A priest who defeated celebrity chef Bobby Flay on the cooking show, “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay,” entertained and catechized about 200 parishioners at St. Patrick Church Dec. 2.
The aroma of sizzling bell peppers, steaming flank steak and freshly squeezed citrus inundated St. Patrick’s Celtic Center as the priest prepared his signature steak fajitas — the dish he prepared for the “throwdown.”
But Father Leo Patalinghug, a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, is concerned about much more than tasty meals. He is the founder of the Grace Before Meals apostolate, a movement that aims to bring families together around the table to cook, talk and pray with one another. He hosts a weekly cooking show on EWTN where he encourages families to bond in the kitchen.
“In the domestic church, we need to get together around the family altar — which is the dining room table,” he said during an interview at St. Patrick, 1000 N. Beckley Station Road.
He believes family meals can help curb problems families face today and improve society in general.
“There’s a study out there that says if you want to reduce drug addiction, teen pregnancy, teen suicide, plus increase your teenagers’ SAT scores … you know what the number one factor in all of that is? A regular family meal,” he said.
During a lively presentation, he shared culinary tips and theological observations in the same breath.
“I’ve got some parsley as well as some cilantro,” he said as he reached for the herbs. “I’m going to mince that up, adding it to the guacamole … Here’s my knife. I’ve been cleaning it with this cleaning solution as we’re going along so it’s 100 percent pure, because cleanliness is next to godliness, which is why we have to go to confession before we receive communion.”
These analogies ran through every part of the meal preparation. Father Patalinghug has developed a sort of theology of food.
He described how to slice a bell pepper to minimize waste and, without stopping, went on to observe that at a table, one person eats while another person listens. Church, he noted, should be the same way. The congregation eats, literally consuming the Eucharist, and should be listening to God’s Word.
“Why do we need a savior? Because Adam and Eve broke God’s diet,” Father Patalinghug quipped. He pointed out references throughout Scripture that relate faith to food. He mentioned the wedding feast at Cana and he noted that at Christmas we recall that Christ, the Bread of Life, was first laid in a manger — a trough used to feed animals.
He shares these observations in a variety of settings, including his weekly cooking show, “Savoring Our Faith,” that airs on EWTN on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. The show also is carried on SiriusXM Radio. In addition, he has a website, blog and two cookbooks — one for families, called Grace Before Meals, and one for couples, called Spicing Up Married Life.
Like most diocesan priests, Father Patalinghug noted that he spends time in parish ministry, too. In fact, his family food apostolate began in the homes of his parishioners where he prepared a meal and spoke to them about their faith.
Father Martin Linebach, pastor of St. Patrick, said the event was an appropriate way for the parish to begin Advent.
“Advent really is (meant) to be a time of great delight and joy. And we just had a lot of fun,” Father Linebach said. “It was a way to surface a lot of things about our faith in a really delightful way.”
Father Patalinghug also spoke to the church’s young people on Dec. 1. Tim Grove, director of lifelong formation and education at St. Patrick, said the priest developed a “terrific rapport” with them.
“They were captivated by Father Leo,” Grove said. “I think the spirit of God is resting on him in a very unique and wonderful way.”
Sunday’s event was one of three religious education programs St. Patrick holds each year to engage parishioners of every age.