Students had a great opportunity on Tuesday to engage in some food for thought, while also tasting thoughtfully prepared food. Father Leo Patalinghug, founder of gracebeforemeals.com, prepared a meal with a message at the second annual lecture to honor the late, beloved Monsignor James Cafone.
Upon meeting with the Father Leo before the presentation began, he wittily remarked, “I hope the experience will be a palatable one.”
Behind the light, comical utterances, Father Leo’s passion for spreading the word of God in a fresh, current way was presented clearly.
The speaker shared his enthusiasm at the opportunity to speak in the presence of students at Seton Hall stating, “I love college students because they are young enough to still want to learn, but definitely old enough to know a lot.”
The event began with a brief introduction on the legacy that Monsignor Cafone left at the University, given by Associate Vice Provost Monsignor Robert Coleman.
Coleman reflected on the late Cafone’s service at Seton Hall, including his combining of his love for cooking with serving others. The address paralleled Father Leo’s presentation, who as he began talking, also got chopping.
The lecture was accompanied by the preparation of penne a la vodka, which served as entertainment as well as the spring board for his Christian discussion.
The presenter’s will to keep his eyes trained on the audience while also handling a large chopping knife could only fittingly be described as miraculous.
From relating the making of wine to the process of becoming a saint to the representation of olive oil to the sacrament of Confirmation which sets one “ablaze,” each step of the food preparation was related ingeniously to an aspect of Catholic faith.
Father Leo presented the importance of family life utilizing time at the dinner table, the domestic altar, to strengthen God’s love and bring people together. His remarks sizzled just as enticingly as the garlic and olive oil he started off with in the pan, a sound he claims is bested only by the parting lines of a priest: “The mass is ended, go in peace.”
The tie between food and theology was ever strengthened by Father Leo’s presentation, as he explained that even Jesus’ birth in a manger, which is quite literally a feeding trough, represents the direct need for “sustenance” from God.
This theme is one that Ines Murzaku, professor and founding chair of the Department of Catholic studies, can agree with. Murzaku states, “The focus of the theology of food in Catholicism is on the Eucharist. It is the divine banquet which is the primary vehicle through which Catholics reach out to God, and God reaches out to them. This is the unitive theology of the Eucharist. So food is sacramental. What is remarkable is taking the Eucharist seriously as an actual meal, paying attention to taste and other sensory experiences (both desiring and savoring God), and likewise food, as a valuable site for doing theology. Cooking is theological as well. One can find God in cooking. God can be found in simple, daily activities.”
With three completed books, a radio and television show, Father Leo continues to spread his message and attempt to bring Catholic families together through food with his website, gracebefoemeals. com.
Though only 6 lucky audience members, along with President Esteban, sampled the meaningful pasta meal, all in attendance of “The Cooking Priest” lecture went home satiated with a message far more nourishing than any dish.
Kelly Zarnowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.