What is needed in bitter times

Today is harvest day: young women and men who have studied, learned and researched at our faculty have reached their goal. Today you receive your diplomas, degree certificates and certificates confirming: From now on you are studied, doctorated or habilitated theologians. You are glad, your families, friends, partners rejoice with. And we, the teachers of the faculty, do the same, some certainly with a little pride in what they have been able to contribute to this success, and that younger people carry on something of what was and is important to them themselves. I congratulate you.

Now, with what you have learned and acquired, with your skills and the treasure of education that has its place not in the head but in the soul, you go wherever you will now practice your professions: Teaching, in pastoral care, counseling or accompanying, perhaps in research. Such beginnings on one's own feet are in themselves a small adventure. But for you there is something else. You will need courage. A lot of courage. And long. You did not choose it, but you take up your profession as theologians in a situation that has long since been described as the greatest crisis of the church in our country since the Reformation. Since last February, hundreds of cases of sexual abuse and mistreatment by priests and educators in Catholic institutions – triggered by a courageous Jesuit – have come to light. In other religiously influenced as well as secular social places the same happened, mostly to a far greater extent than within the Catholic Church. But these transgressions came back to the Catholic Church with the force of a boomerang, on the one hand, because it has always claimed and claims more than others to have a weighty say in questions of good and evil, of right and wrong, and on the other hand, because not a few at high levels of responsibility in the church leadership dabbled disastrously in a way that could only be understood as a cover-up strategy to preserve the reputation of the church. The events – we must not deceive ourselves – have left scorched earth in terms of the credibility, reputation and appeal of the church, to an extent that will lie like a heavy load on our preaching and our pastoral and educational activities for decades to come. Not even the generations of theologians at the end of the first and after the second world war had to bear such a mortgage. For you, for us now, it will add to the toil and burden of everyday life for a long, painfully long time – and where we step into the vicinity of a victim sometimes to the edge of the bearable.

What remains there? I found an almost disturbing answer in a martyr and mystic of the 20th century. Found at the beginning of the 20th century. On 28. July 1944 he is arrested by the Gestapo in Munich, on 6. August to the Gestapo prison, Lehrter Str. 3 in Berlin, interrogated, tortured, beaten. At the end of September he is transferred to the Berlin Tegel prison, day and night he wears handcuffs. On 9./10. January 1945 he is put on trial. On 21. In January, he is sent to Plötzensee, where he is arrested on January 2. February is hanged on the butcher's hook because he was a Christian and a Jesuit who did not silently watch the Nazium drives. The Plötzenseer Totentanz (Dance of Death) by the great graphic artist Alfred Hrdlicka has put this into a shocking picture. I am talking about Father Alfred Delp. Only a few weeks before his execution, Delp had his head and soul free to write prophetic words about the crisis and the failure of the church at that time. Written down 66 years ago, they could be spoken today:

"We have taken away people's trust in us through our existence. 2000 years of history are not only blessings and recommendations, but also burdens and heavy inhibitions. And just in the last times a tired person has found in the church also only the tired person. Who then committed the dishonesty of camouflaging his weariness behind pious words and gestures.
Two facts will determine whether the church will once again find a way to reach out to these people.
One of the facts means the return of the churches to 'diakonia': to the service of humanity. To a service determined by the need of humanity, not by our taste or the consuetudinarium of an ecclesiastical community, no matter how tried and true. 'The Son of Man' did not come to be served, but to serve' (Mk 10:45). One only has to call the various realities of church existence once under this law and measure them against this statement and one actually knows enough. No one will believe in the message of salvation and the Savior until we have slaved ourselves bloody in the service of the physically, psychologically, socially, economically, morally or otherwise sick person. Man today is sick […]

Return to the 'diakonia' I said. By this I mean joining man in all his situations with the intention of helping him master them, without subsequently filling in a column and division anywhere. By this I mean the following and wandering even into the uttermost lostnesses and stupefactions of man, in order to be with him precisely and especially when he is surrounded by lostness and stupefaction. The Master said: 'Go out', and not: 'Sit down and wait if someone comes': By this I mean the care also for the human space and the human order. There is no sense in being content to leave mankind to its fate with a preaching and religious license, with a pastor's and prelate's salary.

But all this will only be understood and wanted if fulfilled people come out of the church again. Pleroma, the fullness: the word is important for Paul (Col. 2:9). Is even more important for our concern. The fulfilled people, [. It is even more important for us who know ourselves again as administrators and not only as administrators of Christ, but as those who have prayed with all openness: fac cor meum secundum cor tuum [form my heart according to your heart]. Whether the churches will once again release from themselves the fulfilled, the creative man filled with divine powers, that is their fate. Only then do they have the level of security and self-confidence that allows them to do without the constant insistence on 'right' and 'heritage' etc. to renounce. Only then will they have the bright eyes that see the concerns and calls of God even in the darkest of hours. And only then do the ready hearts beat in them, who are not at all concerned with finding out that we were right after all; who are concerned with only one thing: to help and to heal in the name of God."

That you, that we become people of fullness. On it all hangs, by God power filled, creative Sachwalter Christi, but Sachwalterinnen and Sachwalter in first person singular. Each one is unique, so that Christ, the Lord of the Church, can act in persona nostra. And Delp, who has already been deprived of everything except bare survival and will soon be deprived of that as well, knows from where alone this flows to him, this power and this creativeness of fullness, which makes possible that return to diakonia: the "unbetrayed adoration", as he calls it, coupled with an equally unbetrayed thinking of God – it is not by chance that, in addition to his letters and sermons, he has left us philosophical writings which deal with the tragedy of man to whom the word "God" has simply become a stranger.

Unbetrayed worship, unbetrayed thinking of God, that is your first mission, even before you address the first word to others, the first time you act as a theologian where you will be placed. It sounds quite strange, but it is true nevertheless: The first addressees of your theology, your God-talk and your God-action are – you yourself. The Protestant theologian Ernst Christian Achelis put it succinctly in 1890 when he wrote:

I know of nothing more important in this hour than to wish you the courage for this humility. Then also the hope may not be presumptuous, the church would like to emerge from this crisis now purified and strengthened. Please, from the unspent confidence of the beginning, contribute now what is yours!

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