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FROM PLEASURE TO PRAYER

Father Francis's picture
Saint Norbert

Norbert had been born in 1082 in Xanten, and as a young man he had taken minor orders because his parents thought that clerical life would provide him with a stable and respectable career. But through family connections he was appointed almoner at the court of the Emperor Henry V and showed little taste for religious life.

During a violent thunderstorm a pleasure-seeking courtier was thrown from his horse and knocked unconscious. This accident forced him to think seriously about his life. What did God want him to do? His conscience gave him the answer: turn away from evil and seek peace.

Following his sudden conversion Norbert returned to Xanten to fast and meditate, and then made a retreat in Cologne, where he became friendly with the Archbishop. In 1113, at the age of 33, he was ordained. It was difficult for him to convince people who knew him that he had changed and was no longer a frivolous pleasure seeker. To prove his sincerity he went back home, sold all his property and estates, and gave the proceeds to the poor. Then taking nothing but a handful of coins, a missal and a mule, he set out on foot with two companions and travelled to France, where the Pope was then living in exile. He made his Confession to the Pope Honorius II who then gave him permission to preach the Gospel wherever he chose.

In 1119 Norbert was offered a site on which to establish a religious community of his own. He chose a lonely valley called Premontre and settled there with 13 followers who came to be known as Premonstratensians. They wore a white habit and based their rule on that of St. Augustine. The Congregation rapidly expanded into eight abbeys and two convents, and was formally recognized by the Pope in 1125.

At the age of 44 Norbert was unexpectedly chosen as Bishop of Magdeburg in Southern Germany. It is said that when he arrived at the official residence he was so poorly dressed that the porter at first refused him entry. Norbert continued to live as a simple monk but was determined to be an effective bishop, rebuking laymen who had engaged in dishonest dealings and disciplining clergy who were neglecting their parishes or leading scandalous lives.

At the death of the Pope a dispute arose concerning the choice of a successor. Norbert gave his support to the legally elected candidate, Innocent II, and in recognition of his loyalty he was made Archbishop of Magdeburg. It was there that he died, on 6 June 1134, aged 52.

Norbert was a man who sought pleasure with little thought of God until he asked 'What is life all about?' following that accident, God made him see that he had a vocation for him and he followed it wholeheartedly. Not only did he reform his own life but helped others to reform theirs.

Like Norbert, have we reformed our own lives, or at least renewed them which as Christians we must?

Saint Norbert, pray for us and help us.