January 2024 is “in the books” as they say, and it began for some with New Year’s resolutions. It seems that we like to keep time with the number of sunrises and sunsets in our lives by measuring out the days, months, and years, and using those finite points to measure, take stock, and plan ahead. We set goals for ourselves, make plans and resolutions, and look positively to the future with renewed energy and enthusiasm. Sometimes, we have had to deal with unexpected challenges in the year that has passed, and starting a new year is a challenge or may offer an opportunity to “start fresh.”
Of course, there is ongoing debate as to whether “time” is a just subjective convention - a way to explain the sequence of events that actually coexist in a broader view of existence - or, is time real; having flow, direction, and duration from past to present to future? We can leave the debate and the scientific discussion that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity supports a Block Universe Theory to Robert Lawrence Kuhn and other scientific theorists, though it is interesting science, and in my mind, supports the existence of God.
Probably one of the most famous passages from the Bible about time is from the book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3. It is often read at funeral Masses and has been made popular by the song, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” written by Pete Seeger and sung by The Byrds:
There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every affair under the heavens.
A time to give birth, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down, and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.
What profit have workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to mortals to be busied about. God has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into their hearts so they cannot find out, from beginning to end, the work which God has done. I recognized that there is nothing better than to rejoice and to do well during life. Moreover, that all can eat and drink and enjoy the good of all their toil—this is a gift of God. I recognized that whatever God does will endure forever; there is no adding to it, or taking from it. Thus has God done that he may be revered. What now is has already been; what is to be, already is: God retrieves what has gone by.
The concluding paragraph of the chapter seems to support Block Universe Theory. God is timeless, yet we are meant to have different experiences throughout our lifetimes that form and shape us, hopefully, in service to God and one another.
Saint Norbert had distinct times in his life. One could say that he had four “seasons” of his life: as a youthful student and Church subdeacon of noble status, as a reformer and itinerant priest and preacher, as a founder of a new religious community, and as an archbishop of the Church. In each of these distinct phases of his life, he experienced transformative events that made his life’s journey somewhat unpredictable with unexpected, yet profound, outcomes.
Born into royalty during the High Middle Ages, Norbert lived a life of privilege. He was well-educated, articulate, and socially and politically connected. He had wealth and, like most noble families’ children, he held a position in the Church as a subdeacon. He could have lived out his life in comfort and leisure, but he had a conversion experience that led him to become an ordained priest, give away all of his title and possessions, and preach Church reform, reconciliation, and peace.
Unsettled with the styles of religious life he observed - the monks in their monasteries and the canons (priests) in their churches - he founded a new community in Prémontré that would blend the communal life and rule of monasteries with the ministerial life of priests, who provided a spiritual life for the people through preaching the Word and celebrating the sacraments. Just a few short years after founding the community of Norbertines at Prémontré, France, he was called to serve as Bishop of Magdeburg. Yet another challenge, he managed to lay the foundations for the renewal of the Church in that part of the Holy Roman Empire, such that in future years after his death, the Church would expand into new lands and evangelize among the people there.
More than 900 years later, Norbert’s vision of an apostolic community still exists in Norbertine Abbeys around the world, as well as in schools like Archmere, founded by or associated with these abbeys. The life of Saint Norbert is an example of the possibilities that our God places before us, and we are called to explore them. So, as we begin this New Year of 2024, let us be open to God’s voice and to the possibilities of this “season” of our lives.
Michael A. Marinelli, Ed.D. ‘76
Head of School