Column: Caring for the environment helps the soul
Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 24, 2013 13:10
Cura personalis has served the Society of Jesus well, but the time has come for Jesuit colleges and universities to find a more expansive focus. Such a move will be difficult but in line with Jesuit developments more broadly.
On one level, cura personalis informs the relationship between Jesuit leaders and those they oversee; they are called to strike a balance between it and cura apostolica — that is, between concern for the individual Jesuit and attention to the Society’s mission.
Jesuit colleges and universities have almost universally adopted cura personalis to describe their distinctiveness. At Loyola, the phrase appears within the web domains of Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, Finance and Administration, and Mission and Ministry. It is understood to refer variously to concern for the whole person and respect for the individual.
I suspect one reason for its proliferation is that it displaces an earlier and more limited emphasis on the soul.
To be sure, St. Ignatius was concerned about the whole person. Yet, based on exploratory word counts of early documents such as the Constitutions and Spiritual Exercises, I would hazard the assertion that early Jesuits placed greater emphasis on the soul — its progress, benefit, edification and, above all, salvation — an emphasis in keeping with late medieval and early modern Catholic sensibilities.
Concern for the whole person represents a more holistic view of the human that values both spirit and matter, body and soul. It fits well with humanistic trends and aligns with the name of a major area of scholarship — the humanities.
Yet, it, too, is limited, and Jesuits internationally are beginning to agree as evidenced by recent documents entitled “We Live in a Broken World”: Reflections on Ecology (1999) and A Special Report on Ecology: Healing a Broken World (2011).
One of the subsections in the Special Report is entitled “Care for Creation: The Development of a New Dimension in Jesuit Mission.” In Italian, the title begins, “Cura per la creazione.”
Just as the early Jesuit commitment to salvation of souls did not exclude concern for the person, so cura personalis need not conflict with concern for creation. And yet, words matter.
We need to transition to language that allows for a more expansive focus on all creation, a focus that aligns with the biblical and liturgical tradition, and that is ultimately more humanistic.
The transition will be difficult, as will marketing to incoming students that they, and we, are not what matter most. We are good to be sure, but creation taken altogether is “very good,” according to Genesis 1:34.
Similarly, with the words “all you have created rightly gives you praise,” the Catholic liturgy depicts all creation singing God’s glory, a hymn that is diminished by environmental degradation.
Finally, we are part of the warp and weave of creation. We are creation become conscious and creative, but our well-being and that of our successors relies utterly on the flourishing of the rest of creation.
In preparation for an upcoming Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities conference entitled “Who Do We Think We Are: Cura Personalis and Cura Creationis,” a group of Loyola faculty gathered recently to consider the place of interdisciplinary conversation at Loyola and to reflect on what difference it would make for creation, not humanity, to focus our work at Loyola.
I look forward to reporting back on the results of the conference and to ongoing conversation here at Loyola.
Tom Ryan, Ph.D., is a Loyola Institute for Ministry professor and may be reached at email@example.com.