Norbertines: Living in two worlds of grace
Grace flows through community and ministerial life
By Fr. Jim Baraniak, O.Praem.
Having served the Norbertine Order as Vocation Coordinator for several years now, I've encountered certain trends in vocation ministry as young men voice interest in Norbertine life.
One trend is that more and more men are coming forward with greater knowledge of who we are as a community and what our common life and ministry is all about. One reason is that more vocation contacts have belonged to some Norbertine Apostolate (parish, high school, college or some other institution served or sponsored by St. Norbert Abbey). As such, some men come our way with a built-in, ongoing relationship with one or more Norbertines that has been sustained over a period of years.
But, surprisingly, some individuals come our way who do not have that day-to-day, week-to-week or even year-to-year relationship with a Norbertine. Yet they come acquainted with our lifestyle, nevertheless. In an attempt to find a religious community that best fits their needs and gifts, these men have been doing their homework: they suggest that they are looking for a community of Canons Regular!
Canons Regular? What is that? What are they all about? Because the vocation contact is usually the first person to utter the words "canon regular" -- before I even have the opportunity to do so -- I invite them to do the defining!
While they may not have the perfect words to define the specific attributes of the canons regular throughout the ages, they are aware of the unique living and ministerial experiences that have marked the Norbertines' for 108 years locally and 880 years globally.
As Canons Regular, I believe -- and the contacts come to know -- we live in "two worlds of grace."
The first "world of grace" is that day-to-day, life-sustaining grounding that comes from living in common. Much like our families of origin, Norbertines have a place to live which we can call home and to which we can come home.
There, at home, we will find men ranging from 88 to 23 years of age. Given the plethora of gifts, talents, interests and abilities, each Norbertine has his own task to complete to make the home run smoothly and comfortably. Each man contributes to the common cause; yet when he is away for ministerial or familial responsibilities, he is missed! The individual is missed because we do not live simply like a community of bachelors dwelling separately under the same roof; rather; we live together as brothers, in relationship to and with one another.
Therefore, the principle task that each Norbertine embraces as his own task is living a common life around a common table at the daily Eucharist -- the "font and summit" of our life together. Daily, we are fed by the Word of God and by the Body of Christ, fortifying us to become the very Body of Christ! The natural extension of that sacred table is the table we gather around in the dining room. The presence of Christ becomes most obvious as we eat together, recreate together, celebrate Liturgy of the Hours together and simply enjoy each other's presence. Through our participation in this common and holy life, a spirit of peace, charity and brotherhood abides.
It is because of the grounding we find at home in liturgical, spiritual and familial ways that we are empowered to venture into our second "world of grace": common ministerial outreach!
By virtue of our baptismal call and by means of our vowed life as Canons Regular, we serve the needs of the local church through our common ministry to the poor and marginalized, the young and the old. Locally, this ministry -- as a community serving local communities -- has found expression in our educational apostolates on the elementary, secondary and collegiate levels. Norbertines serve in these institutions as teachers, professors, administrators, counselors, campus ministers, financial officers, and in governance as board members and trustees.
We serve in parishes entrusted to the Order, and provide pastoral assistance to pastors of diocesan parishes. Our men are engaged in sacramental celebration and pastoral care at area healthcare facilities including hospitals, nursing homes and retirement villages. Further away, our men serve as chaplains in various branches of the American Military Apostolate and in foreign and medical missionaries established by our community. Closer to home, some of our men minister to the Norbertine Community itself as abbot, prior, house superior, provisor and directors of formation and vocation.
"Living in Two Worlds of Grace" is an experience that has shown much prosperity and growth over the years and, most recently, for St. Norbert Abbey in particular. Our parishes are growing in numbers, facilities and resources. The number of men -- and our newly ordained -- assisting in parishes is growing.
Option for the young
Simultaneously, our community is making a preferential option for the young! This past fall, our college welcomed the largest number of students ever in our 103-year history. We continue to use our resources responsibly and generously to maintain a high school apostolate that is truly Christian, truly Catholic. Our houses of formation in Chicago and De Pere have been updated, enhanced and, in some cases, re-built to house the growing number of men in priestly formation. And still, we welcome others to join us in continuing the work of the Lord!
Not everyone may be called to religious life or priesthood; the demands of such a lifestyle are great! And yet the rewards received from living a life marked by Christian fraternity and gospel service are often unmatched by what the world sometimes treasures as 'successful,' 'fulfilling' or 'rewarding."
Towards that end, if you or someone you know are between the ages of 18 and 39 and would like to know more about these "Two Worlds of Grace," feel free to contact me at the Office for Norbertine Life and Vocation on the St. Norbert College Campus. I would love to have more people experience the blessings of this grace-filled life. And maybe you'll find that God is calling you to live in a world of grace that is fulfilling and life-giving, challenging and affirming, Ever Ancient -- Ever New!
Contact Fr. Baraniak, Norbertine Vocations Director, at (920)403-1336, 1016 N. Broadway, De Pere 54115.