The Virtue of Food

As time during my 13 years as a priest has passed, one of the things I have learned about myself is that I have come to love and appreciate good food. I have become, over time, what one calls a “foodie” – someone who likes to try different and unique dishes with a plenitude of flavors, spices and such.
In the spirit of faith, I also have come to realize that the best meals we have are not alone but with one another: with family, friends and parishioners. Some of the best meals and dinners have been spontaneous encounters with “locals” or people from my community or town whom I happen to strike up a conversation with, and often later become friends – over food. And when this happens, I also have the blessing of getting to know well chefs, the owners of restaurants, waiters and waitresses, and many hosts and hostesses, to name a few.  

Standing outside St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans

It is also in that spirit that I recently attended the first-ever “Olive Mass” in the Cathedral of St. Louis in New Orleans, LA (a city that is a hub and center of spicy and tasty food – such as jambalaya and shrimp gumbo, for example! – and lively culture.)

You’ve probably heard of themed-Masses such as the “Red Mass” which is offered for lawyers and those working in legal professions, as well as the “Blue Mass” which supports those who guard and protect us – police officers, firefighters, those who are ambulance drivers and more. The Olive Mass is a Mass created for those who serve us as chefs, those who work in restaurants, and others within the food and hospitality industry. It is the inspiration of Father Leo Patalinghug (a longtime personal friend of mine, the author of Grace Before Meals, the host of a cooking show on EWTN, a ‘throwdown’ competitor with Bobby Flay and the founder of The Table Foundation) who, in addition to being a very gifted cook in his own right, has a compassion and love for those who serve us with and through food.

With my friend, Boaz, who is from Jerusalem and is a member of Chefs for Peace, Christian, Muslim and Jewish chefs who promote peace.

The Olive Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans with several other priests present, was offered to support and say “thank you” to those who serve food to us and to many. In his homily, Father Leo reminded us that God, that Jesus, loves us so much that – in the Eucharist – he has become food for us, through his presence to us in bread and wine, becoming sacramentally his body and blood. But he also encouraged those who work so hard and so often in the hot, busy and stressful environments of kitchens of restaurants, that – quoting St. Teresa of Avila – “God is found amidst the pots and the pans!” And of course, after a beautiful and inspiring Mass in the lovely cathedral there, all were invited to a reception hosted at a local convent where delicious local food was served as a gift from Chef John Besh, a celebrity chef who owns about a dozen restaurants in and around New Orleans.         
It is Father Leo’s hope that, like the Lord’s own visiting of homes and sharing meals with anyone who desired to come to know him and listen to him, relationships will be strengthened in the Lord and among those who serve food – and families and us, of course as well!  He hopes that a simple love of food will lead us back to an amazing and new love of God and each other. God gives us food and our meals to help us build relationships and become a family, in both a personal and a larger human way.
So, through all of this, I have discovered three simple things. First, after being around delicious food and skilled chefs, I believe I really don’t know how to cook.  Second, I am more grateful for it – and particularly those who serve it in a new way. And third, praise God, I now understand the “virtue of food.”       

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.