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Magis, Latin for more: A key Jesuit ideal of its founder St. Ignatius of Loyola

The Society of Jesus
The Society of Jesus
The Society of Jesus

Beginning in 2005, Jesuits in Canada have given the Magis Award each year to an individual or organization which has “gone beyond the usual” in order to serve Christ, as understood by St. Ignatius of Loyola to be expressed in what he called 'magis,' (pronounced mah-jis) which is the Latin word for “more.”

A significant aspect of the founding of the Society of Jesus is the example that each of the fathers and brothers of the order are able to provide for one another, as a continuous reminder of what is possible when the mind and heart are fixed one-pointedly on an ideal. For a Jesuit, this will entail their following the vow of poverty (because Jesus intentionally set the example of living simply, working meaningfully, and passing time with others kindly); and the vow of chastity (in order to be able to live as fully-neutral with others as possible, and to be free of all debts -- while still living simply); and the final vow of obedience (in order to be free from attachment to all aspects of the secular world) and to be emotionally and philosophically untangled in order to stand in mediation between that of God and that of man, and to incorporate that of God in oneself and be able to see that of God in every man.

One of the elements of the Spiritual Exercises entails the capacity for discerning that of God in the very ordinary activities of daily living; and it is the gift of grace that is cultivated in the long preparation for entry into the Society of Jesus, learning to trust in God's love enough to make use of it in serving God, and in so doing, to serve others.

On Wednesday, April 9, 2014, nearly 300 individuals were gathered for a Mass of thanksgiving for the annual Jesuit Provincial’s Dinner in Ontario, Canada, to celebrate the golden jubilee of Fr. Len Altilia S.J. and three other Jesuit jubilarians, honored for their 50 years of life as Jesuits:

“That 50 years is marked by one constant — God’s grace, God’s love, God’s generosity, God’s fidelity. Over the last 50 years there have been immense changes in technology, culture and the economy. But Pope Francis constantly reminds us that some things don’t change. We can rely with absolute certainty and profound trust on the goodness of God .If there’s anything I’ve learned in these 50 years as a Jesuit, it is to trust that love."

The first Jesuit school was founded 1548, in Sicily, following a unique approach to religious education that valued the significance of having a spiritual and emotional component, as well as mental and physical fitness, helping to develop the body, mind and spirit of the individuals in their care.

In his first teaching assignment as a Jesuit, Fr. Altilia recognized that it was an excellent fit for his particular gifts, and he has served as an educator in Jesuit schools for nearly his entire career – with a few breaks to assist with some administrative duties in the province of the Jesuits in Canada. Fr. Altilia also served in the vocation ministry, where he shared the realization that each one of us has a calling to a particular life “that expresses the love of God that was made manifest in Jesus Christ.”

This was the experience of Ignatius himself as a young diplomat and soldier, having been disabled by injuries received in an exchange with French forces in the Basque territory; and as he recovered in his ancestral home, he began to read about the life and morals of Jesus in the "De Vita Christi," (Life of Christ) by Ludolph of Saxony, and experienced an epiphany of spiritual insight. According to Catholic University's Sr. Mary Immaculate Bodenstedt, in "The Vita Christi of Ludolphus the Carthusian," the mystical aspect of Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises -- the meditation on the narratives in Holy Scripture -- was passed on from this original text of Ludolph.

Ignatius then traveled to the Spanish monastery Santa Maria de Montserrat, dedicating his weapons to Mary, and donating his fine clothing to a needy man he met along the way. He then spent many months in prayers in the village of Manresa, in an intense effort to distinguish what had led him to follow a path to Goodness and to look more closely at what had led him to squander his time in meaningless activities, which he knew to have reaped no value for him whatsoever, but which nonetheless had been sorely tempting to him at first, by promising fulfillment; but in directions that had been utterly misguided.

Along the way, he began to take notes of his spiritual experiences day by day, which then formed the basis of the modest book he later shared with others who were also interested in developing their own relationship to God, which he entitled: The Spiritual Exercises.

Among the other jubilarians to have been honored in Ontario, was Fr. John Govan, S.J., who has spent the past 38 years introducing folks to those Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, as they have been passed along from that modest little book, over the past 490 years, assisting others to perfect the grace of their own spiritual direction.

Another Jesuit commemorating his Golden Jubilee was Fr. Michael Czerny, S.J., who is tan assistant to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in Rome, Cardinal Peter Turkson. Fr. Czerny founded the African Jesuit Aids Network in Nairobi, Kenya, and ran the facility from 2002 to 2010; having actively worked in the area of social justice “from Toronto to El Salvador,” and also in Rome.

Another jubilarian whose 50 years as a Jesuit were commemorated was
Fr. John Perry, S.J., whose academic and pastoral career at the University of Regina, the Toronto School of Theology and the University of Manitoba, has also promoted the ideals of social justice through literature,” as the author of “Myths & Realities of American Slavery: The True History of Slavery in America;” and “Catholics and Slavery: A Compromising History.” Fr. Perry is presently teaching moral theology at the Kofi A. Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation in Accra, Ghana.

Others whose lives were included in the commemoration who had entered the Guelph, Ontario novitiate together in 1964 were three Jesuit provincial superiors now deceased -- Fr. Eric Maclean, S.J.; Fr. Bill Addley, S.J.; and Fr. Jim Webb, S.J., whose memories were invoked as part of the celebration. Among those who had not elected to become priest was Brother Paul Desmarais who teaches agriculture and ecological justice at the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, in Lusaka, Zambia. Included in the activities of this Centre, which is run by the Society of Jesus, are offering short courses in sustainable, organic agriculture; conducting field days at their own demonstration plots, farms and schools in the area; as well as preparing weekly radio programs for Yatsani Community Radio; and promoting the formation of study circles in the nearby villages.

On the occasion of this happy celebration, The Jesuits also honored the Knights of Columbus with the Magis Award, and the Jesuit provincial superior Fr. Peter Bisson expressed gratitude to the Knights, in particular, for their help with several projects, including renovations to the Martyr’s Shrine, in Midland.

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