Tuesday, November 18, 2008

History teaches us....

A Tale of Two Pastors
The stunning marble Last Supper frontispiece which is now obscured from view by three chairs in front of the altar at OLL---one example of how the priorities of Msgr. Lisante are radically different from those of another new pastor in an adjoining parish.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way---"

So begins Dickens' classic "Tale of Two Cities," a beautiful passage comparing the extreme social conditions of 17th c. England and France. A similarly wide gap exists between two pastors of adjacent parishes in the DRVC. Their different styles and spiritual priorities reveal a strange mix of ideologies existing side by side in this diocese.

A new pastor in a parish near Our Lady of Lourdes---we'll call him Pastor #2---has spent his first year quietly guiding his parish in a dramatic restoration and renewal of his historic church. It is quite instructive to compare his initial projects with those of Msgr. Lisante, Pastor #1, at OLL.

The first thing Pastor #2 did was to refurbish a prominent image of Our Lady. He hired a professional artist to restore the image and brighten the colors and had it replaced in its original position of honor in the front of the church. New lighting was also installed to illuminate the steeple cross.

At OLL, however, the opening act under Pastor #1's (Msgr. Lisante's) management was the removal of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima from the altar. The much-loved statue was placed in a cleaning closet until numerous protests and complaints forced the pastor to move it back into the church in a less prominent position. In addition, unlike Pastor #2 who highlighted the steeple cross on his church, Pastor #1 took the crucifixes off the church and chapel altars.

Next, Pastor #2 dedicated his energies to moving the tabernacle to the center of the sanctuary, according to the specific wishes of Bishop Murphy. A new tabernacle altar and main altar were ordered from Carrara, Italy, and a design selected with great care. A description of the altars from his parish bulletin: "The altars are white Carrera marble, the arch inserts are red Verona marble, the arches are gold mosaic and the images are colorful Eucharistic Mosaics of the Pelican feeding her young and the Chalice and Host with grapes and wheat clusters. Both altars are beautifully hand crafted in Italy."

Pastor #2 declared in the bulletin his great satisfaction with the progress on the new altars: "To be at this point in bringing the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist to the center of our lives is a spiritually exciting and uplifting moment in my life."

In contrast, Pastor #1 (Msgr. Lisante), upon his arrival, immediately authorized the placement of three block-shaped chairs in front of the main altar, obstructing the beautiful marble bas-relief of the Last Supper. Apparently, his main objective was to bring the priest and not Jesus into the center of attention, a move that has met with intense disapproval from many parishioners.

Pastor #2 has established a full schedule of confessions, making the sacrament of penance readily available for the people of the parish. Again, as I've mentioned several times, this is in keeping with Bishop Murphy's special requests of all pastors in the diocese:

Pastor #2's Confession Schedule:
Saturday Afternoon: 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. & following the 7:30 p.m. Mass
Sunday: 1/2 hour before Mass beginning before 9:30 a.m. Mass
Weekday Mornings: following the 8:00 a.m. Mass
First Saturday: following the 8:00 a.m. Mass

Pastor #1 (Msgr. Lisante), as I've pointed out before, is drastically cutting confession hours at OLL. Saturday evening confessions have been eliminated. Weekday confessions after the 8am Mass have also been cut, along with monthly confessions for the school. When the new schedule takes effect, there will only be one hour of confessions/week at OLL.

Both pastors have a lengthy weekly message in the parish bulletin. Pastor #1 (Msgr. Lisante) fills his with random anecdotes, parish news and a few quasi-religious reflections. Pastor #2 uses his column instead to instruct the faithful on important points of Catholic doctrine. Past columns have focused on Baptism, prayer, Scripture reading, and the Sunday Mass obligation, to name a few.

I found this column of Pastor #2 most striking. Noticing that some in the parish felt marginalized by past events, like a good shepherd, he tackles the issue head-on in an attempt to heal the ill feelings and disunity:

"However, it is sad that people spend years harboring ill feelings and holding old grudges. As long as we remain human beings, we will have to deal with and move on from the obstacles that these actions cause. Thank God, we do move forward and will continue to do so.

I hope we will all continue to pray for a healing of all the ill feelings of the past. With our renewed focus on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, I believe that healing will come. I believe that Our Lady . . . will be a vehicle of that healing for us as a parish."

Tragically, Pastor #1 (Msgr. Lisante) has not yet publicly reached out to the people of OLL in an attempt to heal the growing division between him and a number of his people who are unhappy with the rapid and baffling changes he has made to their parish life.

As his Installation Mass approaches, before his new agenda is announced, perhaps Pastor #1 might take a few pointers from Pastor #2: his attention and care of Our Lady's image, his enthusiastic efforts to make Christ the center of the parish, his interest in beautifying and restoring the sanctuary, his concern that confessions be widely available, his effort to give a solid instruction in the fundamentals of the Faith to the parishioners, and finally, his concern that rifts and ill feelings in the parish be healed and unity restored.

That such stark contrasts between pastoral styles and practice are allowed to exist in adjoining parishes intrigues me. Which parish is the preferred model in this diocese? Is it "anything goes," or is it something else which makes each pastor feel free to pursue totally different agendas?

That's a tale for another day.

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