Receiving God’s Will With Magnanimity

VirtueResponding to God’s Will with Magnanimity
ObjectiveTo try to be more magnanimous in our disposition towards life
Seedtime20 minutes (watch 8 minutes of videos, read 12 minute blog)
Feedtime1 hour 10 minutes
DirectiveSeek to cultivate magnanimity in daily life in three twenty minute challenges (instructions given in blog)
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If you look up the word magnanimous in the Oxford English Dictionary you’ll find the following definition: “generous or forgiving, especially towards a rival or less powerful person”

Breaking that down a little, magnanimity points to a self gift. We can only be ‘generous or forgiving’ if we are willing to give of ourselves. And if it is magnanimous, this gift of self is given in a way that looks beyond failures, reaches beyond competition and sees the something precious when many may fail to. It’s a reaching out in love – and in a Christian context that means seeking to communicate the love of Christ to that person, as and where they are.

Bearing that in mind, let’s kick off the rose with a video:

Why I chose that video will become more apparent as we go on. But for now I want you to think about what Ryan was talking about and make a quick mental survey of the things he was interested in, his particular gifts and how he hoped they could be used for the Lord in his future priestly ministry. Consider his attitude in the light of the definition we had above. Can you see a desire to make a gift of self in the things he said? What was he hoping he had to give? Who was he hoping he could serve? Beneath the silly jokes and the multiplicity of interests he refers to, what do you think was the underlying desire that prompted him to seek to become a priest?

Having made that mental note, take a pen and paper, forget about him for a while, and look at your own life, gifts and calling. Taking only about 10 minutes, jot a few notes on the questions given below.

Here there should be a certain amount of assessing where the rubber meets the road. There are the ideals, the things we’d like to do, the gifts, talents, ideas and hopes of course. But there are also human limitations. The challenges, the blocks, the things we struggle with. There are ways in which we fail to live up to the ideal of giving ourselves completely – and ways in which we may feel just plain blocked. You don’t have to try to work out how to deal with those things in your writing, simply survey the situation and make notes on what you observe. Here are your questions:

  • What interests, gifts and talents do you have that you’d most like to offer in the service of the Kingdom?
  • How do you feel you are generally of best service to souls?
  • At this point in your life, there a particular group or demographic in the Church you feel most particularly called to witness to or serve? If so, how do you feel called to do that?
  • What helps you in the things you feel called to do, and what most seems to stand in your way?
  • Are there steps you can take to make a greater effort to put who you are and what you have in God’s service?

Once you have your list together, it’s time for us to go a little deeper. To begin, I want to refine our understanding of magnanimity a little bit. This time, instead of looking to a dictionary, we will turn to St. Thomas Aquinas. For the purpose of this rose, we’re not going to explore everything he says on the topic. If, in your own time, you want a more precise understanding of what I (in a very vague and summary fashion) outline below you can find the Summa entry here – and the reading can count towards a perennial rose! However here we’re going to take an overview, beginning with this quote:

“Magnanimity by its very name denotes stretching forth of the mind to great things.”
(Original: …magnanimitas ex suo nomine importat quandam extensionem animi ad magna.”)

What do we mean by ‘stretching forth… the mind (or soul) to great things?’ Well, in his subsequent reflection upon the matter, St. Thomas asserts the following things about magnanimity:

  • It is a special virtue, pertaining in a particular way to honours – and at that great honours. Honours here should be understood to pertain to that which is in itself honourable rather than being honoured by men.
  • It is related to hoping for something difficult. As such part of fortitude (which gives one firmness of mind to do this) and related to confidence and security (since these derive from hope and fortitude).
  • One can be more magnanimous when one has more to offer, and when one strives against more difficult and towards more perfect things.

