Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s independent 100-voice Bel Canto Chorus–founded in 1931–performs carols and hymns in the historic Basilica of St. Josaphat, a Polish-style church in Milwaukee completed in 1901 and boasting one of the largest copper domes in the world.
The Bel Canto Chorus is made up of singers from throughout southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Their Christmas concert is one of their most locally popular of the year and its weekend of Christmas concerts is often sold out.
In this 2012 performance, Music Director Richard Hynson conducts. Hynson has been music director of the Bel Canto Chorus since 1987 and in 2012 received the American Prize in Choral Conducting, Community Choral Division. The Bel Canto Chorus has an impressive international performance portfolio, including performances at the Spoleto Music Festival in Italy and music festivals in France, the UK, Ireland, Canada and Argentina and Uruguay.
This wonderful performance features the Stained Glass Brass and Bel Canto Boy Chorus, both conducted by Ellen Shuler.
PROGRAM: Once in Royal David’s City – H.J. Gauntlett Ding Dong Merrily on High – George Radcliffe Woodward A Spotless Rose – Herbert Howells O Come, All Ye Faithful – J.F. Wade Welcome All Wonders – Richard Dirksen Gloria-John Rutter Silent Night-Franz Grüber Joy To The World – George Frideric Handel We Wish You A Merry Christmas – arranged by John Rutter
Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was called “The Sage” of Tuskegee Institute outside Montgomery, Alabama. Founded by Washington in 1881, the Institute thrives today as Tuskegee University, home to more than 3,000 students from the U.S. and dozens of foreign countries.
The historically African-American college boasts several academic distinctions today, especially in the broad range of the sciences, engineering, medicine and math. This stems from the coeducational school’s founding value of industrial education.
Booker T. Washington.
Tuskegee is home to the first bioethics center in the United States: the National Center for Bioethics in Research & Health Care. Founded in 1999, the Center is devoted to the exploration of the core moral issues which underlie research and medical treatment of African-Americans as well as other under-served populations by bringing together in dialogue the sciences, humanities, law and religion.
In addition to excellence in these important academic fields, Tuskegee, with over 60 degree programs, offers study in the Liberal Arts, Fine Arts, and Humanities. This includes The Tuskegee University Golden Voices Choir in the Department of Fine & Performing Arts.
Tuskegee’s first singing groups were organized by Washington as early as 1884 with the choir formally founded by Washington in 1886. Booker T. Washington, who grew up in slavery as a child, had witnessed music and singing’s central value to the African-American experience.
In chapter one of his highly readable and interesting American classic autobiography, Up From Slavery, he writes: “Finally the war closed, and the day of freedom came. It was a momentous and eventful day to all upon our plantation. We had been expecting it. Freedom was in the air, and had been for months… As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom. True, they had sung those same verses before, but they had been careful to explain that the “freedom” in these songs referred to the next world, and had no connection with life in this world. Now they gradually threw off the mask, and were not afraid to let it be known that the “freedom” in their songs meant freedom of the body in this world.“
Washington insisted that Tuskegee’s always augmenting student body at the Christian nondenominational school sing spirituals at weekly Chapel worship services. Washington, and all Tuskegee’s successor presidents to the present day, have maintained a deep love and appreciation for the arts, especially above all music. Booker T. Washington wrote the students, exhorting them: “…If you go out to have schools of your own, have your pupils sing [Negro spirituals] as you have sung them here, and teach them to see the beauty which dwells in these songs…”
In each academic year the Tuskegee University Golden Voices Choir performs extensively throughout the state of Alabama, as well as nationally and internationally (Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Canada in 2018).
Their Christmas Concert is held each December in the University Chapel under the direction of Dr. Wayne Anthony Barr. Dr. Barr is assisted by Mrs. Brenda Shuford at the piano who herself is a lifelong music educator and ordained minister at her Baptist church in Montgomery. Also taking significant part is Warren L. Duncan who heads the Department of Fine & Performing Arts at Historic Tuskegee University.
The choir has had a momentous performance history performing before American presidents and this entire concert offers the listener the flavor of its wonderful spirit and deep talent shared at Christmas-time.
The concert is approximately two hours and fifteen minutes.
