Food Disciples
Part 1: Discipline  

Originally published November 10, 2010

 

During a recent break from the seminary, I used my time for “further education.”  While most priests would go to a theological seminar or a spiritual retreat, I went back to cooking school.  Why not?  As Grace Before Meals continues to grow, I have to keep up my culinary skills, while continuing to develop my theological learning as well.   Besides, after dedicating time to class prep and teaching, I needed a bit of a breather from the books, and get my hands into some food. 

Me taste testing Radio Host Ed Norris at the Big Brother / Big Sister benefit event at Raven’s Stadium

For the next three weeks, I will share with you just some of the lessons I learned from my recent cooking class experience. 

 

Chef Maureen and Mr. Johnson – culinary arts instructors at City College, San Francisco

Since my cooking skills are somewhat developed – at least good enough for cooking with families – I knew I needed something more than the basics.  A chef friend who I met at one of my events extended an invitation to come  “anytime” and experience her unique cooking school program in the heart of downtown San Francisco’s City College.  The hands on program grants certificates for pastry and savory chefs.  This program also gives them a unique perspective in cooking for a student run restaurant called, “The Educated Palate” serving high-end meals at incredible prices.  The experience is invaluable!

Chef Maureen with student, after plating a shrimp scampi with Israeli couscous

I took her up on the offer and found myself learning from the best of teachers:  the students!  There are famous sayings that qualify the unique understanding of teachers as someone who’s always willing to learn.  That’s what I saw in the Head Instructors, Chef Maureen and Pastry Instructor, Chef Bisty.

Chef Bistsy offering plating and design tips for the dessert

Granted, I only experienced 3 days of their classes, but the pedagogy I saw offered the students the greatest lesson of all:  experience.  Experience can be good or bad.  That’s where the instructors were so helpful.  They showed the students the techniques, offered them guidance, and most importantly, they encouraged each student to be disciplined in their learning.

That’s the lesson I had to “learn again!”  Discipline.  We don’t like to experience it, but it’s required for anyone who takes anything seriously.  The students taught me how discipline helps learn to cut, saute, to bake, and even to serve.  Discipline, sometimes a hard lesson to digest requires patience, practice and perseverance.

Recent graduate, Chef Philly offered a class on art carving of vegetables and fruit – a highly technical discipline and art

That “discipline” reminds us that no matter how skilled we are at something, we’re all still learning.  That’s what the word discipline mean.  It means “student”, the Greek word from “disciple.”  These food disciples / culinary students inspired to go return to the basics when it comes to cooking, and more importantly in the practice and ongoing learning of my faith.

While I learned many things, new techniques – especially baking (that’s for next week’s blast) – I was given a beautiful reminder about the humility to learn, the desire to improve, and the repetition of practice in order to master a craft or art.  As true as that is for cooking, the need for discipline is especially true when considering the art of filling the hungers of our heart and souls.

These apple pastries were worth standing in front of a hot oven for hours

Jesus’ closest friends are also called disciples – students.  They were students, learning from Jesus how to love one another.  The greatest lesson they learned just happened to be at the dinner table of the Last Supper. At this sacred meal, they learned the greatest lesson of love through Christ’s sacrifice.

A group of “faithful foodies” and good friends!

Let us pray:  Father, we are not only your children, we are your disciples, students of your law of love.  Despite our inability to grasp all of the information and inspiration you give us each day, help us to digest these lessons with humility and patience.  And as students who continue to learn these life lessons, help us then teach these lessons – not with words but with actions – to those we meet this day.  We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

 

 

This week’s featured recipes:

 

If you haven’t had a chance to check out with the latest Grace Before Meals webisode, check it out by clicking the link below:

 

After you finish watching how easy it is to make the two pasta dishes, then you can follow the recipes below for each item. Click on the picture to get the recipe for:

 

 

Italian Chicken Pasta with Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes and Onions

 

Asian Chicken Noodle with Coconut Cream Sauce
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Posted in Blast from the Past, Food for Thought, Past Emails, Recipe-Pasta, Recipes, Savoring Our Faith, Video | 2 Comments »

Blast From The Past

On occasion, our Grace Before Meals movement will send out some “Blasts from the Past,” not only because the messages are still relevant today, but it also helps us remember how far we’ve come! Post something by clicking here.

Grace Under Water

I’m heading down to New Orleans to visit some friends, so this week’s Blast From The Past looks back on a heated competition for best cooking priest between my friend Msgr. Nalty and myself, called “Grace Under Fire.”

The proud parents, Godparents and me.

(The proud parents, Godparents, me welcome Grace into the faith.)

Speaking of Grace Under Fire, this past weekend, I had the joy of baptizing my Project Manager’s daughter, Grace, bringing her into the church and opening her heart to the Holy Spirit. It was a great celebration and she did wonderfully. We thank God for the beautiful and important sacrament and pray for Joe, Erica and Grace, along with all children, families and individuals seeking to grow in the faith through our holy Mother Church. God bless and have a great week!.

(To hold Grace (and all babies) is to experience God’s Grace. Welcome to the church, Grace!)

Food for the Body

Grace Under Fire

Originally Published July 9, 2010

My recent visit to the great state of Louisiana was filled with culture, faith, and lots of food.  On one day, I offered a unique presentation unlike any other Grace Before Meals presentation.  I agreed to a cooking competition with two of the best chefs in New Orleans!

(Me with Chef Justin of La Petite Grocery.)

(Me with Chef Justin of La Petite Grocery.)

