in protest and accusation? There should never be any lack of prophets like John the Baptist in the kaleidoscope of life at any period.... Such persons proclaim the message of healing and salvation. They warn us of our chance, because they can already feel the ground heaving beneath their feet, feel the beams cracking and the great mountains shuddering inwardly and the stars swinging in space. They cry out to us, urging us to save ourselves by a change of heart before the coming of the catastrophes threatening to overwhelm us” (pp. 16-17).
True prophets, motivated by love for their suffering people, denounce the injustice of the present and announce the possibility of a more human future. On 9/11 the “great mountains” shuddered and the people inside must have seen the sun “swinging in space” as the ground below heaved and rocked. Are we open to a change of heart? Are other catastrophes on the horizon?
Alfred prayed: “Oh God, surely enough people nowadays know what it means to clear away bomb dust and rubble of destruction, making the rough places smooth again. They will know it for many years to come with this labor weighing on them. Oh may the arresting voices in the wilderness ring out warning humankind in good time that ruin and devastation actually spread from within” (p. 17).
Continuing in this vein, Alfred cites the familiar verse, “the truth shall set you free” (Jn 8: 32). He considers this “the ultimate theme of life.... God helps us to find ourselves and then to get away from ourselves, back to him. Any attempt to live by other principles is bound to fail -- it is a living lie. This is the mistake we have made as a race and as a nation and are now paying for so bitterly” (p. 23). He emphasizes that this return to the truth must be done now.
The truth about U.S. behavior in the world can free us from our culpable and dangerous ignorance, from our conceited complacency and sense of national superiority, from our misplaced fears and anxieties; and this truth can help to free us from future catastrophes if we embrace it and act upon it.
Archbishop Romero urged the rich of El Salvador to give up their gold rings before they would be torn off their hands. Alfred saw the destruction of his country in a similar light: “We found it very hard to let go of beautiful things. But in the end we had to.... Our hands are empty -- more than empty. They are torn and bleeding because things literally had to be wrenched from their grasp” (p. 80).
But this bloody and grim scenario is meant to heal and save. “If in spite of everything we can hear and recognize the call, if we can discover the inner meaning of the grim experience through which we are passing and if in the midst of this frightfulness we can learn to pray, then this hell will bring forth a new human being and a blessed hour will strike for the troubled earth in the middle of the night -- as it has so often before.”
Alfred even used “towers” as a symbol of the arrogant empire and spoke of “senseless death” as a result of the “collapse”: “We trusted solely to our own strength, were bound only by our own laws, surrendered to our own whims and followed our own instincts. On those foundations we built our new towers” (p. 132).
This has resulted in “a pitiless age, an age of inexorable fate, a time of horror and violence, of worthless life and senseless death. And we who have been dragged down into the universal collapse -- which perhaps we did not try to prevent by every means in our power -- must in the midst of our destiny overcome that destiny, turning it into a cry for grace and mercy, for the healing waters of the Holy Ghost.... We are only truly human when we live in unity with God.”
The people of the U.S. comprise a small percentage of the world’s population but have a vastly disproportionate share of its wealth. Just three years after Alfred was hanged for opposing the Nazi empire, George F. Kennan of the U.S. State Department was explaining the “real tasks” of another:
“We have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.
“....In the face of this situation we would be better off to dispense now with a number of the concepts which have underlined our thinking with regard to the Far East. We should dispense with the aspiration to `be liked́ or to be regarded as the repository of a high-minded international altruism. We should stop putting ourselves in the position of being our brothers' keeper and refrain from offering moral and ideological advice. We should cease to talk about vague and --for the Far East --unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.
“We should recognize that our influence in the Far Eastern area in the coming period is going to be primarily military and economic. We should make a careful study to see what parts of the Pacific and Far Eastern world are absolutely vital to our security, and we should concentrate our policy on seeing to it that those areas remain in hands which we can control or rely on” (PPS/23: “Review of Current Trends in U.S. Foreign Policy,” a Memorandum by George Kennan, Director of the Policy Planning Staff to the Secretary of State, as quoted by Noam Chomsky, Chomsky Reader, p 318).
Alfred wrote that God would be doing the rich young man in the gospel a kindness “in destroying his possessions before calling him to the last judgment. This paralysis in the realm of things, this fixation about property, riches, gold, jewels, art and good living was characteristic of the last century” (p. 144).
