There may be no Ignatian term that is more misused than the word magis. Indeed, it is Latin and it does mean “more,” but that hardly gets to the Ignatian meaning of the term. That is because magis does not necessarily nor simply mean more. In fact, it often means doing less. Magis is not simple addition. It is not a supersizing of activities, nor a sort of charitable car rental upgrade, something that is offered out of sheer necessity or convenience. What it means is doing that which is more aligned with the end for which we were created: to praise, reverence, and serve Christ Our Lord. Magis is linked, then, to AMDG, or Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam, another Latin term, which means “For the greater glory of God.” In other words, magis most nearly means that which leads you, and perhaps other people too, since we are a missionary church, closer to Jesus. Since it is incompatible to follow Jesus and think or do things only for yourself, perhaps it is no surprise that we remind ourselves who the real priority is: God.
Just because you do something extra does not make it magis. Only that which enhances (y)our praising, (y)our worshiping, and (y)our serving is magis. It implies and requires an extreme attention to the divine love 1. “The more, the merrier” is one way to think of this extreme attention. 2. This “more” is in terms of effect, not the number of activities completed. Sometimes the things that we do, though they be many, actually impede us from doing something that is even better 3. Not everything we do has the same Christian value. Magis, then, is about calibrating ourselves to those activities that are most Christian, that are more oriented to the greater service of God.
Magis is an umbrella term. Like any umbrella term, it can lose its original meaning over time if we are not responsible with its use. Ignatius uses it, or a related variant, in his autobiography, in the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, and in various letters 4. Used over 170 times in the Constitutions, this umbrella term sometimes is expressed as the “better worship,” or the “greater good of souls,” or the “more universal good.” In each situation where various options are presented, this may look different, depending on its unique circumstances 5. There is no thing to earn in order to achieve the magis. It is better understood as a desire to progress, trusting that this growth is the way through any crisis we have in life 6. Magis is a process, then, that is not so much about doing everything that is good, but discerning what is best in a particular context, and what is aligned most with the end for which we were created. Which of the options before you help you to better praise, reverence, and serve Christ?
Clearly, magis can have different flavors and expressions, depending on the circumstances. Whether it is worship, the good of souls, or simply the more universal good, it is clear that magis can mean many things. A simple definition may not do. 7
Better to offer examples.
Magis can be a person.
Can you think of some people who annoy you? Yes? Well, pick just one. Now, when was the last time you prayed for him or her? Have you prayed for him or her? No? Why not? Yes? Excellent. What has been the fruit of your prayer? A better relationship? A relationship? If not, why not? Whatever your answers, know this: that person is nothing less than a child of God and an incarnate opportunity for you to live the magis.
Magis can be a thing.
Did you go to a Jesuit high school or college? Did you see AMDG plastered everywhere? Great. Did that actually mean anything to you though? The truth is we can scribble symbolic letters all we want on this homework assignment, that paper, or whatever test; however, if we stop there, we create a self-imposed roadblock on our path toward Jesus. When we think we have achieved the greatest good through mere letters, or words, we have deceived ourselves. After all, for Ignatius, love ought to express itself in deeds more than in words. Magis is not a bumper sticker. It’s more like the rails in bumper bowling—acting as the guide to a closer relationship with Jesus and one another. Otherwise, our relationship with Jesus becomes compromised by our own ignorance, or at least lack of recognition of what we are actually being called to: communion in Christ.
Magis can be a place.
Speaking of Jesuit educational institutions, I’ve no doubt that many hold allegiance to at least one, whether it’s an elementary school, high school, college, or university. It may even be a parish, or even an international nonprofit, like Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) or Hogar de Cristo. It may well have been the case that for such a person, attendance and graduation, or membership or participation in such a work was nothing less than the magis for him or her at that point in time of life.
We cannot stop when we graduate or move on from those places though. Commencement is not simply the grand conclusion of hours spent studying, reading, and writing. No. Commencement is just the beginning. That is what it means. What about the work after the commencement ceremony? What about the mass after Mass? What about contributing to a work more than just once a year, more than just during some special event, more than just a check of disposable income once a year?
Beyond the walls of any single Jesuit institution, or any institution for that matter, I suspect that what may draw so many of us closer to Christ are places we have not yet been. Rather than remaining closed within any single institution, magis may mean going to a place you have never been before, or even do not want to go. Is there a part of town that you avoid? Why? Who lives there? Why do they live there?
Where did Christ go? Did Christ stay in his social bubble, or did he challenge the very concept of a social bubble? If we are to grow closer to Christ, it seems some bubbles ought to be burst.
Even better put, magis ought to be a lifestyle, a promise, a vow.
No diploma, no one-and-done service event, no board service, no publication, no award can completely encapsulate the magis. The magis cannot be encapsulated, only emulated. Our faith journeys are just that, journeys, and they are life-long. There are no trophies to collect and rest with along the way, so we need to build our relationships now, starting with our relationship to Christ. As Jesse Owens put it, “Trophies become corroded, friends gather no dust.”
May we all commence, then, a renewed journey to grow closer to Jesus. That is the magis. It is only through a relationship with Christ that we know what it actually means to praise, reverence and serve Him. With so many definitions of magis, Christ shows us what it really means. After all, the magis of Christ’s glory came by way of the minus of His incarnation and passion 8. There is humility then, involved in living the magis. We grow closer to Christ that we might better emulate Him.
How do we do this? We begin with communication, prayer, and discernment. The Examen, a prayer meant to help us see God at work in our lives, can help us to be more attentive to Christ’s presence and how we respond to him. We need to be in constant contact with Christ, and so therefore, with one another. After all, we are all made in His image and likeness. Our search for Christ may mean beginning with the search for the face of Christ in one another. This does not stop. This cannot stop. We are constantly meeting new people, are we not?
In short, magis does not just mean “more,” but it does mean more than we typically give it credit for in our lives.
This article was updated on 4 April 2022 9:11am
- De Diego, SJ, Luis, pg. 1158, Diccionario de Espiritualidad Ignaciana, 2007 ↩
- Martínez-Gayol, Nurya, Ibid., pg. 1164 ↩
- García Domínguez, Luis María, El Libro del Discípulo, pg. 49 ↩
- Echarte, Ignacio. Concordancia Ignaciana, 1996, pg. 567 ↩
- De Diego, SJ, Luis, pg. 1158, Diccionario de Espiritualidad Ignaciana, 2007. pg. 1162 ↩
- Ibid. pg. 1166 ↩
- Ibid. pg. 1155 ↩
- Ibid. pg. 1166 ↩