PRINCE ALBERT – On the weekend of May 23-24, Fr. Leo Patalinghug, founder of Grace
Before Meals, brought couples, families, and teens closer together through food, faith, and
A Catholic priest from Baltimore, Maryland, he’s also an international conference speaker,
TV host, and chef. His book on the importance of family life, Grace Before Meals, was
written to bring families back around the supper table for meals. Backed by many
sociological studies, Fr. Patalinghug states the number one factor in improving health,
avoiding dangerous habits, and improving grades is having a regular family meal.
On May 23 in the auditorium at St. Mary High School in Prince Albert, Patalinghug spoke
with 50 students on the challenges of being a young Christian.
“People in today’s society are more afraid of Jesus and becoming a person of faith than of
vampires,” he said, “because they are scared and reluctant to change.”
He stated that those who go to confession are the bravest people on the planet, because they face their fears.
Making the sign of the cross, he described it as powerful prayer of protection which is still
used in exorcisms today.
“You literally turn yourself into a mark every time you do the sign of the cross,” he said. “If
we know God is looking at us, do we think God is mad at us? You are afraid to do the sign
of the cross publicly, the pray and of what prayer means to you. When you pray, you’re
talking to God, he knows you. But then I read Scripture and it says God sees me, and loves
me despite my sins, as if I were the apple of his eye like the prodigal son. At birth, our
parents looked at us as if we were the apple of their eye, and so too does God look at us
He said God wants to do something awesome in each youth. He encouraged them to be
superheroes, as when they were younger.
“Getting rid of sin is like a painful surgery. However, when we let God’s grace cut sin out of
our life, then we become more saint like. Saints don’t let friends stay in trouble; we have to
reach out to them as well. We are rooted in God, but our job is to keep reaching out to the
sinners. If we can do that over and over, we can make them into a communion of saints.
People look the same, regardless if they are sinners or not, but the difference is God;
they’re not afraid to have him in their midst.”
Fr. Patalinghug shared the results of a study done by the popular television network, MTV.
The network interviewed thousands of teens. It revealed the hope most wanted by teens
was to have a loving relationship with their family.
“You know what it takes to keep a family together? A superhero, that’s what it takes. I’m
going to close with a powerful prayer. It’s going to turn you into targets. Don’t be scared,
God is looking at you, and even though there will be forces out there that want to hurt you,
this prayer can protect you from anything. I want you to bring out your friends to another
event in your Diocese. Help your friends to not be afraid.”
to the audience at their dining tables
That evening, approximately 60 couples sat at tables for a presentation by Fr. Patalinghug
while he cooked one his pasta dishes, penne alla vodka.
He wrote the book Spicing Up Married Life as a way to encourage couples to talk together
more often about what matters most in their lives and to him, dinner’s just the best way to
do it. One might assume it is a typical book of recipes; however, its 12 chapters encourage
couples to reflect on their wedding day, relationship, and all other aspects of married life. As
the couple cooks the pre-planned meals, questions and topics are listed for discussion, always ending in prayer.
His original focus was to bring families together at mealtime, but he explained, “During
prayer, God said to me, you have to start with the beginning of the family and that is mom
and dad. So what we try to do at Grace Before Meals is to create a forum for conversation
and delicious food. The person eating can’t talk with their mouth full, so they have to listen.
That’s what has stopped happening, families are not listening to each other. A relaxed place
can be the dinner table at home.”
As Patalinghug sliced and sautéed onions and garlic for his meal, he spoke about marriage
“The only way you can love one another is through mercy. The only reason you are sitting
next to your spouse is ’cause you forgave them, right? It is the one thing that people don’t
want to remember about marriage. A lot of people think that marriage should be perfect.
Hogwash. You don’t vow perfection, you vow fidelity, which means you’re going to have to
learn how to say ‘I love you’ with three other words, ‘I am sorry’ and ‘I forgive you.’”
Knowing how incredible it is to listen to a priest speak of marriage, he spoke about his
commitment to the church.
“Just like you spend time with your spouse, I spend mine with the church by feeding and
cooking for others. You want to strengthen your marriage? Then eat together.”
In a touching moment, he asked couples to join hands and recite wedding vows to each
Patalinghug said during wedding rehearsals, he asks couples to share a kiss, the original
sign of peace, and asks the couples to practice, because “peace making requires practice.”
