If you preside at a dinner, be one with the guests. Sirach 32:1
I knew I wanted to be a priest in the second grade, but when I flunked the altar boy test for the third time, I thought I should come up with an alternative just in case.
That was especially true after Sister of Charity of Nazareth Mary Ancilla told me that I’d probably “never be any good around the altar.” (For that crack, I made her sit in the front pew at my “first Mass!”)
My “just in case” alternative was to become a chef. Along those lines, let me tell the world a secret that I have been holding onto for the last 48 years, something I have always been embarrassed to tell anyone about. I won a purple ribbon in a 4-H bread-baking contest in the seventh grade.
I have never been quite sure if I won the highest color ribbon they gave out because of my bread or because I was the first male in a 4-H club to ever dare such a risky feat in Meade County, Ky.
While I am very happy I didn’t flunk out of the seminary and have to go to culinary school, I do enjoy cooking once in a while — not routine day-after-day cooking, but cooking for friends every now and then.
It is not only a relaxing hobby, but these days it is a matter of survival as a priest because more than 68 percent of us live alone and housekeepers/cooks are a thing of the past in more and more dioceses.
To help address that need, I actually asked my friend, Tim Schoenbachler, to help me publish a cookbook for priests last year. It is called “Daily Bread: A Handbook for Priests Learning to Cook for Themselves.” (There is a companion volume for non-clergy titled, “Cooking: A Guide for Beginners.”)
Before that, with the help of another friend, Jim Patterson II, I had a beautiful state-of-the-art teaching kitchen built at St. Meinrad Seminary to teach seminarians and priests how to cook simple healthy meals.
Two of my favorite movies are about the transformative power of cooking and eating — “Babette’s Feast” (1987) and “Chocolat” (2000). The thing that those eating experiences had in common was the care that went into preparation and the bonding that happened between those who gathered together and savored every little bite.
One of the saddest things about our culture is that people gobble their food individually and dine less and less as families.
Jesus chose a sacred meal as his farewell gift and the connection between being a priest and being a chef is not lost on me. Hosting a wonderful dinner for those you love and presiding at the Eucharist for fellow believers every weekend are not worlds apart.
The Scriptures speak regularly about bread, wine, banquets, wedding receptions and tables spread in reference to heaven.
For that reason, I feel like a priest both at the stove and the altar.
Fr. J. Ronald Knott