In the reading from 2nd Kings, Elisha responded to the generosity of an unnamed man who came to him with 20 loaves of bread to share with the community during a difficult time. (2 Kings 4:42-44) This was not just any barley bread. The passage says that it was made from the “firstfruits and fresh grain in the ear.” That means the man brought from the best of his crops. It was the best wheat that he would produce all year, not flour from the left over or merely average wheat. This means it was a huge sacrifice for this man to share as he did. God was so pleased with this man’s offering that He told Elisha He would provide more than they needed; He said that no one would go hungry and that there would be some left over. And indeed this is what took place.
The term magis comes from the teaching of St. Ignatius Loyola, and unfortunately, it is often misunderstood. The word magis is translated from the Latin to mean 'more' or trying to strive for 'the greater.' A mistake often made in understanding the term is to try to quantify what magis is about and therefore to miss the point of what Ignatius intended. Without a doubt the magis is about generosity, but it is not about quantity, it is about quality. Nor is about being the best or doing what is greatest; rather, it is giving as best one can, going a step further than ‘required.’ * Another mistake is to put the emphasis on what I can do, rather than on the fact that I do it for God. For example, if I wanted to give the poor some bread to eat, the magis is not about how many loaves I bring. It is about how and for Whom I give those loaves. Do I give them lovingly, cheerfully, and with compassion? Am I attentive on the state of the one receiving the bread and not merely on the deed of giving? (In other words, am I focusing on how ‘good I am’ for doing the deed or am I thinking of the other?) Do I give with the end in mind that I don’t just want to feed others: that I want to teach (empower) them how to feed themselves so they will have renewed dignity and become self-sustaining? And most importantly, do I imitate Jesus that they may come to know and love Him better? In the act of sharing, I need to be teaching that this is how God acts. I am not giving for my glory, I am giving for His.
Magis is a 'characteristic' of the will and the heart, but also of action. St. Ignatius understood that service is about being attentive to the movements of the Holy Spirit in our prayer and then acting upon it. But he also knew that being generous is being like God. To paraphrase an old saying, "Imitation is the highest form of praise." If we want to praise God, we need to imitate Him. If we want to imitate Him, then we need to be generous with our gifts and our material goods, but mostly with our love. Therefore, let us reach out to the poor, whether materially, physically, emotionally, or spiritually so that we may make God known and loved, just as St. Ignatius taught in his imitation of the works of Jesus.
©Michele L. Catanese
*I have used the writing of Fr. James Martin, SJ as an aid in defining the concept of the magis. You can find a complete definition and description of the magis in his book The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, pages 369-71.
The photos are all mine. The first one was taken at an outdoor market in Catania, Sicily. The next two photos were also taken in Sicily. The bread basket was taken during dinner at a farm house just outside Noto; the fish was taken at an outdoor fish market, in Catania, near the site of the first photo.
The icon which is next is called St. Ignatius Vision in the Chapel of La Storta, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/all-categories/product/24-st-ignatius-vision-in-the-chapel-of-la-storta
The next image is an inset from an icon of The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes by Sr. Patricia Reid, RSCJ. It can be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/5125869952
The last photo is one of mine, taken in the Black Hills of South Dakota.