Originally Posted 8/31/11

NOTE: Every so often, we offer “Blasts from the Past”, which are older posts that still provide a great message and often times, food. With the Napa Valley trip coming up November 9-14 (click the link above to register), check out this letter from one of the Vineyard owners who felt blessed following Fr. Leo’s last “Fruit of the Vine, Work of Human Hands” pilgrimage in 2011. 

Yes, this is SPAM, but in French it’s called “KAM!” Why not just call it Spamé?

This week, I offer two unique e-mails.  One came from a vineyard I visited during the “Fruit of the Vine Retreat” I offered in Napa Valley last June [2011].

Some of the pilgrims from the tower of Castello di Amorosa Vineyard in Napa Valley.

This trip was a highlight of the summer.  The pilgrims who came along experienced incredible faith opportunities, complemented with food and wine, exquisite views, and fantastic people.  I can’t say enough about it!  I’ll just have to leave up to you take advantage and truly understand for yourself when we offer this trip again next year.  So many people are already calling/e-mailing me about when we’ll go to next year.  Let’s just say the plans are in the works.  So stay tuned! [Note: You can still register for the November 2014 trip by clicking HERE.]

A top of the mountain view of Napa Valley from Hall Winery.

One of our stops took us to the beautiful home of the Taylor Family, with a vineyard of the same name.  While we never discussed the specifics of faith in detail, the family definitely had plenty of it as they embarked on this new venture to produce high quality wine with a personalized, family touch.  While I was there, I blessed the vineyard (at their request).  So after getting drenched I prayed for God’s protection on this land, with the hopes that the land, like our souls, will be fruitful, productive, and yield a harvest to be shared with a hungering and thirsting world.

Getting a hands-on lesson about growing grapes.

Here’s a pleasant and surprising e-mail from the owner.  You’ll read how blessings DO work!  You better believe that the next time I lead a group there, we will go back and visit this family and celebrate God’s blessings around our table and in the Lord’s vineyard!

Fr. Leo,

It was such a pleasure hosting and meeting you and your entire group during your recent Napa visit.  Thank you for taking the time to visit us and for the vineyard/estate blessing.  Several weeks ago while our fruit was in bloom we had a very strong storm come through Napa that caused a lot of damage in the vineyards.  I am convinced that your blessing protected our vineyard from damage as miraculously we escaped major “shatter” from the 1 1/2″ downpour. Many of our neighbors had considerable loss in their vineyards. Thank you so very much.


I hope that you decide to return to Napa.  I would love the opportunity to cook alongside you in our new wood fired oven.


Warm regards,


Sandra Taylor Carlson

Taylor Family Vineyards




Our Lady’s Fruit, Jesus, blessing the vineyard of Meritage Winery and Resort – our hotel with a chapel!

And now for a completely unrelated question/topic about the martial arts, and its connection to my faith and my spirituality that also promotes peace.  It’s a question I receive regularly. Most recently I reflected on it as I participated in my sister’s 4th Degree Black Belt test.  There, I had a reunion with my former instructor and my students.  I even had a chance to “spar” against a few of the testers.  Yes, it brought back memories and reminded me of how God worked even in the midst of my martial arts training.

Hello Fr. Leo,

I had a quick question about the Catholic faith and learning martial arts.  If man is ordained a Catholic priest, could he still learn/practice a martial art?  If not, why can lay Catholics engage in the martial arts but not Catholic priests?

Thank you,


Dear Nick,

A Catholic Priest IS permitted to practice martial arts.  I still do, to some degree.  As a former instructor, I taught my students – no matter what religion they professed – the need to practice natural virtue while engaging in martial arts training.  To be a good and effective practitioner of martial arts, you have to be humble, obedient, and disciplined.  That doesn’t sound bad, does it?

Me and my former instructor, Mr. Fred Ocampo.

The popularized/Hollywood impression of martial artists is that they’re all tough guys who go around bullying people.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Most of the traditional practitioners were monks, who were willing to defend their country and culture if necessary.

For most modern practitioners, martial arts is a sport.  It gives training to the body and mind.  Some people make it a “religion,” which, at my school, we heartily rejected.  While we could be considered “masters” of the art, we all preferred to just be called “teachers,” as humble martial artists recognize there is only one trust Master:  God of the Universe!