I’m constantly being asked to participate in cooking contests – Iron Chef or Throwdown! style.  While I’m confident enough in my cooking, I think the aspect of cooking competitions can take away from the Grace Before Meals message.  Yes, I did the Throwdown! with Bobby Flay.  But remember, that was a complete surprise!  Also, preparing for a cooking competition requires incredible amounts of logistical preparations.  It’s like creating a mini-Iron Chef cooking stadium!

On a more philosophical point, I normally turn down cooking competitions, because it makes more out of the Bobby Flay Throwdown! victory than necessary.  Although that competition was very real, very serious, and very much a surprise, the primary objective of the show was to highlight the Grace Before Meals movement.  Food should result in stronger family ties, not competition.

(Bobby Flay and Me – June 2009.)

 (Bobby Flay and Me – June 2009.)

However, I agreed to enter into this culinary combat against Chef Justin of La Petite Grocery and Chef Christopher of Commander’s Palace.  This competitive cooking presentation was a favor to my dear friend, Msgr. Nalty – the doo-rag wearing priest who assisted me with grilling the steaks on the Throwdown! show.

(Me and Msgr. Nalty – getting hot under the collar.)

(Me and Msgr. Nalty – getting hot under the collar.)

A few years ago he was appointed the pastor of the second largest parish in the New Orleans Archdiocese.  He also had the difficult responsibility of merging two other church communities.  Talk about a difficult task!  While most Catholics feel at home in any Catholic church anywhere in the world, human nature attaches great importance to an actual church building.  It’s understandable to feel at home where your family was baptized, married, or buried.  A parochial mentality can make transition into a new community quite difficult.  The closing of a parish building can feel like a death in the family.  However, our Faith is not only parochial, it’s also universal.  And unfortunately, nothing on earth remains the same forever.  It was time for the community to get a little closer, necessitated by diminishing numbers and finances.

(Speaking to a sold out crowd at the “new” Good Shepherd Parish.)

(Speaking to a sold out crowd at the “new” Good Shepherd Parish.)

Msgr. Nalty, being a faithful and innovative pastor (and a big foodie), had an idea to host a “food event” that would bring all three parishes together.  He would invite local chef celebrities to “compete” against me.  That could generate some local buzz and help bring merging community members to share an evening of fun, faith, food, and family!  They called this event, “Grace Under Fire!”  My cooking skills would be challenged again.

Perhaps people wanted to taste the Famous Fusion Fajitas or sample the cuisine from professional and popular chefs.  Regardless of the reason, the crowds came and ticket sales had to close a few days before they could really even advertise!

(Participating Family.  Ticket were sold individually or a lower priced for an entire family.  What a bargain!  Delicious gourmet food for everyone!)

(Participating Family.  Ticket were sold individually or a lower priced for an entire family.  What a bargain!  Delicious gourmet food for everyone!)

What an opportunity to share the Grace Before Meals message with a community that hungers for a renewed sense of a parish family.  The cooking demonstrations and competition became a means to a greater end:  fun for this new parish family!

The emcee of the evening was Mary Matalin, Republican strategist, a recent Catholic convert, and the wife of Democratic strategist, James Carville.  Talk about a unique opportunity to merge a marriage out of two completely diverse political backgrounds.

(Mary Matalin acting as emcee and asking me questions as I chopped the “Trinity.”)

(Mary Matalin acting as emcee and asking me questions as I chopped the “Trinity.”)

Giving the final verdict was Judge Martin Feldman.  Feldman, a Jewish born Catholic Convert (Justice Antonin Scalia is his godfather), expressed sincere gratitude to be part of this community-building event.  Recently he made national news as the judge who declared Obama’s federal ban on oil drilling illegal.  Rather impressive to know his decisions made national news!

The criteria of this cooking competition was simple.  Create a family friendly recipe in 30 minutes or less, and use only 10 ingredients.  Five points for plating and design, 10 for creativity, and 10 for taste.  Time went quickly.  Competition was fierce.  The judges had quite a challenge.  Both dishes were worthy and delicious!  Judge Feldman read the verdict:  a tie!

(After the decision – a “family picture” with the competing chefs and the judges.)

(After the decision – a “family picture” with the competing chefs and the judges.)

While it would have been great to “boast” another victory against some impressive chefs, it was much better to boast about the wonderful event that proved the power of our Grace Before Meals movement.  This event showed Grace Before Meals, even when under fire, brings family and friends closer to the table!

Food for the Body

Coconut Bourbon Cream Chicken and Trinity Rice

The two Chefs presented a delicious local black drum fish with a preparation called “Court bouillon,” which is usually served as a stew.  Instead, he beautifully pan seared and then braised this dish over some popcorn rice.  The Cajun-French, with their accent, simply call it “coo-boo-yon.”  Whatever you want to call it, the first thing that came out of my mouth when I tasted it was, “OMG – delicious!” (Okay, that was more like 4 words!)

(“Coo-boo-yon” – short for black drum court bouillon.)

(“Coo-boo-yon” – short for black drum court bouillon.)

I prepared a dish that truly used only 10 ingredients, (they counted theTrinity – celery, pepper, and onion as one dish, and they allowed us salt, pepper, and oil as a given).  My dish reflected the fusion aspect of my cooking, as it brought together some Asian flavors combined with Cajun spices and a tribute to Bourbon Street – a touch of bourbon to add some extra flavor to my coconut cream sauce. Enjoy!

(Bourbon Coconut Cream Chicken, with Trinity Fried Rice in a grilled red pepper ring.)

(Bourbon Coconut Cream Chicken, with Trinity Fried Rice in a grilled red pepper ring.)

