05 June 2019

St. Norbert, Confessor and Bishop

St. Norbert was born about the year 1080 and his early life was one of ease and selfishness. It was an easy move for him to enter into the pleasure-loving German court. He had no hesitation about availing himself of every opportunity for enjoyment. To ensure his success at court, he also had no qualms about accepting holy orders as a canon and whatever financial benefices that came with that position. However, he did hesitate at becoming a priest, because even in his selfishness and casual attitude toward religion, he realized that the priesthood had serious responsibilities.

One day as Norbert was out riding, a thunderstorm came up suddenly. Norbert, who was always meticulous about his appearance, was buffeted by the high winds, and was soaked by the rains. A sudden flash of lightning startled his horse, throwing Norbert to the ground.

For almost an hour he lay unmoving. When he awoke his first words were, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" In response Norbert heard in his heart, "Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it."

He immediately devoted himself to prayer and penance, and began the instruction for the priesthood he had avoided previously. He was ordained in 1115. His complete conversion and change in life caused some who remembered him previously to accuse him of hypocrisy. Norbert responded by giving everything he owned to the poor, after which he went to the pope for permission to preach.

With the pope's blessing, Norbert became an itinerant preacher, traveling through Europe with two companions. As a response to his old ways, he now chose the most difficult ways to travel, such as walking barefoot in the middle of winter through snow and ice. Unfortunately the two companions who followed him died from the difficult and demanding way of life. But Norbert was gaining the respect of those sincere clergy who had despised him before.

The pope encouraged him to settle and found a community in the diocese of Laon in northern France. There, in the desolate valley wilderness of Prémontré, Norbert laid the foundations for his religious Order. He chose the rule of St. Augustine for the new community. Communal life was marked by its austerity, its poverty, and its intense liturgical life of prayer.Norbert continued to preach and to attract large numbers to his community.

On July 25, 1126, Norbert was ordained archbishop of Magdeburg and relinquished the leadership of his Order to begin the work of shepherding the vast diocese on the northeastern frontier of the German Empire.

Weakened by his travels and labors, and probably by malaria contracted at Rome, Norbert was in Magdeburg when he died on June 6, 1134.

O God, who didst make blessed Norbert thy Confessor and Bishop an illustrious preacher of thy Word, and through him didst render thy Church fruitful with a new offspring: grant, we beseech thee; that by his intercession and merits, we may be enabled by thy help to practise what he taught, both in word and deed; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.