As a sport, you can approach it with humility or pride.  I’ve seen more violent basketball, baseball, and football players than martial artists.

“Great in the Lord Conference” – The “Bread Breaker” now “Board Breaking.”

My suggestion:  take martial art training for all the right reasons.  Do it for exercise, for toning, strengthening muscles, and gaining flexibility.  Study and respect the antiquity of the Asian culture, which has produced incredible inventions and unique techniques that still work today!  Practice this skill with the intent to be humble.

If you have the opportunity to use it to defend yourself or your family, then thank God you know how to.  The fact is, God gives us strength, wisdom, and a right mind to avoid situations where we will have to use it.  In other words, martial artists don’t frequent rough and tough places.  Our skills teach us to avoid problems and to only use the skills as a last resort.

To help you formulate a better understanding of the art, I offer you the “creed” students said before every class:

The Martial Arts is:  A peaceful life secret, only to be used in defense.  It is a commitment to develop and succeed for the good of society.  It’s a way of life, following our positive natural virtues, of courtesy, perseverance, and self-control and indomitable spirit.

Using martial arts techniques for a popular youth conference talk called “Spiritual Combat,” for about 5,000 teenagers at the Eucharistic Congress in Atlanta, Georgia, 2010.


  • Did you ever have something blessed and then afterwards truly feel that the blessing worked, like the Taylor Vineyard blessing?
  • Do you practice a martial art, and how would you reconcile your spiritual commitments with this potentially deadly skill?  
  • Do you have any questions for which Fr. Leo can offer a perspective – a “food for thought?” 

Your communication encourages our efforts.  Please post your comments and questions below.



Let us pray:

Father in Heaven, teach us humility so that we, like vineyard workers will depend on You; and, as soldiers, we will hear the command and be willing to fight – not with weapons but with faith – against forces that want to harm our souls.  Give us Grace, Lord, to put all things in Your hands – our food, our sports, our hobbies, so as to transform these into gifts, rather than weapons!  Amen.



READ: Fr. Leo Interviewed on BeautyInBelief.com


Click to read the interview on BeautyInBelief.com

READ: Fr. Leo’s Eggplant Caponata Recipe featured on CatholicMom.org

Click to check out CatholicMom.org



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Posted in Blast from the Past, From the Feedbag, Pilgrimages, Prayers | No Comments »

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!

“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 »

Posted July 16th, 2014 | Blast from the Past, Dinner Discussion


Tastefully Truthful

Originally Published May 2, 2012

This week, I want to talk about a challenge for people who love food and God.  I call them faithful foodies.  How do you make truth taste good? 

Recent taping on the set at FOX 45 Baltimore, promoting the Baltimore Health Expo 2012. Healthy food doesn’t always taste as good as the not-so-good-for-you foods. This TV spot gave us a chance to build up flavor and our movement.

In the culinary world, food should be pure, clean, and fresh tasting.  Salad ought to taste like lettuce and vegetables and not be overwhelmed by heavy salad dressing.  If we are eating fish, it shouldn’t taste like chicken nuggets, like most breaded seafood.  Masking the authentic flavors is a big no-no in the modern food world.  Manipulating ingredients – salt, pepper, oil, vinegar – to highlight natural flavors separates novices from top chefs.

House salad at ABC Kitchen in NYC. Rising star executive chef Dan Kluger is known for bringing out great flavor from simple ingredients. For example, the carrots took on a whole new meaning when perfectly caramelized. Dressing for the salad was so light, you could taste freshness.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful if we had that same attitude and skill towards proclaiming the truth?  But in a world when political correctness is like another form of religion with its own set of dogmas (we have to be inclusive; we can’t say this; we always have to say that, etc., etc.), we tend to manipulate the truth in such a way that we distort and, in some cases, destroy it. This is especially the case with language about protecting the dignity of human life!  But in these challenging times, we also have to recognize that our objective is not to cover up the beauty of truth but to understand and manipulate the other factors, like ingredients, to highlight the beauty of it and make the bitter truth more palatable.

