Today Premonstratensians all over the world rejoice and begin celebrating a Jubilee Year for the 900th anniversary of the conversion of Our Holy Father Norbert, within the Year of Consecrated Life, and in anticipation of the celebration of the 900th anniversary of the founding of our Order in 2021.
Our Holy Father’s conversion speaks to the heart of our life as Norbertines, and the Christian life in general. St Norbert’s lived the lukewarm and worldly life common to many of his fellow courtiers, he “drifted about in the midst of Babylon” (Vita B, ch. 2); his life was not demonstrably immoral, but it was unsuited to his state as a cleric and his baptismal vocation to holiness. God wanted great things of St Norbert, as was prophesied to his mother Hedwig whilst she was pregnant with him, “Be calm, Hedwig! He is to be great before God and men” (Vita B, ch. 1).
St Norbert, the prophesied prelate, was travelling one day when he was confronted with his own mortality and with the great and terrible power of God:
It happened one day that Norbert was hastening secretly to a place called Freden. He was dressed in silk, accompanied by a single servant. While on the way a dark cloud overtook him, lightning flashed, thunder roared, and much more inconvenient, there was no house for shelter nearby. Whole both he and his companion were unnerved, suddenly the terrifying sound and sight of a thunderbolt struck the ground opening it to the depth of a man’s height. From here steamed forth a putrid stench which fouled him and his garments. Struck from his horse he thought he heard a voice denouncing him. Returning to his senses and now repentant he reflected on the words of the Psalmist: “Turn from evil and do good.” Thus motivated, he returned home. Back home, caught up in the spirit of salvation through fear of the Lord he put on a hair shirt beneath his outer garments intending to do good deeds and penance for his past life. – From the ‘Vita A’
“From this time on the fire of divine love which had been ignited gradually expanded.” (Vita B, ch. 2). St Norbert’s conversion speaks to our life as Christians because we must, every day, ask God for the grace that we might be converted; every day we must beseech the Lord to turn from evil and do good, only when we do this in complete humility, emulating St Norbert can we have hope for our eternal salvation.
He neither changed his garb suddenly nor immediately left the world. However, beneath his soft garments he wore rough haircloth to tame his members and fight against his lower nature. Then gradually and slowly the interior sword of the Word of God, penetrating his depths and burning his loins and searching his heart, began interiorly to reform what had been deformed, plucking out and destroying, rebuilding and planting, casting out the serpent by the same way in which he had crept in, and suddenly and in a moment turned and changed the wild and rapacious hawk into a simple and meek dove. But as the Apostle says, where sin abounded grace also abounded. – Vita B, ch. 2
St Norbert knew his nature, and knew that the thunderbolt striking the ground would have no effect on him unless he opened up his heart, his will, his whole entire being to Almighty God, to be converted and offered up to Him as an oblation. As canons and sons of St Norbert we live in this time, as if between the thunderbolt and its effect being outwardly shown. When we make our vows, when we are clothed in the white habit of the Order, we confess with our lips and our vesture what we hope will penetrate into our very being over how ever many years God Almighty should give us.
We are converted then, “gradually and slowly” just like Our Holy Father. Just like Our Holy Father the Word of God, alive and active, begins “interiorly to reform” us, and if we co-operate with the grace of God, which he is ever pleased to distribute through our Blessed Mother, Queen of Prémontré, we too might be changed as from a “wild and rapacious hawk into a simple and meek dove”.
The Holy Father, Pope Francis, in recognising the significance of this anniversary for the Order of Prémontré, showing paternal mercy for all Premonstratensians, and in honour of Our Holy Father Norbert, has granted to the canons, brothers and sisters of the Order, and to the faithful who pray in our churches a plenary indulgence, to be gained on specific days throughout the year, under the usual conditions, in the principle church of each canonry in which the canons, brothers, sisters and lay faithful will pause in prayer before a statue or image of Saint Norbert, concluding this time of meditation with the Our Father, the Creed and some invocation of the Most Holy Mary and of St. Norbert. More information can be found in the full decree distributed by the Abbot General: Plenary Indulgence for Jubilee Year of St Norbert.
We are also delighted to begin this Jubilee Year on the day when we also begin the novena to Our Holy Father Norbert, in preparation for his solemnity on June 6th. I invite all our dear readers to join our novena this year, as in years before, by continuing to follow this blog for updates, by using our novena booklet, and by joining us in praying the Litany of St Norbert.