The birth of St Norbert, and his early life of mediocrity

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful,
and enkindle within them the fire of Thy love.

℣ Send forth Thy Spirit, O Lord
℟ And Thou shall renew the face of the earth

Let us pray. O God, Who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant us that by the gift of the same Spirit, we may be always truly wise and ever rejoice in His holy consolations. Through Christ our Lord. ℟ Amen.

The Nativity of St John the Baptist, Tintoretto. "He is to be great before God and men."

The Nativity of St John the Baptist, Tintoretto. “He is to be great before God and men.”

In the days of the Emperor Henry the Younger, during the Pontificate of Pope Paschal the Second, in the year of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1115, there lived in the town of Xanten a man named Norbert. He was a German from illustrious Frankish and Salic German stock. He was wealthy, handsome, thin and somewhat tall and full-grown. He was educated in both literature and the ways of the court and the world. He was a good speaker, a cleric, a subdeacon. However, in his live and conduct, for the times and secular custom, he was quite frivolous.

His father was Herbert of the town of Gennep near the forest of Kettel; his mother was Hedwig. While she was, in answer to her prayer, pregnant with him she heard a voice saying to her: “Be calm, Hedwig! He is to be great before God and men.”

Fortune favoured his life and he prospered. Among other things he was well-known in the courts of the great, both in the court of Frederick the Archbishop of Cologne, and in the court of the emperor. In the former undoubtedly because he was a cleric and educated; in the latter because of his generous spirit and his demeanor. In both courts, however, he was admired because he was affable and cultured. Well-known in one, noble in the other, in both courts energetic. He was loved and honoured not less by his masters than by those who served him. He was pleasing to everyone and open to all, great among the great, slight among the unimportant, illustrious among nobles, less that cultured among the ignoble, eloquent among the educated and foolish among the unlearned. To all he showed himself lovable. He was a man of cheerful appearance, with calm face, pleasant speech, mild to deal with, affable in company, kind to his own, at peace with strangers, generous in giving, shy in receiving. Sensible and cautious, he was his own advisor and lived his life according to his own desires.

He denied himself nothing and left nothing that he desired untried. He did not attend to what was allowed, nor did he avoid what was not proper so long as the pleasant was sufficient and the unpleasant did not stand in his way. He gulped down the past, devoured the present, anticipated the future. He was a distinguished citizen of this age and a renowned inhabitant of Babylon. He moved forward with his eyes closed and his head turned backwards, ignorant of what the future held or what the next day had in store for him. He had no time for piety and quiet. He was a slave to unrest and impatience.

The passing of time with its favourable circumstances, the sound of human applause, so sweet to his ear, declaring “well done, well done,” expanded the hope of his longings and broadened the desires of his heart. By comparison, the promise of the kingdom of heaven or the threat of the burning fires of hell or other similar ideas sounded mild and unthreatening. Such words were unappealing and confusing, offensive and annoying, like the ravings of old men or childish foolishness. In a word, anything that did not double his popularity seemed to him like empty words and a fabled story.

℣ Being found in the rugged paths of vice by the Guardian of the city,
℟ Stayed by lightning stroke, he put off the old man.

℣ He who was dead lives again;
℟ He who was lost is found.

℣ Having laid aside his earthly goods
℟ He put on the garment of poverty.

℣ When he found the valley of Prémontré, he cried:
℟ “This is the spot which the Lord has chosen for us.”

℣ What he preached in word, he fulfilled in deed
℟ Confirming the faithful by his miracles and wonderful actions.

℣ He entered Magdeburg barefoot
℟ And clothed in the garment of poverty

℣ Having given his support to the Holy Church of Rome in her afflictions,
℟ Blessing his brethren, he fell asleep in Christ.

Norbert, as a burning light placed on a candlestick, illumined all who dwelt with him.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

℣ Pray for us, O Holy Father Norbert,
℟ That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray.

O God, who did make of Blessed Norbert, Thy Confessor and Bishop, an excellent preacher of the Word, and by his means did enrich Thy Church with new offspring, grant, we beseech Thee, that through his intercession we may put into practice, by Thy grace, what he taught us, both in word and work.

Awake, O Lord, in Thy Church the Spirit by Whom St. Norbert, Thy Confessor and Bishop was guided, in order that, filled with the same spirit, we may love what he loved and live as he taught us.

O Lord, grant to us Thy servant’s constancy in Thy faith and service, that, rooted in Divine charity, we may not be conquered by any temptation.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

℣ Praised be the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar
℟ And the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.


About piusdcollins

Canon of the Premonstratensian Canonry of Our Lady of Sorrows and St Philip Benizi, Chelmsford.
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