In 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul discusses a wide array of Spiritual gifts. Whilst affirming the importance of these things and how we should use them and appreciate them, he goes on in chapter 13 of the same letter to point out that love surpasses all of these things. We can see similar affirmations in the Gospel. Jesus tells the rich young man to go sell everything and come follow Him, and says that it is very difficult to enter into the Kingdom with riches. His concern is not so much how much money the man gives away, but what he does and doesn’t have left. We see this clearly when the Lord is moved profoundly by the generosity of the widow who gives the mite that she had to live on, and insists that she gave more than all those who gave generous amounts from their surplus. Jesus isn’t so concerned about how much one has to give in a worldly sense, but whether we are willing to give everything. The Lord asks what a man can offer in exchange for his soul or life (depending on the translation) – and there is no answer because no gifts, spiritual, corporal or temporal can replace the offering that God most desires of us – that of our life, heart and will in their entirety.

We are magnanimous, then, when we love most perfectly and when we give that which costs us most… It is possible to doubt this when reading through the points from the Summa – since it states that one can be magnanimous when one has more to give. But judging this ‘more’ by the above standards of the Gospel, we can come to understand more deeply the extent of the opportunities for magnanimity in what seem to be even the most simple and monotonous of lives. Remember, the Summa does not and cannot contain within itself the last word of St. Thomas Aquinas on that in which greatness consists. A few months before he died, St. Thomas had an experience of God, after which he refused to write any more. Based on what he had come to know of God, he considered all his writings, all his active efforts, to be ‘as straw’. This doesn’t undermine his work and the spiritual heritage that he left to the Church, but it puts it firmly in perspective. Whatsoever we can say or think of Him, God is more. And whatsoever we can attempt to do for Him, what He can do with our total abandonment is more.

Bearing these things in mind, let’s pick up with our ‘deacon to be’ from above – now as an ordained priest!

Fr. Ryan eventually died on 21st June 2021, about two years after his priestly ordination. May he rest in peace.

How would you compare the two interviews we have watched? Do you think Fr. Ryan was more magnanimous in his initial desire to serve God with all the things he loved, or in his acceptance of circumstances that he didn’t choose? What do you think has helped him to live out his vocation to the full? How can this speak into your life, and how you can serve Jesus in all circumstances – both those you desired and chose, and those you didn’t choose (and maybe wouldn’t have chosen!)?

Here, then are your three challenges to complete this Rose!

  1. This one builds upon your 10 minute reflection, completed during reading the blog post. Looking over that list, determine one thing you can do, something simple taking 20 minutes, to actively seek to put some gift(s) you identified at God’s disposal.
  2. The second task is a prayer one, and it’s very simple: Pray lying prostrate for 20 minutes. That means lying flat-out, face down like a priest at his ordination, or on Good Friday. The 20 minutes can be consecutive or broken up. If health concerns prevent this you can kneel or pray as appropriate – but convenience or embarassment are not sufficient excuse for exemption from lying prostrate! If at all possible, make your prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. The Church doesn’t have to be crowded – sadly it generally isn’t difficult to find a relatively abandoned Tabernacle… nevertheless, this aspect is not compulsory for the rose. What is essential to the rose is to give yourself over in this 20 minutes of prayer to pondering the greatness of God, your own littleness, and seeking to offer yourself to be entirely at His disposal. As you pray, ask God to reveal to you how you can offer yourself more fully to Him within the context of your most fundamental vocation.
  3. The final challenge is to spend 20 minutes on a ‘distraction’. Like the first video in the post, the reflection time you took at the start should take account of gifts you have and active ways to put these things at God’s disposal. And this is good. However the reality is that life ‘interrupts’ at times. We might have envisioned projects of evangelisation and plans for personal spiritual growth etc., and yet wound up battling with certain problems or having to help with things that don’t have anything to do with our objectives. This 20 minutes should be given to intentionally offering to God something that takes you away from the way in which you might otherwise want to serve Him. It may be a ‘block’ you identified in your initial time of reflection – or something else altogether. It could be struggling through a sickness or inconvenience, caring for someone who needs it, undertaking a task you’d rather avoid because another requests it, or simply fulfilling one of your less glamorous duties of state.

The aim, through the tasks, is to grow in magnanimity by finding ways to put our entire being at God’s service, and both by wilfully choosing things by which we discern we may serve him and by accepting those things which He allows, but which may be difficult for us to understand…

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