Sermons from St Faith's     

Our Day of Thanksgiving
Fr Ged Callacher,  Patronal Festival, 5th October, 2014

It’s a great joy and privilege for me to be able to take part in your Patronal Festival celebrations. St Faith’s has, for many years, been close to my heart. I was Director of Music here for 12 years, and this Church has played a huge part in my vocation to the priesthood. Maybe that’s not surprising, because, over the years, St Faith’s has fostered a large number of vocations to ministry, both lay and ordained - although I’m pretty sure I’m the first left-footer!

This morning,  as we celebrate this Patronal Festival, we give thanks for this holy place and all that it means to us. People have always been drawn to sacred places, places where they feel particularly close to God. This beautiful building is such a place. I’ve always thought that this church has a special feel to it; it’s as if the walls have soaked up the atmosphere of years and years of devotion and prayer. 

Beautiful, dignified and uplifting liturgy takes place week by week within these walls, and it engages all our bodily senses. We have the sight of the beautiful furnishings and works of art; the sound of bells and splendid music; the perfumed smell of incense, and the taste and touch of the Communion.  All of these things invite us to lift up our hearts, minds and bodies to God, in praise and adoration.

But, of course, St Faith’s is more than just a building; it’s a community of faith, and today we give thanks for all who have worshipped here over the years -people who have kept the Faith alive here, in good times and in bad. We all have our fond memories of people we’ve known here – individuals whose lives have given us a glimpse of the love of God - people who, despite their faults, have lived out their faith in  their daily lives, with humility, compassion and kindness. Today we thank God for the legacy they’ve left us. By their example, they’ve all  helped to shape the life and witness of this church throughout the decades.

But as we celebrate our Patronal Festival, we commemorate, first and foremost, the life and witness of our patron, St Faith. As you’re all aware, we don’t know much about her life, but we know that she suffered an agonizing death during the Persecution of Christians by the Romans, early in the 4th Century. Her martyrdom took place in Agen, in Aquitaine, but her relics are now in the Abbey at Conques, in the South of France.  I know that some of you have been to Conques. It’s a beautiful medieval village, and the centrepiece, of course, is the magnificent Abbey.

Thousands of pilgrims visit Conques on their way to the shrine of St James in Santiago de Compostela. Every evening in the Abbey, there is a Pilgrims’ Mass, followed by a blessing to send the pilgrims on their way. I was fortunate enough to celebrate a couple of these Masses last September. It was a tremendous privilege, but it was a strange feeling too. Here was I, a Bootle lad from L20, a former organist of St Faith’s Crosby, saying the Pilgrims’ Mass in the Abbey Church of Saint Faith in Conques. I was there with a group of friends, and we all felt a powerful and moving connection between that sacred place in France, and this parish church, especially when we heard the organ playing that favourite hymn “In Our Day of Thanksgiving”.
Saint Faith was only a young girl when she was martyred, but she was firm in her faith, and would not be forced into giving it up. She was given the option of following pagan gods, but she simply said ‘no.’ She was determined to follow the way of Christ in a hostile world, and  her example should inspire us today, because we also live in a hostile world, a world which has turned its back on Christ. Our culture is so often about me,me,me ….. and that’s totally at odds with the Christian values of self-sacrifice and self-denial.

For us, the Way of the Cross is essential to our Christian discipleship. In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that, if we want to be his disciples, then we must take up our cross and follow him.  The way of the cross  involves self- sacrifice, self-denial. It means putting aside our selfish desires and putting the needs of others before our own needs.

Following the way of the cross, the way of love, is always demanding, and sometimes we might think that our efforts don’t count for very much. But remember the parable of the Mustard Seed. That tiny seed can grow into a large tree.  And so, in God’s Kingdom, the smallest acts of love and kindness can make a big difference  - things like a friendly smile, a small word of encouragement,  a phone call or a visit to someone who’s sick. Any small act of generosity and self-sacrifice is precious in the sight of the Lord, and helps to spread his kingdom of love, peace and healing. The caring and compassion we show for each other sends ripples out into the community as a sign of hope.

Of course, we don’t always get things right. Because of our human weakness and frailty, we find ourselves saying and doing things we know we shouldn’t, and in our church community, our relationships with each other can be fragile and strained. There’s a little rhyme which goes like this: To live above … with saints we love…. That would be such glory…. But to dwell below with those we know…. Now that’s a different story!

But despite all our faults and failings, we know that we are loved and valued by God the Father, who is always slow to judge and quick to forgive. The reading from Isaiah that we heard earlier, speaks of the love that God has for his children: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, you are mine.The knowledge that we are forgiven and loved unconditionally by God should give us the will to persevere in our faith.

And so, on this special day, we give thanks for our patron saint, St Faith, and for this much-loved church, dedicated to her. You, as a community of faith, are well-equipped to carry forward the work of God in this special place, and I hope and trust that there will be exciting and fulfilling times ahead. I pray that the Lord will continue to bless and guide you as you plan for the future. Stay close to Christ, through prayer, through reading the Scriptures, and through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist.  And stay close to each other, in mutual support  and love.

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