Better Than Your Best?

man on top of mountain after hikeMagis is one of the more mysterious Ignatian terms. It’s a Latin word meaning “the greater, the excellent, the best.” It’s associated with restless striving to always do better, to undertake a greater project, to set more ambitious goals. Sometimes I find the notion of magis inspiring. Often I find it intimidating.

The idea of the magis comes from the Call of the King meditation in the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius has us imagine Christ as a King calling us to join him in his work to save and heal the world. Who wouldn’t want to respond eagerly to this call? It makes perfect sense to sign up. “All those who have judgment and reason will offer themselves wholeheartedly for this labor,” St. Ignatius comments.

But Ignatius urges us to consider something more: to “go further still,” to “make offerings of greater worth and moment.” We’re asked to serve the King with something more than wholehearted service. How is this possible?

It really isn’t possible. I think Ignatius is raising the possibility of greater-than-wholehearted service as a personal invitation. He’s putting it out there for us to consider. It has more to do with personal commitment to Christ than with restless type-A overachieving. What can you imagine that would motivate you to do more than your best? It’s a question each of us can answer only for ourselves. It’s a question we can answer only as we get closer to our King.

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Jim Manney
Jim Manney is the author of highly praised popular books on Ignatian spirituality, including A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer (about the Daily Examen) and God Finds Us (about the Spiritual Exercises). He is the compiler/editor of An Ignatian Book of Days. His latest book is What Matters Most and Why. He and his wife live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


  1. I agree that Magis is not the overachieving attitude that we misinterpret it for but rather a personal commitment to God’s call.

    So many years ago, I found myself visiting our ageing and ailing Jesuits in the infirmary. At 1st it was just to make use of my time while waiting for my kids’ dismissal from school. When I was given the “tour” of the infirmary, I almost backed out. I didn’t think I was up to it. But soon I found myself visiting them weekly, trading stories with them, and even discussing current events with them. I attended their birthdays, too. It became a commitment.

    Since most of them were sick and of very old age, I also found myself burying them. And this was where it hurt most. I got so attached to them that I forgot that they were in the “departure area” already until a friend reminded me of that. One even “escaped” from me. How dare he? He died while I was abroad.

    That commitment went on for 5 yrs until it was time to migrate. I think instead of me keeping them company even for just an hour, it was the other way around. I was probably looking for company too. I made them laugh but I laughed even harder. I made them sing but I sang even louder. I read to them but they read to me even longer.

    To this day, I treasure the time I answered His call. That was my Magis.

    I am still waiting for the next call, for my next Magis.

  2. I enjoy this site, but sometimes the responses are so erudite that maybe it deters simple folks like me !
    Notwithstanding I will try and understand 🙂

    • Paul,
      Remember that God does not call the qualified but qualifies the called (2 Corinthians 10:18). I have felt that same way but this scripture passage has helped me tremendously.

  3. At first magis sounded terribly burdensome to me. It felt like more pressure to perform. But this article and Dawn’s comment have brought me peace again. To me, magis means growth-getting better at letting God’s love flow through me, without calling what I offered before bad or insufficient. God valued that, too. He loved my heart that loved him and tried to please and serve him. He is proud of me, happy with me, and gently leading me-showing me even better ways to live in his love. 🙂

  4. For me, the “something more” is in NOT doing.
    I’ve experienced many, many groups that struggle with how to put the idea of humility, of seeking daily to align the human will with God’s will. Inevitably, the effort turns into a list of rules and regulations and judgment of others who are “doing it wrong.”
    Humility, the desire to seek and allow God to do His will in me — the simple willingness to let go — is the “something more.” When I am trying to do I get all wrapped around the axle and further from God’s presence. When I can pause, decide again to restart my day, ask God to give me the willingness to let Him take over, I get closer to Him. A very wise priest I know says God wants us to be human beings, not human doings.

      • As a child I was taught that my performance equaled my worth; it has taken me most of my 70 + years to let go of that programming. I long to serve Jesus effectively and powerfully but don’t see or find the opportunities I long for. I’ve come to see that the lack of opportunity is a reminder to check my motivation – it’s too easy still to feel validated by what I do. Today, reading this section of the Journey, I sensed God asking ‘will you not be still with me – rest with me?’ Dawn’s words are a lovely confirmation of that sensing. Thank you.

        • Thank you so much, Morag. This really resonates with me as I, now in my 70’s, have also been trying to let go of ‘that programming’ from my evangelical fundamentalist upbringing since I encountered Ignatius and the Spiritual Exercises five years ago.

  5. What would motivate me to do more than my best for Jesus? Knowing my time is running out. Each day we are dying a little bit. I have to do more. I have no choice.

  6. Being with the Magis, I can now hear His voice in depth, and saw the many indifference that the world has to give. Yet, in going deeper to the core of letting myself be expose to this spirituality, I also recognized that in keeping myself to this guide, a transformation would resurface in depth of my being called by a King again.
    Though, in hearing His voice, I could also cry to think of my self as a baby in the crib, or on a mother’s lap nursed by her utmost attention and love… The only difference is that a strong motive of being detached to everything, and anything goes in depth that no matter what, the call of the King will still be followed at the end.
    Thank you Jim.

  7. Now to Him who is able to do abundantly more than we would ask or think, according to the power that is at work in us, to Hiim be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations and forevermore. Amen. Ephesians 3:20

  8. Thanks for this Jim: to your question “What can you imagine that would motivate you to do more than your best?” perhaps there’s a sense in your question of “nothing is impossible with God”, or “everything is possible with God”. Perhaps our companionship with God draws out a deeper response where our love is sourced in the depths of the well God provides… and thus we can pull on deeper and greater resources than we would otherwise think possible. I’d like to introduce into the conversation the idea of magis as ‘depth’ Adolfo Nicolas talked about in the Philippines (as above – at page 3 here: – it liberates the desire because as Hopkins says “there’s a dearest freshness deep down things” that perhaps draws us further and deeper in our response to the “Call of the King”. Magis has taken on communal form in the young adult Ignatian Gatherings around the world, especially before World Youth Day. As in madrid in 2011:
    Peace and joy of New Year to you Jim and thankyou for what you do.

  9. “When one looks at the Gospels, we see that Jesus always responded in depth. Look at any healing story: the way Jesus heals the paralyzed man brought in by his friends through the roof; the leper; the woman with the issue of blood. Jesus first responds to a concrete, immediate need: the healing of a sickness. But then he goes on to respond to a deeper need: the burden of guilt or the sense of hopelessness or rejection and isolation. Finally, he goes deeper still and offers what they long for most, often without knowing it: the gift of the Kingdom of God, of friendship with a God of unconditional love, in a way that transforms them at the core of their persons.” Adolfo Nicolas in the Philippines


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