Click here for recipe

Food for the Soul

When Grace is Under Fire!

Msgr. Nalty’s responsibility to bring different parishes together puts a burden on many people who feel the pain of transition.  As I said before, it’s sad to say “goodbye” to a place that means so much to people, especially the sanctity of a church building.  I know this personally, as my own home parish no longer has a regular parish priest in residence, and the school was recently closed down due to low numbers and finances.

In such situations our faith can be tested – Grace is under fire!  Yet our faith tells us that our citizenship is in Heaven, and our faith gives us the grace to move forward, never letting go of the beautiful memories we may have in the past, but never afraid of starting new ones for the future.  As church buildings come and go, we can never forget that God wants “church” to begin in our hearts, minds, and souls – not in a building.  Our ultimate goal is not to keep earthly buildings standing forever.  Instead, our goal is to bring our souls (where Christ wants to dwell) forever in Heaven!

Let us Pray:  Father, when our faith is tested, especially when the tests and challenging situations come from within the Church, give us Grace to stay committed to Your Church family on earth.  Help us to have the proper balance of seeking and protecting holy things on earth – like churches, statues, and holy images.  At the same time, help us never forget that spiritual faith can only be touched with the heart, mind, and soul; and that practice of our faith is never limited to one building or at one place only.  Give us O Lord, the strength to always be Your family on earth and to reach out to those who do not yet feel a sense of community.  May You, our Good Shepherd, feed us the Heavenly Food that makes one in the Body of Christ.  We ask this, in Your most Holy Name. Amen.

 (The Sanctuary of St. Stephen Church, New Orleans.  NOTE – this is a correction from last week’s e-mail blast that had two pictures of the St. Louis Cathedral sanctuary.  I apologize for the mistake in the photo descriptions.)

(The Sanctuary of St. Stephen Church, New Orleans.  NOTE – this is a correction from last week’s e-mail blast that had two pictures of the St. Louis Cathedral sanctuary.  I apologize for the mistake in the photo descriptions.)

Posted in Blast from the Past, Chicken, Food for the Body, Food for the Soul, Food for Thought, Past Emails, Prayers, Recipe, Recipe-Meats, Recipes | 2 Comments »

Blast From The Past

On occasion, our Grace Before Meals movement will send out some “Blasts from the Past,” not only because the messages are still relevant today, but it also helps us remember how far we’ve come! Post something by clicking here.

Old Dog, New Tricks

Now I am not truly an “old dog”, though I feel like it sometimes when traveling non-stop or when doing a flying jump kick over some volunteers to break some boards (see picture below). But as the fall approaches, our Grace Before Meals team is preparing to launch some new “tricks” as discussed in last week’s blast, including the long-awaited release of my new book Spicing Up Married Life, coming out September 18.

And if I have to take the designation of being an “old dog performing new tricks,” as humbling as it may seem, I am glad to, as I know I am in good company- specifically, St. Dominic (whose feast day is August 8) and my former spiritual director, Fr. Frank McGauley.

I look back fondly on the many lessons I learned from this amazing priest, who passed away on July 15, 2008. He was 86 years old at the time, and yet, as you will read below, he was always learning something new about his faith and love for God, as well as God’s love for us. And much like St. Dominic, his faithfulness was inspiring and helped me to grow deeper in my own. So please enjoy this stroll down memory lane to remember this great priest and friend from whom I learned so much. And with St. Dominic’s intercession, we ask for God’s blessing on all priests and religious, families and communities, and all those, including Grace Before Meals, who seek to glorify God with their lives and devotion. May we please him by our faithfulness and true love.

Food for the Body

St. Dominic – Old Dog, New Tricks

Originally Published August 8, 2007

My spiritual director is an 85-year-old Jesuit Priest who served in the missionaries of India for more than 30 years.  He learned their languages and culture in order to serve the poor and local tribes as their pastor, spiritual leader, and friend.  He’s worked with Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta and a host of other holy men and women who brought the Good News of Jesus to that part of the world!

His credentials were enough reason for me to “select” him as my spiritual director. But there are so many other reasons, such as his sincere joy, his holy fear of the Lord, his sensitivity and awareness to the battles against evil, and also his down to earth spirituality.  Above all, he is humble!

I could jokingly say, he’s everything I’m NOT – but then, I wouldn’t be joking!

Every meeting, without fail, I receive so much spiritual food from his wisdom and counsel.  But one thing I constantly marvel at is how this “old man” approaches suffering, trials and challenges – especially the challenge of growing older.  He sees challenges as lessons in life, and he tells us that nothing goes to waste!  He lives with knowledge and hope that even our problems can be useful in God’s hands.

In my last Spiritual Direction Meeting (I usually go once a month), I heard he had a nasty fall down a flight of stairs.  He let go of the safety rail with his one hand because he was afraid of tipping over the plate of food he had in his other hand.  Of course my ears perked up, simply because he mentioned food!  (I secretly wondered if the meal was worth the fall!)  But thank God his athletic skills from his younger days kicked in, so that he fell in such a way to avoid even worse physical damage. Though it could have been worse, it was bad enough to bloody him up and require medical attention.  He thanks his angels for helping him out, especially at his tender age!

Yet in all of this, this man of God was able to learn a life lesson, which he conveyed to me.  He mentioned that the plate of food could be a symbol of the many responsibilities, privileges, and issues that we carry.  These things are precious to us and we are afraid to tip them over.  BUT for him, the handrail was a symbol of GOD.  No matter how tempted we may be to try and take control (i.e. use both hands) and manage our own affairs, we cannot let go of God.  Look at what might happen if we do!

