Nearly fourteen years ago, when I was first appointed as Canonry Vocation Coordinator for the Norbertine Community -- a ministerial position I held for 12 years -- I felt an immediate need to reproduce some new vocation materials that would represent us positively and honestly to those who were considering our way of life. I compiled all sorts of materials from our past while tying them together in a manner that would be not only cohesive but inspiring and challenging as well. What title would I give to the work? Is there some phrase that would capture our lives in one, creative catch phrase? For the title of our new vocation brochure, I would settle upon....
"Ever Ancient, Ever New!"
That title, I thought, well captured our Norbertine heritage both locally and globally. Here in DePere we celebrate a local history that extends back to 1898 when the then-Father Pennings assumed the pastorate of Saint Joseph Church, where I now serve as pastor, -- our local history goes back 5 years earlier to his arrival in the "Belgian Peninsula" where the faithful were served by the Norbertines in Kewaunee and Door Counties. The name also represents our current lived tradition as we are a community of both older and younger men -- with all sorts of folks in between!
That title also represents our global heritage which extends all the way back to Christmas night in 1120 when Norbert commissioned his new brothers to, "turn away from evil and do good; seek after peace and pursue it!"
If we were simply "ancient" -- there would be no progression of life; we would certainly die. If we were only "new," we would have no firm foundation. Living a balanced life -- such as what we try to achieve in our character of being caught up in both contemplation and action -- we are also "Ever Ancient, Ever New." Not all religious communities can make that claim to the degree that the Norbertines profess such a balanced spirit.
But the title was not thought up by me -- it was pinned by our Holy Father Saint Augustine (the author of our way of life) who wrote in his Confessions:
"Too late loved I Thee, O Thou Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Too late I loved Thee! And behold, Thou wert within, and I abroad, and there I searched for Thee; deformed I, plunging amid those fair forms which Thou hadst made. Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee. Things held me far from Thee, which, unless they were in Thee, were not at all. Thou calledst, and shoutedst, and burstest my deafness. Thou flashedst, shonest, and scatteredst my blindness. Thou breathedst odours, and I drew in breath and panted for Thee. I tasted, and hunger and thirst. Thou touchedst me, and I burned for Thy peace."
Here's a sung rendition of what was the prayer on Augustine's lips:
Being contemplative and active, ever ancient and ever new, requires a balanced life to be struck. I would suggest that our community becomes pretty balanced when we celebrate the gifts of our older men as much as we do our younger guys. There will always be those who's focus seems to be lived in internal ministry -- other's will tend to take it to the road. In DePere, we tend to balance those two aspect of our heritage rather well as a community; nevertheless, we are at our best when each individual Norbertine does his part to be grounded in the experience of our ancestors while looking forward, allowing our prayerful contemplation to be the source of our ministerial zeal.
Stiking a balance between the old and new also has physical implications, especially when building new churches. In the case of Lourdes in DePere, we needed to determine how we would build a contemporary church and yet be traditional at the same time. Further, are there ways that we could incorporate some of the older treasures from the two predecessor churches and incorporate them into the new building? Using old gems in new ways was certainly a lesson in creative pastoral care of the community's goods.
And then there's music! There are songs that, when heard, can put us in a specific time or place. A few months ago, I highlighted some music that immediately reminds me of my grade school Mass days. Hearing Michael Jackson's music over this past week immediately places me back at Antigo High School in the early 80's. And when I hear this stuff, I am reminded that a song itself can be both ever ancient and ever new -- all in one....
....Celebrating a life that is "Ever Ancient, Ever New!" It requires a great deal of balance, discipline and hard work. But when it all comes together, it has pretty good results. As for the Norbertines, it's our humble prayer, that as we sing and chant songs both old and new, ...
"We, the members of Saint Norbert Abbey, in union with Christ and the Church, move into our future with its diverse challenges in a spirit of faith, hope and love. Inspired by Mary our Mother and Norbert our founder, we whole heartedly devote ourselves and our resources to continue the work of the Lord."