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St. Norbert

St. Norbert

Feast date: Jun 06

On June 6 the Catholic Church honors Saint Norbert of Xanten – who started out as a frivolous and worldly cleric, but was changed by God’s grace into a powerful preacher and an important reformer of the Church during the early 12th century.

He is the founder of the Norbertine order.

Born around the year 1075 in the German town of Xanten, Norbert belonged to a high-ranking family with ties to the imperial court. As a young man he showed a high degree of intelligence and sophistication – which marked him out as a contender for offices within the Church, the state, or both. None of this, however, was any guarantee of a holy life. On the contrary, Norbert's gifts and advantages would prove to be a source of temptation even after he joined the ranks of the clergy.

Norbert was ordained as a subdeacon, and enrolled with a group of clerics in his town, before moving on to an appointment with the powerful Archbishop of Cologne. He went on to serve the German Emperor Henry V, in a position which involved the distribution of aid to the poor. In all of this, however, Norbert displayed no particular piety or personal seriousness, living a rather pleasurable and luxurious life.

Change would come from a brush with death, in approximately 1112: while riding on horseback near Xanten, he was caught in a storm and nearly killed by a lightning bolt. The frightened horse threw Norbert off, and he lay unconscious for some time. Sobered by the experience, he left his imperial post and began a period of prayer and discernment in a monastery. At age 35, he heard God calling him to the priesthood.

Radically converted to the ideals of the Gospel, Norbert was now set against the worldly attitude he had once embodied. This made him unpopular with local clerics, who responded with insults and condemnation. But Norbert was not turning back. He gave all of his wealth to the poor, reducing himself to a barefoot and begging pilgrim who possessed nothing except the means to celebrate Mass.

Pope Gelasius II gave Norbert permission to live as an itinerant preacher, and he was asked to found a religious order so that others might live after his example. He settled in the northern French region of Aisne, along with a small group of disciples who were to live according to the Rule of St. Augustine. On December 25, 1121, they were established as the Canons Regular of Premontre, also known as the Premonstratensians or Norbertines.

Their founder also established a women’s branch of the order, before returning to Germany for a successful preaching tour. He founded a lay branch of the Premonstratensians (the Third Order of St. Norbert), and went on to Belgium, where he preached against a sect that denied the power of the sacraments. His order was invited into many Northern European dioceses, and there was talk of making Norbert a bishop.

Though he avoided an earlier attempt to make him the Bishop of Wurzburg, Norbert was eventually chosen to become the Archbishop of Magdeburg in Germany. The archdiocese was in serious moral and financial trouble, and the new archbishop worked hard to reform it. His efforts were partly successful, but not universally accepted: Norbert was the target of three failed assassination attempts, made by opponents of his reforms.  

When a dispute arose over the papal succession in 1130, Norbert traveled to Rome to support the legitimate Pope Innocent II. Afterward he returned to Germany and became a close adviser to its Emperor Lothar. In a sense, his life seems to have come full-circle: the first hints of his conversion had come on a trip to Rome two decades earlier, when he accompanied a previous emperor. This time, however, Norbert was seeking God’s will, not his own advancement.

With his health failing, Norbert was brought back to Magdeburg. He died there on June 6, 1134. Pope Gregory XIII canonized St. Norbert in 1582.

St. Marcellin Champagnat

St. Marcellin Champagnat

Feast date: Jun 06

"All to Jesus through Mary, and all to Mary for Jesus.” - St. Marcellin Champagnat

Marcellin Champagnat was born on May 20, 1789, the year of the French Revolution, and died on June 6, 1840.  He was a priest of the Society of Mary and the founder of the Little Brothers of Mary, a congregation of brothers devoted to the education of the young.

He was the ninth child of a very pious catholic family and develpoed a very deep devotion to Mary as a young boy, which he learned from an aunt who was a religious.  He also had a great capacity for work, which he learned from his father.

Champagnat left school at the age of seven, and when, at the age of 14, he discovered through the help of a priest his own vocation to the priesthood, he had to begin to study again almost from scratch.

Aware of his limitations, and against the advice of those around him, he entered the minor seminary and struggled to learn the fundaments of schooling. However, never losing sight of the will of God for him, he struggled through these difficult years with his eyes fixed on the horizon of God’s call.

In the major seminary he became friends with the future Curé of Ars, Jean-Marie Vianney.  He was ordained with his companions on July 22, 1816, the feast of St. Mary Magdalen.

One of his desires was to found a congregarion devoted to the name of Mary in order to re-evangelize French society in the wake of the French Revolution. He saw his main task as the Christian education of the young, and this inclination was quickened and solidified upon encountering a dying young boy who had nearly no knowledge of the faith.

He foudned the Little Brothers of Mary on January 2, 1817, when two young men decided to join him in his mission. He set about at once, in addition to his parish ministry, to educate uncultured young boys and turn them into ardent apostles of Jesus Christ, all the while living in abject poverty and trusting totally in the will of God, and the solicitous protection of the Virgin Mary, to whom he gave all, for the sake of the Lord Jesus.

Marcellin Champagnat died at the age of 51, his health having been worn out by his immense workload and an illness.

At his canonization in 1999 by Pope JohnPaul II, the Holy Father said of him,“St Marcellin proclaimed the Gospel with a burning heart. He was sensitive to the spiritual and educational needs of his time, especially to religious ignorance and the situations of neglect experienced in a particular way by the young.”

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