The bio for today's Saint is quite substantive. St Norbert is a founder of a lesser known religious community -the Norbertines, or the Premonstratensian- who was heavily involved in trying to resolved the Schism in the Church (in the 12th century). There is much to discuss about his life, perhaps a bit too much for a blog whose focus is scripture. For that reason, I so I opted to share only one part of his life, the early years:
Feast: June 6
"St. Norbert was born at Santen, in the duchy of Cleves, in 1080. His father,was related to the emperor, and his mother derived her pedigree from the house of Lorraine. Like so many Saints, he was eventually carried away by its pleasures and pastimes, and had no higher thoughts than how he might live in honor and at his ease; and though he was instituted to a canonry at Santen and ordained sub-deacon, he neither changed his spirit nor his conduct. He was the soul of all parties of pleasure, and by living in a circle of diversions, he drowned his soul in a round of vanities and trifling amusements, and was a stranger to serious reflection on himself, which would have opened his eyes. he led the same manner of life in the court of his cousin, the emperor Henry IV., who appointed him his almoner (a word related to the word Alms. It refers to a Church officer in charge of distributing charity). God beheld with compassion the heart of this young nobleman who, although involved with the Church, was enslaved to the world. To break his secret chains, an extraordinary grace was necessary; and God awakened him from his spiritual lethargy with an alarming accident."
" Norbert was riding to a village in Westphalia, mounted on a horse richly caparisoned, and attended by only one servant, when, in the midst of a pleasant meadow, he was overtaken by a violent storm, accompanied with dreadful thunder and lightning. Finding himself at a great distance from any shelter, he was overwhelmed with perplexity and fear, and while he was going on briskly, having set spurs to his horse, a ball of fire, or lightning, with a loud clap of thunder, fell just before his horse's feet, burned the grass, and cleft the earth. The poor beast, thus affrighted, threw his rider who lay like one dead for near an hour. At last coming to himself, like another Saul, he cried out to God, in the bitter compunction of his heart, "Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?" To which the divine grace interiorly suggested this reply, "Turn away from evil, and do good: seek after peace, and pursue it." Being thus humbled in the full career of his passions, he became upon the spot a sincere penitent. The fire of divine love thus kindled in his heart, gained strength every day by his fidelity, and by fresh supplies of grace. But his conversion was completed by a retreat which he made in St. Sigebert's monastery near Cologne, Norbert was at this time in the thirtieth year of his age."
This took place the even took place in 1113, and would mean that for the next 21 years of his life -until his death- he would be committed to becoming ordained, founding an order, being an itinerant preacher who performed some miracles, and serving as an ambassador of unity and peace in the Church during a time of discord. Not too shabby!!
Yesterday's Psalm reminds us that " Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, and walks his ways". A difficult sentiment to accept, but one very common in the book of Psalms. Many who have gone through a different experience of the Pre Vatican 2 Catholic Church during their younger years may be a little weary of this notion of 'fearing' God, and may be more prone to focus on the love God offers us. I can understand that...but I also recognize the problem with focusing solely on a God of love. Of course God loves us, but God will also challenge, and push us if we let Him. If we focus only on the lovey dovey stuff, we may miss out on the harder challenges, the tough love.
We see it in St Norbert's account. He was so afraid to take that dive, to completely commit his entire life to Christ..and God confronted that fear with this vision which left St Norbert no other options. Confronted by a new fear, a direct fear of the Almighty at that point in time, in that moment, obedience to the great divine was that only option. Fear in this case, was an eye opener.
Even with the Tobit story there are certain themes around fear: -we have one more reading on Saturday, from this rather unusual and complicated reading.- In yesterday's readings, we saw that absolute desperation from Tobit and Sarah, who feared for their lives so much, that they both asked God to put an end to their 'miserable existence'. The powerful element in this story, is that God did not prevent their suffering. He let them suffer quite extensively. It's only when fear had taken over their lives and turned into panic, that the Lord responded to them by giving a new opportunity for a new life.This is God saying to them 'I know times are tough, but I have not forgotten my covenant with you. You shall be given a new hope in your life' This tension is still very much in today's reading, as Sarah's parents continuously pray for health, and success of the Tobias - Tobit's son- and Rachel. Part of that is just the custom, but a part of it is also fear...Rachel's 7 other husbands all passed away before her marriage was consummated. They said her entire body had been taken over by a demon. So, for God to smile upon her despite her cursed nature was more than just a little act of love. It's an assurance that God will not let his people down, no matter what.
I feel that such faithfulness from God is what inspired the famous line quoted in Scripture today, the Shama Israel :"
you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.'
IT's such a simple prayer, straightforward and perhaps even obvious...but there is much to be said about dedicating our entire being -body, mind and soul- to loving an other, especially when that other is God. The Great divine who has done so much for us, despite all of our failures. Who made many covenants with us, inspired and driven by love and pity for us. It seems that the least we can do is recognize his might -with our fear- and respond to his act of love with our complete loving, contemplative devotion to God. There is something profoundly human about that.Equally human is our numerous struggles in achieving that devotion. From St Norbert and St Paul (both being knocked off their transport once the Divine was revealed to them) to the disciples of Christ, to every Saint, lay person, and religious in History...our walk with God is imperfect, but all he asks in return is that we love him, and others, with all the strength we can muster. No one could ever fathom the depth of that love, but we will meditate on it a bit more tomorrow, as we celebrate the Sacred heart of Jesus.
|Tobit 6: 10 - 11|
|10||the angel said to the young man, "Brother, today we shall stay with Raguel. He is your relative, and he has an only daughter named Sarah. I will suggest that she be given to you in marriage,|
|11||because you are entitled to her and to her inheritance, for you are her only eligible kinsman.|
|Psalms 128: 1 - 5|
|1||Blessed is every one who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways!|
|2||You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.|
|3||Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.|
|4||Lo, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.|
|5||The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!|
Mark 12: 28 - 34
28And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?"29Jesus answered, "The first is, `Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one;30and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.'31The second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."32And the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he;33and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."34And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And after that no one dared to ask him any question.