Word of the Month: Magnanimity
School is back in session, so it is time for a vocabulary lesson with Aunt Katie! As we close Year One of asking Aunt Katie, we happily launch a new segment--the WORD OF THE MONTH! Today we even have a bonus word--its antonym! We hope these words inspire, challenge, and expand your heart… magnanimously. This month’s word is brought to you by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D., Divine Intimacy: Meditations on the Interior Life for Every Day of the Liturgical Year, and the letter M.
Word of the Month: Magnanimity
Meaning: loftiness of spirit enabling one to bear trouble calmly, to disdain meanness and pettiness, and to display a noble generosity [from Merriam-Webster]
Etymology: from magnus "great" + animus "mind, soul, spirit"
I don’t know about you, but being able to bear trouble calmly is a big desire of my heart right now… enter the virtue of Magnanimity. Friends, virtual friends, followers, students, co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord, cousins, acquaintances, frenemies all seem to be asking “What are we to do?” Not only because of our current state of chaos and confusion, but if we’re honest… it’s a question that has been coming up more and more frequently for the last several years. Between political drama, tragedy, strife, violence, and the general degradation of society and good old fashioned values (not good old fashioneds--those have never caused turmoil), we seem surrounded by discouragement and an impending sense of doom or possible zombie apocalypse.
So what are we to do? I don’t know. And spoiler alert--no little blog is going to have the answer for you. The action that the Holy Spirit is inspiring within you is something you need to talk out with Him. However, what I will offer, ever so humbly, but generously, is a new, old idea: Magnanimity.
Yes, prayer and fasting--always, but also joy, love, courage, and hope. The greatest contribution we can offer the world is to sanctify ourselves--to love our loved ones and to do good to those who hurt us. Love, like Jesus, is always the answer. So for the month of September, we offer you this Word of the Month--this goal to aspire to--this challenge of challenges… Magnanimity. For if we aspire to be Holy--for only if we are holy leaven can we freshen up this unholy mess… we need more heart. Take it away, Father Gabriel:
“Whoever aspires to sanctity should have a generous magnanimous heart, which is not satisfied with doing little things for God, and tiny acts of virtue, but is eager to do great things and give great proofs of love. Just as there is no sanctity without heroic virtue, so it is impossible to attain to heroism without performing great acts of virtue.”
Magnanimity begins with thinking MAGNUSly… now before you start naysaying that Blessed are the Meek, and what about the Blessed Mother keeping all the things in her heart, and Thérèse's Little Way, and tiny Mama T, and every other great saint and their great humility……. I’m getting there. Patience. (Also a virtue.) Notice--they were GREAT saints. Magnus saints. Their greatness may have come in a tiny, unassuming, superhumble package… but they did not desire mediocrity… they did not desire to go unnoticed BY GOD… In fact, their desires were for the glorification of the Lord. The King of Kings! Lord of Lords! The God beyond all praising. The one for whom all mortal flesh should keep silent, etc. Their desire, their love, their ardor for God was immeasurable--because their very love would not be satisfied by anything but God--God, who is immeasurable, eternal, divine!
Heroism, the kind of heroism that is necessary for us to face the assaults of today--from the culture, from within the Church, from without the Church, from our own weakness… the heroism required comes from generosity of soul. Now, generosity seems the opposite of fasting, of penance, of prayer, of quiet, of sackcloth, of ashes, of tithing boycotts, of whispered conversations about the latest breaking news… but as with all things in this blessed faith, our hearts must be Both/And. Now is not the time to hide, now is not the time to be timid, to be faint of heart, to hide that light under a bushel basket. Now is the time to do great things for God. Father Gabriel goes on:
“The virtue of magnanimity, on the contrary, inclines the soul to do great things for God, but never to the detriment of obedience, humility, or the fulfillment of duty. Generous souls, precisely in this domain, will often meet with arduous, difficult things which call for much virtue, but which usually remain hidden from the eyes of others. In circumstances such as these we are often tempted to give up, under the pretext that it is not necessary to push virtue to such extremes; we excuse ourselves, saying that we are neither angels nor saints.”
