Against the “Magis” (Sort of)
Submitted by: Jim Voiss, S.J., Vice President of Mission and Ministry at Marquette University
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. To the greater Glory of God.
In my experience, this important Ignatian phrase can get distorted in two dangerous ways.
Quantitatively, we can slip into the trap of thinking “magis” means “more stuff”. It means we must take on extra responsibilities (because that is the greater glory): more projects, more hours at work, more denying my own legitimate needs for the project, and so on. The quantitative misunderstanding of “magis” constantly whispers in the air around us, “You’re not doing enough!”
The qualitative distortion of “magis” is just as skewed. It reads “more” as demanding perfection. Its message is, “You should have done better! You’re not good enough!” Its power shows itself in myriad ways: when we cannot feel satisfaction in our accomplishments because we “could have done it better if…”, when we deflect affirmation, when we become unable to see and savor that what we did well (not perfectly) really is good!
Both of these readings of “magis” are dangerous. We can experience them as implacable, external demands imposed on us. They foster depression, resentment, anger, despair. They can lead us to find someone to blame for our (mis)perceived inadequacy. They rob us of joy. They isolate us under their moralizing, damning judgments. They kill any hint of gratitude. They crush generosity of spirit. After all, why bother?!
The Ignatian understanding of “magis” however, is different. “Majorem”, grammatically speaking, is a comparative. It is not a superlative. It aims at that which, in the present circumstances is better for advancing the glory of God. Sometimes that does entail a quantitative more. Sometimes, however, it may mean a quantitative less — letting go of some things so that others can emerge.
Moreover, the Ignatian “magis” is not an externally imposed command. It arises from within when one knows that we are loved and cherished by the God who labors on our behalf. Grounded in that conviction, the soul bathes in gratitude. From there, generosity of spirit naturally arises and seeks the better (my preferred translation of “magis”).
In these times, the challenge of the “magis” is not to do more quantitatively or to insist on perfection. It is first of all to nourish in our own hearts that knowledge of God’s love which can move us to gratitude and from there to discerning generosity. As we grow in that gratitude, perhaps we can also help to engender it in the lives of those around us.