With the Sungenis Family after Easter Sunday Mass at St. Louis Church in Clarksville, Maryland. Listen to part of my homily. The grand finish unfortunately got cut off on YouTube.

Don’t feel guilty about doing that.  When proclaiming the truth, we have to be as smart as parents who top broccoli with little buttered breadcrumbs or incorporate cream and cheese with some spinach to help kids to eat it.

With my new goddaughter, Lillian Hickey, to be baptized on Mother’s Day. I have to make sure she is spiritually fed. That’s what godparents do.

You get the point.  Jesus certainly understood the art of making eternal truths bite-sized and appetizing.  People came in droves just to savor some of the crumbs that would fall from the Master’s table.

The Last Supper.

Each May 2, the Universal Church celebrates St. Athanasius who struggled to learn how to present the truth.  It wasn’t easy for him.  He was a fiery speaker with a temper.  Other religious leaders even sought his death. To his credit, he volunteered his own exile, but continued to teach through writings and debates and taught creative and engaging classes to a growing number of students.  Eventually he won over hearts and minds of his enemies, similar to the way parents eventually get children to eat their vegetables.  

With a crew of really “tough guys” at the Youth Spectacular held at the Fairgrounds for the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas.

Today, St. Athanasius provides a unique example for faithful foodies – people interested in proclaiming truth unmasked but creatively prepared and beautifully presented.  There will always be detractors and hostility towards the Faith.  However, our good example will at least get them to appreciate what we hold dearly as uncompromising truths, even if they don’t agree with or fully understand us.  Using a cooking example, I still don’t enjoy eating liver, but I realize that different forms of preparation make it a bit more palatable.  Depending on how it’s prepared, I can accept liver in bite-sized portions.  With a maturing palate, I can also appreciate those who have a penchant for it. 

One of the dishes that will be featured in the upcoming [*Editor’s Note: now published] book, “Spicing Up Married Life.”

By our good example, our evident joy in celebrating the sanctity of life, and by developing the skill to present the truth of our faith more joyfully, we can win over hearts and minds of people.  Maybe they won’t eat up everything we’re serving, but, at the very least, they can learn to nibble on bite-sized truth. 


Father in Heaven, make us instruments of Your peace and grace. When we get frustrated about how people reject the beauty of truth, may our patient example inspire us to present it more creatively to win them over.  We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. 



Jack Belby, from St. Mary’s Church in Hudson, Ohio, a master at milkshakes.

Do you have a technique that helps your children eat something they don’t like?

What is the food that you just can’t stand eating?

Was there a food that you eventually began to appreciate when you matured or at least learned better ways to prepare it?

Your comments encourage our movement and tell us that you are being fed by these Blasts.  Please post your comments and questions below.  


 7/18/14 – 7/20/14


 STEUBENVILLE Main Campus #5

Steubenville, OH

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Posted in Blast from the Past, Dinner Discussion | 1 Comment »

St. Joseph: Husband and Father

Originally Published 3/19/07

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.

Every year on March 19th, I gather with several priests to celebrate St. Joseph’s Feast Day – Husband of Mary and Foster Father of Jesus.  Living in Italy as a seminarian gave me a new perspective on this celebration.  Italians consider it a National Holiday – their own “Father’s Day” – with traditions that call for setting up a small shrine for St. Joseph and lots and lots of food. Why?  Especially since the New Testament doesn’t even give Joseph any speaking parts!  How important of a role could St. Joseph play as “Husband” and “Father?”  The answer is in the question!

It’s no secret, but unfortunately fatherhood has unique challenges in today’s culture.  Whether it’s because society is pushing an agenda to see fathers as “not as smart” as mom or kids or whether it’s because dads are not stepping up to the plate, we can all observe a decline in family structures where fatherhood is not properly integrated.  This little email blast won’t solve the problems of deadbeat dads or unappreciated fathers.  But I can offer a gentle reminder about a father’s responsibility: to put food on the table and feed his children in body, mind and soul.  I recently read a powerful article about this and I immediately saw why St. Joseph’s day should be celebrated with Gusto!

