Christmas 2008

A Silent Night



There is a rather unusual event that comes to re-visit me with each new Christmas. The happening goes something like this. Some years before entering Carmel , I was a teacher at an all-girls academy. During the last day before the Christmas vacation began, it was the custom to allow the students to sing Christmas Carols during class instead of doing the usual class work.


On this particular day, typical songs like Jolly Old St. Nicholas , Jingle Bells and Rudolph, the Red-Nose Reindeer began to sound out in the midst of this particular group of students, who were just waiting for the school day to end and have their Christmas vacation begin. Then, there was a pause, and the group began singing Silent Night . This carol had hardly begun when one of the students told everyone they had to stop singing. Her name was Mary. She told her classmates that if they were to sing Silent Night , they had to sing it with reverence. She went on to say that her great, great grandfather wrote the music to Silent Night. (I'm not quite sure if I recall exactly how many "greats" there were.) All of us were quite stunned. Later, when I came into the Quad City area, I met the relatives of Fr. Joseph Mohr, the priest who had written the words to Silent Night .


The setting of Silent Night was a beautiful village in the Austrian Alps, the home of equally beautiful people. What most of us remember about the story is the fact that the organ in their church was broken. Because of this, Franz Gruber, the composer and their school teacher, accompanied Silent Night with his guitar, at their Midnight Mass, December 24, 1818.


Having done a bit of research on this story, I found that there are different versions. In one of the versions, the writer describes an incident that prompted the creation of the words of Silent Night. On Christmas Eve, Fr. Joseph Mohr sat in his study praying over his homily for Christmas Day. There came a knock at the door. Opening the door, Fr. Mohr greeted a peasant woman who related to him that there was an infant boy who had just been born to a poor charcoal-maker family. Would Fr. Mohr be willing to come and bless the baby that this child might live and prosper?


Together, Fr. Mohr and the peasant woman went to the home of the child. Having arrived at a ramshackle hut, Fr. Mohr found there a young mother. In her arms, she held her baby now peacefully sleeping. He gave both of them a blessing. As he left, Fr. Mohr felt that the Christmas miracle had just happened. It was this event that gave birth to the poem, Silent Night .


There seems to be something moving about the music and words of Silent Night. For me, the carol has a way of drawing me back to that first Christmas, and making it present in the now. As alluded to in a previous article, we are encouraged to actually see ourselves there at the stable. What is the image that speaks most to our heart?

Recently, a friend shared with me an exercise that means a lot to her. Actually, the principle of the exercise can be used any time for any event throughout the year. In visiting the crib, we are to find one thing that strikes us, personally. Is it the Holy Family and the light that encircles the Child? Is it an angel, the star, or the shepherds? Maybe, it is just the sacredness and silence of the night? After leaving this setting, we are to recall that special image two or three times a day. This exercise is especially helpful when life is difficult. It seems like it is a way of touching God, and of allowing God to move in and touch us.

Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D


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