Couples in attendance shared that they felt the evening was refreshing and fun, and they
enjoyed his witty humour. Some said it got them thinking and cooking together, and
perhaps with other couples once a month. For some it was an affirmation to their existing
lifestyle of regularly attending a supportive parish.
“I think this was an occasion for us to see that marriage isn’t an ‘I do’ that ends at the
altar,” said Bishop Thévenot. “It is the beginning of the journey of a relationship that starts
before the wedding day. Your children and grandchildren, what they need is your love. Be
for them an example that God is present, because love is there and God is love.”
Fr. Patalinghug concelebrated Sunday Mass May 24 at Sacred Heart Cathedral with Bishop
Albert Thévenot, M. Afr. and pastor Rev. Matthew Nguyen.
During the homily, he stated that to him, the Holy Spirit is not represented well by the
typical images related to him, such as ghost, fire or dove.
“The Holy Spirit is the one person in the Trinity that bewilders us and can be a little
frightening. The Holy Spirit is a holy person who is both inspired and enthusiastic. Do you
know why people don’t have great relationships with the God and the Holy Spirit? The word
‘enthusiasm’ in Latin is ‘entheos,’ meaning ‘God.’ We are missing enthusiasm and spirit.
Prove the Holy Spirit is real by being enthusiastic and inspired. How does God get in us? Are
we hungry enough to say, ‘If you only say the word, we will be healed’?”
He explained that enthusiastic people who want to bring others to God have to temper their
enthusiasm, to know when to speak out. It requires a sensitive and right relationship with
people, to read them well and not overwhelm.
“There’s not many of us inspiring people. You know why? Because there are only a few
people who are willing to admit they’re broken and have overcome their brokenness.”
He spoke of others he met throughout his life who inspired him, such as Mother Theresa.
“Only when we can admit how broken we are can he heal us, like wounded warriors without
arms or legs are now healed and doing something inspirational with their lives. I know
you’re hungry; be not afraid because God will feed us. We will be able to speak the
language to the whole world, and you know what we’ll say? ‘It’s dinnertime, come and get
Later that evening, he spoke to families in St. Mary High School’s gymnasium. He told the
guests that God does not use a microwave, he uses a Crock-Pot. There are good things if
we are patient and wait for it. He also told them that feeding their children is a liturgy.
“In Greek, the word ‘liturgy’ means ‘work.’ Feeding your children is a liturgy, it’s work.”
If parents and families are not willing to work at feeding their kids, he said, the devil will.
He said many people come to him saying they don’t feel fed from Mass.
“It is at the dinner table that we experience our blessings. We can talk about all of the
things that matter, even sensitive issues like alcoholism.”
Cooking for Fr. Patalinghug is a way for him to present the Christian message in a palatable
“We don’t present the truth of the faith very well. What I try to do is remind people that
food is sacramental. Food is the one thing in our life that God gave to us, but we work with
it; fruit of the vine, work of human hands. It is one of those most powerful things that even
the secular world believes in. I don’t do these talks just for Catholics, I do this for everyone,
including non-religious people, because they know food has the divine property to bring our
families all together.”
He works with the Centre of Addictions and Substance Abuse (CASA) and Columbia
University. He described one study done on addictions. Conclusive results showed that the
number one factor in raising SAT scores and reducing teen suicide, pregnancy, and drug
and alcohol addictions was a regular family mealtime. He believes society has bought into
the fast food mentality, the mentality that says, “I’m too busy to feed my family. I’m too
busy to spend one holy hour with my family over a meal.”
“Like giving meat an hour to marinate, do you spend enough time with your families that
you soak in their goodness? With faith, food, and family, we have to have fun. It’s how we
need to present our message. Is it edible, bite-sizeable and appealing?”
Programs manager Louis Hradecki and program secretary Andrea Langlois, Diocesan event
organizers, said their long term hope was for couples and families to be touched in some
way by his presentations, and that the positive experience would be passed on to others. By
doing so, it would hopefully bring people to a closer relationship with God.
Bishop Thévenot said the weekend exceeded his expectations. Those who came were now
inspired and could pass their enthusiasm on to others.
“Other people have to hear, see and experience the good news through you. Let your life be
an inspiration to others. I think we’re going home with a mission, happier to be Christian,
with the understanding that we all have something to give. Father Leo has helped us
recognize the beauty of family life and sharing the presence of one another by feeding one
another around the dinner table, giving life to each other.”