‘Food is love’: Priest preaches sharing at meals

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Fr. Leo Patalinghug sees nothing unusual with his dabblings in the culinary world. After all, the Catholic Church has known about the importance of the family meal for more than 2,000 years.

Fr. Leo Patalinghug.

That’s the whole point, and appeal, of this budding international celebrity chef, author and professor.

Fr. Leo, as he is generally known, is helping families rediscover the reason for a meal, with a twist.

In his book, “Grace Before Meals,” he helps families come together with delicious and simple meals, and then he offers a side dish of “digestible” theology.

Each recipe is accompanied by discussion questions and Scripture verses to read and talk over with the family at the dinner table.

“Food is love, but it’s only love if it’s shared,” Fr. Leo said. “What happens on the Sabbath? You eat and rest with your family. It’s about communion with God and each other, That’s why we keep holy the Sabbath day.”

The book includes more than 30 recipes centered on liturgical observances, family holidays and personal accomplishments.

Fr. Leo also hosts a web and cable cooking show, which, along with his cookbook and website, goes by the name, “Grace Before Meals.”

He has been featured in many periodicals and on numerous television networks, and won a cook-off challenge on Food Network with celebrity chef and restaurateur, Bobby Flay.

For all the interest, publicity and fame garnered over the past nine years since its inception, Fr. Leo said it’s really all about God.

“I feed them and nourish them the way Jesus did. It is eucharistic theology,” he said. “It is something so basic as a meal, but it’s a beautiful experience.”

Drawing on the analogy between the family dinner table and the altar table, Fr. Leo wants family and friends to experience love, acceptance and communication in its most basic form, over a simple meal, even if it’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“The Church has, theologically, been involved in food service,” he said. “We’re connecting with God and doing something sacred.”

His hobby to cook for others has become a movement to strengthen Catholic families, which build stronger parishes and communities.

Research shows having frequent family dinners can reduce the risks of teen suicide, drug use and pregnancy.

“Children can get fed from other sources that are, unfortunately, intermingled with half-truths,” Fr. Leo said. “We become what we eat, and if we eat enough lies we become broken.”

Although he’s comfortable in an apron, Fr. Leo is a man of the cloth. He is chair of pastoral theology and professor for homiletics and spiritual theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.

He attended seminary at the North American College in Rome, spending his free time in Italian restaurant kitchens.

Fr. Leo was ordained in 1999. He was assigned to St. John’s Church in Westminster, Md., where he was frequently invited to have a home-cooked meal, but liked to turn the table and cook for his hosts, instead.

As the youngest of five growing up in a Filipino home, Fr. Leo could often be found in the kitchen helping his mother, a home economics teacher, prepare dinner.

“Cooking was just a hobby, but I have to believe that at my ordination, as I gave myself to God, I also gave him my hobbies,” Fr. Leo said. “He turned it in to something else.”

By using culinary analogies in his cookbook, Fr. Leo gives appetizing, bite-sized servings of inspiration, advice and teaching.

“It is filled, 100 percent, with sound theology and combined with social implications,” he said. “It’s a renewed opportunity to evangelize.”

And his work never ends. Due to be released in September is his latest cookbook, “Spicing Up Married Life,” just in time for his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

Fr. Leo said this book tackles tougher issues like money and childrearing to encourage couples to engage in difficult conversations.

“It’s a very different book. I worked hard between providing inspiration and information,” he said.

The breakout chef who previously choreographed break-dancers and taught martial arts, once thought of becoming a journalist or lawyer. Fortunately, he was called to break bread at the table of life and has been very successful at it.

“I feed people the bitter herbs and medicine of life,” Fr. Leo said.

“Most people are hungry—hungry for the truth.”

To read more about Fr. Leo, go to www.gracebeforemeals.com.

His show, “Savoring our Faith,” airs Sunday at 8:30 p.m., EDT, on EWTN.

Fr. Leo is scheduled to speak at the June 6 Phoenix Legatus Chapter meeting, after the group joins for Mass.

Legatus, the latin word for “ambassador,” offers a unique approach to business leadership by fostering spiritual growth, formation and commitment — which are the elements that also work to bind together families.

While Fr.  Leo brings these fundamental values to the dinner table, Legatus brings them to the marketplace and public square.

For more information about Legatus, its membership qualifications and mission, please visit the Legatus website: Legatus.org.

For information about the Phoenix Legatus Chapter,  please email ,Keith Tigue, Phoenix Chapter President, or Maureen Adams, Phoenix Chapter Vice President and Membership Chairman, at legatusofphoenix@gmail.com.

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