Care of the Person, Care of the Self

mom and child on summer walkCare of the person (cura personalis) is one of the common principles of Ignatian spirituality and pedagogy. It is rooted in the faith that God has created me to do some good in the world, and that through discernment I can come to an understanding of how to love the people in my life as Jesus might, awakening in them the same desire to give their lives in loving service to others. Cura personalis has an eschatological dimension—a fancy theological way of expressing that all the ways we love others are oriented toward building the kingdom of God little by little, allowing God to use us in the workings of a divine symphony.

One implication of this faith that is appropriate during the summer months is that our care for other persons must not neglect the care of that one person whom we will know our entire lives: ourselves. For those who practice care for others, it can be easy to neglect the self. Parenting, I find, can elicit from me patterns of self-giving which are not really sustainable. Losing sleep, always seeking the good of the other, spending time on what the other needs instead of what I need—all these I tend to write off as so many types of sacrificial love that I can offer up to God.

Yet the legal maxim nemo dat quod non habet (no one gives what he does not have) applies to the spiritual life as well. Care of the self is integral to the desire to practice cura personalis. This summer, perhaps it is time to return to the springs of living water that are the Scriptures and the Church’s liturgy. To use a different approach, consider how care of the self can include such disparate activities as taking long naps, reading a challenging essay, physical exercise, foreign travel, walks in nature, conversation with friends, a glass of wine on a beautiful lanai, or climbing a mountain. Care of the self will include building up my capacities to undertake the mission God has entrusted to me; but it will also mean sometimes simply enjoying the gifts of leisure. In both cases, care of the self is a work of cooperating with God in the eschatological work of building the kingdom.

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Tim Muldoon
Tim Muldoon is the author of a number of books, including The Ignatian Workout and Living Against the Grain, and teaches in the Department of Philosophy at Boston College.


  1. not so much care that we neglect our own needs in the process… balance and prudence–not a term we hear much theses days -prudence- good judgment in doing good deeds….or cura personalis,,,,same difference maybe ?

  2. Parents are the most unselfish persons you will ever meet. We have a saying back home that a parent would gladly give a spoonful of food to his kid rather than eat it to prevent him from going hungry. How would that be in line with “cura personalis?”

    • “Cause the only way to find your life
      Is to lay your own life down
      And I believe it’s an easy price
      For the life that we have found”
      (Andrew Peterson, Dancing in the Minefields, song Lyrics)

      This is such a wonderful saying and question Maria. You and I, and I believe most parents, would and do make sure our children eat the last of the food, rather than us, to keep them from hunger. Food and eating it is essential to living. To me the saying from back home echoes the fact that we as parents put the actual life of our children above our own. We would die if need be in order that our children could live on. I think Jesus is our Perfect example of what is most important. He gave His life literally for His children, us. So, to accept death so our children may continue to live is an act of the greatest love. Jesus said:

      “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you”
      (John 13:34 NIV)

      Is there any greater way to love others “oriented toward building the kingdom of God” (Tim Muldoon) than to give your own life up, in order that someone else’s life can continue?

      So, such love, as your saying speaks of to me, certainly eclipses taking care of oneself.

      As for the larger meaning of cura personalis I think there is room for our agreed belief.

      Still, just considering “care of oneself” vs “care of our children”….
      you and I as parents probably agree that if we did allow our children to go hungry, when we could have gone hungry in place of them, we would not be doing something which was taking care of our deepest self… in this way we might say that going hungry, (or even dying) in place of our children is an act which while we would do it to care for our children’s lives, in so doing the action would care for our deepest selfs.

  3. Too often we, as Christians and Catholics, tend to forget that we need time to refresh, replenish and restore our selves… We forget that even God rested on the seventh day. THANK YOU for the reminder and maybe even the permission to “REST” in Christ. Truly, we can not take others where we have not gone or any further than we have gone. And if we are tired, worn out, and/or ’empty’ then our mission is useless……….GOD BLESS YOU. AMEN

  4. I think that we often fear leisure because we aren’t being “productive”. However, leisure is the work of rest and regeneration of self. After all , how can we support the Pope and build strong families of we are not ok? How can we help God create the. Kingdom of Heaven if our lives have no time or energy for the work?

  5. Mark 12:30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”….I thought of this scripture after reading your article. We are taught all but the “yourself” portion of this scripture. I enjoyed reading your article.


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