Food for the Body

Here is a man who could call himself “a ragged old dog.”  Yet he is so willing to learn new tricks!  I used this phrase “old dog” because of the Feast we celebrate every August 8th – the Feast of St. Dominic, founder of the Dominicans.  His name and the name of the congregations he founded literally means “Dogs of the Lord” – domini (Lord) canes (Dogs).  An image of St. Dominic normally shows him in the beautiful white Dominican Robes pointing up, holding a book, and next to him a dog holding a torch in its mouth.

Even though my spiritual director is a Jesuit, I see in him a true “Dominican” – as he is ever faithful to the Lord, like the old dog “Fido” (which is a form of the word “Fides” – “Faith”).  Sorry cat lovers, but that’s why they call Fido “man’s best friend,” because the dogs are ever faithful!

This old faithful – my spiritual director – reminds me that life should be a spiritual journey and that we can find spiritual lessons in every encounter – even if its challenging and full of suffering.  After all, Jesus didn’t die on the cross to be jewelry, but to be a visible lesson and reminder of love, forgiveness, and the reality of human suffering, especially in our elderly population – who is so often forgotten.  My spiritual director, and all of the elderly patients I minister to remind me of the importance to grow old gracefully and to realize that getting older presents its own challenges.  We who are younger can learn tremendous lessons from them, even if the only lesson we repeat is patience, patience, patience!

I’ll close with this story I keep close to my heart whenever I consider working with the elderly.  A young priest noticed the old Monsignor sleeping in his pew during prayer.  One day the younger priest expressed his displeasure to the old man and questioned how he could sleep during his prayer.  The old Monsignor explained that he tries to stay attentive to the Lord in prayer, but sometimes his age gets the best of him.  “In those moments,” the old man explained, “I sometimes hear God say, ‘You’re not as young as you were, but your faithfulness is like a dog who sometimes serves his master best by simply resting at his master’s feet!”

With the prayers of St. Dominic, I want to ask God to bless my spiritual director with a long and faithful life – I obviously need that “old dog” around to teach me new lessons!

Food for the Body

Orzo Ginger Chicken

The FDA has some ideas for healthy eating for our elderly community.  Sometimes we have to wonder, how did people in generations past live such long lives without the FDA?  I think they used common sense by eating appropriately, healthy, and festively – and they started young.  So start now!  But if you do have someone a bit older in your family life, you may want to make them a healthful and soul satisfying meal. Here’s an idea for a very simple and tasty dish that’s not only easy to prepare, it’s also really easy to eat!  For the recipe [click here].

Food for the Soul

My spiritual director has taught me great ways of praying!  He reminds me to make sure that “nothing goes to waste.”  Therefore, if ever I have certain challenges, I try to reflect on them and ask, “What did I learn from this?”  This examination of conscience not only reminds us that our challenges are not useless, but could also be helpful!  My spiritual director’s fall taught him and me to always manage the “food on my plate” by not overdoing it, and to always, no matter what, hold on to the railing!

Let Us Pray: Lord, when life gets a bit more complicated, help me to take a moment to gain true balance, so that I can better walk with You and with Your people.  Help me to be strong, but at the same time humble enough to keep me dependent on Your loving guidance.  Help me to walk, hand in hand, with You!  Amen.

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Posted in Blast from the Past, Chicken, Food for the Body, Food for the Soul, Food for Thought, In Memory, Menu Inspiration, Past Emails, Prayers, Recipe, Recipe-Meats, Recipe-Pasta, Recipes, Spicing Up Married Life | 1 Comment »

 

Blast From The Past

On occasion, our Grace Before Meals movement will send out some “Blasts from the Past,” not only because the messages are still relevant today, but it also helps us remember how far we’ve come! Post something by clicking here.

The Blood & The Rose Finally Complete!

It’s the end of July, which means it is nearing the end of summer and the end of these Blasts From The Past. But I wanted to commemorate and congratulate my good friend and producer of Grace Before Meals, Tim Watkins, who has just completed work on his film about Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe, “The Blood & The Rose”! It has been 6 years in development, but it has all come together beautifully. The film is narrated by Eduardo Verastegui, who starred in “Bella” and more recently, “For Greater Glory” and was produced by Steve McEveety, who produced “The Passion Of The Christ”. You can check out an older trailer below by clicking the picture. And keep up with the film by checking it out on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr!

Watch the trailer for "The Blood & The Rose"!

Watch the trailer for “The Blood & The Rose”, finally complete!

Interested in Screening the Film?

Now that the movie is finished, the next step is to set up screenings in cities across the US. The hope is to have large events to screen the film, have speakers present on Mary and our role as “Messenger Eagles” to share our faith, and the chance to celebrate the Holy Mass. If this is something you would be interested in getting involved with, please email info@leomcwatkinsfilms.com to find out how to bring this important film to your city.

Since it has been 6 years, I thought it would be good to look back at when the film was first being developed back in 2007. The following eBlast was originally sent out on the Feast Day for Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, so you will notice references to Advent and Christmas. Additionally, some of the original links do not exist anymore, but it does not change the importance of this miracle for the Catholic faith and the effect it has had on millions. And when you consider that Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Patroness of both the Americas and the Philippines, I am certainly glad to share her message for all to hear. God bless!

