Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest, was executed by the Nazis on February 2, 1945 for his refusal to condone the Third Reich and leave the Jesuit order. The year 2015 marks the seventieth anniversary of his death. While in prison, he meditated on the Lord's Prayer. Here are his thoughts on the words, "Hallowed be thy name."
This phrase, hallowed be thy name, teaches us to pray for the worthy ideal, for the unassailable, holy, venerated standard. 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. 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…All they know is demand, compulsion, force, threats and liquidation. And woe to anyone who does not conform.
The word of God should evoke and receive the great veneration this phrase suggests: praise, reverence, awe…The name of God is the holy of holies, the central silence, the thing that above all others calls for humble approach. We not only ought to believe in the truth at the center of our being, in the purpose of our existence, but we should also bear testimony to this belief by the proper fulfilment of our life’s purpose. We should subjugate everything to this law of holiness and reject everything that does not harmonize with it. God, the great object of our veneration, will then also be our whole life. "There is no healing in any other name" (Acts 4:12). How little there is to say once we have said this. And how much that is said is mere cant. We have so many pious phrases that are utterly without genuine reverence for God. Religious chastity and silence go well together.
Let us resume the practice of giving names to life and to things. I have been a mere number long enough to know what it means to be nameless and what effect it has on life. As long as life itself has no name, or at least none that it honors, people and things will continue to lose their identity in the dreadful regimentation and anonymity into which we have sunk. Life has a sensitive nervous system through which everything is connected. Since the name of God is no longer the first and foremost of all names in the land and the voice of the people, then everything else that was once precious and prized has lost its name and been subjected to false and falsifying labels. The cliché, the label, the uniform, the slogan, the "dominant trend of the masses" – these are our rulers. And pity the man who dares to differ, to proclaim his own thoughts or use his own name.
Prayer is our way to freedom and education in the method of prayer is the most valuable service that we can give to humankind. It makes it possible for the temple and the altar to again occupy their rightful place and for humanity to humble itself and measure its responsibilities in the name of God.
Excerpted from The Prison Meditations of Father Delp, Herder and Herder © 1963.