Nov. 13-19, 2003
By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Theology on Tap program spreads to Good News about Catholicism
Binghamton — P.T. Reardon’s is just like many neighborhood restaurants, with a bar, televisions and people gathered around to talk. For five weeks in October, it was also a place to learn about the Catholic Church. About 20 people attended the final session of Theology on Tap on Oct. 30 while drinking beer or soda and munching on wings and other snacks. The program was sponsored by the Nazareth Marian Center in Endicott.
Laurie Bowen, a member of the Marian Center and St. Casimir’s Parish in Endicott, organized the event. “It’s a national program. But locally, we actually wanted to draw from the community and we just wanted to have a casual evening where interesting topics are discussed.”
Theology on Tap programs started in the Midwest two decades ago and have spread throughout the country since then. “Traditionally it’s been young adults in a nice atmosphere, sort of a cafe atmosphere where young adults feel comfortable,” Bowen said, “to spend time with their peers discussing issues that probably they’re very concerned with at this time. So we try to get topics that would interest the Catholic public.”
Father Tom Ward presented two of the sessions; “The Natural Law” and “Sex and the City of God.” Father Jeff Paulish spoke on “Sacraments and Grace.” Attorney Jim Sacco presented “Recent Scandals, Answering Why.” Father Donald Bourgeois presented “Why the Catholic Church?” to conclude the sessions.
Father Bourgeois, the new pastor at Blessed Sacrament in Johnson City, is also episcopal liaison to the Catholic Sun. He touched on a number of topics in a little over an hour.
He gave two examples of people who’ve left the church. One, a personal friend, has joined an evangelical church in the South. He also shared the written story of a woman who returned to the church. “It’s interesting, I think, to understand why people are attracted away from Catholicism as much as we are attracted to Catholicism,” he said. “I think we all are somewhat undereducated and I think although I went to Catholic schools all my life, I would say before I became a priest I was undereducated. And even though I’ve been to seminary doesn’t mean I’m overeducated either,” said Father Bourgeois. “I think we can all learn more about the faith. I really think we have to do that. If we don’t do that, we are hurting ourselves primarily.”
He said that Catholics “can live and proclaim the faith with any kind of conviction that we are called to.” But he noted that’s “why we are intimidated by Protestants. We’re really intimidated by their conviction. They could defend anything. They could probably defend something way off base because they’re so convicted by what they believe.”
Father Bourgeois said that Catholics shouldn’t be afraid to defend their faith, even if it means not answering a question on the spot. “If I don’t want to look uninformed or unintelligent,” said Father Bourgeois, “say, ‘Well I’d have to look that up and get back to you tomorrow.’ ” Father Bourgeois spoke of the importance of Mass. “The Mass is patterned on Jewish worship and it goes back to apostolic times,” he said. “Yet the lower Protestant denominations gather together for scripture reading, lots of singing and so on and so forth. No regard at all for presentation of the gifts and or the celebration of the Eucharist.” And that’s what those who leave the Catholic Church long for, he said. “What brings them back, and number one always, is the Eucharist. It is the Eucharist. And when you talk to people who’ve been away, they will tell you there is something that was totally, totally missing and it is inevitably the Eucharist.”
Father Bourgeois stressed that the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist should be understood by all Catholics, particularly the youth. He also said it’s vital to have the youth practice their faith for the future of the church.
Theology on Tap was well received in the Binghamton area. All five sessions drew more than 20 people. Pat Mariano of St. Anthony’s Church in Endicott, is wondering what to do now that the sessions have ended. “It’s been excellent. It’s been a great way to learn more about our faith.” Mariano said. “I need to keep going, find what else is out there and keep learning.” “It’s a nice way to get to know other people. You’re breaking bread with people,” Mariano said. “It’s the speakers that brought me here. I came to listen to them, not to eat the food.” Linda Gance, also of St. Anthony’s, was impressed by Theology on Tap. “I heard that they were going to have several speakers here, including several priests, several topics. I’m interested in learning more about the Catholic faith and sharing it with others.” Gance is also looking for more. “I would love to see something like this continue,” she said.
The success of the five-week program may spur more sessions, according to organizer Laurie Bowen. “Bishop Sheen had a great quote. People do not like our faith or leave our church not because of what it is, but because of what they think it is. And we want to impart what it is and we know that the truth will excite people and bring them in,” she said. “It’s just that we want to create forums for that.”