Food for the Body

Our Lady of Guadalupe – December 12

Originally posted December 12, 2007

First, a bit of history: It was December 9, 1531, when a humble Mexican Indian convert Juan Diego first saw a mysterious vision of a woman.  He was on his way to daily mass, passing a hill known as Tepeyac, in Mexico.  The vision occurred again the next day. Each of the two days he was asked by the woman to relay a message, a request to build a church on that spot. Both times he was turned down by Bishop Zummeraga.  As Juan Diego begged for the woman to make her request to a man of more importance, she insisted that Juan Diego go once more – this time, though, she gave him proof.  She instructed him to pick the flowers on the hill and bring them to the Bishop.  Juan Diego once again stood before the Bishop, and as he unfurled his cactus cloth tilma to expose the flowers an image was revealed.  This was the sign to convince the Bishop and Juan Diego of the authenticity of this heavenly message…and the messenger.  This image is determined to be the Virgin Mary, the mother of God.  Prayerful devotion to the message of peace and holiness from this woman is known as “Our Lady of Guadalupe.”  The shrine, now located on that very hill of the first apparition, is one of the most celebrated pilgrimages in North America, and devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe has brought about countless conversions to the Faith, miraculous healings, and a sense of a heavenly presence from a spiritual mother in Heaven.

Fast-forward to the Spring of 2006: the producer of Grace Before Meals, Tim Watkins – a faithful man and good friend, was invited to produce a documentary on this incredible story.  Even though I studied Mariology, the study of Mary’s life and veneration to Her, I did not know much of the information Tim uncovered in his research.  There is so much to this amazing phenomena, it will take a serious act of God’s Grace to produce this film.  And their production team is working hard, even now, to be instruments of God’s Grace!

At one point in the production, Tim and the film crew were invited to the Shrine in Mexico to capture the various parts of the history and the life of faith on film, including an up close view of this sacred image.  A small group was invited to go into the vault, where the image is mechanically drawn away from the Shrine’s apse, in order to view the image up close and in private.  I was fortunate enough to be part of that small group!  The sense of faith evoked from this image was difficult to describe.  I can just say it was a beautiful moment.

Unfortunately, many could dismiss this icon as a piece of “mediocre” art, especially if they do not study its importance.  Thank God enough attention was paid to this “stamped” image on poorly constructed fiber.  The fact that the image and the cloth have endured almost 500 years has mystified the scientific community.  This image is in much better shape than the Declaration of Independence!  Consider the scientific studies that discovered images of historical people in the cornea of the image’s eye.  Check out the NASA research of the constellation contained in the vesture of the image that documents the position of the stars on the exact day of the apparition.  And read up on the accuracy of Mexico’s historical topography embedded in the designs of the image’s clothing, and you’ll realize there’s more to this image than meets the eye.

The image shows a woman with a belt situated under her bosom.  This demonstrates the woman is pregnant – she is full of Life! Therefore, theologically, this image represents the sacred dignity of life, which we will celebrate in a special way on December 25.  A four-leaf flower petal – the only four-leaf flower in the whole image – is situated perfectly on her belly, the spot of the unborn child.  Cultural historians explain this flower image as a symbol of divinity and kingship.  The stars that decorate this four-leaf flower make up the constellation “Leo”, as the lion is king of the jungle.  Could it be the Divine Artist was describing for the natives how the child in her womb is the “King,” the Lion of Judah, Jesus Christ – Divinity Incarnate!

This miraculous image could not have come at a better time for the native people of that land.  Historically, this image represents the turning of the tide from the brutal bloodshed of human sacrifices done to appease the false gods worshiped at the nearby temples.  Now, this new King, quietly resting in the womb of the woman, will want bloody sacrifices no more.  In fact, he will demand the exact opposite: Let Life Live!  The virginal image of this tilma and the virginal image of this Holy Season of Advent remind us Mary chose life.  No wonder this image has become the symbol for the Pro-Life movement.

Every December 12, the Catholic world, especially the Spanish-speaking community, celebrates this great feast in honor of this mysterious but hopeful image.  Could it be just a silly pious tradition surrounding an historical image?  Or could the celebration of this feast, less than 2 weeks from Christmas, be a heavenly reminder that Life is the greatest gift we can receive?  This image and this universal celebration of the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe cannot come at a better time for our own people, right here and now!  In our society, where people forget life is a gift and that a wrong choice can lead to an abortion and terminate the life of an unborn baby, this image reminds us we can fall into the temptation of being false gods too.  When we consider the number of abortions in our modern culture, we can see how we are not unlike the bloody culture of the past, willing to perform “human sacrifices” for the sake of convenience and to protect our own comforts.  One modern thinker has even gone so far as to say children are dangerous to the Earth’s resources. [Editors note: Dead link]  Thank God for the enduring message from the silent witness of Juan Diego’s tilma!

In preparation for the Holy Season of Christmas, when the image of the Woman with Child brings joy, peace, and hope, can we remember to do all we can to help pregnant women in need?  Should we not remind every man, starting from a young age, his responsibility to care for the mother of his child and to be a part of the birthing and raising of the child (as St. Joseph did)?  By our prayerful witness, can we help raise appropriate awareness in our politicians – as public servants – of the issues that are primarily moral, especially in regards to the first principals of the dignity of human life from conception to natural death!

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is another perfect image and symbol of Advent, for she waits for her child to be born.  And those who look at this image with devotion can also anticipate with joy the coming of her Son – who gives Life to the world!

Food for the Body

A Mexican Sweet Treat: Bunuelos

I was looking for a recipe that would be proper to the Mexican culture, especially in light of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I asked Christopher Ortega, a seminarian for the diocese of Savannah, who has a Mexican heritage, what type of treat he would like to eat to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe.  He mentioned his mother’s Bunuelos – a crispy tortilla with either a sugar cane glaze or powdered sugar.  Thanks again to Chris and his mother for sharing their recipe!  For the recipe, [click here].

