With extremely busy schedules and technologies constantly intervening in our lives, this decade is considered the most educated, busiest, and multi-tasking generation in the history of civilization. Facebook, iPhones, and Internet are just a few fixes that prominently set us apart from any other generation. Moreover, much of the youth today are victims of this fast-paced age, with pre-teens growing up too fast and teenagers involved in adult lifestyles. Adults are not exempted either—many are wearied from trying to pay bills and still tend to their families.
Divorce rates and teenage pregnancies have shot up in percentages from the single digits to double digits in the last two decades. There are tons of reasons to consider, ranging from too much freedom, to media influence, to poor role models. But Father Leo Patalinghug cites the disintegration of family to be one of the main factors in this age of hyper-movement, “I believe that societies are as strong as families living in society.” Acknowledging the realities of the generation, this Catholic priest formed the movement Grace Before Meals. It is not about literally saying grace before meals as the title suggests, but it is a movement that emphasizes the importance of family, encouraging them to prepare food together and gather around the table to have a meal. The founder, who also wrote the book Grace Before Meals: Recipes for Family Life, explains, “If society continues to force families to be so busy [that] they don’t have time to spend with each other, then families have the responsibility to make the time—to master their schedules, and to put their lives into perspective so that they spend time on the things that matter most—each other.” Fr. Patalinghug continues, “[The movement] is a reminder of the blessing of the table. By blessing, I don’t just mean the food, I also mean the gift of life—the people around the table. Grace Before Meals reminds families that love is expressed when you share time with each other and feed each other, not just with food for the belly, but the encouragement that comes from loving support.”
Statistically, this strategy of breaking bread with the family works! According to a study conducted by Colombia University, children who eat together with their families five to seven times a week have a 40% chance of expressing problems or thoughts with their parents. “Academic performance went up 38%. Kids were 142% less likely to smoke, 93% less likely to drink, 191% less likely to use marijuana and 169% less likely to have more than half of their friends be drug users,” Colombia researchers have stated.
Grace Before Meals reminds families that love is expressed when you share time with each other and feed each other, not just with food for the belly, but the encouragement that comes from loving support.
Fr. Patalinghug, who is currently a director of pastoral field education at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland, began the movement when he started scheduling mealtimes during counseling sessions. What originally started as a joke quickly became a great opportunity for him to share his faith the way Jesus did. “The ‘Theology of Food’ is represented throughout the scriptures,” says the Catholic priest, “tying food and faith is as easy as looking at the examples of Jesus from the first miracle [the conversion of the water to wine in Cana], feeding five thousand, the last supper, and promising heaven to believers represented as a banquet. When we see food as a blessing, we can see why it’s important for families to leave room for God at the dinner table.
After all, [God] leaves room for us at His table every Sunday [in communion]”. The priest’s objective is to see Grace Before Meals create mini “Thanksgivings” throughout the year.
Before he was ordained in 1999, he pursued degrees in writing and political science, intending to study law or journalism. He currently holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and has actually won a national competition for full contact stick fighting. He is multilingual and his other hobbies include writing, singing, and jogging. Because of his effectiveness working with teens and their parents, he has become an increasingly popular conference speaker. The priest discovered his love for cooking in Rome where he attended seminary. His popularity in the food world has grown enormously in the past couple of years. He has cooked for Delaware’s State Fair and has gained international recognition after being featured on PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. He also won the Steak Fajitas Challenge against popular Iron Chef Bobby Flay on the Food Network show Throwdown with Bobby Flay. While he has many diverse talents and passions, he channels them all towards his work for God.
“What I try to do is show how food and faith, if brought together, can actually help people understand one another,” he shares. “People talk about religion all the time—but badly. What I hope to do is provide people an opportunity to discuss faith and all other important topics around the comfort of a family meal…a place where people listen to each other, respect each other, learn from each other, and hopefully celebrate the things that we all have in common.”
Learn more about Fr. Leo Patalinghug and Grace Before Meals at www.gracebeforemeals.com