Posted July 23rd, 2014 | Blast from the Past, From the Feedbag

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!”
Fr. Leo:
I’m sorry but I find the tone of your grace before meals website nothing short of blasphemous.  Since when do we equate human nourishment with the sacrifice of the Mass? This is going too far and the appearances on TV seem to be even more sacrilegious and foolish. Get back to your parish or seminary and learn something more correct about the Catholic Faith!
Signed,

“J”   (Obviously I’m going to keep these letters anonymous.)  

Dear “J,”

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,

Fr. Leo

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 askfrleo@gracebeforemeals.com .  Click HERE to post your comments.

 

READ: The Mandan News Reviews Epic Food Fight 

Read the review from The Mandan News. Do you agree?

This Week’s Recipe:

 

Sweet Chipotle Grilled Shrimp 

Click for the recipe!

 

 

 7/26/14 – 8/4/14

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Posted in Blast from the Past, From the Feedbag | 21 Comments

21 Responses to “Blast From the Past: The Art of Constructive Critique for the Family”

  • Fr. Leo, I think you answered this critic in love and with grace. I am not a Catholic, but have always held great respect and reverence for the Pope and the Church of Christ. You inspire me with your ability to bring the faith into the seemingly mundane which are, in our Father’s eyes, not mundane in the least. We should celebrate every opportunity to give thanks to Him in the breaking of the bread at each meal, and learn to treasure His presence among us.
    Love and blessings to you, Father!

    Posted by Martha Orlando on July 23rd, 2014 at 7:01 pm.
  • Fr Leo,

    Your respond was very appropriate. As a new follower, I now understand your mission and find it beautiful. I pray daily for patience in dealing with some family members, and I can say those prayers are answered.

    God Bless you and your continued mission.

    P.S. Did J respond to your explanation?

    Posted by Ann on July 23rd, 2014 at 7:10 pm.
  • Father,
    I read your response to the person who found it blasphemus that you choose to use your cooking and your tv show to preach. I wouldn’t take offense, that person must have some issues that he is just projecting onto you.
    I am not a Catholic sir, or a Christian, but I love your show. If you goal is to reach out and influence people, you have certainly enriched my perspective. And I have a most favorable option of you and what I think you are trying to do. Good Work! And keep it up.
    Your friend,
    Monty
    P.S. more vegetarian recipes please!

    Posted by Montgomery wood on July 23rd, 2014 at 7:13 pm.
  • Well said, Father Leo! I only hope and pray “J” read your full response.

    Posted by Christina Odom on July 23rd, 2014 at 7:18 pm.
  • Ft. Leo,

    Your response was well-composed and reflected grace (before meals) and love, as well as humility. I enjoyed your presentations at St, Timothy in Tampa (as well as your homily at daily Mass)and strongly support your mission, as do others here at St. Timothy.
    Tom

    Posted by Tom Kochansky on July 23rd, 2014 at 7:20 pm.
  • Fr. Leo, First let me say you have been a blessing to those who liste, I enjoy your sharing and I always think of Jesus sitting at table often with his disciples. We also are his disciples! Bless you and thank you. Keep up the Good News!!
    Lovingly ,
    Marge

    Posted by Margaret Garguilo on July 23rd, 2014 at 7:32 pm.
  • Fr. Leo,

    I believe that your response was entirely appropriate and kind. You project happiness and grace. I appreciate what you do and share your beliefs on the godliness of food and its preparation when done in the spirit in which you do it. Certainly, meal time can be rich family time. God bless you, Father Leo.

    Posted by Geraldine on July 23rd, 2014 at 7:39 pm.
  • I have been blessed by your ministry and I think you provide such a unique opportunity to invite people to hear about the faith through it. You are humble, encouraging and kind in your approach and how you treat each person you encounter. I thought your response reflected those same characteristics.