How do you show your generosity to God? Is it through generosity with your time? With your talents? With your treasure? Who are you most generous with? How have the current difficulties encouraged you to expand your tents--open up the doors--let light into your own heart? Where have you loved more? Forgiven more? Been more merciful? How have you given God greater permission to use all that you are and all that you have? How have you shown gratitude? Where have you been courageous in love?
Let’s see what our Teresas have to say about this idea….
Saint Teresa of Avila: “I have never seen any courageous person hanging back on this road, nor any soul that, under the guise of humility, acted like a coward, go as far in many years as the courageous soul can in a few.”
Saint Thérèse de Lisieux: "My God, I choose all! I do not want to be a saint by halves."
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross: "The nation... doesn’t simply need what we have. It needs what we are."
Saint Teresa of Calcutta: "If you want to change the world, go home and love your family."
But, Aunt Katie… we just memorialized the Passion of St. John the Baptist… and he reminded us that we "must decrease so He can increase"--isn’t that the opposite of Magnanimity? FALSE. The opposite of Magnanimity is...
Meaning: Faintheartedness “a defect which prevents souls from accomplishing great things through excessive fear of failure” [Divine Intimacy, #290].
Etymology: from pusillis "very weak, little" + animus "spirit, courage"
So as not to confuse magnanimity with a lack of humility, let’s see what Father Gabriel says about this month’s antonym, Pusillanimity:
“A pusillanimous person who withdraws on such occasions, under the pretext that he does not feel capable of doing so much, may believe that he is humble; but in reality he is a coward, proud, and lacking trust in God. He is a coward because, overly preoccupied with himself, he fears failure, because he is afraid to expose himself to the criticism of others, he dreads fatigue and sacrifice. He is proud because he relies more on his own erroneous judgement than on God and His grace.”
How true is this for each of us? How often do we pusillanimous out when times get tough? How often are we scared of what others will think---how we are perceived--how likely it is we will be humiliated? If I’m honest, the assessment of how humiliating an action will be is often the #1 factor in me doing or not doing something. A great way to never be humiliated is to never do anything. To risk nothing--consistently. That means avoiding things like vulnerability, the risk of being wrong, being corrected, being slandered, being judged, being lumped in with undesirables, being considered judgmental, intolerant, bigoted, or just a meany-head in general.
Sometimes we hide behind a false humility because we are scared that God will ask too much of us. So we decide to be ordinary. To just be good. Not great. Good we can handle--and if we're honest, even good can be tough sometimes… but greatness, that’s not for us! Holiness… nah, that’s for the Teresas. We settle for good when God deserves everything. We say our prayers, go with the flow, and just try to stay out of hell. We were made for more. We were made for greatness--because our lives are not our own--they belong to the Great One. The more we empty ourselves and allow God to pour into us--the greater our love will grow… and love, like joy, and the common cold--is quite contagious.
So what role does humility play, Father Gabriel?
“The humble soul, on the contrary, although conscious of his nothingness, trusts in God; convinced of his weakness, he is still more convinced that God can make use of him to accomplish great things. The truly humble person is never pusillanimous, but always magnanimous: he is not afraid to encourage himself to attempt great things for God, and this very attitude helps him greatly to make progress.”
So what can you do? I don’t know… but I bet the Holy Spirit has some thoughts. Century after century ordinary people have received extraordinary graces… Have the courage to ask God how He wants to use you. Will you give Him permission?
Let’s pray with the words of possibly my favorite Teresa (It’s so hard to choose--I choose all!):
It is a characteristic of the true servant of God, to whom His Majesty has given light to follow the true path, that when beset by these fears, his desire not to stop only increases. Teach me, then, O my God, always to go straight ahead, to fight with courage, and to parry the blows of the devil who is trying to frighten me.
St. Teresa of Avila