St. Norbert (1080?-1134) was born of a noble Rhineland family, and until about age thirty-five led the life of a courtier at various princely courts. Then, following a narrow escape from death, he underwent a conversion and dedicated his life to God. Norbert was ordained a priest, but his new enthusiasm antagonized many of the local clergy. Their opposition prompted him to sell all his goods and give the proceeds to the poor; he then went to visit the pope.
Pope Gelasius II gave Norbert permission to travel and preach wherever he wished. Norbert went to northern France, and was very effective in rekindling the faith of lukewarm Catholics. He and a young priest, Hugh of Fosses, established a religious order known as the Premonstratensian Canons, dedicated to the correction of heresies and to fostering a greater respect for the Blessed Sacrament.
Norbert continued his itinerant preaching until 1126, when he was chosen as archbishop of Magdeburg in Germany. The diocese was badly in need of reform, and Norbert undertook his duties with customary enthusiasm. He reformed local abuses, renewed sacramental life in the diocese, and reconciled enemies — though he made enemies himself by trying to recover territory stolen from the Church (and this led to several attempts on his life).
In 1130 Norbert supported Pope Innocent II in his struggle against an antipope, and just before his death was appointed chancellor for Italy. St. Norbert had a great devotion to the Holy Eucharist (his emblem is a monstrance, or “display case” for the Host); he died in 1134.
1. A close call with death is often an invitation from God to change one’s life; St. Norbert realized this, and allowed his narrow escape to set him on the path to holiness.
2. As St. Norbert recognized, the Holy Eucharist is a great spiritual treasure, and deserves our profound gratitude and respect.
image: Engraving of Norbertus van Xanten by Hendrik Causé, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons