In 2007, in the early months of my undergraduate career at Fairfield University, I stumbled upon an invitation on a bulletin board in campus ministry. Students were invited to apply for a summer immersion trip to the Philippines and Australia. The idea of a three-week adventure dazzled my freshman eyes.
What better way to begin my college career and my degree in international studies! What I saw on that bulletin board and heard in the subsequent informational sessions was the opportunity to travel, to go to faraway and exotic places. I’d barely registered the name of the immersion experience: Magis.
There was a mantra that came with that 2008 Magis journey. I can’t remember if it was an official slogan or just something us students adopted: It’s all part of the experience. In the moment—or, better said, in those three weeks of moments—that slogan seemed to point to our ongoing need to throw up our hands, let go of any preconceived plans or notions, and allow the experience to carry us onward.
What had I expected of my international journey?
Not to cut grass in a field with a machete or inadvertently throw an elderly Filipino couple out of their bed so that my American self could snuggle in. Nor to circumnavigate a heaping pile of trash from which the local community eked out a living or share a conversation with an inmate in maximum security or try Vegemite.
What I had expected was to find myself at ease, comfortable in the international experience, able to draw from whatever well of insight and wisdom I possessed, and to razzle dazzle my fellow pilgrims and those others I encountered. That did not happen—at least, not as I anticipated. Why? Because I allowed doubt to weigh me down.
I’m too young, I reasoned. I was one of only two first-year students. I haven’t traveled before. Most of my fellow pilgrims had already studied abroad. I’m not good at connecting with kids—we encountered a lot of Filipino children just looking to play—and I’m not good at soccer—those same children liked playing soccer—and I’m a lousy dancer.
But here’s the thing: It was all part of the experience. And I was part of the experience—the me that showed up at a campus ministry bulletin board and on a plane bound for Manila and in a field with a machete and ultimately at a worldwide Mass presided over by the Pope at World Youth Day in Sydney.
Magis isn’t just a catchphrase or a cute title for many Ignatian-inspired organizations and events. Magis means embracing the God-at-work in our very selves and allowing that God to bring us—the people we already are and are becoming—to the needs of the present moment.
St. Ignatius writes in the First Principle and Foundation: “Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.” That’s where magis comes from. And it’s a reminder that we are constantly invited to bring our unique selves to the moment at hand to discover the greater good that only we can manifest.
It’s all part of the experience, but what we bring to that experience is uniquely ours.
And so, this past July, when I stepped off a plan in Lisbon, Portugal, to join pilgrims at Magis 2023—some 15 years after my first Magis experience—I was surprised to find myself haunted by those same doubts. Would I be enough for this experience? What was I really bringing? Why was I even here?
Once the youngest, now I was one of the older members of our group. I wasn’t going to be the funniest one, the best dancer, the one with the guitar, or the one with the best personality—as if any of that even mattered. But the same truth held, whether I was a 19-year-old student or a 34-year-old professional: I was invited to bring nothing but myself to the experience. To allow who I am and might yet be to be part of and formed by whatever was about to happen.
In the end, that was enough. Because while I was there professionally to take photos and film activities, it was in the simple, spiritual conversations that I had with friends and fellow pilgrims and students from all over the world that the real magis work occurred. These conversations made me look anew at God in the world and in my life—and perhaps inspired others to do the same.
Fifteen years later, the event that had set me on my path within the Ignatian tradition had called me back. And despite those 15 years, I still had only the same thing to offer: myself, still striving to manifest nothing more than the unique dream God has placed within me.