Food for the Soul

A Prayer for Life!

This Blast is not intended to make people feel guilty, but to help people understand some choices can kill an innocent child.  Mary in the Nativity scene and Mary in the Guadalupe image would never call that Life in her womb a simple cluster of cells.  She would call that living entity her child!  In today’s culture, where life is treated without dignity – as witnessed by the hostility a child faces in the womb, the rejection the poor experience, the neglect of the sick and elderly, and the early termination of life because it can pose challenges and inconveniences – we need to listen to the silent witness of Juan Diego’s tilma.  Perhaps it may be a good meditation to put up this image in your home, near your Nativity Scene – so we not only celebrate the Life when born, but also when the Life is conceived!

Let us pray:

God our power and mercy, You blessed the Americas at Tepeyac with the presence of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe.  May her prayers help all men and women to accept each other as brothers and sisters.  Through your justice present in our hearts may Your peace reign in the world.  We ask this through Christ our Lord! Amen.

 

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Blast From The Past

On occasion, our Grace Before Meals movement will send out some “Blasts from the Past,” not only because the messages are still relevant today, but it also helps us remember how far we’ve come!

NEW VIDEO:

Grand Opening: St. James Coffee Shop!

(Me with Amanda from St. Matthew’s Church, and some of her teens who helped me during a demo of “Board Breaking.”)

Take a look at this blessed an unique coffee shop in Rochester MN. Yes, there is a Eucharistic Chapel and yes, they are cheaper than Starbucks!

Having just returned from another Steubenville Conference in Rochester MN (truly fantastic once again!), I thought this would be a great time to promote the opening of a great new Catholic coffee shop called St. James Coffee, complete with a Eucharistic Chapel and good coffee to boot…and it officially opens today! Check out my tour of the place and if you are up in Rochester MN, be sure to stop in for more than just a good cup of Joe, but the Grace of God. The perfect place to share Grace Before Meals!

Want an Odd Job Assisting Fr. Leo?

Don’t worry, it is not that odd! Fr. Leo and the GBM team are looking for young adults with a culinary background and missionary-hearts living in the Baltimore area to potentially assist with the cooking at events in the future. As we seek to create the best presentations and demonstrations possible, there is much work that needs to be done at each event, so your help could make a big difference. The position is not regular, but does offer payment. If you are interested in this opportunity to help Fr. Leo with food preparation at different events, please send your resume and information to assistant@gracebeforemeals.com. Think of it as a cool and helpful way to gain culinary and spiritual training!

Food for the Body

Coming Home 20 Years Later!

Originally posted November 12, 2008

A few weeks ago, about 50 “ young” men returned to their alma mater for their high school reunion.  I wanted to stress “ young” because I was one of them!

We celebrated our 20 year Mount St. Joseph high school reunion.  It was strange to walk through halls where I once wandered aimlessly as a lost freshman, where friends played practical jokes on each other, and where I was yelled at a few times by teachers. We celebrated on the grounds of the newly constructed sports stadium with homecoming victories over our rivals in football.

For a few hours, several of my classmates shared life updates, visited old classrooms, marveled at the new structural additions, and most importantly, remembered moments that made high school more than just a building.  In that brief reunion with my former classmates, I must say that it was good to be home.

Students at Mount St. Joe are referred to as “Mount Men.”  Our patrons are St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, and St. Francis Xavier, the founder of the Xavarian Brothers, the order of religious brothers that staffs this school and many others around the world.  The Mount “Tower,” part of the original building, still remains a focal point for the modern campus.  It is a symbol of what each Mount St. Joe student is to exemplify – a strong, enduring, visionary beacon for the community and world.  Even though none of us former students would have admitted it 20 years ago, we were all very proud to be a part of the Mount family.

Looking back, I realize the high school years can be some of the most challenging for young people.  It’s a time of internal conflicts: bodies (and hormones) develop at an unbelievable pace, but limited psychological and life experiences prevent teens from fully understanding these inevitable changes.  As high school students, we wanted to be treated as adults, yet we tended to act like unruly kids.   Change occurs so quickly that some teachers hardly recognize students after a summer of growth spurts.  Parents marvel at how clothes sizes change as dramatically as voices drop from tenor to squeaky baritone.  The amount of transformation that occurs in a young person during this time requires the watchful eyes of faithful teachers.  Change can be good, if we change into something good .  Therefore, teachers must see that their objective isn’t simply to educate students so they can graduate.  Teachers must see their vocation as vital assistance to parents in the formation of these children through academics, virtue- based development, and by sharing the gift of service with others.

Thank God for good high schools like Mount St. Joe, a place where the Brothers, Priests, and lay teachers watch, guide, and care for students as they would a brother or son.  As parents entrust children to these institutions for about 8 hours daily, school should be an extension of the family. At the Mount, we are a large family of brothers.  Granted, it isn’t perfect, but what is perfect this side of Heaven?

During the reunion, I was so proud to learn that from a class of about 200 men, three of us became Catholic priests and one non-Catholic student was ordained as a Protestant Minister.  Many of my classmates are now working in secular industries. Some serve in the military, in manual labor, as doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, and a handful are fire fighters.  Classmates spoke lovingly about their wives and how proud they were to be fathers.   It did my heart good to see how one guy who arrived after the opening speech and prayer bowed his head to offer Grace before he ate his meal.  I was even more honored to celebrate the Mass for several of my classmates, many of whom expressed their congratulations and prayerful encouragement of my work as a priest and as host for the Grace Before Meals movement.  Some were surprised to learn that I entered the seminary only six years after graduating high school.

