HALEDON Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM) at William Paterson University, Wayne, recently kicked off its new “Faith on Fire” faith-formation series. It seeks to give participating students a more mature grasp of their Catholicism, by first exploring the very heart of the faith: the Eucharist.
Father Philip-Michael Tangorra, the ministry’s chaplain and the series instructor, explained the “source and summit” of our faith in terms that the young people can understand: love for another person. “The Eucharist is the source of God’s love and mercy. It’s the fire of God’s love encountering us. It envelops the people of God, the Church, with an intimate love that not only changes the substance of the bread, water and wine [into the Body and Blood of Christ], but also transforms the people of God, the Church,” said Father Tangorra at the first session of the six-session “Faith on Fire” series, held in CCM’s Prince of Peace Chapel, down the road from William Paterson.
The first session, “The Eucharist: Fire of God’s Sacred Heart,” found Father Tangorra engaging the audience, which also included non-Catholics and older adults, in an interactive lesson for the first hour of the 90-minute session. Participants asked many probing questions during and after the priest’s presentation. “Faith on Fire” sessions are scheduled for the first and third Thursdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. until April 21. On Feb. 18, the second part of the series, “The Holy Spirit: Fire of God’s Love and Soul of the Church,” examined the role of the Holy Spirit and how it sets the Church on fire with the love of God.
“College will be the last opportunity for these young people to encounter and learn more about the Catholic faith. The next time will be when they get married and then have children, which has been taking place later and later in life. Right now, their intellectual understanding of the faith does not match their understanding of the subjects that they are studying,” said Father Tangorra, who got the inspiration for the series that he created from “Soul on Fire,” a hit by the contemporary Christian band, Third Day. “By the end of ‘Faith on Fire,’ I want these young people to have an adult understanding of the faith, so that they have the ability to apply it to their adult lives and see how it fits in their relationships, including with God,” he said.
Father Tangorra compared the Eucharist — the Body, Soul and Divinity of Jesus — to a life experience that participants can understand: marriage.
“The Eucharist is Jesus being intimate with us. Jesus sets the people of God on fire with his Sacred Heart — that sacrificial love — in the Eucharist: the thanksgiving sacrifice of our deliverance from sin, death and the devil. It should make us become radiators of that love and inspire us to do something,” said Father Tangorra, who also has been presenting two different faith-formation series at two parishes — Annunciation in Wayne and St. Andrew the Apostle in Clifton. “The priest symbolizes the bridegroom — Jesus — who is married to the people of God in the bond of marriage,” he said.
During his presentation, Father Tangorra brought to life the lesson — which included references to Hebrew, Latin and Greek words, terms related to Catholic theology and the writings of Popes — by adding humor and engaging the young people. He asked them questions and encouraged them to join in interactive activities, such as closing their eyes, stretching out their hands and imaging that they are holding Jesus’ Sacred Heart in the Eucharist. In turn, the audience peppered the priest with questions about the Consecration; differences in understanding the Eucharist between Catholics and other Christian denominations; and why we need to seek God’s forgiveness in Confession.
Father Tangorra considered the first “Faith on Fire” session to have been a “heart-to-heart conversation with the students.” For the future, he plans to incorporate more videos and other technology to make his presentations even more interactive. The discussion between participants and the priest during the first session got so passionate, that it continued until 11 p.m. — long after it concluded.
For the rest of the series, Father Tangorra plans to examine the following topics:
• “The Church and its Capacity to Purify, Illuminate and Perfect with the Fire of God” on March 3: This will explore the mystical reality of the Church and its nature to make us all holy with the fire of God’s love.
• “The Sacrament of Matrimony: the Fire of God’s Love Made Present to the World” on April 7. This will explore the power of the public witness of marriage to set the world on fire with the love of God.
• “Being on Fire with the Love of God” on April 21. This will explore what a Christian life looks like when on fire with God’s love.
Afterward, Lexi Metzler, a CCM member and a William Paterson senior majoring in journalism, called “Faith on Fire” “a great opportunity to learn more about the Catholic faith.”
“Father Phil takes any questions you give him — from Catholics and atheists alike. He also clears up a lot of misconceptions about the Church,” said Metzler, a member of CCM’s governing board.
After arriving as a transfer student at William Paterson two years ago, Metzler felt an instant connection with the other members of CCM.
“We are all different people but have common beliefs and goals. We love God and want to see this ministry grow,” said Metzler of St. Therese Parish, Succasunna, who noted that CCM has strengthened her faith and values. “If you have a relationship with God and represent your faith, you can keep yourself pure and holy and resist temptations.”
[Information: Catholic Campus Ministry at William Paterson University (973) 553-3955.]