With this reflection on the turn of the year from the Rev. John Bostwick, O.Praem., ’68 (Religious Studies) we send our warmest wish that 2011 will, indeed, be a Happy New Year for you and for the worldwide community of St. Norbert.
As the evening settles in, a lone voice rings out: “Jesus Christ is the Light of the World.” The gathering of Norbertines, students and others respond, “A Light no darkness can extinguish.” And so begins the daily singing of Evening Prayer in the oratory of Old St Joseph Church, the heart of St. Norbert College.
This very assembly, whether two or three gathered in his name or a group straining the capacity of the oratory, is an affirmation of the centrality of the light of Christ for this college community. It is a light manifest in a variety of ways: in prayer and practice, in word and example.
The turning of the year occurs in the midst of the Feasts of Light. This cluster of Christian feast days – Christmas, Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord and Candlemas – celebrates the manifestation of Christ our Light in the world.
In the northern hemisphere, of course, this coincides with the winter solstice: the longest night and the shortest day of the year, and then the gradual unfolding of light as daylight increases and nighttime diminishes. As we welcome the longer days and shorter nights, we welcome the deep, permeating presence of Christ, our Light.
At St. Norbert that Light is expressed in many ways, among them prayer, communio, wisdom and service. All of these are qualities that mark a truly Christian, truly human community. Prayer – paying attention to God – is at the heart of the college’s life.
Prayer may be hidden: Sometimes it seems that the singing of the daily office is among the college’s best-kept secrets. It exists in the deeply personal spiritual practice of members of the college community. Walk by the oratory and it will not be uncommon to note persons in personal prayer.
But then there is the vibrant celebration of the liturgy on weekends and at the daily Mass in the church. There is the weekly Common Prayer in the church and the ways folks, in their own ways, observe our midweek pause for Sacred Hour. The light of faith is honored in all ways of praying.
As a Norbertine foundation, we raise up communio as a core value. Communio is one of those untranslatable words. More than community, it embraces a living, sharing unity of mind and heart on the way to God. Values of respect for persons; hospitality; a desire and respect for diversity; the shared responsibility of collegiality and the working together, side by side, of all segments of the college community: All are equally expressions of communio.
A college is about learning, of course. But more, it is about wisdom. We are concerned with information but also about persons; about how to learn, and how to use what we learn in ways that enhance the human experience and promote integrity. We are servants of the truth in all the dimensions of human and divine learning. Ultimately, in all its rich variety, truth is one. The Lord affirms that he is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
The unity of the human person demands not only the development of heart and head, but also of hands, as a community grounded in Christ expresses itself in service. The college exists not as an introverted, self-absorbed group, but for the life of the world. The resources of the college serve the local community and beyond: its faculty and facilities, its educational and cultural programming welcome the larger community. The students, especially, serve as the hands and feet of Christ, but all segments of the college are active in outreach beyond the campus.
“Jesus Christ is the Light of the world!” is not only a prayer, still less is it merely a slogan. It is a vocation, a way of life, an invitation to make a real difference, “A Light no darkness can extinguish!”
Jan. 4, 2011