Religious Orders tend to have their own liturgical calendars, and the Norbertines are no different, and this week sees a number of notable celebrations in our calendar.
In the reformed calendar, the Feast of the Conversion of Our Holy Father Augustine is celebrated on 24 April, but in the old calendar, it is kept today, 5 May. The feast of the conversion has always been connected to that of his mother, St Monica (which is why her feast has now moved to August in the Roman Calendar, to preserve that tradition, rather than preserving the feast itself), whose feast day is 4 May.
As we know, St Monica spent her life weeping and praying about her son, and his wayward behaviour. She desired, above all, that he would embrace the Catholic faith. And no doubt, she taught him some prayers when he first began to speak. Many of us today weep the same tears for our loved ones: she is a kindly friend to those who suffer because their children have lost the faith. Like her, and like any good Christian, all we can do is pray, and be a good example: much more is gained from a spoonful of honey than a glass of vinegar, as one wise doctor wrote many centuries later. She drove her son away when he first turned to licentious practices, but she regretted this, and reconciled herself with him, ensured that she was never too far away from him, supporting the needs of the Church and of the poor.
Monica experienced the joy of Augustine’s conversion (and not forgetting also the conversion of her grandson) during her lifetime, and the last few months of her life were very happy ones. She died about the age of 60, surrounded by her family, who wanted to take her back home to Africa, but we are left, thanks to Augustine, with her famous words: I ask only this, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord, wherever you are.
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On Thursday this week, we celebrate the Translation of Our Holy Father Norbert. Like St Monica, Norbert lived a truly eucharistic life of self-sacrifice, dedicating himself to the Lord’s Altar, like Simeon and Anna, offering themselves to God in their own respective ways. Like her own son, Norbert himself experienced a conversion, and no doubt, she was pleased that Augustine visited Norbert in a vision not only to ensure that his community adopted his ancient Rule, and, in return Augustine mystically adopted Nobert and his spiritual sons as his own. Even though 700 years separated Augustine and Norbert, they are inseparable now in heaven.
The feast of the translation itself commemorates the moment when the relics of St Norbert were taken by the Imperial Army in 1625 from the cathedral at Magdeburg, which had become Lutheran, and taken in solemn procession to Prague, drawn by eight white horses, and, when the cortege reached the edge of Prague, eight abbots took the reliquary upon their own shoulders, as a hundred canons followed behind with tapers. His body was intact when the coffin was opened by the Abbot, still in his red cope. He remains today in the Abbey of Strahov in Prague, where the canons maintain his shrine, and daily sing his praises.