For over 40 years, the Angeles Chorale has brought inspiring choral music to greater Los Angeles, California. It is an all-volunteer choral group comprised of about one hundred voices. The Angeles Chorale was founded in 1975 as one of the local Valley Master Chorales and merged in 1987 with California State University Northridge’s Masterworks Chorale under the baton of Artistic Director John Alexander. For the next nine years Alexander led the assemblage into a professional standard, and changed its name to the Angeles Chorale. Donald Neuen took over the podium in the 1996-1997 season. Neuen, Director of Choral Activities at UCLA, focused the chorale’s repertoire on classical music masterworks for chorus and orchestra such as Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler. For the 2010-2011 season, Neuen handed the baton to its present-day Artistic Director Dr. John Sutton, who had been with the chorale since 2004. Sutton continues to actively study with Professor Neuen, now retired, among others, and utilizes the Angeles Chorale’s versatility and mastery in classic music and current music in concert programming.
While only about twenty minutes long, John Rutter’s chorale masterpiece Gloria is reputed to be a challenging work – and this performance at First United Methodist Church Pasadena on December 15, 2012, while continuing to strive for perfection in minor technicalities, remains overall excellent. The Angeles Chorale really takes the three movement work as its own. This is a musical performance that is vibrant, active, personal, alive, and while not perhaps the most refined performance of this favorite work on record, it provides the listener with an aural experience that leaves one on the edge of their seat which is a power not typically found in other performances. This engaging vibrancy could be part of Sutton’s ease and familiarity with popular musical forms, such as for film and television, that infuses this choral piece’s unique harmonies, structures, and rhythms with a branded verve and, if imperfectly, then confidently based on the chorale and brass’s obvious performative exuberance and enjoyment.
John Rutter’s Gloria is the English composer’s musical setting of parts of the Latin Gloria which is a Christian hymn. Rutter’s work was written in 1974 and has been part of the Christmas concert tradition ever since. The Latin Gloria is also known as “The Hymn of the Angels” because they are the words the angels sang when, in Luke 2:14, the angelic host hovered over the shepherds in the field to announce Christ’s birth. “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” the shepherds heard the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest.” (20.23 minutes).
The St. Bavo Cathedral Choir performs Christmas carols and other seasonal music for voice, many in modern settings. Recorded in Haarlem in Advent 2012 (December 16) in the Cathedral Basilica St. Bavo –not the iconic Grote Kerk in Haarlem’s main square but the Catholic church constructed between 1895 and 1930 – the program includes well-known carols along with Anton Diabelli’s Pastoral Mass In F Major For Solos, Chorus and Orchestra, Op. 147, and excerpts from Benjamin Britten’s 11-part choral piece, A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28. Fons Ziekman conducts the Promenade Orchestra and Sanne Nieuwenhuijsen directs the chorus with soloists Jasper Schweppe, Anouk van Laake, Floris Claassens, Hidde Kleikamp and Frank de Ruijter. The impressive vocal and orchestral ensemble is accompanied by Ton van Eck on organ and Auréli Husslage on harp.
John Francis Wade (1711-1786) : Oh, come all ye faithful
Anton Diabelli (1781-1858): Pastoral Messe in F-dur, op.147
Willcocks: The First Nowell
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976): A Ceremony of Carols
Richards: Over the Country
Britten: A New Year Carol
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847): Hark the herald angels sing
Vaughan Williams (1872-1958): Fantasia on Christmas Carols
The concert is 1 hour, 3 minutes and 48 seconds long.
All text by John P. Walsh unless otherwise noted. Color photographs by author are noted.
FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
During World War II in Germany, Alfred Delp, S.J. (1907 – Berlin, 2 February 1945) was a member of the Kreisauer Kreis (The Kreisau Circle) composed of German men and women from a variety of backgrounds who opposed Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. Fr. Delp was arrested by the Nazis in 1944 and, after six months in prison in shackles, the German Catholic priest and Jesuit was sentenced to death for high treason and executed by hanging on Candlemas 1945. Following the Allied victory, Delp’s prison writings were assembled into a posthumous book called Facing Death (German: Im Angesicht des Todes). A highlight of the 37-year-old Delp’s writings are his seasonal sermons and meditations for Advent and Christmas which were written as he languished in a cell “three steps wide” surrounded by Nazi guards. His writings, scrawled on numerous slips of paper and smuggled out before his death, have been compared to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison also written in Tegel prison in Berlin, Germany, during World War II. Father Delp was developing his thoughts and writing about the annual Advent drama at least as early as 1933 so his prison writings became a concluding chapter of a lasting adult interest as he faced his death.
