A few years ago, I was visiting a Jesuit college and speaking to an eager and enthusiastic undergraduate. Our conversation turned to the idea of the magis, a popular and familiar word in Jesuit circles, especially in high schools, colleges, and universities. He said to me, “Boy, I really love the idea of the magis! It’s encouraged me to get the highest paying job that I can after I graduate!”
I think I probably turned pale, because the young man, well-meaning as he was, seemed to have misunderstood a fundamental Jesuit value. Of course, there are many ways to interpret the magis, an elusive word that can be taken to mean doing the more, the better, the greater for God. But making the most money is not one of them.
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius Loyola reminds us that, when making decisions about which work or ministry to choose, Jesuits should opt for that which is “conducive to the greater service of God and the universal good.” The unofficial motto of the Society of Jesus is Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam: For the Greater Glory of God. The fundamental idea is that we try to do the more, the better, the greater, for God. Not for ourselves.
How this plays out in our individual lives will differ, depending on our unique circumstances. It doesn’t mean simply quantity: as in a parent folding more and more and more diapers, as if to win some sort of contest. But the parent folding diapers and caring for the child may try to do it with more love, for not only the child, but for God.
And, as one older Jesuit pointed out to me, it’s not “the best, the most, and the greatest.” These kinds of superlatives can paralyze us, because who can tell what the “best, most, and greatest” might be for God? By contrast, we can all strive for the more. In our own ways. For God.