Wednesday, February 3, 2010

St. Blaise - Ottawa Celebration of Religious Life - Alfred Delp

Today the liturgy permits an optional memorial of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr (b. Armenia, 3rd century; died c. 316).

Many Catholics might remember Saint Blaise's feast day because of the Blessing of the Throats that took place on this day. Two candles are blessed, held slightly open, and pressed against the throat as the blessing is said.

Saint Blaise's protection of those with throat troubles apparently comes from a legend that a boy was brought to him who had a fishbone stuck in his throat. The boy was about to die when Saint Blaise healed him.

Very few facts are known about Saint Blaise. We believe he was a bishop of Sebastea in Armenia who was martyred under the reign of Licinius in the early fourth century.

Blaise is the patron saint of those with throat maladies.

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World Day of Consecrated Life at Visitandine Monastery

Ottawa's observance of World Day for Consecrated Life took place at the Monastery of the Visitation on Richmond Road, a property that has recently been sold so the Visitandines may care for their elderly and infirm sisters at the St. Joseph Sisters' Motherhouse in Pembroke (by the end of September 2010).

2010 year marks the 400th anniversary of The Visitation Order's foundation by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jeanne Frances de Chantal in France; it is also the Centennial Year of the Ottawa Visitation Monastery. Several celebrations for the families of the Sisters, for the friends and benefactors on site will culminate with a bilingual Mass of Thanksgiving in Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica on Sunday, August 15 at 9AM.

In light of this special anniversary of the lone contemplative congregation in the Archdiocese, it was decided to hold the celebration of Religious Life with Solemn Vespers late yesterday afternoon. This was preceded by tours of the common rooms of the residence and refreshments in the dining-room. There were also special displays.
Everyone in attendance thought it was a very special occasion that helped us see the diversity of consecrated life among us and to rejoice together.

Herewith some photos of the occasion interspersed with excerpts from the Holy Father's address to religious in Rome:

Consecrated persons are called in a particular way to be witnesses of this mercy of the Lord, in which man finds his salvation. They have the vivid experience of God's forgiveness, because they have the awareness of being saved persons, of being great when they recognize themselves to be small, of feeling renewed and enveloped by the holiness of God when they recognize their own sin. Because of this, also for the man of today, consecrated life remains a privileged school of "compunction of heart," of the humble recognition of one's misery but, likewise, it remains a school of trust in the mercy of God, in his love that never abandons.

In reality, the closer we come to God, and the closer one is to him, the more useful one is to others. Consecrated persons experience the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God not only for themselves, but also for their brothers, being called to carry in their heart and prayer the anxieties and expectations of men, especially of those who are far from God.

In particular, communities that live in cloister, with their specific commitment of fidelity in "being with the Lord," in "being under the cross," often carry out this vicarious role, united to Christ of the Passion, taking on themselves the sufferings and trials of others and offering everything with joy for the salvation of the world.
Finally, dear friends, we wish to raise to the Lord a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for consecrated life itself. If it did not exist, how much poorer the world would be! Beyond the superficial valuations of functionality, consecrated life is important precisely for its being a sign of gratuitousness and of love, and this all the more so in a society that risks being suffocated in the vortex of the ephemeral and the useful (cf Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. Consecrated Life, 105).

Consecrated life, instead, witnesses to the superabundance of the Lord's love, who first "lost" his life for us. At this moment I am thinking of the consecrated persons who feel the weight of the daily effort lacking in human gratification, I am thinking of elderly men and women religious, the sick, of all those who feel difficulties in their apostolate. Not one of these is futile, because the Lord associates them to the "throne of grace." Instead, they are a precious gift for the Church and the world, thirsty for God and his Word.

Full of trust and gratitude, let us then also renew the gesture of the total offering of ourselves, presenting ourselves in the Temple. May the Year for Priests be a further occasion, for priests religious to intensify the journey of sanctification, and for all consecrated men and women, a stimulus to support and sustain their ministry with fervent prayer.

This year of grace will have a culminating moment in Rome, next June, in the international meeting of priests, to which I invite all those who exercise the Sacred Ministry. We approach the thrice Holy to offer our life and our mission, personal and community, of men and women consecrated to the Kingdom of God.

Let us carry out this interior gesture in profound spiritual communion with the Virgin Mary: while contemplating her in the act of presenting the Child Jesus in the Temple, we venerate her as the first and perfect consecrated one, carried by that God she carries in her arms; Virgin, poor and obedient, totally dedicated to us because totally of God. In her school, and with her maternal help, we renew our "here I am" and our "fiat." Amen.

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A modern witness

The British Jesuits host an on-line journal called Thinking Faith ( which I look at occasionally.

