Little is written about the Ignatian-Jesuit characteristic of cura personalis, which is Latin for “care for the whole person.” Cura personalis comes down to the respect for all that makes up each individual. As St. Paul reminds us, “the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body…” (1 Corinthians 12:12)
Our talents, abilities, physical attributes, personalities, desires, hearts, faith, and minds are all equally worthy of care and attention. The term cura personalis is typically heard in Jesuit universities and institutions. Why? Because their mission and purpose goes beyond the intellect of the head. When I worked at Georgetown University Hospital, cura personalis was a reminder to staff and patients that the hospital’s mission included not just the health of the body but also the health of the entire person.
In the same way, our Christian faith ought to involve not just head but heart, not just soul but body. Spiritual exercises are as important as physical exercises. Learning is as important as a good diet. We pray, learn, and eat healthy as ways to glorify God and care for our entire selves. Sadly, there is often great disregard for our minds and bodies, which are gifts from God. Obesity is an epidemic, religious involvement is minimal, and school dropout rates are too high.
St. Ignatius once wrote a letter to a Jesuit ordering him to take better care of his health after learning that he was not eating properly; his ministry was taking away from the proper care of his body. Ignatius wrote, “For the next three months, from now until September, you are to do no preaching, but are to look after your health.” Ignatius implored him to follow doctor’s advice under the vow of obedience.
The Benedictines have a deep spirituality of work and prayer. They know that the proper balance between work and prayer is necessary in the spiritual life. You cannot healthily have one without the other. In turn, they recognize that body and soul are both gifts from God.
Originally a call for the kind of care Jesuit superiors were to give to their subordinates, cura personalis is a call for you and me to love ourselves and others: the entire person, the entire gift of life from God given to us.