Sad to say, the “fixation” on property and riches continued to characterize the 20th century in its second half and still enslaves us today. Kennan’s analysis and recommendations were consonant with the previous history of U.S. foreign policy and served as its keystone in future decades -- whether under the banner of anti-communism or of today’s promotion of “free-market democracy.”
In the last part of this essay, I have not intended to draw tight, logical conclusions about the future of the U.S. empire, or about what stage we are at in the historical process. Much less have I wanted to put prescient meanings into the mind of a Jesuit social scientist and prophet executed in 1945.
If Alfred Delp had led a less risky life, he would not be the Alfred I have gotten to know this week. But if his life had been spared by an earlier fall of Hitler, he would have been 63 years young when I followed his footsteps and first went to prison in 1970 for destroying draft files (“Chicago 15" action against the Vietnam war). If we had somehow met or corresponded, what an interesting discussion we would have had about our respective empires, and about possibilities and strategies for creating a new history without imperial ambitions for domination and exploitation.
During my mini-sabbatical in these two county jails, with my scholarship from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, I have read other material by and about Jesuits. For instance, I have learned much from The Raft is Not the Shore (Orbis Books, 2002) -- conversations of Thich Nhat Hanh and my friend Dan Berrigan, S.J. Indeed, over many years, Dan’s writings and my personal friendship with him have influenced my thinking profoundly and have moved me to action. Dan and his late brother Phil assisted at my “deliverance into resistance” in the 1960s and have remained a source of inspiration and strength ever since.
Here I have also read chapters about Matteo Ricci, S.J., and John Courtney Murray, S.J., in Faithful Dissenters (Orbis Books, 2000) by Robert McClory. The former blazed new paths of “inculturation” in bringing the gospel to China in the late 16th century; a later reactionary move in the Church reversed his work. John Courtney Murray, another trailblazer, struggled theologically to get the Church to accept freedom of conscience in secular society; after many years of difficult work, during which he was censored by superiors, he finally saw the fruit of his labor in Vatican II’s declaration on religious freedom.
One can think of other creative and controversial Jesuits like Karl Rahner and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who also encountered misunderstanding and opposition. Indeed, the founder of the Society of Jesus was incarcerated briefly by the Inquisition while his theological views were examined (and finally recognized as orthodox).
The Nicaraguan Jesuit, Fernando Cardenal, felt called to support the Sandinista revolution in faithfulness to his Jesuit “option for the poor” and to continue as Minister of Education in the Sandinista government in spite of Church directives to leave his post. (The policy that priests may not hold high government positions also affected Fr. Robert Drinan, S.J., who opted not to continue in the U.S. Congress.) Fernando’s “conscientious objection” was respected by other Jesuits, including superior general Fr. Peter Hans Kolvenbach, even though Fernando was dismissed from the Society. He continued to live in the Jesuit community where he had been and where I had the pleasure of being his “compañero” for four years.
After the Sandinistas were voted out of office in 1990, he began the process of returning to membership in the Order and has now pronounced his final vows once again.
Many would say that these Jesuits and some others in particular are creative persons with a flair for critical and independent thinking and with the courage to remain steadfast in face of opposition. While this is true, I don’t believe it is the whole picture. What really moves such Jesuits is a deep love for the Church and for all people and a profound sense of personal responsibility for the contemporary Jesuit mission in which they share.
FOUR ADDITIONAL ASPECTS OF ALFRED DELP’S PERSONALITY AND THOUGHT
Today I would like to discuss four additional aspects of Alfred’s personality and thought: his love and forgiveness of his enemies, his analysis of his people’s acceptance of Nazi domination, his perspective on the relationship between the Church hierarchy (especially the Vatican) and the Nazi regime, and his Zen-like contemplative attitude.
1. Forgiveness of Enemies
In a meditation on Advent, Alfred wrote: “Let us pray for receptive and willing hearts that the warnings God sends us may penetrate our minds and help us to overcome the wilderness of this life. Let us have the courage to take the words of the Messenger to heart and not ignore them, lest those who are our executioners today may at some future time be our accusers for the suppression of truth” (p. 21).
Advent’s prophetic denunciation of evil, its call to repentance, and its heralding of hope must be presented courageously to our persecutors so that they will not have grounds to accuse us of failing in our responsibility to proclaim the truth to them. Love for enemies, and for all who collaborate with them, impels us to speak boldly and clearly to them in an effort to enlighten their minds and touch their hearts.
Perhaps in this regard Alfred was thinking of the prophet Ezekiel’s duty: “He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me.... Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them” (Ez 2:3-5).
Alfred spoke more explicitly of his forgiveness of his enemies in his reflections on the verse, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” from the Our Father: “God bids us to place our hope of mercy in the mercy we are prepared to show. The sins of the world must vanish with transcendental guilt so that the world now and then may breathe again” (p. 112).
What this meant for him was that “we must refrain from all bitterness against those who have wronged us. I bear them no grudge; I forgive even that charlatan who made such a travesty of German justice. They even arouse my pity.” Alfred spoke of “that charlatan”; Jesus spoke of “that fox” in an irreverent reference to the ruler Herod. Both used strong words adequate to the situation, but without hatred for or rejection of the person.
“But I pity still more the people who have delivered themselves and their holy spirit into the hands of such monsters. God help us.” Alfred’s pity seems similar to that of Jesus when he wept over Jerusalem: “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace” (Lk 19:41-42). Jesus also showed this compassion when he met the wailing women on his way to Calvary: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Lk 23:28).
For Alfred, as might be inferred from his participation in the Kreisau resistance group, Christian love did not imply a naïve expectation that substantial political change could result from a series of individual conversions: “Where objective circumstances consequent on wrong decisions have become so hard and intolerable that they bow us down, it is no use waiting for a new order to emerge from a change of heart. Active steps must be taken to reorganize life in accordance with God’s law, even at the expense, if need be, of a real clash.
“This cannot be done without God’s help. May he stir our hearts and give the necessary vision and courage to make the decisive step” (p. 140).
2. The People as Happy Slaves
Why do people “deliver themselves” into the hands of slavemasters? Alfred observes that every so often someone emerges who “tries to impose his own plan on the rest of the world, either because he knows he has stumbled on a universal need or because he thinks he has and overestimates his own infallibility” (p. 2). Such people will never lack followers since so many people “long for a well-founded communal home to which they can feel they `belong.́ Time after time in the end they come to realize that the shelter offered is not all it purports to be -- it cannot keep out the wind and the weather.”
The followers gladly grant the leader his claim to infallibility, since this assures them that they too are in the right. And their need to belong to some collectivity in a shattered, lonely world is comfortably met -- until the shelter inevitably begins to leak and shake.
In his meditation on “hallowed be thy name,” Alfred discusses the human need to worship and the attendant danger of adoring false gods: “Unless they have something of supreme value, something at the center of their being which they can venerate, human beings gradually deteriorate. Human nature is so constituted that it must have something holy that it can worship, otherwise it becomes cramped and distorted and instead of a holy object of veneration something else will take its place” (pp. 104-5).
Many feel that the real problem today is not atheism or agnosticism but idolatry, with the most common idols being money and supernationalism.
These idols draw blood from their victims: “I ought to know for I have just emerged from a murderous dialogue with such a self-appointed object of veneration. These substitute values are far more autocratic and demanding than the living God himself. They have no idea of courtesy or of waiting for their turn, or of the blissful encounter, of voluntary persuasion, of gracious appeal. All they know is demand, compulsion, force, threats and liquidation. And woe to anyone who does not conform.”
They seek to be God, but a false one of threats and violence which is made in the image and likeness of the worst of people.
Our true selves as human beings require freedom, but we are deceived so easily into losing it: “As slaves, fettered and confined, humans are bound to deteriorate. We have spent a great deal of thought and time on external freedom; we have made serious efforts to secure our personal liberty and yet we have lost it again and again. The worst thing is that eventually humans come to accept the state of bondage -- it becomes habitual and they hardly notice it. The most abject slaves can be made to believe that the condition in which they are held is actually freedom” (p. 78).
This “flight from freedom,” analyzed in detail by Erich Fromm, is perhaps most prevalent in societies which glory in their tradition of “freedom” without really analyzing their situation and asking: What is freedom? How is it faring among us today?
One very precious and necessary form of freedom is the freedom of inquiry, the capacity to learn the truth about society in order to fulfill our civic duty. And yet it is obvious, or should be, that the mass media are giant corporations dependent on other corporations; thus they will not permit any systemic analysis critical of the corporate/government complex. A sign of this is the timidity and tentativeness with which we ask whether oil and other economic interests might have something to do with the occupation of Iraq and the rarity of any allusion to this question in the news.
Moreover, the dependence of universities on government (e.g., Department of Defense) and on corporations seriously restricts their intellectual freedom.
And in the wake of 9/11 the federal government itself has restricted constitutional rights, assuming for itself prerogatives which a conscious citizenry seriously committed to democracy would not yield easily.
Even in handcuffs and behind bars, Alfred could resist being made into an object or a number: “During these long weeks of confinement, I have learned by personal experience that a person is truly lost, is the victim of circumstances and oppression only when he is incapable of a great inner sense of depth and freedom. Anyone whose natural element is not an atmosphere of freedom, unassailable and unshakable whatever force may be put on it, is already lost; but such a person is not really a human being any more; he is merely an object, a number, a voting paper. And the inner freedom can only be attained if we have discovered the means of widening our own horizons” (p. 79). Service-learning programs in poverty-stricken areas of the U.S. or in other countries help students to widen their horizons, as do creative courses which enable students to get in touch with alternative sources of news and analysis.
Human nature contains an inner dynamism toward freedom which the Creator as Liberator calls forth: “Freedom is born in the moment of our contact with God. It is really unimportant whether God forces us out of our limits by the sheer distress of much suffering, coaxes us with visions of beauty and truth, or pricks us into action by the endless hunger and thirst for righteousness that possess our soul. What really matters is the fact that we are called and we must be sufficiently awake to hear the call.”
Alfred meditates on the Magi from the East as personifications of the freedom to be pilgrims persevering in their search for the Light: “When those worshippers knelt in homage on the floor of the humble stable with everything else put behind them -- their homes, the wilderness, the guiding star, the agony of the silent star, the palace of the king and the grandeur of the city -- when all these had lost their value and their impressiveness and the worshippers’ whole being was concentrated in the single act of adoration, the symbolic gesture of laying gifts before the manger signified the achievement of liberty. Then they were free.”
True freedom means giving our total allegiance only to the one true God, thus remaining outside the tyrannical grip of lesser entities.
3. The Relationship between the Church Hierarchy (especially the Vatican) and the Nazi Regime: the Limited Power of the Hierarchy
To the extent that German Christians had become “happy slaves,” in effect kneeling in homage before Hitler, the Church had lost its real power to confront effectively the Nazi machine. For Alfred, that “essential power” depends on the strength and depth of the religious dedication of its members, their commitment to Christ and to his Kingdom of justice.
While recognizing that the Vatican made pronouncements and performed humanitarian service, Alfred felt that its real influence was not sufficient to make a difference as far as the Nazis were concerned: “So far as concrete and visible influence goes the attitude of the Vatican is not what it was. It is not merely that it seems so because we get no information. Of course it will be shown eventually that the Pope did his duty and more, that he offered peace, that he explored all possibilities to bring about peace negotiations, that he proclaimed the spiritual conditions on which a just peace could be based, that he dispensed alms and was tireless in his work on behalf of prisoners of war, displaced persons, tracing missing relatives and so on....
“But to a large extent all this good work may be taken for granted and also to a large extent it leads nowhere and has no real hope of achieving anything” (p. 7, italics mine).
What was lacking? The “real root of the problem” was that “among all the protagonists in the tragic drama of the modern world there is not one who fundamentally cares in the least what the Church says or does. We overrated the Church’s political machine and let it run on long after its essential driving power had ceased to function. It makes absolutely no difference so far as the beneficial influence of the Church is concerned whether a state maintains diplomatic relations with the Vatican or not. The only thing that really matters is the inherent power of the Church as a religious force in the countries concerned” (pp. 7-8).
If I understand Alfred correctly, he is saying that, to the hard-nosed question -- “how many divisions does the pope command?” -- the entire Church as a people must be able to respond: “We have thousands of divisions, millions of soldiers of God under the flag of Christ, brandishing the `sword of the Spirit́ which is the Word of God. When we have a conflict of loyalties, we must obey God rather than human authorities.”
If the Church as the entire people of God were thus “mobilized” spiritually and morally, then the prophetic voice of its pastors would be heeded seriously in the halls of political power.
4. His Zen-like Sensitivity
Finally, I would like to share with you something of Alfred’s Zen-like sensitivity to the beauty of the world, especially of nature. He agreed that the world is “good,” as God had said in the creation, although he was all too cognizant of its ugliness and misery as well. He delighted intensely in nature’s splendor, opening his spirit to its uplifting energy, grateful to God for the capacity to recognize the good and accept it.
