Praying as a family before meals is an essential link to family life because it allows God to be part of your family’s experience. Through the incredible act of feeding one another, God is the link that strengthens families.
This was stressed in Zenit’s interview in Dublin, Ireland, last week, with Fr. Leo Patalinghug, American priest, chef & author of “Plating Grace: Elevating Culture and Family Life One Meal at a Time.”Fr Leo was giving a talk on the topic ‘Grace Before Meals, Recipes to Strengthen Family Life’ at the World Meeting of Families.
Raised and currently based in the Baltimore, Maryland area, but born in the Philippines, Fr. Leo is a priest member of a community of consecrated life, Voluntas Dei. He is the founder, host, and director of ‘Plating Grace,’ an international apostolate to help strengthen families and relationship through God’s gift of a family meal.
He has also established a non-profit organization, The Table Foundation, with the mission to elevate culture and family life, one meal at a time. He also hosts “Savoring Our Faith” on EWTN, which was developed following his dynamic win on the cooking competition, “Throw Down! with Bobby Flay.” Fr. Leo travels frequently for speaking engagements and pilgrimages to promote the importance of not what appears on the table, but who gathers around it.
Moreover, he is a former award-winning choreographer for break-dancing groups and 3rd degree Black Belt Martial Arts Instructor.
Zenit was on the ground in Ireland, and interviewed Fr. Leo there.
ZENIT: Father, to some, even some faithful nowadays, praying before meals seems to be a habit of the past. How many people today pray before meals?
Fr. Leo: My organization “Plating Grace” and “The Table Foundation” seek to elevate people’s understanding of food as a sacred gift that has the power to bring people together. While we know many of our Catholic Traditions are no longer respected or acknowledged, at least publicly, the act of coming together around The Table is reflective of a tradition that can bring about a sense of spirituality and faith again. Therefore, it seems that many people are experiencing grace around the table, even if they don’t fully acknowledge it yet – which is why I’m working to make those natural and supernatural connections.
ZENIT: Who taught you to pray before meals?
My parents shared the gift and discipline of praying together as a family – praying the rosary and of course praying grace before the meal. But at the seminary where I studied in Rome, I began to make the connections of the dinner table to The Lord’s Table and how God is “Plating Grace” for His Family at every Mass and every family meals.
ZENIT: Why is it important to pray just before eating, just as important as praying in other moments?
I actually don’t want to limit Grace to just a few words that people rush through just to eat. I try to remind everyone that my “Plating Grace” movement is about recognizing how Grace is not just a prayer, but it is first an action of the Holy Spirit to bring people together in love. Recognizing that desire for “communion of persons” is what’s most important.
ZENIT: What is the link between praying before meals and strengthening family life?
The link between praying as a family before meals and also at Mass is an essential link to family life because it allows God to be part of your family’s experience. In other words, God is the link that strengthens families through this incredible act of feeding one another.
ZENIT: Very often people eat quickly since they are rushing and don’t pray. What advice would you give them for getting into the habit of doing so?
It begins with your intention. When we want to do something good for someone, like prepare a meal for them – your family or friends or even the homeless and hungry – we have to ask ourselves “where does that good intention come from?”
The ultimate answer is, “this desire for good comes from God.” That simple acknowledgement is in of itself a form of prayer. From there, it requires the person to ask for the grace to formally say words of gratitude, blessing and then to recognize those who go without. That’s what it means to truly pray and to sincerely be part of the “Plating Grace” movement.
ZENIT: In the past, food shortages were a common problem, and hence they prayed for this situation to be resolved. Yet, now that today we have big quantities of food available, why should we still pray?
I believe that “abundance” can sometimes make people forget God. The Plating Grace movement is reminding people that our celebrations around delicious, sharing good times with family and friends, is a great opportunity to recognize God. It’s the purpose of the Catholic Feast Days. My purpose is simply to make sure we have a healthy and a balanced spirituality – that we don’t pray just in our needs, wants and hungers, but that we also can recognize God’s Providing Hand in our abundance and festivities.
ZENIT: Which prayers do you suggest at mealtime?
Any prayer that comes from the heart is a good prayer to suggest. But I also say that universal prayers – something we can say all together – shows how prayer can bring us together, and together we can go to God. So no matter what language, style, devotion or spontaneous prayer, we say we just have to make sure it comes from the heart, brings us closer to God and gives us more compassion for others.
On the NET: