Thursday, June 4, 2015

Saint Norbert: Fulfill Your Ministry

Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching… be self-possessed in all circumstances, put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.
—2 Timothy 4:2, 5

St. Norbert Window
from St. Norbert Abbey
in De Pere, Wisconsin
Saint Norbert was born near Wesel, Germany, around the year 1080. Through the influence of his noble family, he was able to obtain a paid position at the church of St. Victor in Xanten. His only task was to take part in the daily prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, but he paid someone to take his place so he could take a higher paying position as a religious counselor (chaplain) to Emperor Henry V.

Eventually, Norbert converted from a worldly life, embracing the religious ideal, and he was ordained to the priesthood in 1115. Feeling called to a more austere way of life, Norbert gave away all his possessions and moved to the valley of PremontrĂ© in northern France. He was soon joined by more than 40 companions and, together with them, he pronounced religious vows on Christmas Day, 1121, establishing what would become the Order of Canons of PremontrĂ© (the Norbertines). 
Norbert was elected archbishop of Magdeburg, Germany, in 1126. Tradition relates that upon his arrival at Magdeburg, he was denied entrance to the episcopal palace by the porter who mistook him for a beggar. As bishop he worked for clerical reform, enforcing celibacy and attacking corruption and absentee bishops. Together with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, he worked to heal the wounds caused by the schism of the anti-pope Anacletus II. Saint Norbert died in 1134. Canonized in 1582, his commemoration is celebrated on June 6.

In the Collect (the Opening Prayer) for the Mass of the Commemoration of Saint Norbert, we pray that “by the help of his intercession, the flock of the faithful may always find shepherds after [God’s] own heart.” Noting the “pastoral zeal and preaching” of Saint Norbert, the Church celebrates the ways this holy bishop reconciled the call he felt to a life of prayer and contemplation with the call to serve as a bishop. Called the “angel of peace” because of his work to promote peace within his diocese and the entire Church, he also promoted a spirit of prayer, which must be the foundation for any good work done in Christ’s name.

The life and witness of Saint Norbert are a powerful reminder that God will often ask that we step out of our comfort zones for the sake of the Gospel, sometimes leading us down new and previously unimagined paths. Although he desired to live a contemplative life, Norbert became a true evangelist, dedicated to spreading the Good News without counting the cost. As we continue our transition into the season of Ordinary Time, reflect on what it is God might be asking of you and how your own preferences or agenda might be limiting the work of the Holy Spirit within you:
It is not only through the sacraments and the ministries of the Church that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God and enriches it with virtues, but, ‘allotting his gifts to everyone according as He wills’ (1 Corintians 12:11), He distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts He makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church. (from Lumen Gentium [the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church”] of the Second Vatican Council)

A Prayer in Honor of Saint Norbert +
O God, who made the Bishop Saint Norbert a servant of your Church outstanding in his prayer and pastoral zeal, grant, we ask, that by the help of his intercession, the flock of the faithful may always find shepherds after your own heart and be fed in the pastures of salvation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)

This reflection was originally written for Mayslake Ministries and published on their site on June 2, 2015.

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