Grace upon Grace

Joseph Mohr stood in silent awe of the bright stars hanging over the snow-blanketed countryside of Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg, Austria one night. Possibly his mind wandered back to his youth or even to earlier times as a baby when his mother was alone with him and wondering if the soldier she did not marry but loved could really have deserted her in her shame.

Joseph was given his father’s surname, the custom of the day, despite the fact that this surname would forever brand him a bastard.  A boy like this could have turned quite bitter left on his own. Today when so many boys grow up without fathers I wish for more men like Johann Nepomuk Hiernle, vicar and leader of music at Salzburg Cathedral.

The vicar arranged for Joseph’s schooling and encouraged his musical explorations. Encouragement is the simplest thing to do but, as a muscle, it is often underused. My cynical mind briefly intrudes on this pleasant thought. Did the vicar have some horrible reason for taking this boy under his wing? Have I been infected by the narrative that seems to say all men and boys are predators? God forbid it! How awful that the good are sullied by the evil in their midst.

Maybe a man of integrity and courage is a rarer thing than I hope? I choose to believe that one day men of integrity will be valued again in the way young Joseph must have valued his friendship with the vicar.

Joseph, as a bastard, needed special permission to enter the seminary. He became a priest. On this snowy night he walked the two miles to his friend’s house. Joseph carried a poem he’d written on a similar evening a few years back.  Franz Gruber helped Joseph put the poem to music to be used for Father Joseph’s Christmas Eve service.

 

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

Silent Night became an instant sensation and spread across the globe quickly. Father Joseph Mohr remained a priest. He donated most of his salary to the poor. Joseph also set up a fund for children from poor families to attend school. How many of us use the hurts of our lives to serve others?

Joseph is remembered for his music. Silent Night is sung every year. I wonder about the vicar, though. His quiet help took a boy from poverty and shame and enriched us all.