One of my Norbertine confreres, Fr. Theodore Antry, once related a story that I have never forgotten. It seems that the bishop of a priest friend of his gave a conference and took questions afterward. Someone asked the bishop when he decided to become a priest. The bishop replied, “this morning”. Everyone laughed. But the bishop was dead serious.
He meant that he didn’t become a priest ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. He becomes a priest intentionally each and every day as he attempts to be faithful to his commitment. It is much the same for me as I confront the question “why” I became a Norbertine, although why I came is not the same as why I stay.
As long as I can remember, I have been in love with God. From the time I was two or three, I remember my mother kneeling with me beside my bed before bedtime, leading me through my “blessing prayers”: “God bless grand-mom, God bless grand-pop, God bless aunt Mary”, etc.. I remember being comforted as a child, knowing that the God who watched over me by night as my mother told me God did, was the One who blesses, seeks our good and invites us to bless others.
In my early years I lived in a multi-generational, Italian household of warm, intimate relationships that gave me a sense of belonging, of safety and security. Before the first of my four sisters arrived, I was an “only child” for seven years. I had playmates in the neighborhood and in nursery school, but often played quietly by myself at home. I believed what my mother taught me and never felt lonely, because God was with me.
Our house on Federal Street was awash in religious images, pictures, statues and symbols that captivated my attention. Like eastern icons, they drew me in to what I believe little children readily experience—uncomplicated, contemplative prayer. In a way, I suppose, that was the foundation for my attraction to Norbertine life, one of contemplation, of study and active ministry—of personal, intimate relationship with God, with personal experiences of God’s blessing and the passing on of those blessings in ministry to others in the context of community, “a family of friends” as St. Augustine might call it. That is why I became a Norbertine, but not why I stay.
In using the imagery of weaving Parker Palmer says that “the world unravels always and needs to be rewoven time and time again”, and that we must continually “collect threads of meaning, threads of hope, threads of purpose, energy and will, along with all the knowledge, all the skill that every weaver needs” (“November 22, 2008”, Weavings, Winter-2009).
I became a Norbertine because I believed in, and wanted to be part of, a warm community of friends that would be a place of safety and security, not only for its members, but for all who would be drawn to it for ministry. I believed in, and wanted to be part of, an environment that supported contemplation of the blessings of God to be passed on to others.
What I have discovered in the twenty-seven years I have been a member of the Norbertine community of Daylesford Abbey, is that being faithful to the ideal entails finding along the way, as Parker Palmer puts it, “the thread with which you may reweave your own tattered life, the thread that more than any other weaves in warmth and light, making both the weaver and the weaving true”. Being faithful to the ideal means commitment to ongoing forgiveness and reconciliation of my own failures to embody the ideal, and those of my brothers. Together, as we dedicate ourselves to the works of reconciliation, we not only help one another reweave the fabric of our lives, we become the loom of blessing on which God is reweaving the lives of all who come to us for hope and healing.
That is not why I became a Norbertine. But that is why I stay.