13 September 2009

Have sex, eating and drinking lost their meaning for many Catholics?

Chef Bobby Flay with Fr Leo Patalinghug

Philippine-born Father Leo Patalinghug of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Maryland, the first diocese in the USA, recently won a televised 'Fajita Throwdown' contest against a renowned American chef Bobby Flay.

I'm afraid that I wouldn't know a fajita from a football. I think it's a popular Mexican dish. My ignorance of matters culinary remind me of a song that was popular way back in 1954 when I was 11, sung by an English singer, Alma Cogan, 'I Can't Tell a Waltz from a Tango'. (I do know the difference between those two and could do a good waltz once upon a time but never got the hang of the latter).

Father Leo has his own website, Grace Before Meals, and at the heart of his cooking apostolate is building Catholic families.

When I was based in Britain from 2000 to 2002 I remember reading about a survey among young people in England that showed that a majority had never experienced a family meal. The 'Sunday roast' was always a major event in the life of nearly every family in Ireland and in Britain when I was young. Very often the centrepiece was roast beef, hence the name, and it would provide sandwiches or cold meat meals for at least one day, if not two. Sunday was the only day we got dessert in our family.

Today obesity is a major problem in Western countries. there are many factors but I believe that one of them is that eating has been dissociated to a large degree from its social dimension and is seen by many as a way of 'tanking up', often with junk food.

By the same token, binge drinking by young people is a grave matter of concern in Ireland and Britain, especially at weekends, where people go out with one thing in mind: to get drunk. Again, the social dimension of drinking is utterly lost.

Earlier this month a group of newly-graduated students, aged between 17 and 19, of St Vincent's, Cork, aCatholic girls' school, held a dinner-dance at which a condom was placed at each table-setting. This was the doing of some of the organisers. I was utterly shocked. I know that young people in Ireland have, to a large degree, rejected the Catholic faith. This incident to me indicates a group of people with little or no moral bearings, little or no sense of responsibility for their actions, and no understanding whatever of sexuality - after going through a Catholic school. One of the organisers, a young woman, was quoted in The Irish Examiner, 'It is a responsible thing to do. People are going to be drunk and things will happen.' In other words, her expectations of herself and her friends, some of them minors, was that they would be utterly irresponsible.

I wonder what the reaction would have been had a box of cigarettes been placed in front of everyone.

I remember another Columban priest who served briefly in the US Army at the end of the Korean War before entering the seminary telling me that his group in Korea were all given condoms when going off duty. He refused to take them and even spoke to the Catholic chaplain about it. The latter just shrugged his shoulders.

Are we now into an era where three of God's basic life-giving gifts, sex, food and drink, have lost their deepest meaning for many, even those coming out of Catholic schools? Have they lost their true social meaning?

Father Leo is building family life by reinforcing the family meal. May God grace him abundantly before, during and after meals.

Slight technical problem: I was unable to drag the photos down. Maybe 'Down Under' here in Australia you're supposed to drag them up. I'll check with someone tomorrow.

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