4 Tips to Make Meals More Catholic (Lessons from the Ratzinger Family)

Joy and I have seven children. Some nights we can hardly get everyone to the table with clean hands and a shirt on. Joy is often like the mother from the movie The Christmas Story. As the narrator in the film remarks, “My mother hasn’t had a hot meal in 15 years!” – and the mom in the movie only had two children!

Mom, will you please cut my meat?
Mom, may please have some more potatoes?
Mommy, I need a napkin.
Mom, may I please have some more ketchup?

Mommy, the dog is hovering under the baby’s high chair.
Mom, are the rolls still in the oven?
Sound familiar?
If so, then ask yourself: how can we make eating dinner more devotional? 

Listen to this anecdote from the early life of Pope Benedict and his brother Monsignor Georg Ratzinger:

Every day we prayed together, and in fact before and after each meal (we ate our breakfast, dinner and supper together). The main prayer time was after the mid-day dinner, when the particular concerns of the family were expressed. Part of it was the prayer to Saint Dismas, the “good thief,” a former criminal who was crucified together with Jesus on Mount Calvary, repented on the cross, and begged the Lord for mercy. We prayed to him, the patron of repentant thieves, to protect Father from professional troubles.

It’s no wonder that this household produced two vocations to the priesthood, one of which became Pope!

Here are 4 Tips for Making Meals More Catholic:

1. Eat together. Try to eat two or three meals together. Lunch together is difficult in our post-industrial society. Dinner should be a non-negotiable. Breakfast together should also be important. This requires planning. It’s hard work, but worth it.

2. Pray before and after meals. We all pray before meals, but what about the after meal prayer: “We give Thee thanks for all Thy benefits, O Almighty God, who livest and reignest world without end. Amen. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.” Make this a solid family tradition.
Also, fathers should not be afraid to pray extemporaneously at meals. For example, if a child is at camp, he might feel free to add, “And Lord please watch over Timmy while he’s at camp. Protect him and bring him back home to us safely.”

3. Incorporate saints days and feasts. If the day is patronal saint day of one of our children, everyone gets ice cream or something special. This links fun and happiness with the liturgical cycle. 
If it’s a major feast, you can decorate the table and add candles or something special. On days like the Immaculate Conception you can have a white cake with white icing to symbolize the purity of Our Lady.
4. Talk about important matters. Our children are still young. When it comes children below the age of seven, it’s difficult to inspire a profound philosophical symposium while cutting the meat and passing the salt. 
Here’s what works well for our family. I say: “Hey, let’s go around the table and each of you tell us your favorite part of the day.” The children can hardly wait for their turn. It also inspires other questions and conversation that children can handle.
For example, “We were playing baseball today and I hit one that bounced of the top of the fence for a home run. It was so sweet!”
Also, this creates conversation that is positive and uplifting. Don’t allow your dinner table to grow the weeds of negativity and fighting.
So why not try this tonight? Give it a shot.
Question: These are just 4 basic tips. What does your family do? I’d love to hear more from you! Please leave a comment below.
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