Friday, 6 June 2008

Feast of St Norbert, bishop and founder of the Premonstratensians

I've always had a soft spot for St Norbert on two grounds - first he is one of those penitent saints; and secondly because he founded a double order, and I've always liked the concept at least!

I have to admit that I always take great heart from the sinners turned saints. Far more encouraging for some of us than the saints who were holy from day one and never fell (not withstanding their great intercessory merit and example)!

Apparently St Norbert was a pious youth - but went bad after becoming a sub-deacon and living at the court of Emperor Henry IV. Blinded by ambition and misled by flattery, he became thoroughly worldly.

But when he was thirty, in 1115, a horse threw him, leaving him half dead. When he woke up from his stupor, he asked God, Paul-like, 'Lord, what should I do?', and heard a voice from heaven say: "Turn away from evil and do good; seek after peace and pursue it'.

He gave up his various appointments at court, and spent the next three years in prayer and dong penance. On the advice of his spiritual director he was ordained a priest and then spent the next three years or so after that more or less in solitude, meditating, mortifying himself, and practicing the virtues.

Eventually, in 1121 he founded the Premonstratensian canons, who adopted the Rule of St Augustine. The canons are of particular interest today as one of those Orders who will say both forms of the mass - in the United States, the Norbertines provide chaplains for several Traditional Latin Mass communities - and so worth a look at for anyone discerning a vocation!

The canonesses were associated with St Norbert from the very beginning - St Norbert saw this as a reflection of the early Christian community at Jerusalem, 'wherein all manner of persons lived in common in the service of God'. The nuns lived separately to the canons, but shared their work. A century or so after the founder's death, however, the order dissolved the double houses. The women's houses, though, remain closely associated with the men's in several cases.

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