A priest, atheist, anarchist and satanist walk into a restaurant. Sounds like the start of a bad joke? But it was real. I was the priest.
On a recent food and faith pilgrimage, as I was leading a tour of a basilica, three men from Sweden started following along. At the end of the tour, they politely asked me questions about the Catholic faith. Since time was limited and I’m always interested in evangelization, I simply invited them to dinner. Fortunately, food and drink lubricated our conversation as I learned about their very diverse and controversial backgrounds.
This dinner gave me another opportunity to extend an olive branch — not as a sign of agreement, but as a way to make peace. Jesus ate with sinners and encouraged us to dine with our enemies and those who can’t pay us back.
Effective evangelizers know that mealtime is the perfect opportunity, par excellence. This situation was no different. Dinners communicate desire for communion, and they form us as servants. Dinners demonstrate love. Therefore, I go out of my way to eat with people who wouldn’t be considered good Catholics — or even believers. I let them know that God loves them enough that he wants to eat with them through his sacred ministers. At dinner, we become better “disciples” — a Greek word meaning “student.” Dinners help us to become disciplined listeners.
In this unique dinner, in between bites of porcini pasta, I learned how these men had been fed a healthy dose of confusion and bold-faced lies. I was hopeful that their questions implied they were still seeking the truth. Their self-imposed titles of “atheist,” “anarchist,” or even a “satanist” were definitely subject to interpretation. I chose to see each as a “child of God” with potential for great conversion and sanctity! I don’t claim to be smarter than them, but I realized that all of my prayer and study paid off. I sparred with their flawed logic, posed questions making them rethink their own positions, and even convinced them that Jesus was a man worth following — even if they questioned His Lordship.
It turned out to be a great dinner. No joke! There was no immediate “conversion,” except in me. I realized that I needed more practice to imitate Jesus who won over many by his dinner conversation skills. He did it by extending an olive branch to those who feel far from God’s love. He tells us to bear good fruit, especially in our love for one another. We’re called to evangelize. If you don’t know where to start, consider extending an olive branch and serving really good food!
FR. LEO E. PATALINGHUG, priest member of Voluntas Dei Secular Institute, is a best-selling author, speaker, radio and TV host, awardwinning cook, director of the Grace Before Meals movement, and founding chairman of The Table Foundation.
1 lb tagliatelle (or other noodle pasta), cooked al dente
2 tbs olive oil
1/4 cup dried mixed (or dried porcini) mushrooms soaked in 2 cups of hot water
1 cup fresh porcini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2-3 tsp fresh parsley, finely minced
2-3 tbs white wine
1 tbs butter
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Cook pasta according to instructions and set aside. Remove hydrated mushrooms from hot water. Reserve mushroom water. Chop mushrooms into small pieces. In a large sauce pan, heat olive oil. Add dried mushrooms and fresh sliced mushrooms to hot oil. Add garlic, 1 cup mushroom water and white wine. Simmer for 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add pasta, remaining mushroom water and butter. Add fresh parsley. Mix until all ingredients are incorporated and pasta is fully heated. Serve immediately. Add parmesan cheese, if desired.