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June 3, 2009

Sunday Dinners

Michael Kurtianyk

Whatever happened to Sunday dinners? Have they gone the way of bowling and hula hoops? You know what I mean – the fixture of a Sunday dinner when, on a day of rest, you spend the day with family and culminate in a big dinner with all the fixings and desserts. Summers would be an outdoor barbecue and winters would be heartier meals like stew, or pot roast, or some such thing.


I remember growing up in Syracuse, NY, and my dad would barbecue on the charcoal grill. He liked his steaks and baked potatoes, and he was the one who passed on his culinary skills on the barbecue to me. Someday I hope to be half as good as he was on the grill, and it sure is fun trying.


He’d show me the black charcoals and let me spray them with lighter fluid. He’d have matches already in among the charcoal, so that when he’d toss the lit match, the others would catch. Then, and here’s where he excelled, he tell me when to put the food on the grill. You don’t do it too early, what with the flames rising and all. No, you wait until the charcoal turns about one-half ash.


My eagerness to get going on the cooking was tempered by my dad’s reassurances that patience is the great virtue. When all was said and done, I’d help my dad bring the food in and we’d all sit down and enjoy the Sunday dinner.


What prompted this flashback? Our family had the good fortune to attend a Whole Family Community event at our church last weekend. Titled “The Presence of the Spirit in Our Journey,” the participants were treated to an excellent presentation by Father Leo Patalinghug. He has started a movement called “Grace Before Meals.” It’s a simple concept really: in order to build a community of friends and strong families, the movement asks each family to make a commitment to take part in eating together as much as possible. Try to eat together at least five times per week, if not more.


We all know that, in this busy culture, we aren’t able to do this every day. I know that in our family, between soccer, dance, Brownies, my work, etc., it’s hard to get all four of us to sit together and have a meal every night. This is true for many of us. But think about the benefits of eating together for a good meal. It’s an excellent way to connect with your family on things that happen in and out of our lives. Also, we can have conversations while preparing and eating the meals. The television would be turned off so that the focus can be on the family.


Father Leo adds that saying grace before meals is important also, as it brings a calm before the meal and a way to say thanks for our blessings.


In his book Grace Before Meals: Recipes for Family Life, Father Leo provides recipes, yes, but offers more. He provides topics to discuss at the table, and journal pages to record our experiences at the meals.


According to his biography, Father Leo was born in the Philippines and raised in the Baltimore area. He actually developed his love for cooking while attending the seminary at the North American College in Rome. There, he became friendly with several Italian restaurant owners and would often invite them back to the student kitchen to trade cooking secrets. They would teach him about rigatoni and lasagna; he would show them how to make hamburgers and ribs. Currently, he is a member of the faculty at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, where he directs the Pastoral Field Education Programs for future priests.


What Father Leo did at the Holy Family event was discuss his movement while simultaneously cooking a penne a la vodka. It was great to see him model a conversation and cook, something we can do at home. He said he’s been traveling around the country and world, making similar presentations. He encouraged each of us to sit down together as a family and discuss things as a family. He also said that we should slow down and enjoy life during these busy times.


What I took from his presentation is to not only have more Sunday dinners, but include others and make the meal more of an event. I would encourage everyone to follow his suggestion and eat more meals together, not just Sunday dinners. Maybe it’ll be a charcoal barbecue in the Maryland summer sun!


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