Norbert was born in the duchy of Cleves, in Xanten, on the left bank of the River Rhine, to a noble family; Norbert’s father was related to the emperor and his mother was from the House of Lorraine. He led a life of pleasure even though he received minor orders, as a subdiaconate, receiving a canonry in the church of St. Victor.
One day whilst he was riding his horse, he was struck down from his horse by a terrible thunderstorm. He laid upon the ground for about an hour. After he regained consciousness, he said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” An inner voice replied, “Turn from evil and do good: seek after peace and pursue it.”
Clearly, Norbert’s experience is much like that of the great St. Paul who was struck down from his horse on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians, then seeing a vision of Our Lord Jesus Christ who said to him, “Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?” And as we are all aware, Saul became St. Paul, the greatest evangelist and missionary who ever lived, bringing Our Lord to the gentiles and to everyone he possibly could. And so, like St. Paul, Norbert turned his life around to fulfill what the inner voice told him to accomplish.
Numerous heresies existed and the faithful became lukewarm. Accordingly, Father Norbert founded a religious Order called the Norbertines. He fought these heresies, particularly with regard to the Blessed Sacrament, revitalizing the lay people he served and making peace and effecting reconciliation among enemies. Father Norbert understood that he could only effect the changes necessary through Our Lord, wherein he emphasized devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, the true presence, body, blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus.
Father Norbert became the Archbishop of Magdeburg in central Germany, a community of Pagans and Christians. Archbishop Norbert took an important part in the politics of the papacy and the empire. He reformed the clergy and the laity, and was met with so much opposition that on occasions, he escaped assassination attempts. But this did not deter him and he consistently fought the good fight and ran the good race.
He died in Magdeburg on June 6, 1134, and he was canonized as a saint in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII.
On the day of his ordination, St. Norbert said in pertinent part:
O Priest!. . .You are not of yourself because you are the servant and minister of Christ. You are not your own because you are the spouse of the Church. You are not yourself because you are the mediator between God and man. You are not from yourself because you are nothing. What then are you? Nothing and everything. O Priest! Take care lest what was said to Christ on the cross be said to you: ‘He saved others, himself he cannot save’.
St. Norbert fully recognized that in his capacity, he was “In Persona Christ,” or “In The Person of Christ.” He understood the gravity of his status and the effect he had upon the salvation of the people he served. His bravery, courage, determination, effectiveness and pure love of God helped him to be an excellent reformer, assisting in turning the lukewarm into true followers of Our Lord, and proclaiming what was actually evil, and actually good, and not confusing them as is done constantly in today’s world, the devil’s tactics.
Dear St. Norbert, help us never to be lukewarm, for Jesus said he would vomit them out of His mouth. Help us to be fierce and loving Soldiers of the Triune God, to recognize “Jesus in disguise,” and to live out our Faith in word and deed. St. Norbert, pray for us!
Sources: Butler’s Lives of the Saints, edited by Michael Walsh; Franciscan Media; Vatican website