German-born Alfred Delp S.J. (15 September 1907 – Berlin, 2 February 1945) wrote his meditations and sermons on Advent and Christmas when he was a political prisoner of the Nazis in Germany in World War II.
From Alfred Delp, S.J., “Figures of Advent,” Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2006 (adapted):
“I see this year’s Advent (December 1944 in Berlin’s Tegel Prison) with an intensity and discomposure like never before….Along with these thoughts comes the memory of an angel that a good person gave me for Advent in 1942. It held a banner: ‘Rejoice, for the Lord is near.’ A war bomb destroyed the angel as well as that good person although I often sense that she continues to do angel-services for me. It is the knowledge of the quiet angels of annunciation, who speak their message of blessing into the distress of our world situation and scatter their blessing’s seeds which begin to grow in the middle of the night which informs and encourages us of the truth of a situation. These angels of Advent are not loud angels of public jubilation and fulfillment but, silent and unnoticed, they come into private and shabby rooms and appear before our hearts as they did long ago. Silently they bring the questions of God and proclaim to us the miracles of God, with whom nothing is impossible. Advent is a time of refuge because it has received a message – and so to believe in God’s auspicious seeds that the angels offer an open heart are the first things we must do with our lives. The next is to go through the days as announcing messengers ourselves. We wait in faith for the abundance of the coming harvest – not because we trust the earth or the stars or our own good sense and courage – but only because we have perceived God’s messages and know about His herald angels – and even have ourselves encountered one.”
SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
Thomas Merton in his introduction to Alfred Delp’s Prison Writings – a modern compilation of a young German Jesuit’s writings in prison in Berlin before he was executed for high treason as a Nazi resister in World War II – states that Delp was condemned because he and others “hoped to build a new Germany on Christian principles.” (p. xxv.) Merton links Delp’s political activity in the Kreisau Circle—an underground group of about twenty-five German dissidents of diverse backgrounds opposed to the Nazi regime—to broader Church doctrine and the western tradition of liberalism in evidence since the Ancient Greeks that “always hoped to attain a more equitable world order by peaceful collaboration among nations.” (ibid.) For Delp, according to Merton, the stark choice before human beings remained the crucial one of global order or global destruction. Father Delp observed that even religious people in his time had fallen into the militaristic government’s syllogistic trap of “conquest first and a new and better world later.” Delp’s concern when making this sort of choice is that “if the person who says it tolerates or helps further conditions which are fatal to mankind…or weakens his or her own spiritual, moral, and religious sense” – then even “the most pious prayer can become a blasphemy.” (ibid.) Delp proposed that any human indifference to honesty and justice originating in passionate conviction vitiates human nature which is left to then express itself in a vicious circle of fear and arrogance. From Delp’s perspective, his active participation in Kreisauer Kreis for which he was executed by the Nazis in February 1945 pointed to the eschatological character of the Advent drama by Delp’s hope in his time for the political and social ruin of Germany which had sunk into bitter darkness and that it would find its way ahead by the light of each person’s burning candle “for honesty and justice.”
From Alfred Delp S.J., Prison Writings, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2004:
“So this Sunday we must again fold our hands and kneel humbly before God in order that his salvation may be active in us and that we may be ready to call upon him and be moved by his presence. The arrogance so typical of modern men and women is deflated here. At the same time, the icy loneliness and helplessness into which we are frozen melts under the divine warmth that fills and blesses us …If we are terrified by a dawning realization of our true condition, that terror is completely calmed by the certain knowledge that God is on the way and actually approaching. Our fate, no matter how much it may be entwined with the inescapable logic of circumstance, is still nothing more than the way to God, the way God has chosen for the ultimate consummation of his purpose, for his permanent ends. Light your candles – such candles as you possess – for they are the appropriate symbol for all that must happen in Advent if we are to live.”
THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
On Friday, July 28, 1944, two Gestapo men were waiting outside St. George’s church in Munich, a simple Baroque pile in an almost pastoral setting near the Englischer Garten. Eight days before there had been an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life which failed. For active German dissidents to the Nazi regime in custody and, for the time being, still walking free – things were going to get worse. Helmuth James Graf von Moltke (1907 – 1945), one of the leaders of the Kreisau Circle, a type of anti-Nazi salon, had been in prison since January 1944. Now, following the failed bombing at the Wolf’s Lair, the other leader of the Kreisau Circle, Peter Yorck von Wartenburg (1904 –1944), was arrested immediately, sent to Berlin and tried and executed on August 8, 1944.
Interior, St. Georg München-Bogenhausen. Parish church of German resister and martyr Alfred Delp, S.J. who was serving as its pastor in World War II.
One of the two Gestapo men waiting outside St. George’s to arrest Father Alfred Delp, S.J. happened to be an old schoolmate of his. Like other Catholic bishops and priests who were de facto dissenters working against the Nazi regime, especially its social and racial ideologies and practices, Delp too had long been under close surveillance by the Gestapo. As a member of the Kreisau Circle – a group of professionals of varying religious, social, and political backgrounds but all of them dyed-in-the-wool anti-Nazis – Delp was their social scientist with a Ph.D. who illumined their minds to cutting-edge labor issues including the German worker’s role after the war in a post-Nazi Germany.
Helmuth James Graf von Moltke (March 11, 1907 – January 23, 1945). Count Moltke had close sympathies with the democratic forces of the day and expressed open criticism as he watched the rise of Hitler. In 1933 he refused to accept Nazi appointments. After the outbreak of World War II, as an expert adviser on international law and the laws of war he served as war administration councilor in the Office for Foreign Affairs/Counterintelligence in the Armed Forces High Command in Berlin. He was particularly active in advocating for humane treatment of prisoners of war and observance of international law. In 1940 Moltke with Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg became the leading figures in a group that emerged as the Kreisau Circle with its discussions held in Berlin and Kreisau. Moltke, formulating memoranda on the establishment of a new political order in Germany, systematically extended his contacts to Protestant and Catholic church leaders and to leaders of the social democratic political opposition. Moltke was arrested on January 19, 1944 after he had warned members of the Solf Circle that they were under Gestapo surveillance. His involvement in the plans for a coup against Hitler was not exposed until after the failure of the assassination attempt of July 20, 1944. Helmuth James Graf von Moltke was sentenced to death by the People’s Court on January 11, 1945 and executed on January 23, 1945 in Berlin-Plötzensee. http://www.gdw-berlin.de/home/
Once under arrest, Delp disappeared into Nazi prisons in Munich and Berlin for almost three weeks. None of his friends could find him. At Lehrterstrasse, a Gestapo prison in Berlin that specifically dealt with German resisters, the doctor-priest was regularly beaten. Delp was charged by the National Socialists with a half dozen crimes—being in Kriesau Circle; holding resistance meetings; knowing von Moltke and other anti-Nazis; knowing Claus von Stauffenberg who placed the bomb on July 20, 1944 to assassinate Hitler; knowing in advance of the assassination plot; and, displaying a general attitude of anti-Nazism. The charge of knowing about the assassination plot before it happened greatly concerned Delp. He categorically denied it and, consequently, worked vigorously through his lawyer to disprove it.
On August 15, 1944, having moved to Tegel Prison in Berlin on August 8, Delp’s whereabouts were finally discovered by Marianne Hapig (1894-1973), a social worker and indefatigable friend to German resistance. Delp found another significant friend at Tegel—Harald Poelchau (1907-1972) the prison’s Lutheran chaplain since 1933. With the agency of chaplain Poelchau, Catholic Father Delp had wafers and wine to say mass and messages could be smuggled in and out by way of the laundry. It was through such a clandestine route that Father Delp made his final vows as a Jesuit on December 8, 1944. In front of a visiting witness, Fr. Delp pronounced the vow formula and, later apologizing for the emotion, sank into a prison chair and wept.
Marianne Hapig (March 5, 1894 – March 23, 1973) discovered Father Delp’s presence at Tegel prison in Berlin after his disappearance following his arrest in Munich three weeks earlier. A career social worker and anti-Nazi Marianne Hapig and her lifelong jurist friend Marianne Pünder managed to smuggle Alfred Delp’s prison writings out of Tegel prison where soon after the war they were published.
Harald Poelchau (October 5, 1903 – April 29, 1972). He gained his doctorate in 1931 under Paul Tillich, the leading representative of Religious Socialism. At the end of 1932, Poelchau applied for a prison chaplain’s post in Berlin and became the first cleric to be employed by the National Socialist regime in a penal institution. As an official in the Justice Department he rapidly became an important source of support for the victims of National Socialist violence, and gave spiritual comfort to hundreds of people sentenced to death as they faced execution. From 1941 onwards he was a member of the circle around Helmuth James Graf von Moltke and attended the first major Kreisau Conference. After the failed coup attempt of July 20, 1944 Poelchau was able to pass on last messages and farewell letters to the relatives of many of those sentenced to death. Harald Poelchau managed to avoid being investigated by the Gestapo and survived the war.
Many of Delp’s Advent writings come from these months in prison, smuggled out by Marianne Hapig and her lifelong friend Marianne Pünder. For more than a decade, Delp had written extensively on the Christian season of expectant waiting for the coming of Christmas. During these months in prison, his hands almost always in chains, Delp had identified with a specific artwork as he wrote his Advent thoughts onto endless slips of paper. It was a sixteenth century German wood sculpture of St. Sebastian known as Die gefesselten Hände (English:“Bound Hands”) by Tilman Riemenschneider (c.1460-1531).
Die gefesselten Hände (“Bound Hands”) by Tilman Riemenschneider (c.1460-1531). In his months in prison, Delp’s hands almost always in chains, the Catholic priest and Nazi resister identified with this specific artwork as he wrote down his thoughts.
At his two-day trial in January 1945, rabid Nazi judge Roland Freisler was interested in one charge against Delp – his association with von Moltke. The leader of Kreisauer Kreis would be soon on death row and executed on January 23, 1945. Friesler’s reign of terror already included five thousand death sentences as president of the People’s Court since 1942. It did not help that Delp was a Catholic priest and Jesuit. So with Hitler, Friesler was maniacally anticlerical. Although many Nazis grew up as Catholics, in adulthood such notorious men as Hitler, Josef Goebbels, Martin Bormann, Heinrich Himmler, and others, held Christianity in utter and complete contempt. (Ian Kershaw; Hitler: a Biography; pp. 381–82). Once in power, Hitler believed that Christianity signified “the systematic cultivation of the human failure” and that its religious organization and central beliefs had to be marginalized and eventually purged from a heroic German worldview (Alan Bullock; Hitler: a Study in Tyranny; p. 218). When Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, the Superior-General of the Jesuits was just then a Pole, Wlodimir Ledóchowski, S.J. (1866 –1942). Ledóchowski who was in charge of neutral Vatican Radio made international broadcasts about Nazi wartime atrocities in many languages.
Wlodimir Ledóchowski, S.J. (1866 –1942) had been the Polish Superior-General of the Jesuits since 1915 when Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, setting off World War II. A renowned institutional builder, Ledóchowski established several notable institutes and colleges in Rome. In January 1940, Vatican Radio controlled by the Jesuits and with Pope Pius XII’s authorization broadcast the details of the Polish wartime situation. When the German ambassador protested the German language broadcasts, the Pope honored the request. But Vatican Radio broadcasts in other languages of the Poland situation continued and in even more explicit detail. The British press at the time hailed Vatican Radio as “tortured Poland’s powerful advocate.” (Peter Hebblethwaite; Paul VI The First Modern Pope, Paulist Press, 1993, p. 140.)
That Father Delp remained a Jesuit—even after he was offered a plea deal by the Nazis to walk free of all charges if he renounced his religious faith—undoubtedly deserved the death penalty in Freisler’s court. After the death sentence was pronounced on January 11, 1945, the typical procedure of immediate execution was delayed. During this time, the bombing by British and Americans intensified. Delp desperately hoped that the Allies would arrive in time to set political prisoners like him free. But, finally, on February 2, 1945, at Berlin-Plötzensee Alfred Delp was taken from his holding pen by the Nazi executioner and executed by hanging. The next day, February 3, 1945, Roland Freisler presiding in his People’s Court, was killed by collateral damage in an Allied bombing attack.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (French, 1873-1897) traced and painted this image of the Holy Face of Jesus and tacked it to wool for hanging as a gift to her sister Céline who was at home at Les Buissonnets taking care of their widower father who was suffering from illness. The National Shrine of St. Thérèse in Darien, Illinois. A similar sort of facial expression may be expected to be found on Father Delp for his condemnation and execution by the Nazis on February 2, 1945 for “hop[ing] to build a new Germany on Christian principles.”
From Alfred Delp, S.J., “Meditation for the Third Sunday of Advent Written in Tegel Prison, Berlin, December 1944” (adapted), Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2006:
“Mankind is challenged again to stand and deliver. Only man does not merely exchange one set of chains for another – God’s calls are always creative. They increase the very reality within us that is called upon – precisely because of their realness and authenticity…Freedom is the breath of life. We sit in musty bomb cellars and cramped prisons and groan under the bursting and destructive blows of fate. We should finally stop giving everything a false glamour and unrealistic value and begin to bear it for what it is – unredeemed life. As soon as we do this, the jangling of chains and the trembling of nerves and the faintness of heart transform themselves into a small prayer – “Drop down, dew…” We should much more definitively unite our concrete destiny with those kind of connections and call upon God’s redeeming freedom. Then the narrowness widens, our lungs breathe in fresh air again, and the horizon has promises again. Existence still weeps and mourns, but already a soft, joyous melody of longing and knowledge is ringing through the mourners’ broken voices. With this knowledge and attitude humanity releases itself from the lonely relationship to things and circumstances. A person finds wholesomeness and healing – not the goal-oriented, cool distance of calculation, mechanization, and organization. It is rather that higher level of freedom, the perspective given to someone looking from the heights to what lies below. The voice of such a person is not so quickly silenced!”
“The conditions for true joy have nothing to do with conditions of our exterior life but consist of humanity’s interior frame of mind and competence, which make it possible now and again for the person to sense, even in adverse circumstances, what life is really about…And the first answer is found in the figure of John the Baptist who personifies Advent. Humanity must be brought to an absolute clarity about himself and honestly before himself and others. He must come down from all the pedestals of arrogance onto which he always climbs…From the high-horses of vanity and self-deception that, for a time, let themselves be trotted out so proudly. Those horses though finally throw off their “master” in the wilderness…Two criteria identify whether we are following an authentic impulse or not…Both are found once again in John the Baptist. The first is service – human honesty requires a person to see himself as a servant and perceive his reality as mission and an assignment…The second criterion keeps us on track- annunciation, which calls us to praise of God. An extended personal effort is required to keep giving oneself the impulse to rise above, move away from self. But at the same time this is how a human being attains the necessary openness in which he or she must continue if sincerely wanting to strive toward the great realities God has prepared for him or her.”
FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
Merton makes clear about Father Delp that his writings on Advent are usually a simple presentation of the traditional Christian faith with no special originality to his images. (p. xxxv, Prison Writings). It is Delp’s application of those facts based in his personal experience – that is, as an active dissident and prisoner of a Germany in ruins during World War II – that infuses a sometimes hackneyed outcome to Advent of its original hope. In Fr. Delp’s world, if humanity is fully alert to the desperation and bitterness of the times, Advent’s basic image of God-made-man becomes opportune, favorable, for humanity’s future although not holding any foregone conclusions or sudden outcomes.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Luke 4:18-19.
Thomas Merton views Father Delp’s Advent meditations in Pauline terms, although Delp himself found St. Paul had a ‘tendency to over-emphasize.’ (p. 55, ibid.). Humanity hopes in God’s close alliance so to win back or have restored a future that is not any longer in ruins and in which humanity – and even life itself – is absurdly helpless to fix.
