We have often heard it shouted from someone in the midst of a throng, the word cried out with admirable enthusiasm. Troop-like many other voices follow into a choir of praise toward a shaky statue straddling on half a dozen shoulders. One wonders what goes through the minds of the many tourists who end up, after a day of sun and hiking, in the middle of the village feast.
But why do they shout "Magnus"? Why does he deserve the title of "The Great"? Why do we put an image of a common man on a pedestal? And what does the pedestal even connote?! Because many a time, in talking about saints, we speak as if describing some special breed of men, people who excel in all and fault in nothing. It seems as if they live the Scripture as easily as we chuck down food and drink; and so their lives come to resemble the epics of legendary heroes rather than authentically represent the lives of men. Events ripe with wonders, special effects, and miracles. People who give up at nothing. People who skip over obstacles as if they weren't even there. The blasted pedestal seems to transform into a source of separation, to remind us that we can never reach the level of the "Magnus". And in reality: we cannot be more mistaken.
Even a brief glance at their lives makes it evident that, like us, they struggled and worked hard, more often than not failing to see any fruits of their labour, their good deeds sometimes even proving harmful to themselves. Some have sought more time in prayer only to feel as if they were talking to themselves. It's true that there were times when they succeeded in what they intended, but it is certain that they struggled with themselves to do what God wanted them to do. The truth is that, in examining the lives of the saints, one finds that they are in reality not much different than us. So why the "Magnus"?
A few days ago I attended the Rabat feast, where stuck to the church facade in large print (very large) were the words MAGNUS SANCTUS PAULUS, and I think we all agree that St. Paul is indeed a great saint. In the second letter to the Corinthians, however, he does admit great trouble - something which he calls "thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan". It stung so much that on three different occasions it seems to have defeated St. Paul, who begged God to remove it. And always came the same response - "My grace is sufficient for thee"; a kind of swift dismissal of the problem by reminding the saint that he has all he needs.
St. Paul explains to us here, from personal experience, that at his weakest moment, at his most fragile, God helps man and transforms him into something greater. What man cannot do with his own abilities is not the end; it is in fact the start of saintliness. In other words, the true "Magnus" is he who realises that he is weak and lets God work in and through him.
May it be that in these feast-filled months we realise that true greatness lies not in the fine-clad man on the adorned pedestal, but in the man splayed on the wooden cross. Peace be with you.