Monday of the 17th Week of Ordinary Time
Exodus 32:15-24, 30-34, Psalm 106, Matthew 13:31-35
In this week of the feast of St Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, I thought I’d be apt to speak a little about the very Jesuit idea of Magis, ‘the more’ or ‘the greater’. This comes from the ubiquitous AMDG that one finds all over Jesuit institutions that stands for Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, (For the Greater Glory of God). The emphasis is on ‘greater’ and not just ‘great’ and it has helped many do great things for God and others. However, the idea of ‘greater’ seems to have a slightly tarnished reputation of late. It’s been blamed for people being too competitive, materialistic, always wanting more, better or bigger things. What exactly is St Ignatius telling us to do by yearning for that which is ‘greater’? We’ll use the readings for the day as a means of first trying to understand what this ‘greater’ is not.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam
For the Greater Glory of God
Wanting something ‘greater’ does not refer just to things that are in bigger quantities. It’s not quite quantifiable as such. The example that the Lord gives with the mustard shrub is telling. The mustard plant should be a shrub and should stay that way to be healthy and it would actually begin to shelter unwelcome visitors (as the birds of the air are) should it grow too large. Unchecked growth can lead to big yet unintended problems and our life of Magis should be balanced. We should not seek to pursue things that are not related with God at the expense of things that are. Magis can easily be confused with the apparent need to do more work, to be more busy because God wants us to be so. Balance in reaching the ‘greater’ is more about knowing how much we should be giving and getting there instead of always seeking to do more and more.
Which leads us to the next point – Magis is about being ourselves more and not following others. The image of the leaven in the gospel reminds us that things that are useful (yeast or leaven) can be counter-productive if not used well. Bread dough that is left to proof for too long can lead to bread that is badly textured or shapeless after baking. In the same way, outside influences like friends and society at large can help us but should not control our lives. Doing so might make us overly competitive. We should not bog ourselves with what society considers to be the ‘greater need but seek to recognise what God made us to be. To do the ‘greater’ things for God means to be able to do more of what God created us to do and this differs from individual to individual. It’s important to know who we are and not yearn to be someone we’re not.
And lastly, the ‘greater’ that we seek to be or do should be focused on God not ourselves. As we are more aware of what God created us to do, we should recognise that we should be more other-regarding and less self-centred. Furthermore, we should realise that even our worship of God should be focused on God and not ourselves. We should not be like the Israelites at the bottom of Sinai and create images of a God that we would like to pray to. They forgot about God in their rush to worship something and made an idol instead. We can do the same by making doing better or doing more an idol. Magis should not be an end in itself but a means to further our relationship with God. The greater glory of God lies not within us but outside of us, in the people we meet and in those whom we can see God in as we seek to help and bring God to.
We realise that Magis or seeking the greater glory of God has to be balanced, requires self-awareness and a recognition that God is at the end of all that we seek to be and do. It starts with ourselves, carries on with others and ends ultimately with God. The ‘greater’ thing that we seek is not immediately quantifiable but is something that comes from a deepening relationship with God. Doing God’s greater glory requires us to become more ourselves, more able to express ourselves as God’s creation. As we feel God more, we will be better able to know how we would be able to do that which brings greater glory to this God who loves us so. How are we able to become more ourselves so we can do God’s greater glory today?
[Not been posting too regularly of late due to inability to write up sharings in time. We’ve been tied up with our production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest over here. Regular postings to resume by August!]