By Teresa Tomeo
Father Leo Patalinghug, author of "Grace before Meals: Recipes for Family Life" (TrueQuest Communications, $15.95), was thrilled about the opportunity to appear on the popular Food Network program "Throwdown! with Bobby Flay" (scheduled to air at 9 p.m. EST on Sept. 9). After all, the priest, who runs the Pastor Field Education Program for seminarians at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Maryland, believes cooking is one of the best ways to teach about the faith, especially the source and summit of the Catholic faith -- the Eucharist.
That's why he decided to put his love for cooking into a book and a media ministry ( www.gracebeforemeals.com), so families, especially Catholic families, could come to a deeper understanding of the meaning of spending time together around the table. Father Patalinghug has made frequent local, national and even international television appearances.
He also has been featured in major Catholic and secular Internet and print outlets, including a May 2008 interview with Our Sunday Visitor, the Catholic News Agency, Catholic Digest, The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun. So, appearing on one of the most popular cable networks with one of the country's most famous chefs will be yet another way to reach out to a wide audience for Christ. Who knows who will be tuning in when the segment airs?
But during a recent interview, Father Patalinghug told me that while he is still expecting big things from the Lord in terms of viewer response, he wasn't expecting what happened behind the scenes while they were producing the program. He says what occurred is another indication of why priests need to be interacting in the community, meeting people and sharing everyday experiences. He added, we sometimes tend to put the Church or our priests in a box, and when we step outside those boxes, amazing things can happen.
"One thing that was interesting about this whole experience was that the camera crew, the producers, the director, they were all asking me spiritual questions," he said. "So whether or not I can reach a thousand people because of the show itself, I just know that there was a Jewish girl who wanted to talk about the Incarnation. ... There was a cameraman who wanted to talk about his marriage preparation. ... There was a young man -- it was amazing, one of the production assistants -- who said, 'Father, I was so excited to learn that you were going to be the chef because I saw you on EWTN.'"
The Year for Priests also came to mind during the production, Father Patalinghug said. "In this Year for Priests, I think it is so important to show priests doing human things, because Christ did human things as well."
I thought about his comments for days after our interview. They reminded me of so many experiences I have had with my own radio program. You can have the best producer and technical folks running the show, but special developments take shape when you open yourself up to the one in the Master control room. Father Patalinghug agrees this was another reminder of how the Lord works in ways we don't often expect or exactly understand. But it sure is exciting when it happens right before our eyes.
"The show itself wasn't only done for the people who will be watching the show," he said. "I learned it was also for the people working around us: the producers, the directors. And even Bobby Flay said to me, 'Father, it's been a long time since my last confession.'"
Teresa Tomeo is the host of Catholic Connection, produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.
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