From Alfred Delp S.J., Prison Writings, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2004:
“God in the Christmas encounter is still the challenging God. The greatest misconceptions all center round the typical Christmas picture of God. Humanity becomes so wrapped up in appearance that the breathtaking reality of the birth of God as a human child scarcely enters our mind and the soul doesn’t grasp its significance….Of course the externals, the sweet sentimental pictures, carols, cribs and so on, are a comfort….but there is a great deal more to the nativity than that. The truth of it is too tremendous to be appreciated unless one concentrates on it fully. Since the birth of God, humanity has been confirmed in the hope that when we turn to God’s throne for favor that God is on our side. This does not mean that God has dethroned Himself any more than it means that human life has become a primrose path in the wake of that stupendous event. We need to look critically at the tendency to sentimentalize the divine attributes by personifying them in an innocent child or over-beautifying the adult Jesus. The glamorizing of the nativity story – the making the whole tone of Christ’s life equal to a Baroque sermon full of ominous warnings and grave moralizing – has contributed quite a lot to the West’s being paralyzed in the face of those conditions that hinder us and keep us trapped. God became man but nevertheless is God, master of all creation. Human beings must approach the God-made-man with reverence and adoration – disenthralling themselves in order to find themselves. It is the only way.”
Bullock, Alan, Hitler: a Study in Tyranny, Completely Revised Edition, Harper & Row, New York, 1964.
Delp, S.J., Alfred, Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2006.
Delp, S.J., Alfred, Prison Writings, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2004.
Hebblethwaite, Peter, Paul VI The First Modern Pope, Paulist Press, New York, 1993.
Kershaw, Ian, Hitler: a Biography, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010.
Kidder, Annemarie S., Ultimate Price Testimonies of Christians who Resisted the Third Reich, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2012.
Royal, Robert, The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century A Comprehensive World History, Crossroad, New York, 2000.
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Model for Altarpiece in St. Peter’s, Italy, Rome, 1625, oil on canvas 16 x 24 1/4 in. (40.64 x 61.6 cm). The Ciechanowiecki Collection, Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
I. Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams:
I finished watching “Field of Dreams” last night, a film I had never seen before. Starring Kevin Costner, it is a good film about, one could say, the intersection of reality and fantasy on the American landscape—or simply the intersection of what are different realities. As Costner’s character Ray Kinsella hears voices to build a baseball field on his low-income Iowa farm, he is promised that “If you build it, he will come.” In this case, the “he” is Kinsella’s own deceased father John who had played baseball as a young man, got old too quickly, and then died right after he and a teenage Ray had a falling out over the 1919 Chicago “Black” Sox team. A late-1980’s Ray, now married with a family, still thinks about his relationship with his father that was cut short and the film asks whether it may be possible for John Kinsella to meet a grown-up Ray on his “field of dreams.” Ray never doubts his voices but is never sure what they mean except when he tries to connect the dots by traveling at times across long distances of place and season to meet strangers for whom the answers most matter. Ray’s efforts lead to surprising, mysterious and ultimately fulfilling encounters for those who come to play on his field of dreams—or are there simply to watch.
Pontormo (1494-1557), Visitation (detail), c. 1529, oil on panel, 20.2 x 15.6 cm, Church of San Francesco e Michele, Carmignano, Italy.
II. The Christian Ashram Movement:
Bede Griffiths (1906-1993), a Catholic English monk known as Swami Dayananda (bliss of compassion) dedicated his life’s work to the Christian Ashram Movement and its role in the development of dialogue between Christianity and Hinduism. Swami Dayananda said in an interview: “I feel that in the Christian view, which I share, the body is of very great importance. There is a tendency in certain forms of Hinduism, certainly, to think that the purpose of spiritual exercises is to get beyond the body. But in my understanding, the human being is body, soul, spirit, and it is an integrated whole. Body and soul – the body is dependent upon and integrated with soul, and body and soul are dependent upon and integrated in spirit. The body is part of the wholeness of the human being. And that’s why incarnation is very important. God enters the psycho-physical realm and assumes it and doesn’t discard it. And at the resurrection the body is not discarded, it is assumed into the life with the soul and the spirit. I think the place of the body is a significant part of the Christian contribution. It is the total human being which is to enter into the life of the spirit.”
