The meaning of Magis: a homily by Father Johnson

Magis, a central principle in Jesuit philosophy, means “the more.” More what? In his homily for our Kostka Mass on November 16, 2018, Fr. Jeff Johnson, SJ explained what the true meaning of “The More” is in Jesuit education. Below is the text of Father Johnson’s presentation. Trey Duncan ’21 and Shawn Xie ’21

When I was a freshman in high school I had to take typing class. In this class, we used typewriters. Typewriters are these large, loud machines into which you feed a single sheet of paper then depress the keys on the keyboard thereby causing the same letter to appear in ink on the paper. Just in case.

Anyway, I was a freshman, and I was about 4 feet tall and behind me sat a very large senior. I think his name was Johnny Axemaker or Jerry Schliterhauler. Either way, he was this large hulking animal of a boy who hunched over the typewriter just behind me. Well, Johnny or Jerry, whoever he was, never had typing paper with him, and so he would bum paper from me. He’d lean over his typewriter, jab me in the back of the shoulder, saying, “Hey, Schlick,”– that’s what he called me, Schlick—“Hey, Schlick, give me a piece of paper.” I would obediently hand over the paper, and resume my typing as he grunted and pecked his way through, “The quick brown fox Jumped over the lazy dog.”

I was terrified he would ask for another sheet of paper and that I would run out. I was small and I wished I was bigger, so that Johnny would push me around so much.

There was this other guy in my class who was a soccer player and all the girls were crazy for him. His name was Jim, and he had mounds of curly hair and piercing blue eyes. As I said, all the girls swooned mightily as he walked the halls. My hair was not curly, but rather limp and plain. My eyes were blue, but they didn’t pierce anything. I was dissatisfied, and unable to cause anyone to swoon. I considered having my hair artificially curled so as to effect the swooning in others.  I wasn’t happy with what I had, and was convinced if I had something else or had more of something, then life would be perfect.

In the late 70’s BMX bikes were all the rage. My cousins always had cool bikes—mongoose bikes, I believe they were called. They looked cool, sleek, compact, low to the ground. My bike was awkward. Random pieces of metal joined together on top of skinny tires. If only I had the mongoose. I think that became a constant refrain of mine—of only I had the mongoose.

My parents’ typical response as I imagine you’ve heard on occasion from you own parents—was “Just be satisfied with what you have.” I wasn’t satisfied, I wanted more. I was dissatisfied with what I had, and I thought that different things and more of them would satisfy me.

In Jesuit spirituality, St. Ignatius often speaks and writes of the “Magis.” Our school newspaper, which can be found online, is called the Magis. The word Magis gets thrown around quite easily around Jesuit institutions all over the world. It often gets translated into English as “more” or “greater.” It often gets applied in a way that suggests one should just work harder or do more. Get more, have more, be more. It suggests we operate from a place of dissatisfaction as we strive towards a place of more satisfaction.

You got a 1100 on the SAT? Well, strive for the Magis and get a 1450.

You got an A-? Well, if you had worked for the Magis, then you would have had an A+.

You got want to go to a good college? Strive for the Magis and get into Stanford.

You want to play basketball? Then strive for the Magis and be a starter.

Dissatisfied with what you have or where you are or who you are? Then the Magis can take care of that.

I would suggest that this is not the correct understanding of the Magis. And I would turn your attention to the first reading from the Letter of St. Peter where the author writes: “His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion.”

In other words, God has given each of us the exact gifts that we need to live our lives and live them in a way that is devoted to others. Nothing is lacking in any of us. It is a profound realization.

So what is the Magis then? Once we realize the gifts we have been given, then we choose to use them in a way that gives greater glory to God. We use these gifts we’ve been given so that when we use them, people see our God given gifts, and thereby they come to see God himself in our actions.

The first step is to become aware of your gifts in such a way as to be satisfied with what you have and what you’ve been given by God. Then you can choose to use them in a way that will give greater glory to God.

The second very important step is to look at the gifts of God has given your friends and classmates—not as a threat or something to be jealous of.

Here’s another way of looking at it. Why are you at this prestigious and challenging school? Is it so that you can get more? Be different? Lord it over others? Earn more in the future? Be more successful?

It’s so you can come to know the great gifts you’ve been given, hone them and sharpen them, and then decide to use them in a way that gives God the glory.

Be confident in your gifts, and it will make all the difference in how you use them.