Homily for Mass of 21 December + CAS End of Year Celebration

21 Dec 2023

St Mary’s Cathedral Crypt, 21 December 2023

Harald Gormsson (911- c. 985), son of Gorm the Languid, was a tenth-century King of the Danes (c. 958 – c. 985). He united what are today Denmark, Norway and Sweden as one Viking kingdom. He was the father of Sweyn Forkbeard, and grandfather of King Canute, the King of England who famously ordered the tide to halt and not wet his toes, knowing it would inexorably proceed, as a humble king demonstrating to his courtiers that none can resist the forces of nature except the Christian God. A savvy political operator, some historians believe Harald embraced Christianity for himself, his family and the Vikings only to stave off the meddling Holy Roman Empire to the south.

Whatever his motives, Harald gradually introduced Christianity to Scandinavia. He minted the first national coinage, with Christian insignia in case anyone missed his memo regarding Baptism.[1] He erected large runestones around the countryside with images and inscriptions about Christ’s victory and his own efforts to evangelise the Vikings.[2] Yet instead of being remembered in history as Harald the Apostle to the Danes or Evangelist Harry, his nickname is Blåtand or ‘Bluetooth’—whether due to overindulging in Nordic berries or due to his rotten teeth.[3] Viking dentistry left something to be desired!

This interesting feature of Harald’s appearance led a couple of techies in the 1990’s to name their new project ‘Bluetooth’. If Harald could unify the Nordic lands, they said, his was the perfect name for their protocol uniting fixed and mobile devices or personal area networks. As Pip and our IT team would tell you I’m sure, the iconic Bluetooth logo is a combination of Nordic letters H and B for Harald Bluetooth.

What on earth has any of this to do with the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney end of year staff Mass? Well, I wanted to suggest that, however sincere (or not) was Bluetooth’s conversion, what he absolutely got right was the power of Christian faith to unite people through a shared vision and practices. For all your different roles and responsibilities, your different temperaments and tastes, your different experiences and aspirations, what you have in common is the willingness to build up the Church in Sydney through your efforts. You each believe God has put you and your peers here to serve Him and His Church, and many of you get great satisfaction from that, even if your work (and even occasionally your colleagues) can be trying at times.

Now, whilst some like Harald might see Christianity as a political expedient, it’s true power comes from authenticity, from conviction. We can say we are Christians all we like, but it will mean nothing if we don’t live and breathe as Christians. Our hearts must truly desire a friendship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with His saints in heaven and His saints-in-the-making here on earth. If that is our deep desire, we must be open to better-than-web communication with God and others.

But how do we get such a spiritual Bluetooth connection? Well, we are made in the image of a God who is relational all the way down. As Trinity, God’s love pours into and out of each of the Divine Persons and overflows into our cosmos and each of us. We encounter God in His word and sacraments, in his priest and people the Church, and through particular others, and we bring Him to others in that data communication that is the life of grace. And we can erect no firewalls around our spiritual devices: once we receive these messages, we just have to pass them on to others.

As Christians, the protocols for our interconnection are faith, hope and love. When we communicate these generously, we become ‘discoverable’ by others, drawing them near and forming deep relationships. Added to these three is authentic Christian joy, which is amongst the most powerful evangelising tools. People who encounter us should be left asking themselves what’s she on and where they can get some of what’s making him so happy?

In our Gospel today we witness a textbook example of the theological virtues and gifts of faith, hope and charity bursting forth as joy in the relationship between cousins Mary and Elizabeth. Mary has just received the greatest data download of all time: the news that she would be handmaid to God made man for our salvation. An email like that would make anyone anxious! But her instinct was to move quickly to find out how cousin Elizabeth was faring and share her own good news. The strength of Mary and Elizabeth’s Bluetooth radio waves of joy was palpable, so much so that the young John the Baptist couldn’t help doing somersaults in the womb and his mother couldn’t help blurting out words so profound we continue to recite them daily: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” Jesus (Lk 1:42-43).

Dear friends, the fruit of that Blessed womb joins us in three short days! Each of you has played an important part in making God’s greatest gift, the gift of Himself, made known to the people of Sydney. Through your joyful acts of faith, hope and charity, you transmit the Good News to others. Thank you for your tireless efforts in connecting people to God and to the Church, not with cables, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, but spiritually. Thanks be to God for each one of you! 

