THE MAGIS IN THE LIFE OF ST. IGNATIUS
The word “Magis” which is a major term in the spirituality of St. Ignatius has often been rendered “More”. It is in fact the adverbial form of the adjective “maior,” and can be translated “to a greater extent” or “more nearly” in addition to “the more.”
In the life of Ignatius, however the “Magis” was more than a word or a term, it was an attitude. Ignatius possessed this attitude even before his conversion from knight for king, to knight for God. He always wanted to do better; to do more. He was never content with the status quo, with the tried and tested. For him mediocrity was never an option. He was constantly looking for ways and means to impress his king and win the queen of his heart. This attitude showed itself in his bravery, daring and courage both in battle and at other times. The “Magis” at this time and even in the initial years after his “conversion” was about DOING MORE. After his “conversion”, however, it was about “doing more” for God the heavenly king. He believed that if the saints before him could do so much for God, he too could do it as well and even better. Thus he was constantly searching for newer, better and more challenging ways of doing things. This desire to do more, sometimes led to extremes. Thus he would undergo rigorous fasts and punish his body in the hope that he could bring it under control. He would undertake night vigils and spend long hours in prayer in the hope that he would be considered as one who had gone beyond; who had done more.
Even as he “did” these things for God a transformation was taking place and indeed took place definitively on the banks of the river Cardoner. This experience is arguably the most significant of Ignatius’ life. He did not describe what actually happened except to say that he received from God at that moment such clarity that it lasted with him for the rest of his life. All that he had “done” in the past, all that he wanted to “do” in the future for God seemed now so insignificant, temporary and passing. Now all that mattered to him was “to be”. After this experience, Ignatius became a different man. If before the experience his focus was on action alone, now it was on “being”. He began to see things with other eyes than those he had. He now began to see with the eyes of his heart. This was for Ignatius the point of departure from his past orientation to a newer and better orientation. Since the experience that he had was not an end in itself, Ignatius wanted to share it with others. He did so in the Spiritual exercises and especially at the start of the Second Week where he states: "I will ask for an intimate knowledge of Our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely." (Sp Ex 104). This means that for Ignatius, the “Magis” now became not so much “doing” as “being”. The focus was now a relationship with Christ and a deepening and intensifying of that relationship.
It is in this context that the Ignatian notion of “indifference” must be read, understood and interpreted. Indifference in Ignatian spirituality does not mean an attitude of callousness, insensitivity or inconsiderateness. It means exactly the opposite. It means sensitivity, considerateness and concern. It means that precisely because one is so concerned and involved, one possesses a sense of detachment to such an extent that one will not desire what one wants but always and every time what God wants. God’s will, becomes the norm and guiding light. Thus, one will choose and opt for poverty rather than riches, dishonour rather than honour and humility rather than arrogance and pride only because this fits in with God’s plan. When one is to choose between two “goods”, one will choose that which one gives God greater glory.
The “Magis” is thus not so much a quality that one possesses but an attitude. It permeates all that an individual is and therefore does. The man or woman of the “Magis” is constantly driven to rediscover, redefine and reach out for the more, the newer, the better only because that is what God wants for him or her. Then the good becomes better, the better becomes better still and the better still becomes still better. The man or woman of the “Magis” is one who is bold with a holy boldness which has its roots in Jesus and in Jesus’ relationship with the Father. Everything that such a person does flows from this relationship.
In a day and in an age when a person’s worth is often measured by what he or she has or possesses, the “Magis” of Ignatius comes as a breath of fresh air. When so many are striving to “achieve” greatness by increasing their possessions and material wealth, the Magis invites and challenges us to focus not on having but “on being”. When so many are placing their trust in externals and property, the Magis invites us to realise the temporariness and passing nature of all things and that God alone is eternal and permanent. When so many have made “things” ends in themselves and are possessed by them rather than possessing them, the Magis challenges us to realise that the basic reason of our creation and existence is to praise, reverence and serve God alone. It is then that we realise the truth of the Latin phrase “Deus semper maior” which literally means “God is more”, but which really means “God is the Magis”.
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