At the same time, his contemplation of created beauty led him to seek his perfect satisfaction in the radiance of God. He mentioned “the exciting kinds of happiness that can flood one’s whole being with nothing to stimulate it except the simple everyday gifts God in his goodness bestows upon us. Warm sun; the glint of light on moving water; the prodigal exuberance of spring flowers; meeting another human being who is sincere and with whom we have an immediate understanding” (p. 41).
He also mentioned “the emotional impulse that expresses itself in true love or true sorrow, the way in which both heaven and earth can give us cause for great and profound happiness.”
Alfred noted that he had not mentioned these aspects previously -- “I know very well that happiness can come from so many sources and that all of them can suddenly dry up.” Thud! Does the final clause negate the raptures of the preceding ones? Not at all. Alfred is simply noting that they can dry up; and at that moment, they had dried up for him, alone and cooped up in a dismal cell. Now he looks to the Source of all goodness and beauty: “I am only concerned with what has become now a familiar theme in my own life, the nearness of God and the divine order which alone can heal one’s mortal ills. It is this -- and only this -- that can both fit us for happiness and give us the means to be happy. To restore divine order and proclaim God’s presence -- these have been my vocation, the task to which my life is dedicated” (p. 42).
Finally, in his meditation on the Holy Spirit as “Blessed Light,” he wrote: “Humans are permitted to become conscious of God as a living reality that floods us with bliss. There are summer days when the light seems to envelop us like a tangible blessing. It can happen in a lovely alpine meadow or a rippling field of ripening grain or floating silently in a boat on a beautiful lake. Our consciousness is intensified and we feel at one with nature and have a marvelous cognition of the ripening, healing and sanctifying powers the cosmos contains” (pp. 129-30).
Alfred observed that “only a receptive, reverent and observant person can experience this.” Zen seeks to form such persons.
As created beauty lifts our hearts and points to its Source, we are enabled to endure long days in the desert. The intensified consciousness and sensitivity Alfred spoke of is a “faint reflection of the saint’s experience of blessed light -- an awareness that there are times when God enfolds his children in waves of tenderness flooding their hearts and filling their whole being with the blessed current of divine life.... We are only conscious of this in rare moments of contact but such moments are sufficient to see us through long days in the wilderness and long, hopeless nights, because once we have been vouchsafed such an overwhelming experience the impression never leaves us. Thereafter we can detect God’s quiet smile in all things and in all conditions and circumstances” (p. 130).
This modern prophet exemplified the Ignatian capacity to “find God in all things.” And as a contemplative in action, he also fulfilled what the Society of Jesus in its General Congregation 32 (1975) defined as the mission of all Jesuits: “the service of the faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement.” (8)
General Congregation 34 (1995) put it this way: “The aim [of the Church] is the realization of the Kingdom of God in the whole of human society, not only in the life to come but also in this life. We exercise our Jesuit mission within the total evangelizing mission of the Church.... Within this framework ... the contemporary Jesuit mission is the service of faith and the promotion in society of ‘that justice of the Gospel which is the embodiment of God’s love and saving mercy..’” (The internal quote is from General Congregation 33.)
In 1971 the Synod of Bishops, meeting in Rome, had made an important contribution with its statement on “justice in the world,” emphasizing that work for justice is an integral part of evangelization – “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church's mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.”
POSTSCRIPT (written after my release from jail)
In her biography, Coady records some important details of Alfred’s last days.
On January 23 he learned that a son had been born to Ernst Kessler and his wife in Munich and that they had named the baby Alfred Sebastian. In his letter to the newborn child, one of his last writings, Alfred explained the significance of the name “Sebastian,” who was “a courageous officer of both the emperor and God. But since the emperor didn’t want to know anything about God, in his foolishness he fashioned sharp arrows of hate and mistrust, and gave leave to have the officer shot with them.
“Sebastian regained consciousness with a battered body but an unbroken spirit. He reproached the emperor for his foolishness, and for his honesty the emperor had him killed.”
Alfred also shared a “legacy” with the newborn boy: “You also bear my name. And I’d like you to understand what I have wanted, just in case we don’t become suitably acquainted with each other in this life; that is, the purpose to which I have placed my life -- or better, to which it has been placed: to increase the praise and adoration of God; to help prove that people can live according to God’s order and in the freedom of God, and that this is how to be human.
