Mission and Ministry
Alumni Living the Mission

Brendan Busse, S.J.

  • When I first graduated from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles I made a good decision and a bad discernment. This is to say, I consulted my head while absolutely ignoring and perhaps even silencing my heart. I did what ‘made sense’ instead of what I felt (what ‘I sensed’) I was called to do. It was a good choice--I honestly don’t regret it--but I certainly learned a lot in the ensuing years about the important difference between discernment and decision. I also learned something about what Ignatius may have meant by the term ‘magis’ which we hear so often. I learned how sometimes our doing less enables our being more.

    After graduation I chose to immediately begin an MA in Theology mostly because of the tuition benefits I received from the fortunate fact of my parents’ employment at the university. It made a lot of sense. However, what I wanted to do was international post-graduate service. Both of these were (and continue to be) very good things and I have since done plenty of both (school and service), but in those first few years I was pretty lost. My head had lead me to a place my heart was unable or unwilling to follow. I became depressed. I felt alone. I made mistakes.

    In desolation I did exactly what St. Ignatius would caution against doing and I started making more choices. I began adding more good things to my life--trying to fill the hole in my heart with more commitments--they just happened to have nothing to do with what I really wanted. In addition to full-time grad school I got a full-time teaching job to scratch the ‘service’ itch. I moved into a dorm as a resident minister to scratch the ‘community’ itch. I began a romantic relationship to scratch the ‘intimacy’ itch. After all of this scratching I found myself unhappy, chronically overworked and profoundly, ironically, under-committed to it all. In trying to do everything I was unable to give myself to anything or, for that matter, to anyone.

    My desolation finally hit home when I asked the woman I was dating to marry me and in that moment I became immediately and strangely aware of how my heart wasn’t in my asking. There is an enormous difference between desperation and love and we really hurt each other when we confuse the two. I’m not sure if I gave up or gave in; all I know is that something had to give. In that place of confusion I began to hear my heart again and knew that I had to follow.

    As a prompt for this current reflection I was asked to consider how I’ve lived the ‘magis’ in my life as a Jesuit university alum. When I read those words I realized that for many years, particularly the years immediately after I graduated, I was confused about what the ‘magis’ really meant in an Ignatian sense. To be honest, I wouldn’t have even known the word, let alone thought of anything in an ‘Ignatian’ sense. How funny it is to write these words now, years later, in my fifth year as a Jesuit! God sure is funny...and by funny I mean both strange and surprising!

    Eventually, I came to understand that the magis is a lot less about doing more than it is about being more available to do what we’re called to do. We may find ourselves called by God or called by friends and family or called by the poor and those who suffer or, perhaps, by our fellow citizens in democratic civic engagement; we are called upon to do our part, to share our gifts, to support our loved ones in the many needs of their lives. We are called upon. This is the price we pay for being alive and part of the family. Think of it as a return on the investment that many before us made on our behalf. Better yet, just think of it as a way of making love real in the world; don’t we all want to do that? I think this ‘magis’ stuff is all about love...but sometimes we make it about business; even more, we make it about busy-ness.

    I think we do a disservice to our Jesuit students and alums when we suggest that the more they do the better they are. The truth of Ignatius’ discernment wisdom suggests that the more open we are to God, the more available we are to the world and our own experiences of it, the better able we will be to do the many things we will inevitably be called upon to do. In this sense it’s about our ‘response-ability’. This is what a hard-working life of service looks like: it responds to the needs of the world more than merely filling the world with more hyperactivity, a practice which drains us all of life, liberty and real joy.

    For what is the ‘magis’ or for whom? It is more about generosity than it is about activity. I think it’s about a life lived with meaning and purpose. I think it’s about freedom and love.

    Ignatius asks three questions: “What have I done for God? What am I doing for God? What more can I do for God?” In a busy life--where we ignore or avoid our most significant relationships--we must remember that this is not a question of infinitude. What more can I do? And more? And more? And more? It’s about availability. It’s a question of relationship. What ‘more’ can I do for God? For Love? For Freedom? If we’re too busy or in any other way unavailable then the answer to these questions will always be not much, or not now, or no way!

    I suspect that for many of us these days, making ourselves more available would involve doing a lot less, freeing ourselves from an endless list of obligations and occupations in order to seek the one thing wanted and to do the most important things--which are always done for the most beloved people--with great care, affection, and depth. How many of us live lives just on the edge...using every last bit of energy? What happens when someone in need or someone we love calls upon us? What then will we say? Sorry, but there is no ‘more’ here. I hope not.

    The real gift of the magis is a gift of invitation. The magis invites us to make ourselves more and more available to answer the call of the Beloved whenever and however it comes. In hearing that call, the call of the Beloved, we will discover greater and greater glory.

  • Brendan Busse, S.J. - Loyola Marymount University (1999, 2011), Loyola University Chicago (2012)