The homecoming reunion weekend at Mount St. Joseph made me reflect on the importance of religious orders that focus on the education of young people. We need more teachers who see that educating young people is more than a job, it’s a calling from God. We need more high schools that challenge young people to grow, not just in body, but in mind and spirit. We need families to ensure that what young people are learning in high school are life lessons and not just useless facts. Too often we hear stories of teachers who use the classroom to indoctrinate students in relativistic tendencies, to question authority (especially legitimate religious authority), and who try to convince children that opinion is fact

These problems in high schools are very real.   What is necessary to make certain high school becomes a good foundational experience for young people?  The parent, the primary educator of the child, who talks with sons and daughters about what’s being taught in school.  And after all, the best place for home schooling is the kitchen table.

After 20 years, it was wonderful to see a good number of us Mount Men, some prodigal sons, return for this special homecoming.   We may not have had a fattened calf prepared for us, but we did feast on four years of memories.  And at Mass, the greatest learning institution in world history, we celebrated the fact that we were more than classmates; we were students of truth, children of God, and brothers in the Lord .

Food for the Body

A Mature Palate!  Vitello ai Funghi – Veal and Mushrooms.

20 years ago, I never thought that I would become a priest, and I had no idea that food would become such an important part of my life.  20 years ago, I don’t even think that I could grasp a concept that combines priesthood and food .

Recently, I had an opportunity to be a guest on the show Franciscan University Presents where we discussed that very unique combination of theology, food, faith, and family.

In the discussion with Fr. Michael Scanlon and Dr. Regis Martin, the concept of maturity in regards to faith and food was presented analogously.  We can’t appreciate certain theological concepts or even certain foods as children, because we have not yet grown up.  20 years ago, I would have never thought that I could ever enjoy a pan-seared slice of veal with a wild mushroom sauté.  For me, pizza and nuggets were all I needed.  On occasion, I eat foods that young people enjoy, but I definitely changed in that I would much rather have something fresh, with more veggies, and bold flavors that doesn’t require ketchup .  Perhaps, moms and dads can make this very mature meal for their young high school students as a way to test the maturity of their palate.  I can tell you, we didn’t get this in our high school cafeteria.  At that age, I don’t think we’d even know what to do with it .

http://gracebeforemeals.com/soul/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/img_0865.jpg

Please click here for the recipe.

Food for the Soul

Homecoming!

Being back at my old high school forced me to examine how much I’ve grown up.  I did some pretty stupid things as a youngster , from which I have learned many lessons , especially through the act of confession.  I’m still learning some of those lessons.  One thing I’ve learned for sure, even after 20 years, Mount St. Joseph is still like a home.   The priests, brothers, and teachers of my alma mater made sure the students were raised to be men who would continue to be true gentlemen and lifelong students – always learning, always growing!

Let us Pray:

Father, high school can be a tough time for young people. We pray that all involved in educating high school students can do so with patience and familial care.  Give to the students a desire to learn and the motivation to grow.  Protect them from harmful things that can destroy a young person’s future, even his or her life .  Give to parents the grace to be patient with young people especially by helping them to remember, they, too, were young once . Let’s not forget to pray for the entire staff – the lunchroom crew, the janitorial staff, the coaches who urge us to victory, and even the bullies who hopefully grow up in life.  And Father in Heaven, during the month of November when we remember the faithful departed, grant to all our teachers who have died eternal rest .  Amen.

This was Brother Donald, the MSJ Librarian.  In all four years of HS, this man was the only one who gave me detention for talking too much in the library. We miss you!

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Posted in Blast from the Past, Food for the Body, Food for the Soul, Food for Thought, In Memory, Past Emails, Recipe, Recipe-Meats, Recipes, Vegetables, Video | 4 Comments »

 

Blast From The Past

On occasion, our Grace Before Meals movement will send out some “Blasts from the Past,” not only because the messages are still relevant today, but it also helps us remember how far we’ve come!

Busy Break!

For a summer break, there’s certainly no time to relax! I’ve been all over the place for another great Steubenville Conference, this time in St. Louis, with plenty of cool kids who appreciated some of my dance moves- not bad for an old guy! Just playing. I’m currently filming the second season of “Savoring Our Faith”, so I hope you’re hungry for more episodes and recipes. I’ll be heading to another Steubenville conference in Rochester, MN this weekend, so be sure to be there if you’re up in the area. It’ll be a good time, don’cha know. (Bad impression, I know.)

(Me with Amanda from St. Matthew’s Church, and some of her teens who helped me during a demo of “Board Breaking.”)

Anyone, this week’s blast chronicles another Steubenville Conference from 2010, and the work and faith that is involved in each one. Please feel free to leave comments on our site as we look back, for we hope to impress you with the things to come.

Food for the Body

Young At Stomach!

Originally posted June 23, 2010

Young people look at life differently than the older generation.  The young at heart, can look at life with freshness, vibrancy, and enthusiasm.  Perhaps that’s one reason why Jesus admonishes all His followers to have a child-like faith.  No matter how old we are, we are constantly challenged to maintain that “young” disposition so that faith never gets old, out of style, boring, or lifeless.

(Me with Amanda from St. Matthew’s Church, and some of her teens who helped me during a demo of “Board Breaking.”)

(Me with Amanda from St. Matthew’s Church, and some of her teens who helped me during a demo of “Board Breaking.”)

