Life Illumined

Inauguration of Mission2030

You can find a brief presentation of Mission2030 here.

There is a chapter in the Saga of St St Olav I often think of. Snorre Sturlason speaks of Olav’s arrival in the princedom of Kyiv in 1028. The Danish King Knut had arrived in Norway with his army. Olav, humiliated, was forced into exile. He went to stay with his friend Grand Prince Jaroslav, married to Olav’s sister-in-law Ingegjerd. Jaroslav and Ingegjerd saw how tormented Olav was. They thought Norway lost to him: People up here in these parts, they surmised, were too difficult, Danish might too great. They therefore made Olav an offer to start afresh somewhere else. We read in the saga that 

King Jaroslav and Queen Ingegerd offered him to remain with them, and receive a kingdom called Bulgaria, which is a part of Russia, and in which land the people were still heathen.  King Olaf thought over this offer.

We can understand how tempting it was. Olav could carry on doing the sorts of things he liked. He could regain honour. The climate would be better; and there would be wine. Olav’s men besought him to return to the north; but he was hesitant. Only when King Olav Tryggvason appeared to him in a dream a year or so later did Olav’s thinking shift. Olav Tryggvason was stern. ‘It appears to me strange’, said he,

that thou shouldst even think of laying down the kingly dignity which God hath given thee, and of remaining here and accepting of a kingdom from foreign and unknown kings.  Go back rather to that kingdom which thou hast received in heritage, and rule over it with the strength which God hath given thee, and let not thy inferiors take it from thee. […] Thou must go back to thy country, and God will give open testimony that the kingdom is thine by property

When Olav awoke, his ‘courage rose, and he fixed firmly his resolution to return to Norway’. This story from Heimskringla makes me think of an episode in Exodus 32. Moses has long been standing in awe before God’s presence on Sinai, receiving the law. At the foot of the moment the Israelites, pragmatists, have lost interest in the sublime transaction going on further up. They have made a nice golden calf. They have eaten and drunk. They have risen up to play. This enraged the Lord, who said to Moses: ‘now let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation.’ A tempting offer. Moses has suffered on account of the people’s murmuring and stubbornness. Now he has a chance to get rid of them; to start again on different terms. A new people! Think what he could accomplish! Deep down, though, Moses saw that the Lord was testing him. He answered nobly: ‘O Lord, why does thy wrath burn hot against thy people, whom thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power […]. Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.’ As for him, he would stick with his lot. That was where his mission lay, his responsibility. 

These terms, ‘mission’ and ‘responsibility’, are of decisive importance to us as we prepare for the millennium of St Olav’s martyr’s death in 2030. For us as Catholics more is at stake than an exercise in remembrance. Olav gave his life for a cause; he gave it for a Person. He wished to march under the banner of Jesus Christ. He would give the kingdom of God a foothold in this land, in soil to which he, tough as he was, was well adapted. This mission, this responsibility are passed on to us as our inheritance. 

We must take this inheritance seriously, not proudly triumphant but in humble gratitude. We have received the gift of faith as a treasure. We have no right to fold it up in a napkin and bury it under an old pine. We have no right to place a light that is not ours, but the Lord’s, under a bushel. Christ wishes it to shine and illuminate our people in order to show them gently the way home. 

The project we launch today has received the name Mission2030. It aspires to spur us on to responsibility, to mobilise us for mission. I thank you all for being here. God’s plan of salvation since Moses has been a matter of gathering individuals into a people. To be a believer is to realise that we are not self-sufficient. Once we get used to this insight, it is wonderfully freeing. We are called to act together in complementarity, in friendship and esteem. We are called to learn from one another. Together we discover what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ today, to be bearers of his Gospel. We are, like the Apostles of old, sent out to share with others what we, without merit of ours, have freely received. Ite, missa est!, says the priest at the conclusion of each Mass. That is to say: ‘The mystery is accomplished, the mission begins.’

Our gathering today is intended to enable encounter, to initiate a think-tank. It is good that we get to know each other better. That way we shall see what we need, which resources we have, which we lack. Mission2030 has four aspects. This project would deepen our spiritual life, our prayer; it would nurture a culture of vocation; it would dedicate itself to catechesis and study, to bear fruit in culture; and it would spur us on to charitable work: ‘Whatever you did for these little ones, you did to me.’

When Pope Saint John Paul II visited France in 1980 in connection with the 1500th anniversary of the baptism of Clovis, he posed a daring question to his hosts. He praised France for its dedication to freedom, equality, fraternity — a noble endeavour. But what about the pact with Wisdom made on behalf of the nation by Clovis? ‘Permit me’, said the pope, ‘to ask: France, eldest daughter of the Church, are you faithful to your baptismal vows? France, daughter of the Church and enlightener of peoples, are your faithful, for the good of humanity, to the covenant with eternal Wisdom?’

The Battle on Stiklestad (in which Olav died on 29 July 1030) and its impact on our nation likewise represent, considered with eyes of faith, a covenant with Wisdom. That covenant has real, contemporaneous significance for our people now. Are we faithful to it? We are summoned to an examination of conscience. I am certain this day will nurture such self-examination, to encourage and challenge us.


One of Gerhard Munthe’s drawings of St Olav for the 1899 edition of Heimskringla. From the collection of Nasjonalmuseet