    Posted by Cyndi Wilkerson on July 23rd, 2014 at 8:18 pm.
  • Dear Father Leo,

    You gave an excellent response to this person, who seemingly went out of the way to be disrespectful and rude–and you did it with charity.

    Although I do not consider myself to be much of a cook, I enjoy your show very much. As a lifelong Catholic, I enjoy seeing a priest in a “human” role, and hearing all of your stories–as you tie recipes into the understanding of our faith, sharing also your own family recipes and memories. I also appreciate your practical advice (e.g., how to cut a watermelon) and your down to earth style.

    Thank you, Father, for all that you do.

    Sincerely,
    Jeanne

    Posted by Jeanne on July 23rd, 2014 at 8:27 pm.
  • Thank you Father Leo for all you do. Excellent respond to J.

    Posted by Maria Fatima on July 23rd, 2014 at 11:03 pm.
  • Dear Fr. Leo:

    You did an excellent job explaining your position. I think that was perhaps the best explanation I have ever encountered. Who knows what drove this person to write that-the holidays can be a lonely time for a lot of people for different reasons.

    You are an inspiration to all of us. You reach people in different formats as any other priest that I have known. Keep up the great work that you do. You have all of our support!

    Posted by Elizabeth Hanus on July 23rd, 2014 at 11:36 pm.
  • Dear Father Leo,
    Your response was caring, thoughtful and very appropriate. I thoroughly enjoy your show on EWTN and stay up Saturday nights to watch the 1:30 a.m. episodes. Your messages are always inspiring and I love your recipes. I am just sorry I missed you at Mount Saint Mary’s. God bless you and keep up your wonderful work.
    Paulette

    Posted by Paulette Widmann on July 24th, 2014 at 1:09 am.
  • Dear Fr. Leo:
    Your reply to “J” exemplifies St. Francis’ Prayer: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…”
    I pray each morning to St. Francis to help me be that instrument. I applaud you!!!
    I believe that the Mass is invitation to “eat” at God’s table.
    As Disciples of God are we not called to “feed” the hungry and offer “drink” to the thirsty and the hardest of all “bless those who curse me”.
    Keep up your excellent work…you truly are a “gift”.
    I appreciate all that you do.

    Posted by Sharon Daly on July 24th, 2014 at 8:39 am.
  • You are doing a wonderful job in spreading God’s word through your Grace Before Meals ministry. Great response to the criticism. And as I am sure you already know, you only have to answer to the Lord for your life here on earth.

    God Bless You and keep up the great work!

    Posted by mary on July 24th, 2014 at 1:18 pm.
  • Fr. Leo,

    Your response to ‘J’ was perfect. You were loving and forgiving and even took the opportunity to evangelize to ‘J’ who obviously was needing it and I’m sure was blessed by your words. I love reading and listening to the positive, but it is nice to hear about the struggles too and how to respond gracefully to them. As Catholic Christians, we are always challenged by non Christians, non believers and even Christians of other denominations. My hope and prayer is that I learn to be grace filled in my responses and patient in my frustrations.

    May God continue to bless you and your ministry always,

    Posted by Lizette on July 25th, 2014 at 8:20 am.
  • Father Leo,

    Thank you for sharing your excellent example of a positive critique. Your response inspires me and my family will benefit.

    Steve Mattas

    Posted by Fr. Leo on July 28th, 2014 at 9:41 am.
  • Hi Father Leo,

    I enjoy your emails; haven’t taken time to watch your show…YET. I think the tone and message in your response to J were appropriate, although there were a couple passages where J might perceive them as argumentative. Knowing you from your time at St. John, Westminster, I could hear the passion in your written words. In my opinion, you are performing a huge service and strongly encourage you to continue on this path. You remain in my prayers and I remain extremely grateful that you answered the call.

