BY ALYSSA PASTERNAK | October 14, 2014
“They did not understand that God is the God of surprises, that God is always new: he never contradicts himself, never says that what he had said was wrong, ever, but he always surprises us. And they did not understand, and closed themselves in this system created with the best of intentions.” -Pope Francis
God is a God of Surprises. This is not news to those of us with children, especially young children. My life at home with my children is filled with small and large surprises daily. To start, I have two daughters with whom I stay at home. Surprise! I have returned to my home state. Surprise! My older daughter woke her younger sister with a happy embrace this morning. Surprise! In God’s game of peek-a-boo, God’s face is revealed to us momentarily, unexpectedly, and then often concealed again for what can seem like an endless amount of time.
For those of us following the Extraordinary Synod on the Family even casually, we are witnessing a slight glimpse of the God of Surprises. For one, Francis, the bishop of Rome, called the synod a year ago to discuss controversial topics relating to the family. Secondly, based on the mid-term report, it appears that listening and open dialogue actually may be happening. (surprise!) Reading through the report, I hear implicitly a few Jesuit values; one is cura personalis, a theme that probably sounds familiar to those of us influenced by the Jesuits.
Generally speaking, cura personalis refers to the care of the whole person – emotionally, socially, spiritually, intellectually, physically. Interpreted through the Spiritual Exercises, care of the person also means making room for the Holy Spirit to work in the life of the person. Cura personalis affirms human dignity, as creatures made in the image of God for the purpose of “praising, reverencing and serving God.” In my experience as a college student, care for the whole person also included a sense of belonging and worth within the greater community.
Whether or not this Jesuit phrase rings a bell, most of us in our families practice cura personalis. My husband and I hope that the context of our family can be a place where persons flourish. Certainly, we strive to foster the whole development of the unique soul of each of our children
(who really are growing up way too fast…). The same is true for the spousal relationship, where mutual giving and receiving show care for the whole person.
In many of our families, this care of persons extends beyond the ‘traditional’ model of family. How many of our families include couples who are cohabitating, homosexual couples, children conceived outside of marriage, divorced couples, people who are divorced and remarried, and so forth? This certainly characterizes my extended family. In our family we hope to show care for the whole person as she or he is, trusting that God is at work in life of the person, affirming dignity and extending belonging.
However, my husband and I experience a serious disconnect between this value of cura personalis and the way that many faith communities fail to welcome and care for the diversity of families. It’s probably not news to the reader, for instance, that the teaching of Roman Catholicism in these ‘non-traditional’ cases has been one of condemnation. ut the God of Surprises has allowed this statement to come from the mid-term report: “It is necessary to accept people in their concrete being, to know how to support their search, to encourage the wish for God and the will to feel fully part of the Church, also on the part of those who have experienced failure or find themselves in the most diverse situations.” To my ears, this sounds like cura personalis. Accept people. Trust that the Spirit is at work in their lives. Provide a sense of authentic belonging. This is good news for families of all types.
The family – the domestic church, the cell of human society – needs the larger Body of Christ to show mercy, love and care for the whole person and for all families. It is impossible to know how this mid-term report will unfold in the upcoming week and in the year leading to the Synod in 2015. Perhaps in God’s game of peek-a-boo, there will be another long silence. Nevertheless, we wait with expectant faith for the God of Surprises.
Alyssa Pasternak Post lives in Pennsylvania with her husband Jeff and their two young daughters. Both are graduates of Wheeling Jesuit University (2002) and of the University of Dayton (2011), and Alyssa is a former Jesuit Volunteer (Jersey City, NJ – ’02 – ’03). She credits her Appalachian roots, along with experiences of rural poverty in Appalachia and Haiti during college and of urban poverty in Jersey City, as formative in her hopes to parent with justice. She has ministered in Catholic high schools and in parishes, seeking in each locale to live the magis. At present Alyssa is filled with gratitude for a few years of stay-at-home parenting (including a one-year adventure in homeschooling) and now works in full-time ministry among children, youth, and families at an urban Episcopal church.