The letters “A.M.D.G.,” Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam--Latin for “to/for the greater glory of God”-- are ubiquitous on the campuses of Jesuit colleges and high schools around the world. They can be found on athletic jerseys and spiritwear, school crests, letterheads and screensavers. Students and alumni of Jesuit schools have tattooed them on their arms and backs, and upon meeting graduates from different Jesuit schools, alumni and friends will often simply utter the letters between themselves in a knowing, almost conspiratorial way.
The phrase, attributed to St Ignatius, is the motto of the Society of Jesus. It is, along with his prayer, the Suscipe, the philosophical foundation of the order. In both, we can see the vestiges of Ignatius, the courtier, surfacing.
Ignatius dedicated his early life to the service of the Spanish king Ferdinand, looking to win glory for his patron and himself. During his recovery from a debilitating injury at the Battle of Pamplona in 1521, Ignatius had a conversion experience in which he shifted his loyalty from his earthly lord to his heavenly one. No longer aiming to win earthly laurels or flatter his social “betters,” Ignatius devoted himself to living a life of honoring the Lord. He would convince his companions in the Society of Jesus (and those who would later be formed by them) to do the same. Thus was born the motto emphasizing that all should be done “for the greater glory of God” and the Suscipe in which one asks the Lord to “take and receive” all that one “has and possesses” so that He might “do with it as [He] wills.”
Like all good philosophy, A.M.D.G. is a way of life.
The 1980 film Chariots of Fire highlighted a group of British runners before and during the 1924 Olympics. One of those runners, sprinter Eric Liddell, was the son of Scottish missionaries to China and was slated to leave for that country with his sister to continue the family’s work of spreading the Gospel. Sitting with his father at the hearthside and discussing the issue, the younger Liddell struggled over whether he should immediately leave for China to do what he saw as “God’s work” or delay his trip so that he could perhaps win glory for himself and his country. His father shatters the false dichotomy: doing missionary work, he noted, was not the only way to glorify the Lord: “You can praise God by peeling a spud if you do it to perfection.” A.M.D.G.
The Presbyterian minister would have made a great Jesuit.
Because living “A.M.D.G.” is, ultimately, a spirituality. Living A.M.D.G. means that we “find God in all things.” Thus, every activity, from a student finishing a set of calculus problems to parents changing their baby’s diapers, to a factory worker putting the finishing touches on a product--to peeling a spud--can be an act of worship if consciously done in love for God. By living such a life, we are able to heed St. Paul’s otherwise impossible exhortation to “rejoice always” and “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5: 16-17).
Living A.M.D.G. means commitment. It means offering ourselves entirely--our talents, our lives, our dreams--to the Father in imitation of the Son. It means pledging every aspect of our lives to the Father the way the Son did: in love, self-sacrifice, and service to all--especially those most in need. It means devoting ourselves every day to the awesome task of being Christian.
If we have been truly formed in the shadow of the letters A.M.D.G. and have dedicated ourselves to what they stand for, if we commit ourselves to live this spirituality, we will discover a fundamental truth: that the A.M.D.G. on our polo shirts, jerseys, and jackets is, in the end, not so much a logo, or a “brand,” or even a motto.
It’s a promise.
A.M.D.G. / B.V.M.H.