Yesterday, I was deeply moved by an article written by the present Jesuit Provincial Michael Holman who recalls that Alfred Delp was put to death by the Nazis 65 years ago this week [February 2, 1945] for this defence of the Gospel of Life.

Here is an excerpt of the biography which recounts his heroic witness that seems strikingly modern.

...Alfred Delp was born in southern Germany in 1907. He was illegitimate; his parents married not long after he was born. His mother was a Catholic but he was raised a Lutheran, the faith of his father. Later on in life, he wrote that ‘if ever they try and canonise me just tell them I was a brat’. He was wild and independent but it was that spirit which at the age of seventeen or thereabouts led him to decide for himself that he would become a Catholic, and which three years later took him into the Society of Jesus....

His training was much like my own half a century later, with the study of philosophy followed by the study of theology, with a period of three years working in a school in between. The biography included photographs of Delp; I could see him in young people I had known myself, so modern did he look. When working in that school he liked to try things out, to spread his wings, to do things his way and to show he could succeed. All this annoyed his Jesuit headmaster who later became his Provincial! I too was once a headmaster and now I am Provincial, and yes, I have known Jesuits like him. There was much I could relate to in his story.

Alfred Delp was ... very much taken up with the new humanism that was sweeping the Church in the pre-war years, as it would in the years before and after the Second Vatican Council, which he never saw. This humanism we must never lose sight of because it was forged in an age of so much human suffering which gives it a peculiar authority. It stressed the importance of the human person, the individual human person, the uniqueness and dignity of each person and the wonder of each person as God’s creation in God’s own likeness.

In his studies, Alfred became an expert in the social teaching of the Church, that ‘best kept secret’ of our Catholic tradition, and he was doing all this in the mid-thirties when his homeland was in the grip of Hitler and the Nazis. He did all this at a time when the totalitarianism of Russia and his own country emphasised ‘mass-man’ and put the rights and dignity of the individual at the service of the State.

Alfred was ordained priest in 1937 and after a while was sent to be pastor of a church that the Jesuits had responsibility for in Munich. In 1941, the Nazis produced a propaganda film, explaining their policy of euthanasia, the ‘mercy killing’ of the handicapped. From his pulpit he denounced the film. He spoke of the importance of those living with disability, both as individuals and in terms of their significance in the community, and their significance in calling forth the best of human qualities – God-like qualities – in the rest of us.

Perhaps you would expect this kind of protest from a Catholic priest. Living in circumstances such as those, what else would he do? Astonishingly, to many if not to most, things didn’t seem so clear. There came a time when the German bishops wanted to produce a report condemning euthanasia and the disappearance of so many people, among them so many priests. Delp approved of a draft of the document, which was outspoken in its criticism of the regime. But the bishops were divided and feared an all-out assault on the Church. Moreover, Catholics fought in the army of the Reich so some thought this a time for patriotism. As the brave Bishop of Berlin put it, the final version ‘was dry cleaned, the spots removed and all the colour too’.

Towards the end of 1944, Delp was arrested and imprisoned. For two years he had been meeting with like-minded intellectuals, the so-called Kreisau group, planning the future of post-war Germany. He was now suspected of involvement in the assassination attempt on Hitler featured in the recent Tom Cruise movie, Valkyrie. He was charged with treason.

Friends brought bread and wine to Alfred in prison and he celebrated Mass. He kept the Blessed Sacrament with him always. In his laundry, his friends smuggled in a pen, ink and paper. He wrote a diary and a set of reflections on the Church and on society, which have proven extraordinarily prophetic. Writing of England all those years ago, he talked about it having lost its spirit and soul to materialism. But above all, these writings tell us of his struggle to remain committed to Christ, his temptation to compromise, his struggle to live knowing that ‘God alone suffices’, as Teresa of Avila wrote.

On 8 December, a Jesuit visited him in prison and, handcuffed, with tears pouring down his face, he made his final profession in the Society of Jesus.

In January 1945, he was put on trial. They found no evidence for his complicity in the assassination attempt. But his judge was a fanatic Nazi who hated Christianity, hated the Catholic Church and hated Jesuits above all. Delp was sentenced to death.

On 2 February, aged 37, he was taken to the Plötzensee Prison and that afternoon, in a room that is now a shrine, he was hanged from a meat hook in the ceiling. He was then cremated and his ashes were scattered over human sewage, as was required for traitors. His few possessions were collected together and presented to his mother who kept them under her bed in a suitcase until she died in 1967.


  1. Thankyou, Archbishop Prendergast-
    Father Delp has been on my mind since December and speaks with such a prophetic voice. He challenges me at heart level on what it means to follow Jesus in private and public life.

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