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Magnanimity


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,

The month of February is dedicated to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph: let us call upon the Holy Family to help us live family life in a holy and loving manner! This weekend I share with you a reflection on the Virtue of Magnanimity. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:

“Magnanimity - The disposition to undertake great things for God and mankind always accompanies a holy life: The First Reading from today’s Holy Mass tells us of David’s flight from King Saul across the wastelands of Ziph. (1 Sam. 26:2; 7-9; 12-13; 22-23) One night when the king was sleeping in the midst of his men, David crept close to the camp accompanied by Abishai, the most faithful of his friends. They saw Saul sleeping, within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head; and Abner and the army lay around him. Abishai whispered to David, God has given your enemy into your hand this day; now therefore let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice. There could be no doubt that the death of the kin would be the shortest route to freeing David once and for all from all the dangers he faced, and would raise him to the throne. But for the second time David chose the longer path, and preferred to preserve Saul’s life. (cf. 1 Sam. 24:1 ff.) David’s behavior on this and other occasions shows the great soul of the man. His largeness of spirit won for him first the admiration and then the friendship of his bitterest enemy, and also of the people. Above all, it won him the friendship of God.

The Gospel of the Holy Mass (Luke 6:27-38) also invites us to be magnanimous, to have a big heart, like the heart of Christ. The Gospel exhorts us to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who persecute us. It calls upon us to do the good without expecting anything in return, to be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful, to par-don everyone, to be generous without measuring and calculating. Our Lord ends by telling us: Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over. And He admonishes us: for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.

The virtue of magnanimity, which is closely related to fortitude, consists in the soul’s willingness to undertake great things. (St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, 129, 1) St. Thomas calls it the ornament of all the virtues. (ibidem., a4) This disposition to take on important matters for God and for other people always accompanies a holy life. The serious effort to struggle for sanctity is in itself a first manifestation of magnanimity. A magnanimous person keeps his mind on high ideals. He is not daunted by obstacles, criticism, or contempt when it is necessary to endure them for a great cause. He is not pre-pared to let himself be intimidated by human respect or by a hostile environment. Rumor-mongers or back-biting mean little or nothing to him. He is much more interested in Truth than in opinions, which are frequently falsehoods or half-truths at best. (R. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, vol. I)

The saints have always been great-souled people, magna anima, showing their largeness of spirit when they envisioned and initiated apostolic enterprises, then carried them through to completion. Their soul was seen to be great in their human relationships, in their evalu-ations of and dealings with other people: they looked upon others as children of God, as being capable of great ideals. We in turn should not be pusillanimous, short-sighted and small-minded, with a timid spirit. Magnanimity means greatness of spirit, a largeness of heart wherein many can find refuge. Magnanimity gives us the energy to break out of ourselves and be ready to undertake generous tasks that will be of benefit to all. Small-mindedness has no home in the mag-nanimous heart, nor has meanness, nor egoistic calculation, nor self-interested trickery. The magnanimous person devotes all his strength, unstintingly, to what is worthwhile. As a result, he is capa-ble of giving himself. He is not content with merely giving. He gives his very self. He thus comes to understand that the greatest expres-sion of magnanimity consists in giving oneself to God. (J. Escriva, Friends of God, 80) There is no greater proof of magnanimity than this: total dedication to Christ, a dedication without measure, without conditions.

Magnanimity shows itself in many ways: Greatness of soul proves itself also in a willingness to forgive, in matters large and small, whether it be people close to us in our lives or far from us. It is not Christian to go about the world with a list of grievances in one’s heart (cf. idem., Furrow, 738), cherishing rancorous thoughts and memories that shrink the spirit and make us incapable of the human and Divine ideals to which our Lord is calling us. In the same way that God is always ready to forgive everyone everything, our capacity to forgive must have no limits. The number of times does not matter. The seriousness of the wrongs done is irrelevant, as is the status of the persons who were supposedly guilty of the offenses. Nothing makes us like unto God so much as being always ready to forgive. (St. John Chrysos-tom, Homilies on St. Matthew’s Gospel, 19, 7) On the Cross, Jesus did what He had taught: Father, forgive them, He prayed. And immediately He added the mitigating reason: for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34) Those words show the greatness of soul of Christ’s Sacred Humanity. And in today’s Gospel we read: Love your enemies… pray for those who abuse you. (Luke 6:27-28) Jesus has always asked that same greatness of soul from those who are His own. The first martyr, St. Stephen, died asking pardon for those who killed him. (Acts 7:60) Are we then not to pardon the comparatively trivial incidental things that happen to us each day? And if back-biting and serious defamation should be aimed at us, should we let slip that opportunity to offer something more valuable in return? It would be better still if we never reached the point of finding it necessary to forgive, imitating the saints in refusing to take offense in the first place.

