Not many saints started early with a life of devotion to God. Ifanything, the early life of Saint Norbert of Xanten was proof thatliving and working in the church among the religious is not evidence oftrue worship of God. Unless one has personal contact with the creator,being in the church will be just religious observance.
Norbert was just like that till he encountered God in the most unlikelymanner.
Born to Live Large
1080, Norbert was born at Xanten near Rhineland, Germany. He was adescent of a wealthy aristocratic family of the Holy Roman Empire andrelated to the imperial throne of Germany and the great House ofLorraine. His father was Heribert, Count of Gennep, and his mother,Hedwig of the House of Guise.
As was expected, he had an excellent education and excelled in flyingcolors. His intelligence and high level of sophistication gave Norbertthe honor of being a distinguished young man.
Nobility comes with certain privileges, and Norbert was one to exploiteverything his rich heritage could afford him. Riding on the influenceof his family, he joined the ranks of the clergy by accepting to becomea subdeacon. This obtained him a financial subsidy from the ParishChurch of St. Victor at Xanten.
Norbert’s only duty at the church was to hymn the Divine Office. Still,he paid someone a token to take his place at the choir because he gotanother appointment as a religious counselor to emperor Henry V ofGermany at Cologne.
A combined salary from both jobs made sure Norbert was a youth on top ofthe world. He cared for everything pleasure except for God. To Robert,the church was just there to make him sustain his lifestyle and live upto his nobility.
God Came Calling
Even though Robert was in the church, he avoided the priesthood. Andrejected an appointment as the Bishop of Cambrai. He wouldn’t want toconform to the standards of the priesthood.
On his way to Vreden, his horse threw him off when a thunderstorm struckthe horse’s feet. He laid unconscious on the ground for about an hour.He was 35.
That encounter forever changed Norbert. He heard God calling him toserve him. Norbert resigned from his position at the imperial court andreturned to Xanten. He committed himself to a life of penance. With theguidance of Cono, Abbot of Siegburg, he sought a deepened relationshipwith God.
He built the Abbey of Furstenberg, furnished it with a portion of hiswealth, and handed it over to Abbot Cono and his successors. Norbertjoined the priestly formation and was soon ordained a priest. He had agreat devotion to the Eucharist and to Our Lady.
Radically he sought to make reforms in the church against worldlypleasures and man’s service to God. But some priests didn’t accept himand his strict ascetic life. Being accused of being an innovator in thecouncil of Frizlarin in 1118, he resigned his benefice.
Norbert sold off his properties and shared the proceeds to the poor. Hekept nothing for himself except the means to celebrate Mass. Off he wentto visit Pope Gelasius 11.
The Wandering Preacher
Having sought and obtained the permission of Pope Gelasius to preachwherever, Norbert became an itinerant, bare-footed poor preacher. Hetraveled through Europe in present-day Western Germany, Belgium,Netherlands, Northern France preaching. Miracles were credited to him.
At the request of Pope Calixtus 11, Norbert founded a new religiousorder known as the Premonstratensians or Norbertines in 1120. He adoptedSt. Augustine of Hippo’s rule of life and taught some elements of theCistercians as a model for the new order.
In 1126, Pope Honorius 11 appointed him the Archbishop of Magdeburg. Thediocese was under severe moral and financial handicap. The heritage ofthe poor had been usurped by the few powerful, and the secular powerswere interfering with the church affairs. He continued with his monasticdiscipline and carrying out many reforms.
- He died at Magdeburg.
5 Interesting Facts About Saint Norbert
- Norbert escaped three failed assassination attempts. The powerful
strongly resisted his reforms in Magdeburg which sought to restore
discipline in the church and bridge the gap between the poor and
the rich. Think of Abraham Lincoln.
- Norbert statute is one of the 140 piazza colonnades of saints and
martyrs adorning St. Peter’s Square Basilica Rome.
- Apostle of the Eucharist. Norbert fought and won heresies that
arose, casting doubts on the powers of the Holy Eucharist at
Antwerp spread by Tanchelm.
- He shares a similar story with the Biblical St.Paul. While it took
striking light from heaven to convert Paul (Acts 9:1-19), a
thunderstorm was what it took to gained Norbert to God. And both
never looked back.
- Norbert stepped in one of the trying times in church history. He
helped restore the rightfully elected Pope Innocent 11 to the
chair of St.Peter following the papal succession dispute of 1130
against the antipope Anacletus 11.
Prayer to Saint Norbert
Father,You made the Bishop NorbertAn outstanding minister of your church,Renowned for his preaching and pastoral zeal.Always grant to your church faithful shepherdsTo lead your people to eternal salvation.Through our Lord Jesus christWho lives and reigns with youIn the unity of the HolySpiritOne God forever and ever.Amen