The Art of Constructive Critique for the Family
Originally Published February 23, 2011
Most of my e-mails are very, very encouraging. However, like most people, I’m not without my critics. A movement for the force of good will always have challenges. Perhaps the most common complaint or critique I receive is from people who just don’t understand the purpose of the Grace Before Meals movement. To some, the idea of a “cooking priest” reduces the priesthood to a gimmick. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yet the fact that I receive these challenging words shows just how much we appreciate your support, comments, and prayers. So for this first “From the Feedbag,” I thought I’d share my response to a rather critical e-mail I received around the New Year.
While no one wants to be criticized in that special time of the year, you will hopefully see how my response gave me the opportunity to better reflect on our mission and explain why I do what I do with this movement. As you will read, I never shy away from responding to criticism, simply because that’s what a family is supposed to do: listen to each other and respond. Conversation can bring out conversion. And while I am willing to hear anyone’s comments and critiques, I recommend we learn the art of critiquing each other “well.”
Critique – especially around the family dinner table, is supposed to be constructive, not destructive. This somewhat dramatic and sensitive topic gives us all a chance to consider how we are supposed to help build each other up rather than bring each other down. And where is the best place for this loving, but at times challenging, exchange to occur? You guessed it. The dinner table! Hopefully in sharing this exchange, you will be strengthened in your resolve to share our movement far and wide.
|A few years ago, I set off the fire alarms during a presentation – for a group of senior citizens. The fire chief gave me a constructive critique: Don’t flambé directly underneath a smoke detector! The only reason I didn’t get a fine was because the fire chief said, “That’s darn good pasta!”|
“J” (Obviously I’m going to keep these letters anonymous.)
Thanks for your note. I’m truly sorry you don’t like the Grace Before Meals message. By calling it blasphemous; however, you are saying that I’m trying to disrespect God and make profane the things that are sacred. That is not my intention, nor do my actions reflect that accusation. Before I can accept your suggestion to stop the movement of Grace Before Meals, I’d rather learn more about what you find blasphemous.
Theologically, Jesus tells us His Flesh and Blood are true food and true drink. Jesus’ greatest lessons were taught around the meal. He even became our sacred meal! Does that go, as you suggest, too far? Granted, our language about food and faith is only analogous, but the Sacred Scriptures make the same references. As a “Pastor” it is my job to “feed” the sheep. As Christ changed water into wine and multiplied loaves and fish as a prelude to His teaching, he showed how something as seemingly insignificant as food could teach us something far more meaningful. He revealed Himself when he broke bread! Our objective with Grace Before Meals has encouraged people to remember how God is part of their family dinner table – the “altar” of the “Domestic Church.” We are best in communion with God through food, i.e., the Bread of Life and Cup of Eternal Salvation.
You see J, food and faith go hand in hand as ordained by God Himself. What I do on TV, in our book, or on our website is not my idea – it’s God’s.As a Catholic Priest, I’m always willing to hear how I can be a better priest. I’d be happy to hear your suggestion. However, the approach you seem to have taken in your e-mail sounds more disrespectful to my pastoral experience and my priestly office. And your tone makes it difficult to accept your advice as sound or helpful.
In case you had any doubts, I became a priest because I love God and His Catholic Church. Your comment about “blasphemy” not only offends me, it makes me take pity on your inability to judge wisely the things of the earth. I’m not saying that you blaspheme the priesthood, but the tone of your e-mail sounds more rude than helpful. I can only trust that you wrote me in order to help me be a better priest in this art and discipline of evangelization. Do you have evangelization experience to share ways for me to improve? “J”, while you may not believe me, or agree with our statistics, I can say that Grace Before Meals has helped many people make a connection to the Eucharist as the true source of Food. God has actually used this movement to help people with eating disorders. We now dialogue with the secular world about seeing food as a “blessing” rather than a “right.”
We’ve supported families that struggle to spend some quality time together. We’ve helped families return to the practice of praying grace before meals. We’ve provided a way for people to discuss faith around the dinner table again. We’ve showed people how the purpose of food brings us together, as the Eucharist does each Sunday. And we’ve helped people convert to the Catholic Faith. Should I take your advice and let this all stop? We can judge by the fruits. Are these good “fruits” to you? Again, as a priest my job is to feed people. Not all can/should receive the Eucharist. But I must still feed people in body, mind, and spirit. Blessed Theresa of Calcutta showed that simple acts done, with lots of love, help people to become saints.
Can feeding someone human food with Godly love be a way to sanctity? The Gospels say ‘”Yes!'” I hope this dialogue helps. I hope you don’t think I’m “angry” about your e-mail. As I mentioned before, you may want to work on your communication skills, especially since people deserve a bit more respect than you communicated in your very sharp sounding e-mail. Hopefully you’re a bit more patient if you have disagreements with family and friends around your dinner table. If I did something to offend you, please let me know what that is and I’ll be quick to apologize. After all, as God’s human family we will need to exercise that virtue of patience and forgiveness.
The fact is, you may not like my style, my heritage, my way of speaking, or even my cooking abilities. Should that be the case, I suggest that you simply turn off the TV when they air my episodes, and take a moment and to say a prayer – for the both of us. But again, if you have concrete ways on how I can improve the Grace Before Meals message, please share that them with me in a more prayerful and respectful way as I hopefully have tried to do for you. In the meantime, I hope that your encounter of with my website on the day that marked our New Year was not a moment of frustration, but truly a moment of Grace. Sometimes, they are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps, before you eat a meal today, you can say grace before your meal and say a prayer for me, the dedicated people who serve with me, and the people who can be helped by our message.
With Mary’s Prayers and Christ’s Blessings,
There you have it. How do you think I did with my response to this critic? Do you have advice on how to better handle criticism and critique, especially in your own family?. Let me know your thoughts and questions. Send me questions at firstname.lastname@example.org . Click HERE to post your comments.
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