The past two plus years have truly been a great challenge, a keen learning experience, and a grand new adventure for me. Like all of us in this Covid pandemic, I’ve had to learn new ways of engaging my congregation and caring for their health and welfare. Also, like many of us, I’ve experienced the frustrations that the lull in parish activity brings, like being prevented from offering works of mercy and sacramental ministry. But unlike many others, I took advantage of this lull to direct my attention to some self-improvement by earning a master’s degree in pastoral theology at LMU.
Happily, I was able to use my weekly day off on Mondays to attend classes. That was the easy part. The rest was quite hard. LMU is only a mile away from LAX, so my morning and evening commutes down highways 91 and 105 were marked on my Google navigator by a solid red line. The first few weeks were especially daunting. After many years away from academics, going back to school was frightening. The classes were rigorous and the teachers demanding. Nevertheless, I made up my mind to go through with it no matter how hard it gets.
So I started my life as a student again and did my best to fulfill my obligations—doing the reading assignments and projects, meeting the professors and getting my papers in on time. It got easier when I started to get excited about the new things I was learning—and I learned a lot. My courses focused mostly on leadership in pastoral ministry and spiritual direction. These included a wide range of topics including migration, liberation theology, feminist theology, Black Lives Matter, LGBT, same-sex marriage, gang issues, and Laudato Si.
We also examined the changes that had occurred from the early Church through the Middle Ages up until now. We especially focused on changes in the ways different cultures expressed their spirituality throughout the ages, such as novenas, rosaries, posadas, and processions. All these different cultural approaches and traditions come together to make up our church community. I can now see how this relates to our own SVD Characteristic Dimensions, and why it is so important for us and our lay associates to be grounded in them.
Above all, the program at LMU helped me to better my understanding of my role as a pastor. I learned that I need to clearly identify the issues and get to know the people and their roots before launching new projects for the community. It also strengthened my commitment to interculturality—to live our SVD identity in our multicultural communities in an intercultural way. I now have a much better grasp of how the intercultural example that we give our parishioners will help them to live and work together as the one body of Christ. Although we are different in so many ways, we have our unity in Christ. We need to help our people see this more clearly so that we are able celebrate our rich diversity together.
I never thought anything good could come from Covid-19 but, without neglecting my pastoral responsibilities, by the grace of God I was able to use the Covid-induced slowdown to open up new horizons. I can only thank the pandemic and God for giving me this opportunity and the spirit of persistence not to give up. I took it on, I found the support that I needed, and I followed it to the end. I get as much satisfaction from knowing that I was able to follow through with this as I do from my shiny new “sheepskin” and all the new knowledge that it represents.
It was very difficult—maybe the most difficult challenge I’ve ever faced. At first, I worried if I could make the grade. But gradually, after a couple of semesters, I realized that I could make it all the way through to graduation. And that was a great day! But I expect that there will be many more great days ahead. This program has helped me to change my outlook. My spirit has been renewed and I am filled with enthusiasm for the work ahead of me. I now know just how essential such ongoing formation is and I would hope that that each of us may take the opportunities presented to us to grow and expand in our ministry.
– Fr Beni Leu, SVD