900 year Order of Prémontré

In the The celebration of our Jubilee, nine-hundred years after the first profession of Saint Norbert and his followers on Christmas-day 1121 is for all of us, Norbertine Sisters and Brothers, a precious occasion to re-discover the Charism of our Order. Among the many questions that may be asked, one question is fundamental. Have we been faithful to this Charism? To expect a “yes or no” answer on this question would be naive. Some questions just remain questions, rather to be asked than to be answered. In order to live with this question we have to live consciously our contact with the Spirit who inspired Saint Norbert against the background of our time, in the reality that surrounds us. The question remains because it is the echo of our commitment to our vocation, which is never totally accomplished.

The life of Saint Norbert shows us how he was moved by the Spirit to lead an apostolic life. The vita apostolica is a theme that inspired many movements of Church-reform in the twelfth century. Moved by the desire to return to the sources of Christianity, preachers went from one village to the next, preaching to the people. They shaped their way of life by following the Gospel literally and attracted many followers. According to Herman of Tournai, the author one of the first sources on the life of Saint Norbert, none of these preachers gathered so many followers as Norbert did. Clerics and lay-people, men and women alike. The same chronicler expresses his admiration when he relates the settlement in Prémontré and the enormous growth of the new institution. He writes that he knew of more than a thousand women who entered into the Praemonstratensian houses. The presence of sisters in our Order is one of the striking features from the very beginning.

A Charism is perhaps in the first place an inspired intuition, a longing to return to the sources. While it develops and searches ways to express itself in a structured way it necessarily clashes with laws, conventions and expectations. Herman of Tournai highlights the ascetic lifestyle of the first Praemonstratensian sisters. He praises their fasting, their cloistered life, their coarse vestments and their charitable activities. Filip of Harvengt, abbot of Bonne-Espérance Abbey in Hainaut also highlights these characteristics in his description of the life of Oda, the prioress of Rivereuille, the nunnery founded by Bonne-Espérance. Not unlike the canons, Oda set an example, teaching by word and by the way she led her life. Demonstrating by her wisdom and love of the poor she was as a light on a standard, shining beyond the walls of the monastery . In the life of this early Praemonstratensian sister, the apostolic life found a way of expression within the limited space that conventional religious life left to women twelfth century.

This booklet provides some information about the development of the sisters’ communities which sprang from the encounters of Norbertine Charism with the various local and historical events. All are real and genuine expressions of our Charism. Divided over several institutes, they are one within the Praemonstratensian family.

Have we been faithful to Norbert’s Charism? Can we use this Jubilee to deepen our understanding of it? Can we grow in fidelity? Surely, thinking about our spiritual patrimony as a reality that would be incomplete if not lived by communities of sisters and of brothers united in the international communion of the Praemonstratensian family, is an essential element in the awareness concerning this fundamental question.

Jos Wouters, o.praem abbot-general
Roma, October 8, 2019

Christmas message from General Abbot

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

“God loved the world so much that he gave up his only Son so that each one who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Jn. 3,16)

This verse has often been qualified as the summary of the essence of christian faith. It expresses what we celebrate at Christmas.

God’s love for the world is a tremendous mystery, since the world often appears as all but lovable. The world is a messy place, lost, godforsaken. Highly problematic and ambiguous. A place of suffering and conflict, for many people a valley of tears.

Some would like to escape from it in one way or another, or only to forget about it even for a short time, creating somehow their own private temporary paradise where the burdens of life are not felt. Some would do anything to make the world a better place, hoping and toiling for a better future. We all recognize the endless potentialities of the world, knowing we will not be able to realize them.

In fact, when thinking about the world, we think about what we, human beings are doing to it, what we are making out of it. So does Holy Scripture. Biblical scholars tell us that “God loved the world so much” refers to God’s love for every human being without distinction. Loving the world implies love for sinners, for people wounded by weakness and evil. It is not so much “the world” that is loved, but our world: we.

To this world he has come as a light shining forth the Father’s goodness and humanity. Jesus is God’s love for our world, lived and shown in a human person. God incarnate. God coming to this world as man, as a servant, as a small child in a manger. His presence among us changes the world. It changes us who believe in him.

Contemplating Jesus in the crib we find rest and serenity for we are literally touched by divine love. Love for me as an individual, for our community, and indeed for the world. We learn to accept the world we live in for it is the place where he chose to be, the place where his love remains present for us and for those who will come after us.

Contemplating Jesus in the crib we find healing and forgiveness for he reveals the deepest reality: the Father who loves us and opens up the space in which we can become his children: “so that each one who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

An authentic meeting with God changes us for we cannot believe in him as the Father of Jesus and therefore “Our Father” without believing that other human beings are our brothers and sisters. Contemplating Jesus in the crib we learn to love the world as he loves it.

Contemplating Jesus in the crib we rediscover our canonical charism in all its freshness, finding God in this world among people, who are so much loved by him.

I wish all of you a holy celebration of the mystery of incarnation.

Jos Wouters, abbot-general