Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Caught Hoping

From the life of Saint Norbert, bishop, as reported in the 2nd Reading proper to the memorial in the Office of Readings for 6 June:

“Norbert is deservedly numbered by historians among those who made an effective contribution to the reform movement under Pope Gregory VII. He established a clergy dedicated to the ideals of the Gospel and the apostolic Church. They were chaste and poor. They wore “the clothing and the symbols of the new man; that is to say, they wore the religious habit and exhibited the dignity proper to the priesthood.” Norbert asked them “to live according to the norms of the Scriptures with Christ as their model.” They were “to be clean in all matters pertaining to the altar and divine worship, to correct their faults and failings in their chapter meeting, and to care for and give shelter to the poor.”
  The priests lived in community, where they continued the work of the apostles. Inspired by the practice of the early Church, Norbert exhorted the faithful to join the monastic life in some capacity. So many men and women responded to the invitation that many asserted that no man since the apostles themselves had inspired so many to embrace the monastic life.
  When Norbert was appointed an archbishop, he urged his brothers to carry the faith to the lands of the Wends. In his own diocese he tried unsuccessfully to convince the clergy of the need for reform and was confronted with noisy protests both in the street and in the church.
  One of the principal goals of Norbert’s life was to foster harmony between the Apostolic See and the German empire. At the same time he wanted to maintain Rome’s freedom in the matter of ecclesiastical appointments. Apparently his efforts were so successful that Pope Innocent II thanked him profusely in a letter in which he called him a “devoted son,” and Lothair made him chancellor of the realm.
  Norbert did all these things with a steadfast faith: “Faith was the outstanding virtue of Norbert’s life, as charity had been the hallmark of Bernard of Clairvaux’s.” Affable and charming, amiable to one and all, “he was at ease in the company of the humble and the great alike.” Finally, he was a most eloquent preacher; after long meditation “he would preach the word of God and with his fiery eloquence purged vices, refined virtues and filled souls of good will with the warmth of wisdom.” He spent many hours in contemplation of the divine mysteries and fearlessly spread the spiritual insights which were the fruit of his meditation.”

Knowing something of Central Europe, I know the impact a man like Norbert can have. Some would say that in the end the grass indeed does whither and the flowers fail, but the point is that in that moment something truly great comes into being. These encouraging words which describe the contribution of St. Norbert caught me hoping that some one or more, maybe one for each country or continent today of men could be found who like him through witnessing through clothing and symbols to the new man of the Gospel might further that reform of the priesthood which would bring light to our days.

I was visiting this morning with a very good young priest who expressed his concern over how burdened people are with all the present economic and social difficulties they and their families must face. He asked me what more we could do to help our people celebrate the Year of Faith which the Holy Father has announced for this coming October. As simple as it may sound, I'm wondering if to the extent that we priests could propose ourselves to them as modern day "Norberts" as "new men" in terms of our living out of the priesthood, as "preachers" against vice and capable of refining people in virtue and filling souls with good will, if then we wouldn't be doing our part to put the lamp back on the lamp-stand or building the city back up on the hill.

Norbert had to face hostility in his own clergy of Magdeburg, but he managed a monastic renewal comparable to any since apostolic times. A dear bishop friend asked me this summer what you do with empty monasteries and convents. I responded, even if a bit sheepishly, I guess you just pray. Just pray with me, if you will, through the intercession of St. Norbert of Xanten, for "new men" for divine worship and to carry the faith to all who still sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.


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