All Saints of the Society of Jesus

Half a planet away right now in England I can guarantee that the cold night air stinks of sulphur and smoke and the ground is littered with the spent carcasses of fireworks large and small. As a kid we’d spend the weeks running up to bonfire night out in the freezing evenings scavenging wood to burn and dragging from door to door our “Guy”—a dummy flung together out of old clothes and newspapers—begging for money for fireworks. “A penny for the Guy!”
A cold and complex work, that preparation for the fifth of November. Keeping your wood dry. Keeping it out of the hands of the big kids down the hill who would raid your pile to make theirs bigger. Calculating just what proportion of bottle rockets to bangers to roman candles made the best of the meagre money you’d scrounged together.
And then come tonight … the Guy would be on top of that bonfire burning away, the fireworks would be screeching and exploding all around, and you’d be baking potatoes and sausages in the fire—frozen on one side, scorched on the other—you and the sausages.
“Remember, remember, the fifth of November. Gunpowder, treason and plot.”
None of us really thought that we were burning an effigy of a Roman Catholic caught 400 years ago in a plot to blow up the King and all his ministers. Or if we thought it we didn’t think it strange. Or even consider the power of propaganda to keep such a memory going for four centuries.
King James, so his own mouth told it, was warned in a dream, by God’s own self no less, that the filthy treasonous Catholics were plotting to blow him up and all parliament with him. He dispatched his men straight to the spot under the parliament building were Guy Fawkes, Catholic and munitions expert, was in hiding with enough gunpowder to blast them all sky high. Fawkes was arrested, tortured, and killed along with whoever else it was convenient to remove from the political scene. And every year since Guy Fawkes has been burned in effigy by hordes of school children out for some fun. But who was really behind the gunpowder, treason and plot? “Jesuits,” said the king. “Lying, equivocating, treacherous, devil Jesuits!”
Now that’s probably all propaganda. But it makes you wonder what was so troublesome about those Jesuits, real or imagined, that it was worth inventing rituals so powerful that they persist even today. Why did James fear them so? Why, more recently, did the Salvadoran military? Or any number of political powers between the two in time and space.
The answer is in the readings today. And it extends beyond the Company of Jesus to anyone who sincerely wishes to walk in company with Jesus. “The word is very near to you.” “Unless a grain of wheat…” If we, sitting here tonight, truly believed those readings and let them live in our lives we would be a force to terrify any evil power. To believe that God’s desire and will for you and for me is not distant or abstract or alien or difficult to fathom but is here—in our heart, upon our tongue, behind our eyes—available, powerful, clear, direct. That’s what Ignatius taught his followers and showed them how to do.
To believe too that the word of God’s desire once we have discovered it will turn out to be more valuable to us than life itself. A word that speaks most loudly by laying down its life.
Now if we were convinced of that tonight—if we found the desires of God burning in us stronger than life itself—then wouldn’t the powers of air and darkness tremble. Wouldn’t we be scary!