The top 5 lessons I learned in the MA in Spiritual and Pastoral Care Program in no particular order are:
1. Be careful sharing your theology with others – What you believe about God may not be what another person believes, and even if you are well meaning you may hurt someone else by imposing your views. In Theological Anthropology, Dr. Gerry Fialkowski told us many stories. One that stands out for me was the story of what one well-meaning, but misguided person said to a child grieving for her mother. It was not a pastoral response. She said, “God needed your mommy in heaven, which is why she died.” That child needs her mother. Only a cruel God would deprive a child of her mother. Is that the God I believe in?
2. God is mystery – God continues to reveal Godself to us, God is continuously creating, and God’s work is never finished. All we have are metaphors to describe God. Our human minds do not have the capacity to fully understand God. If you think you understand God, drop that concept you think you know because you have got it all wrong. St. Augustine said, “God is not what you imagine or what you think you understand. If you understand, you have failed…”
I now live by that concept. Surprise and discovery are what I find here at Loyola on this journey toward union with God. I am constantly reminding myself to stay open to new possibilities, new understandings, new invitations, and new calls from God.
3. Self-Care is Sacred. – It is not selfish to practice self-care — it is self-preservation for someone in a helping profession. We are so highly prone to burn out, and when this occurs we can cause harm to those for which we care. “Physician heal thyself.” (Luke 4:23). I have studied the wounded healers (like Henri Nouwen) who bind up their own wounds, and in so doing learn empathy/compassion. They sooth others’ wounds because they first tended to their own.
4. I AM capable of being a spiritual director – In my tradition of Roman Catholicism, priests and religious do most of the spiritual guidance. It is only in the last generation that lay men and women have taken on a greater role in Ministry within the Church. There are still many traditional and conservative individuals who would rather go to a priest or nun with a spiritual matter viewing him or her as “more qualified.” I had carried this with me and it made me doubt my ability to be a spiritual director. But then, I took Spiritual Direction with Fr. Brian McDermott, SJ. He showed me that I do have what it takes, that I can be a spiritual director, and that anyone who has a true calling regardless of whether or not they have been ordained can companion someone in their spiritual journey.
5. There are distinct differences between spiritual direction, pastoral care, pastoral counseling, and psychotherapy – As I sit with someone in a spiritual direction session, often relationship issues enter into our space and that is okay. The Spirit is there between us continuing God’s work of creating by mending fences, changing hearts, calling to conversion, reconciling, nurturing, tending, and challenging. My directees and pastoral care receivers constantly teach me what they need from me. If I can assist them with that need then I will; however, if I cannot then it is time for me to refer them to another professional.
A plethora of personal growth and formation takes place here at Loyola. I could communicate so many more lessons I have learned. This is just a sample of life at Loyola as an MA student in the Pastoral Counseling Department.