    God’s choicest blessings upon you,
    Cathy Short

    Posted by Fr. Leo on July 28th, 2014 at 9:41 am.
  • 2 things. 1st we need to be more open to listening & sharing & caring with each other especially before we send off our thoughts (the viewer’s thoughts not yours). I think your response was pretty informative and in good tone but I think it was a bit long especially responding to someone who obviously doesn’t understand the mission of God’s love coming in many forms. Jesus/Apostles…made sure the earthly hunger was cared for as well as giving them the Heavenly Food/Word. May God continue to richly bless you & your ministry & grant you the strength, patience..whatever you need to stay strong & focused. Thank you, father for doing this great work.

    padrepio777

    Posted by Fr. Leo on July 28th, 2014 at 9:42 am.
  • Dear Fr. Leo,

    First of all, thank you for being a priest, and second, thank you for the responding to God’s calling for you to ministry through Grace Before Meals. I would also like to thank you for inviting us to respond to your newsletter.

    I, too, am a cook, and I so often tie what I do with my Catholic faith, and God’s awesome goodness, and diversity. I especially love cultural foods, and most especially breads! Because I over-came several health issues by changing my diet, I took a course in health coaching to help others take a new look at food. I felt deeply in my heart that this is what God was calling me to do. I have not yet figured out how I am supposed to put this all together, as I am a busy home schooling mom, but I feel confident that God will show me how to use my cooking ability and knowledge of health-promoting foods to serve Him best.Emoji

    I was out in my garden this morning, and I was noticing the corn stalks that are tall and green and the smaller, yellow stalks. I was thinking about how now I know which part of the garden needs more fertilizer. When the plants have proper feeding, they are more productive and provide more nutrition. The same goes with us. We can’t be the people God is calling us to be if we are sick. Of course there are times when we have no control of sickness, and then we can unite our sufferings with Jesus, but we can take a certain amount of control.

    I could go on and on because we are on a subject that I love. Your answer to the email you received was very well said. May God bless you and your ministry to His hungry people.

    In Jesus and Mary,

    Catherine Worley

    Posted by Fr. Leo on July 28th, 2014 at 9:42 am.
  • Fr. Leo,

    Nourishment of the body & soul, seem to go hand in hand, see the following note:

    Why Go To Church?

    A church goer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper, saying it made no sense to go to church every Sunday:
    “I’ve gone for 30 years, heard some 3,000 sermons and cannot remember one of them. I think I am wasting my time.”
    Then a gentleman wrote a letter in response. “I’ve been married for 30 years now, in that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals But, I do know this: They all nourished me & gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not done that, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!

    Thank you Fr. Leo for your passion, it is contagious!!!

    Suzie Entel, Lake Placid, Fl

    Posted by Fr. Leo on July 28th, 2014 at 10:24 am.
  • Dear Father Leo!
    and yes! I say “Dear!!” as you are just that!
    I must say, I am prejudiced in your favor as I have enjoyed your theological input and fervor of God’s abundant Love and Grace!!
    I believe you responded specifically to what “J” stated as his concerns. You responded with honesty and sound doctoral teaching (in my not-so-professional, simple opinion). I must say that I have responded to difficult people in ways I felt were charitable BUT have found that some peoples hearts are wounded and their eyes are full of scales and ears full of WAX!
    I love your suggestion for prayers and with that, I thank God for your faith, your joy, your grace which is truly infused with Divine Grace.
    May Mother Mary, God’s mother and ours intercede for you. May the love of Jesus be on your lips and within your tender heart. May Mary’s love for her Son, Jesus grant “J” a conversion of heart and send him joyfully ready to receive Christ in His Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, and be blessed abundantly for his longing for His Truth, and embrace.
    My Loving and Sacred Physician, wrap Your tender, merciful arms around Father Leo. Dearest Holy Trinity let Father Leo know we love him and are sorry for the misguided letter he received from “J.” I know Father Leo knows You love him tenderly, fully and infinitely and I thank God for His precious gift of Father Leo.
    Yours in Christ’s Most Sacred Heart and Mary’s Immaculate heart, Suzie Vendetti

    Posted by Fr. Leo on July 28th, 2014 at 10:26 am.

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