SOURCE: Marvin Barrett, “The Silent Guide,” Parabola, v.xi, no. 1.
Our Lady of the Pillar, 1508, Chartres Cathedral. In her right hand she holds a pear.
Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Mystical Conversation, c. 1896. Oil on canvas, 65 x 46 cm, The Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu, Japan.
III. On Christmas Clothes:
There is a drive in today’s society to be singular, intimate, and well known in a society that is, paradoxically, vast and impersonal, as well as incredibly common and conventional. Seeking to be “authentic” in the public domain, at the same time we are insecure about the people we meet there. We don’t know our next door neighbor but presume intimacy with the wider world. To be intimate and authentic in a vast and alien society―and one needs to peruse the internet for five minutes for its revelations ― is the modern age’s new growth industry. Yet there remain less flashy moments of behavior regarding the private self in the public space. Such is, for instance, the thriving language of love—the raised eyebrow; dropped glove; the rush to light her cigarette. Each small and well-timed gesture and inflection of voice raises the romantic ante without loss of boundaries between a private self and the public space. These silent cues are found in many venues, although absconded by the tactical importance of self-image (interchangeable, often) striving for immediate intimacy—a glimpse of the inner self, the cult of personality—in the public square. Fashion changes clothes with the seasons in a modern-age attempt to convey private personality (“taste”) in the public arena. For this increasingly popular social model, it is important to take the world by storm—and each and every time so that the costumed yet exposed private self does not disintegrate before public scrutiny or is destroyed by it.
Clothing provides a rich metaphor for the dilemma of the private self in the public space. It serves those seeking to make hyperbole of their private personality and fluctuating nature thereof as well as those seeking to downplay and even hide it. In a world of omnipresent security cameras and airport pat downs, a traditional notion of clothing to exclude public encroachment on the private and (trustingly) sacred self appears to be increasingly gone with the wind. At Christmas the use of clothes in a sacred context is important. In the Gospel of Luke the angel tells the shepherds: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Odilon Redon, Night, 1910-11, Distemper on canvas, 200 x 650 cm. Abbaye de Fontfroide.
In the Bible a major teaching tradition is that when one discovers the Divine Presence—for God makes every attempt to self-disclose—the moment of recognition is like putting on a new garment that is tailored to the individual’s exact measurements. The Divine garment endows a person with a specific sense of dignity and private self-awareness―a sacred and highly personal investiture that turns the modern notion of the private-as-public self upside down. The rule of clothes extends to John the Baptist—a figure who is important in both Christianity as saint and prophet and in Islam as a prophet. John is described as coming out of the wilderness wearing “a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3). When God “dresses” humanity in the divine image something is expected of them in ways other than the modern idea of a new image or appeal. It is an inner and private change which takes on a significantly different meaning than one more public role.
SOURCES: Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man, W.W. Norton, 1976; Joseph Wolf, “Divine Clothing,” Parabola, v.xix, no. 3.
Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), Adoration of the Magi, 1636-1639, Prado.
Parmigianino (1503-1540), Holy Family with the Infant Baptist, c. 1535-39, tempura on canvas, 65 5/8 x 52 in. (159 x 132 cm), Galleria Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples.
IV. U.S. Children and Hunger:
Hunger is defined as “the uneasy or painful sensation caused by want of food as well as an exhausted condition caused by want of food.” While being homeless as an adult is a harsh test, to be homeless as a child is worse. Society’s striving to make it scarce or nonexistent is painfully incomplete. In this year’s presidential campaigns we hear rhetoric from candidates of the major parties about the safety and security of the American people and mainly in regard to terrorists who threaten bodily harm. But each night, including tonight, over 15 million American children go to bed hungry according to Feeding America. Where is the public and media outcry for their bodily safety and security? Proper nutrition is vital to the growth and development of children who are the country’s future. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, today there are 74 million children in the United States which is an all-time high. Yet 20% of these children are food-insecure and go to bed hungry at night. In a land of plenty, where more than 2 in 3 adult Americans are considered to be overweight or obese, food injustice is not confined to Christmastime but each day of the year.