Remarks at Christmas Lunch for CAS StaffSt Mary’s Cathedral House, 21 December 2023

Dear friends, welcome again to my place! As I said at Mass, it’s a true joy to be able to gather with you all, to celebrate the Eucharist in prospect of Christmas and then enjoy a meal together after what has been a very absorbing and at times frantic year. In my homily I spoke about the importance of connection and unity that comes from our shared beliefs and practices, shared vision and projects, shared mission as fruits of shared faith. We are days away from the source of it all: the coming of the wellspring of the faith, hope, and love that we strive to embody not just at Christmas but all year round in the Archdiocese.

This is the first year where your traverse to my place for Christmas Lunch involved more than just a quick crossing of Hyde Park. Change is never easy, and in my Opening Mass at St Martha’s earlier in the year, I touched on all the moving parts that were involved in the relocation. It was a joint effort of biblical proportions—if not quite as dramatic as loading up Noah’s ark or moving the entire People of Israel through the Red Sea—and by all accounts, it’s been a smooth transition. Several people have testified to me that our new home has many advantages, particularly our interacting more with people outside our usual work groups. But it was not equally easy for everyone, and that you all pulled together is a testament to all to your generosity and sacrifice in building up God’s Kingdom. 

I’ve had more overseas trips this year than any before, with the funeral of Pope Benedict in Rome, the meeting in Suva of all the bishops of Oceania, the education leaders’ pilgrimage, the World Youth Day in Lisbon, and the Synod of Bishops in Rome. I’ve done so with the comfort of knowing that that Archdiocese is in safe hands with all of you! We’ve also had to contend with other challenges this year, including the death and funeral of my predecessor Cardinal Pell, the horrifying outbreak of war in the Middle East against a backdrop of continuing war in Ukraine, Myanmar and Sudan, the cost of living crisis for many, and the tragic implementation of euthanasia laws in our state. Again, you have all played a part in helping people navigate through these challenging times!

Let me thank first my personal team, starting with Kieran and those he leads on my personal staff, and Fr Don, Helen, Mehul and those they lead on the cathedral staff: thank you for another year of steadfast support and enabling me to get through so much.

I extend my gratitude to those with whom I share governance of the archdiocese: Bishops Richard and Danny, Vicar General Fr Gerry, Chancellor Chris Meney, Executive Director (Administration and Finance) Michael Digges, Fr Paul Monkerud and Dr Sandra Lynch on our curia; the vicars and deans; and the leaders of each of our archdiocesan agencies and ministries: leadership was never more complex and demanding than it is today, but with your help I feel Christ making the yoke easy and the burden light.

My appreciation also to our clergy, who lead our parishes and serve in so many other ways; and the religious and lay staff who work in our various departments and agencies. The works of the Archdiocese are vast and it is each one of you that extends Christ’s hand to others in those works.

Thank you for all that you do and your commitment to God’s Church. I pray that the Christ-Child blesses all of you and your loved ones this Christmas and in the New Year ahead. 

[1] Jens C. Moesgaard,  King Harold’s Cross Coinage: Christian Coins for the Merchants of Haithabu and the King’s Soldiers (University Press of Southern Denmark, 2015).

[2] https://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-viking-age/the-monuments-at-jelling/the-jelling-stone/

[3] https://www.thecollector.com/harald-bluetooth-viking-technology/

Introduction to Mass of 21 December + CAS End of Year Celebration – St Mary’s Cathedral, 21 December 2023

Welcome to St Mary’s Cathedral for our end-of-year Mass for the leaders and staff of the chancery and agencies of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. As always, I am delighted to be with you all for this celebration of the Eucharist and for the afternoon of feasting and friendship to follow at my place!

This has been a year of change with the relocation of the Archdiocesan Offices to St Martha’s in Leichhardt. I will say some more about that in my remarks at lunch, but I want to acknowledge the grace with which you have all handled the transition. I am truly blessed to have such a dedicated and faithful team, prepared to go above and beyond in leading or enabling the Church to proclaim the Gospel to Sydney and beyond. Today I offer this Mass in thanksgiving for each of you and for your intentions.

Christmas is but four sleeps away, three if you attend Midnight Mass, and so the greatest of gifts is indeed very close. So let us sweep out the manger of our hearts in readiness for his coming…