Admittedly, the Scriptures say very little about this man.  My dad jokes, “I’m like St. Joseph in my family.  I don’t say anything!”  I know he’s joking because I’ve personally heard PLENTY from my dad.  But my dad (thank God) shares similarities to St. Joseph, who is described as being “Upright” (Mt 1:19).  Let’s admit, we would all want our dads to be “nice,” but have we ever appreciated that our dads are called to be “upright?”  It clearly doesn’t mean that dadIS always right.  But it indicates that dads should know the difference between right and wrong.  Together with mom, dad has the responsibility to teach and feed these very lessons to his children.  To teach children how to be upright, and to do it nicelymeans that our dads, like St. Joseph, are no “Ordinary Joes.”



If you want to discuss something at our Grace Before Meals table, please let us know!  Also, please be sure to check out the Blog Site and let us know what you’re thinking.  Our Grace Before Meals Family is growing, and it would be nice to meet each other at our cyber table.  So go ahead and introduce yourself to our growing family!

I was really young when dad came home from the office with his first paycheck, after struggling to get his own private medical practice up and running.  He took us all to a steakhouse chain restaurant called “Rustlers.”  Remember that place?  It was a cafeteria-style steak house where you ordered your steak, slid a tray along a counter, picked up your sides, paid the cashier and sat down for a family meal.  It was an extraordinary moment for me to see these huge grills cook my steak to order!

The Grace Before Meals Team tries to help families see the blessing of the food on the table and the blessings of the people around the table.  I’m sure St. Joseph felt that way.  Can you imagine how St. Joseph felt having breakfast with Mary, the Mother of God, and Jesus, the Incarnate Word – the Only Son of God?  I wonder what they talked about. More importantly, how did they pray before meals?  We’ll consider adding a special prayer for each person in the family along with the grace before meals.

Today, you may want to say a special prayer for dad. Tomorrow, mom, and the day after, one prayer a day for each child!  The prayer can definitely help us be more “upright” like St. Joseph’s family.

“Father, you entrusted our Savior to the care of St. Joseph.  By the help of his prayers, may your Church continue to love and to serve the Lord, by loving and serving one another.  Amen!”

This Week’s Lenten Recipe from CRS Rice Bowl:
Visit crsricebowl.org for more on Fr. Leo and 
CRS Rice Bowl Global Kitchen: For Lent, For Life
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Posted in Blast from the Past, CRS Rice Bowl, Feast Days, Lent, Recipe-Fish, Recipes, Video | 1 Comment »

Posted September 4th, 2013 | Blast from the Past, Chicken, Past Emails, Recipe



Fr. Leo’s summer is coming to a close, and will be back next week to share some new adventures. We have one more Blast from the Past published at the beginning of 2009. You’ll notice references to things that are no longer the case, such as teaching at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary or drafting Spicing Up Married Life, which came out last year (Get your copy HERE). But the lesson of making time to focus on God and reconfirm your faith is a timeless one indeed. 
Additionally, you should check your plans for next January and May in case you are able to make one of Fr. Leo’s pilgrimages before they sell out!
First, Fr. Leo’s January 19-29, 2014 trip to the Holy Land is almost sold out, so you should act fast to sign up before it is too late. It will be a wonderful adventure with food, faith and an opportunity to walk the same places that Jesus did. Click on the banner to find out more:
Second, Fr. Leo is joining popular radio host Teresa Tomeo Pastore (“The Catholic Connection”) and her husband, Deacon Dom Pastore on a Rome-antic Pilgrimage from May 18-27, 2014, visiting Italy and leading a special retreat for couples. Click on the Banner below to get more information:

And finally, it has been long overdue for another Bite-Sized Theology lesson. This week’s Bite-Size Theology Lesson is about Jesus as a Foodie! Click the picture to hear Fr. Leo’s bite-sized tip, only on GraceBeforeMeals.com. 


AUDIO: Click to hear Fr. Leo’s Bite Size Theology for the week.



Retreating to Take My Own Medicine

Originally published January 14, 2009


Each year Catholic priests make a personal retreat.  It’s a time to bring their hopes, fears, and prayers to Jesus.


The retreat is not a helpful suggestion; it’s a mandate enforced by canon law.  Making a retreat is serious stuff.  The reason is simple: we can become so busy that we forget the most important thing we can do in life is pray.