My work with Grace Before Meals has provided me an opportunity to share the Good News with a diverse section of people – old and young alike.  Pastors and event organizers are impressed that our message applies to all groups equally.  Our parish missions and diocesan presentations draw families together.  I’m inspired to see a church or an event hall filled with groups of people of different ages.  Moms, Dads, grandparents, young adults, teens, and children have made a connection to our movement, simply because everyone needs to eat!

(Cooking for the Legatus Chapter, Des Moines, Iowa, in the private home of one of the members.)

 (Cooking for the Legatus Chapter, Des Moines, Iowa, in the private home of one of the members.)

What surprises me, however, is the unique ability of young people to eat so much more than adults.  I’m talking specifically about the amazing appetites of teens and young adults!  Young children may fuss and be picky, and older folks restrain and just get full more quickly.  But teens and young adults seem to devour food!  Young at heart is one thing, but being young in stomach is another!

(Teens praying for more food. Actually, they were praying that I’d “break-dance” at the Youth Conference.)

(Teens praying for more food.  Actually, they were praying that I’d “break-dance” at the Youth Conference.)

As being young at heart is primarily a very good thing, it also requires some attention simply because the lack of experience can lead one who is young heart down some dangerous roads.  That’s also true for the young stomachs – appetites that need attention and in some cases purification.  Young stomachs are hungry, and we need to pay attention to how and what we are feeding them.

(Andrew and Rachel, youth minister volunteers at St. John Baptist Church, where their parish has Grace Before Meals supper clubs.)

(Andrew and Rachel, youth minister volunteers at St. John Baptist Church, where their parish has Grace Before Meals supper clubs.)

I’ve experienced this time and again, especially at the recent youth group venues where I’ve given presentations.  One example is a recent presentation at Steubenville University.  Young people come from around the country to experience the faith made more digestible in the togetherness called “communion.”

(Teens design commemorative T-Shirts from their parishes/groups.)

 (Teens design commemorative T-Shirts from their parishes/groups.)

They feast on God’s word and by the example and testimony of the presenters and group leaders.  Young stomachs are hungry, and it’s the conference organizers job to make sure they are being fed properly – in body, mind, and spirit!

(Connor and Daniel – the two Young Adults on the side of the group – helped develop leadership skills among this youth gathering.)

(Connor and Daniel – the two Young Adults on the side of the group – helped develop leadership skills among this youth gathering.)

Thank God these events are a team effort.  It takes a team to organize the content and substance of the weekend, but also an impressive crew to set up, clean up, and feed the hungry crowd!

(Someone from the kitchen and youth support staff.)

(Someone from the kitchen and youth support staff.)

Seeing a weekend like this confirms the fact that no matter how bad or grim the news may be about the younger generation, there is real hope for the young at hearts and the young at stomachs.  There is an alternative to the political stump-filled rhetoric about hope, change, and new beginnings:  It’s the message that comes from God, who calls us to desire and sacrifice to both love and serve one another.

(The devoted kitchen crew that cooks for groups up to 2,200 people for every conference.)

(The devoted kitchen crew that cooks for groups up to 2,200 people for every conference.)

The teens that come to these events walk away with transformed expectations.  They know that making it through this life requires more than money and food for the belly.  They realize “success” requires faithfulness, believing in eternal truths, and having a real prayer life lived out with a community.  They also know that their Church and their Faith, even though it’s oftentimes ridiculed and denigrated in pop culture, has an authentic responsibility to feed all of God’s children with truth and Good News.

The young people at these conferences eat it up – like only young people can!  Such weekends give me great hope.  I admit I can no longer put it away like I used to when I was younger.  Sometimes I pray to be more appropriately “young at heart and stomach” again.

(“Glory Tent” – a break out session.)

(“Glory Tent” – a break out session.)

Food for the Body

Satisfyingly Stuffed Chicken

Here’s a simple recipe that provides flavors that seems to satisfy everyone’s taste buds, no matter what age.  It’s a tender piece of chicken stuffed with pancetta and Brie cheese.  The simple preparation, comfortable cooking time, and great flavors makes this chicken dish as comforting as chicken nuggets for the kids, hearty enough for the teens, and refined enough for the older guests.

Satisfyingly Stuffed Chicken

The making of the chicken

Click here for recipe

Food for the Soul

Praying for the Young at Heart and Young Stomachs

It’s ironic how young people on one hand can be easily misled when it comes to pop-culture, but on the other hand can be discerning when it comes to fashion, friends, faith, and food.  It shows how the teachers and parents of those young at heart and young at stomach must pay close attention to how these hearts can be molded and how their stomachs need to be appropriately satisfied.  As Christ became one of us, in all things but sin, parents and other authority figures need to be able to do the same when relating to young people.  That’s the only way they will follow!

(It’s natural and to follow the true Leader who will lead us to still waters.)

 (It’s natural and to follow the true Leader who will lead us to still waters.)

Let us pray:  Father in Heaven, no matter our age, we are Your children.  And in every age, You show how love requires patience, especially when dealing with the young at heart.  Give grace to those involved in youth ministry, so their actions and words will conform to Your loving plan.  Give our young people, especially in this summer season, the grace to follow, listen, and learn.  And above all, give us the hunger to be fed with truth that satisfies not only our stomachs, but our hearts as well.  Amen.

CONNECT WITH US @

 

Become a Fan of Fr. Leo and Grace before Meals on Facebook!Follow Fr. Leo on Twitter!Watch Grace Before Meals episodes on Youtube!

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Posted in Blast from the Past, Chicken, Food for the Body, Food for the Soul, Food for Thought, Past Emails, Prayers, Recipe, Recipe-Meats, Recipes | 3 Comments »