Faced with something really worthwhile (noble ideals, apostolic tasks, and God above all), a great soul gives of his own without reserve: money, effort, time. He knows well and understands the words of our Lord: no matter how much he gives, he will receive more. Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back. (Luke 6:38) We should ask ourselves if we give what is ours with gener-osity. What is more, we should ask whether we give ourselves, whether we follow the path, the specific vocation our Lord asks of each one of us, with promptness and sure steps.

Furthermore, taking on great endeavors for the good of mankind, or alleviating the needs of many people, or to giving glory to God, can occasionally lead to the expenditure of large sums of money, and to putting one’s material goods at the service of those great works. (c.f., St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q134) The magnanimous person does that if he can, without hesitation and misgivings. Living the virtue of prudence, he evaluates all the circumstances, but not with a fearful or shrinking soul. The great cathedrals are an example of ages in which, although there were far fewer human and economic resources than there are now, there was perhaps a livelier Faith. From earliest times the Church has always sought the use of the fine arts, so that all things set apart for use in Divine Worship should be worthy, becoming, and beautiful. (Vatican Council II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 122) Good Christians have given what-ever they considered of greatest value, for Worship, or to honor the Blessed Virgin. They have been generous in their donations and alms for the things of God and to alleviate the hardship of their brothers in greatest need. They have established works of medical and material help, founded and funded cultural and teaching institutions.

In a society which sets no bounds to its conspicuous consumption, we frequently see apostolic works and the people who have dedicated their entire lives to them deprived of the means to continue, often subjected to privations, and re-organizations, and constantly questioned as to whether they should not cease their activities and close down. The greatness of soul our Lord asks of His own will lead us not only to be very generous with our own time and economic means, but also to assist others to feel moved themselves to help, according to their means, for the good of their fellow man. Generosity always leads people closer to God. On countless occasions this is the greatest favor we can do our friends - encourage and foster their generosity. This virtue enlarges their heart and rejuvenates them, making them younger, more capable of Love. Magnanimity is one of the fruits of interior life: St. Teresa of Avila insisted that we should not shrink our desires, for His Majesty desires and loves courageous souls. Such souls set themselves great goals, the way the saints have done. The saints would never have reached such a level of sanctity, if they had not first taken the firm resolve to set their sights high, always counting on the help of God. The great Carmelite lamented the case of those good souls who, even if they lead a life of prayer, stay anchored to the ground like toads content with catching little lizards, instead of soaring toward God. (St. Teresa, Life, 13, 2-3)

Do not let your soul and spirit shrink, for you may lose many benefits…

Do not let your soul hide in a corner, because then instead of striving for sanctity you will simply come up with other imperfections, and many more of them. (idem., Way of Perfection, 72, 1) Pusillanimity impedes progress in union with God. It consists in the voluntary incapacity to conceive or desire great things, and stays constricted in a feeble and low life. (Gran Enciclopedia Rialp, see entry Fortitude)

Another symptom is the very poor opinion one tends to have of others, of what they can aspire to and one day become with Divine Aid, even though they may have been great sinners. As pusillanimous person is a man of closed horizons, resigned to just getting along. He has no high ambitions. Until he overcomes that defect, he will never dare to commit himself to God in a plan of life, or make any apostolic endeavors be effective, or dedicate himself. Everything will be too big for him, because he himself is shrunken.

Magnanimity is a fruit of one’s relationship with Jesus Christ. The disposition to undertake great enterprises, in one’s own surroundings for God’s sake, always accompanies an inner life filled with love, a nourishing and demanding interior life. This virtue is based on humility.

It includes an unshakeable firmness of Hope, an actually challenging assurance, and the perfect peace of a fearless heart which does not bow to any man - but to God alone. (J. Pieper, The Fundamental Virtues) An individual of great soul dares to do what is great because he knows that the gift of Grace raises a person to undertakings beyond his natural capacities. (St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, 171, 1) Then his actions acquire a Divine effectiveness, because they depend on God, Who is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. (cf. Matt. 3:9) Such a person will be daring in apostolate, because he is aware that although the Holy Spirit makes use of our human words as an instrument, it is the Spirit Himself Who actually brings about the results. (cf. St. Thomas, op. cit., II-II, 177, 1) A person of great soul has selfassurance, because all his effectiveness originates from God W ho gives the increase. (cf. 1 Cor. 3:7) That is the source of his confidence.

The Virgin Mary will give us this greatness of soul which she herself has lived in her relationship with God and with us human beings, her children. Give and it will be given to you… Let us not stop short or be withdrawn. Jesus is present to our lives.” (From In Conversation with God, by Francis Fernandez)

Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy, St. Joseph, St. Michael, and St. Paul, may our good Lord grant us the grace to live and practice the Virtue of Magnanimity!

In Christ through Mary,

Fr. Kasel