Families tell me how difficult it is to make time for family prayers, weekly Mass, and even to remember to say grace before meals.  If you followed along last year, you will remember how busy it was for us with travels for speaking engagements, taping new web shows, meetings, writing a weekly column, and most important, my day job doing formation work for seminarians.  Believe me; I had all kinds of excuses for pushing my retreat to the last minute.But, with the grace of God I finally fulfilled my 2008 annual retreat obligation.  The last day of my retreat was December 30th, 2008. Talk about pushing the limits!

When the seminarians returned from their Christmas break, they began this year with their retreat, led by Fr. Raneiro Cantalmessa, who is the Apostolic Preacher to the Papal Household.  That means Fr. Cantalamessa preaches to the Pope and all the Bishops who live in Vatican. My retreat and the seminarians’ retreat offered similar themes for reflection, which I’d like to share with the Grace Before Meals family.

One theme was focus on Jesus.  It may seem simple, but it’s quite a lofty challenge. My retreat afforded me the quiet to remember Jesus for who He is: God, the Lord of my life.  That can be a very difficult thing to fully live.  We love to take charge of everything, sometimes forgetting the first commandment. God is God, not me.  Fr. Cantalamessa observed that worldly discussions, whether political, sociological, scientific, or even ecumenical can downplay Jesus Christ. Somehow Jesus remains a very challenging figure for us.  Just consider Christmas; Is it really about the person of Jesus or more about celebrating a happy holiday?  Wouldn’t it be difficult for people today to sincerely say, “I hope you have a blessed Christmas.”  Fr. Cantalmessa’s point accurately describes our “God-lessening” society.  Our busy lives, bad company, expensive or time consuming hobbies, and our own sins can easily distract our focus on the person of Jesus Christ.   That’s why retreats and taking time for substantial prayer is very helpful to regain our focus on the most important person in our faith life.

A second theme was the idea of eating.  On my retreat, I had a small kitchenette to cook all of my meals because the retreat center’s food service was closed.  I actually preferred that because I created some fun, rustic, and soul satisfying food, such as a pan-roasted rib eye with root veggies and fresh romaine salad.

I honestly sensed God’s encouragement to take this Grace Before Meals movement seriously.  I realize that many people may think what I’m doing is just for fun.  I’ve even heard people call it a “priest shtick.”  But, people are truly hungry in body, mind, and spirit, and we have a responsibility to feed them with faith, hope, and love.  This retreat made me refocus my efforts to make sure that we continue to promote this movement, which is now worldwide.  I even used the retreat to finish the first draft of my newest book, Spicing Up Married Life, which contains a combination of essays, questions, and recipes to strengthen a couple’s love for each other. [Editor’s Note: SUML was released in September 2012 and is available here].  So, eating was an important part of my own retreat.

Fr. Cantalamessa also used this theme when he challenged the men to make sure that seminarians are “eating the scroll,” a reference to Ezekiel 3:3.  It’s not enough to just study theology; we must digest it and take it into ourselves as nutrients from food adhere to our very bodies.  He encouraged seminarians not only live in God’s Word, but by eating the scroll we allow His Word to live in us.

When I heard him preach like that I wanted to stand up and cheer. Retreats give individuals and families an opportunity to reconfirm faith.  In retreats, we receive clarity in our concerns.  The quiet of the retreat brings us closer to knowing, loving, and serving Jesus Christ.  I’ll be leading a few retreats and conferences this year. Check out the Events page of the website for details on joining us for these extended moments of prayer.  If you want to make a spiritual pilgrimage with me, please know I have a few spots available for the trip.  We begin in Lourdes, France and make our way to Rome, Italy.  Come and join us. Click here for the information. [Editors note: These trips are no longer available, but you can check out the links above to go to Fr. Leo’s trip to the Holy Land in January and trip to Italy in May].

In these first few weeks of the New Year, there’s still time to look ahead and plan for some retreat opportunities this year (including my trip to Europe).

When I write these weekly blasts, I’m always encouraging families to make sure they have a balanced diet of activities, including time for prayer.  I took my own advice and made the time to go on my retreat last year.  Even though it’s tough to break away from the hectic pace of the modern world, I’m so glad I did.  This retreat left me very satisfied and even hungrier to seek God’s love in my life and to share it with all of you.

