Saturday, February 14, 2015

6th Sunday Year B (Gospel: Mark 1:40-45) Beethoven and the mystery of suffering

Today we are given one of the many encounters of Jesus’ healing someone who had the terrible disease of leprosy.  Apart from the fact that leprosy was physically so horrible, with a person’s flesh literally rotting on their body, it also had the added pain of excluding them from the community because of the fear of contamination.  Anyone who had leprosy had to live outside the community.  Notice how it says in the Gospel that when Jesus heals this man he ‘sternly warned him not to tell anyone’.  But in the man’s enthusiasm he couldn’t help himself and began talking about it everywhere.  Because of this people realised that Jesus had been in contact with a leper and so he could now be infected himself.  As a result he then had to stay outside the towns ‘in places where nobody lived’.  This kind of thing must have been very frustrating for Jesus, but he had to put up with it and adapt his mission accordingly. 

I’m sure there were many thousands of people in Jesus’ time who also needed healing, but who didn’t ever get to meet Jesus.  Jesus healed those people who came to him and asked for help, but that would have been relatively few.  Do you ever wonder why the Lord allowed so many others to remain sick, or why He allows us to be sick?  Is it possible that any good can come out of the sicknesses we have to go through?

Recently I came across a beautiful story about the composer Beethoven (1770-1827).  Ludvig Van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany and he really had quite a sad life.  He suffered from a great lack of affection, because his mother died when he was very young and his father was an alcoholic who used to beat him.  His father eventually died as a drunk on the streets.  His biological brother never helped him either and on top of it all symptoms of deafness started to disturb him, leaving him nervous and irritable.  There was however, a German prince who became his benefactor and was like a second father to him.  But then the prince died and between his deafness and loneliness he went into a terrible depression and eventually began to wonder whether there was any point in him going on living.

At that stage Beethoven could only hear using a kind of horn-shaped trumpet in his ear.  He always carried with him a notebook, so that he could write and communicate with others, but many didn’t have the patience for this and so he began to feel more isolated and alone.  Feeling that nobody understood him or wanted to help him, Beethoven withdrew more and more into himself and avoided people. He became so depressed that he prepared his will saying that maybe it was better for him to commit suicide.

But then God’s providence intervened.  A young blind woman who lived in the same boarding house where he had moved to, told him one night, shouting into his ears: “I would give everything to see the moonlight.”  Listening to her, Beethoven was moved to tears because he realised that he could see! And he could compose music and write it on paper!  A strong will to live came back to him and led him to compose one of his most beautiful pieces: “Mondscheinsonate” – “Moonlight Sonata”.

In its main theme, the melody imitates and resembles the slow steps of people, possibly of Beethoven himself and others, carrying the coffin of the German prince, his friend, patron and benefactor.  Some music scholars say that the notes that repeat themselves, insistently, in the main theme of the 1º movement of the Sonata, might be the syllables of the words “Warum? Warum”? (Why? Why?) or another similar word.  Years later, having overcome his sorrow, Beethoven wrote the incomparable “Ode to Joy” from his “Ninth Symphony”, Beethoven’s magnum opus, which crowned the life work of this remarkable composer.

He conducted the first performance himself in 1824. By then because he was totally deaf, he failed to hear the applause. One of the soloists gently turned him around to see the hall full of a wildly cheering crowd. It is said the “Ode to Joy” expresses Beethoven’s gratitude to life and to God for not having committed suicide.  And all this thanks to that blind young woman, who inspired in him the desire to translate into musical notes, a moonlit night.  Using his skill, Beethoven, the composer who could not hear, portrayed through this beautiful melody, the beauty of a night bathed by the moonlight, for a girl who could not see it with her physical eyes.

We do not know why we have to suffer but perhaps more good comes out of it than we realise.  No doubt the blind girl who inspired Beethoven could never have imagined that any good could have come from her being blind and yet look what happened.  I am sure that when we get to heaven we will be amazed at how many parts of our life that don’t seem to make any sense now, will all fit together. 

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