During his imprisonment in a German prison during 1945, Alfred Delp, a Jesuit and social philosopher by training, smuggled writings out with his prison laundry. Always shackled, he nonetheless celebrated Mass with bits of bread and tried to share whatever ideas he could about the relationship of individuals to one another and to history. From solitary confinement, he reflected on those tasks that he believed were the essential responsibility of Christians, and in fact the responsibility of all those who “take their purpose in life seriously because they know of the supernatural influence of history.” Unjustly convicted of anti-Hitler activities, Delp was executed on Feb. 2, 1945.
In what was later published, after his death, as his "Prison Writings," he wrote the following for all of us to consider.
• An “existence minimum,” consisting of sufficient living space, stable law and order and adequate nourishment, is indispensable. No faith, no education, no government, no science, no art, no wisdom will help humankind if the unfailing certainty of the minimum is lacking.
• A minimum of honesty in every faith is equally necessary.
• A minimum of personal standards and human solidarity is necessary.
• There must be a minimum of worldwide dedication and sense of service.
• 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.
• 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.
This new year will perhaps be as filled with anguish, violence, confusion, and shame as our last. But Delp calls us to tasks that belong to each one of us, to tasks that can be consciously part of our lives in the world. Delp believed, and the Catholic tradition that sustained him believes, not only that the individual can make a difference, but that each person can be different, can be transcendent.
Each one of us can work to insure the minimum for one another. Pick one thing to work on in whatever way you can. If you are a policy nerd, go to City Council meetings; if you like to be active, glean for Stone Soup; if you have the skills, teach someone to read or volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. If you do not have many resources, you can pray for all those who cannot pray for themselves. It is not necessary to do everything, but rather it is vital to do something — and to do it in a more honest and positive way so that you and the people you serve are encouraged and comforted.
The harsh tumult that the United States is filled with now can be quieted. It can be stilled by those who choose to not shout back, those aspire to be the best kind of human beings, who aspire to be different.