Spirit of the Living God


Fr. Cantalamessa shared some of his spiritual renewal experience through the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in America during the 1970s.  This much needed life and breath of Catholic spirituality helped many people focus on the Holy Spirit to truly know the enthusiastic power of God in our lives.   During his last homily, he led us in singing a song that asks for the Holy Spirit to fall afresh on us.  At the end of the retreat, the Rector spoke about the privilege it was for all of us, especially seminarians, to listen to the Pope’s preacher.  Both the Rector (left) and our house spiritual director (right), agreed that this retreat was like sitting at the foot of a spiritual master.

Let us Pray:
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.  
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. 
Melt me. Mold me.  Fill me. Use me. 

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us.

 Rustic Retreat Cuisine


As mentioned before, I had the chance to cook on my retreat.  Don’t worry, I didn’t eat all of this myself.  I was cooking for me and another priest friend, Fr. Tim, who occupied the cabin next door.  He remembered eating my cooking when I was a student in Rome, but hasn’t had the chance to sample my cuisine lately.  Here are some of my menu items: pan-roasted bone-in rib eye steaks with roasted root vegetables and romaine lettuce vinaigrette.  Another evening I made penne with norcina sauce (creamy white wine, sage, and sausage) with a side of sautéed spinach and red onions.

Click here for the Stuffed Chicken with Tomato Sauce.

I also made a stuffed chicken cutlet over spicy tomato rice and steamed broccoli and carrots with a paprika aoli.  The rest of the time, I ate leftovers. Click here for the stuffed chicken recipe. If you have any recipes, pictures, or stories to share, please pass them along to www.gracebeforemeals.com.

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Posted August 28th, 2013 | Blast from the Past, Past Emails, Prayers, Recipe

We Need More Monicas!

Originally published August 27, 2008


August 27th is the Feast of St. Monica, the saintly mother who prayed for her son, Augustine, aka St. Augustine.  She prayed for her son to turn away from a sinful life and to reconcile his intellect to the wisdom of the Church. Her prayers worked! God, in His time, answered her prayers.  And Augustine finally understood why Faith meant so much to his mother.  Eventually, Augustine experienced an intellectual conversion and a change of heart. With St. Monica’s inspiration, Augustine became one of the greatest intellectual and theologically inclined saints in the Catholic Church’s history.Monica is a great example for many families who may feel frustration and even despair that their children may not be practicing their Faith as the parents taught them and want for them.  Parents write to me all the time, or stop me at a conference and ask, “what do I do?  My children aren’t practicing their faith anymore?”  Unfortunately, in these brief emails or meetings, I can’t answer all of the various situations that are posed to me.   However, I can suggest a few different ways that parents can preserve and encourage their family’s faith.

First, start young!  Children are naturally more receptive to faith when they are raised in it.  Teaching the basics in prayer means developing a prayerful foundation.  This young set of parents from Nashville is teaching their daughter Mimi to pray Grace Before Meals! Isn’t she like a little “poster child” for Grace Before Meals! They are only doing what they themselves learned from their parents!

Yet, teaching them from the start isn’t a “guarantee” your children will be saints. Therefore, if you did raise your children in faith, but they are no longer practicing or starting to question their faith, make sure you remain open to their questions and try to seek answers to their questions or issues of doubt TOGETHER! Don’t just dismiss them in your frustration. Instead, try to seek the response to their concerns. Keep open the lines of communication and try to grow more confident in your own faith by trusting that God still loves your child more than you can imagine.Another consideration is to make sure that you as parents are practicing what you preaching. While in Japan, I met several families who are trying to live their faith openly by taking time to pray together as members of an international group called “Couples for Christ.” While in Japan, I had a chance to do a Grace Before Meals Presentation for them.The formula for this gathering is simple. While the parents come together, share a meal, take time for sharing, offering each other support, singing a few songs and offering some petition prayers. The children join in the prayers for a while but also have some time to play with the other kids. The children see that mom and dad DO pray together and with others – and not just in church. The kids see that mom and dad ARE serious about their faith.The statement, “I believe faith is a ‘private’ thing” is unfortunately a temptation of the devil. We are tempted to not live our faith outside our home or church. The fact is, if you really have faith, you will not be afraid to share it everywhere! I realize that people are convinced that separation of church and state means that no one should talk about faith outside of church. But the fact is, God’s kingdom is not limited to church walls or my bedroom door! Make sure your children see that you are practicing your faith, and trying to practice what Christ preaches.