“I wanted to help, and want to help, find a way out of the great misery which we humans have gotten into and in which we have lost the right to be human. Only in adoration, in love, in living according to God’s order, is a person free and capable of life. So here I’ve told you something of the insight and work and mission I desire for you.
“Dear Alfred Sebastian, one must accomplish a lot in one’s life. Flesh and blood alone can’t manage it. If I were in Munich now, I’d be baptizing you one of these days -- that is, I’d be giving you a share in the divine dignity to which we are all called. God’s love, once in us, ennobles and transforms us. We are from then on more than human beings. God’s strength is at our disposal. God lives our life with us, and, my child, it should remain like this and become even more so. In this process also hangs the question of a person’s final value. He becomes a person without price....
Your godfather, Alfred Delp
“PS: I’ve written this with my hands in fetters; I’m not bequeathing these bound hands to you; rather, may freedom, which endures the fetters and in which one remains true to oneself, be given to you more beautifully, more tenderly, and more securely” (Coady, pp. 201-2).
Knowing that the days or months of the Third Reich were numbered, Alfred, in a January 24 letter to Franz von Tattenbach, S.J., imagined: “If only we could make world history run faster. We can certainly see where it’s going. Why not a couple of weeks ahead of time? I’ll see you again, one place or the other” (p. 204).
In a letter two days later to another friend, he wrote: “All the best, dear one. And at the same time, a good Sunday. Only seventy days to Easter and the prayer, pro tui nominis gloria misericorditer liberemur [for the glory of your name may we be mercifully set free]. God bless you” (p. 206).
His last written words were scratched on a prison order form on January 30 and sent to two friends: “Pray and have faith. Thank you. Dp.”
On January 30 he was taken to the Plötzensee Prison and placed in a cell in the wing known as the “House of the Dead,” where he received communion.
On February 2 the Catholic chaplain, having received word that Alfred would be executed that day, went to his cell. “Delp’s gaunt face then lit up with the playful smile of a child. `In half an hour,́ he said, `I’ll know more than you dó” (Coady, p. 207).
The usual procedure was no doubt followed, including stripping the condemned man of his clothes. Alfred was executed by hanging around 3 p.m.
The bodies of those executed at Plötzensee were customarily burned. Orders had been given after the July 20 attempt on Hitler’s life “that the ashes of those implicated in the assassination plot be strewn over sewage waste. No record exists of exactly what happened to Delp’s cremated remains, and it is presumed that they were disposed of in the same way as the ashes of all the others” (p. 208).
On July 20, 2004, the sixtieth anniversary of the assassination attempt on Hitler, German Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder presided over an official event celebrating the courage of the plotters. Radio Netherlands reported: “Each year, the occasion is marked with the swearing in of a new batch of recruits to Germany's armed forces, the aim being to make it clear to the assembled men and women that the military rule `Befehl ist Befehĺ (orders are orders) should not always be followed blindly. `Soldiers must follow their consciencé is the message conveyed to the new recruits on this special day.”
Also at the ceremony was Freya von Moltke, the widow of Helmuth James von Moltke, the leader of the Kreisau Circle, who was arrested before the Stauffenberg attempt and executed in 1945. “At the high point of Hitler’s success, that’s when the circle began,” the spry white-haired 93-year-old told a crowd at a Berlin church Monday. “I’m proud.... Even though we had no success and even though we were weak, we kept European humanity alive in Germany -- and I mean all who stood against Hitler,” she told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper (Associated Press, July 21, 2004).
Just a few days before July 20, 1944 and his own death, von Stauffenberg had said: “It is time to do something. The one who actually does something has got to face the fact that he might well enter history as a betrayer. But if he omitted the deed, he would be a betrayer in front of his own conscience" (cited by Alexander Krabbe, OhmyNews, July 21, 2004).
Another conspirator, Major General Henning von Treschkow, once said: "The moral value of a human being just begins where he is willing to risk his own life for his convictions" (ibid.).
Joe Mulligan is a Jesuit priest of the Detroit Province who has been working since 1986 in Nicaragua with Christian Base Communities and as in-country coordinator of Jesuit Volunteers International. He is the author of The Nicaraguan Church and the Revolution (1991) and Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador (1994). He also works with the Global Call for Non-violent Civil Resistance to End the U.S. Occupation of Iraq – www.globalcalliraq.blogspot.com