Here’s another little tip to help: make sure there is a balance between praying and playing! It would be nice if children and teenagers were naturally inclined to prayer. Although I do know some children who are, it is more likely they are more interested in playing outside or video games. The reality is, we can’t and should not force kids to say “formal prayers” all the time. That would be imbalanced. Remember, families are families. They aren’t mini-monasteries, or mini-convents, or mini-seminaries. Therefore, make sure you and your family has a healthy and balanced “diet” of activities: playing, praying, eating, relaxing, learning, talking, etc., etc.,If you’re whole life exists around a particular sport or hobby, to the exclusion of other wholesome and inspiring activities, then you may need to take a break from it. Especially if it’s slowly creeping out time for prayer, excluding family meals, and just ‘chilling out’ as a family! The balance of a healthy life requires us to make sure we master our schedules instead of having our schedules master us!

Another suggestion would be for the families to encourage their children to make sure they have good friends. Make sure parents ask their kids questions about what makes a good friend for you? How can your children be good friends for others? Ask, “how do you know if a friend is helping or hurting you?” Children should know how to make these important interpersonal relational distinctions.When I was in Toronto a few weeks ago, I met several young people as part of the BLD Youth Conference. In the Tagalog Language, BLD stands for “Bukas Loob Sa Diyos” – which translates to “Open Your Heart to the Lord.”

It was inspiring to see so many families in Canada and parts of the USA who are part of this growing International Group.  Like the Couples for Christ, this group also started in the Philippines, where family ties are strong – but not without the challenges faced by the families in the west.  But, these groups, and so many other ecclesial movements provide resources and relationships that can truly help your family grow stronger in communion with each other and God!  If you have questions about your family’s faith, do something about it and join a good group of people who, like St. Monica, want their children to be saints too!

To summarize, I know that St. Monica provides for us a living example of what is necessary to preserve your family.  Are you “waiting” for your children to grow up before making a decision to raise them in faith?  If you are, you are denying them grace now!  Are you telling your children to pray, but at the same time not praying yourself, or not letting your own children see you pray?  If so, then your children are receiving mixed messages from you!  Is there is a balance in your family, or do you just try to “squeeze in” prayers and church?  If there is an imbalance, trust that the devil will always push and pull us off the path that requires us to be balanced if we want to ‘walk the talk.’  Finally, are you helping your children to “flock together” with other good kids? Trust me, they ARE out there! Are we helping them to understand healthy distinctions in relationships by making sure we have good relationships ourselves – starting with your spouse?

Ultimately, your children will make their own decisions. You can’t force them to be a saint right here and now!  Just ask St. Monica who witnessed her son, Augustine, take baby steps in Faith only when she was ready to die!  We have to trust that God is hearing your prayers.  This week’s email blast is just one more way that God is trying to remind families of what is most important. This advice didn’t come from me, Fr. Leo.  It really came from the witness of the saints, especially Monica, who I humbly ask to pray for all families and all children who do not yet know Your love and call to be saints, now and forever!  St. Monica, pray for us! 

Prayer for Families


Parents have a great responsibility AND privilege to raise their children in faith. Don’t worry, you are not alone. And, above all, God knows that you are trying to do your best. And, if you’re not doing your best, then God can also give you the courage and strength to do your job better. Go ahead and talk with the one who helped St. Monica get through her difficult years with her son, who eventually became a great saint!


Let us Pray:


Father in Heaven, we can be so imperfect at times. We can forget the blessings and we so often focus on the bad. In a time when families struggle to stay together, help us to remember that a family that prays together stays together. And Lord, even when some of our family members turn away from You, help us to trust that you will never turn your back on them. Give us grace to strengthen our ties with one another and with You. Give us grace to seek the support and communities to keep our family focused on Your love, Your laws, and Your invitation to be part of Your heavenly family forever. Amen.

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