Fr. Leo Patalinghug, cooking priest, author and speaker, demonstrated his culinary technique and offered spiritual food for thought to 600-plus attendees in Rice Lake on Jan. 17. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald staff

On Wednesday, Jan. 17, in Rice Lake, more than 600 people gathered around a makeshift cooktop in St. Joseph’s School gymnasium to be fed – body and soul – by Fr. Leo Patalinghug.

It was an evening of entertainment and evangelization; the renowned cooking priest spoke on two topics – “saints in the making” and “spiritual combat.”
Asking for a show of hands from those who wanted to get to heaven, Fr. Leo dropped “an F-bomb – a faith bomb,” saying “The only people who get to heaven are saints.”

Simultaneously beginning to cook for the crowd, he posed the question, “How do we get to heaven?”

“Eat the right food … butter.” Patalinghug cut through the erupting laughter, “Food is so powerful, it … can … change … you.”

He continued, “What are you eating? Who is feeding you? And what part of your body do you want to be fed?” He spoke of food for the body, heart, mind and soul, and how “The devil is out there trying to feed us lies, and make it look so good.”

While preparing a rum-infused multi-berry compote with spicy streusel, he shared anecdotes and morsels of wisdom. He then summed up why he does what he does – cooking on TV, speaking on radio shows and events, writing books, leading retreats and pilgrimages.

“For one purpose,” he said, “to get people to talk with each other. And the best place that that can happen is at a family meal. Why? Because if the food is good, your family members will listen to you; because they can’t talk with their mouths full.”

The dynamic priest affirmed, “Dinner can change your family.” He cited statistics that a regular family meal is the No. 1 factor in reducing rates of drug addiction, teen pregnancy, teen suicide and improving test scores.

Inviting two teens onto the stage for a taste test, Patalinghug said, “If you wanna make them saints, you gotta feed ’em…

“If you want them to get to heaven, you gotta make sure they’re eating the food that God gives them. Homilies and things of the faith are like broccoli; learn how to cook it well.”

He concluded, “If their soul has tasted goodness, they will crave for more.”

A break followed for everyone to taste individual servings of the dessert which had been prepared for the event, with Fr. Leo’s recipe, by Cookin’ Up a Storm Catering.

The second talk incorporated Patalinghug’s martial arts background into the ABC and Ds of spiritual combat, beginning with the understanding that “sometimes you gotta fight, especially when what is attacking you is evil.”
With the assistance of another young man from the audience, Fr. Leo acted out martial arts moves role-playing a soul in spiritual warfare with the devil.

A: Avoid the near occasion of sin. “Run the heaven out of there,” he said, stressing that victory cannot be won taking the devil head on.

B: Bypass. Demonstrating that a direct block hurts, can injure and is not as effective as bypassing the attack, he spoke of perspective; of how temptations are usually less threatening when a different angle of understanding is employed and not to be afraid of them. Fr. Leo encouraged trusting in Mary’s intercession through the Hail Mary and being open to God revealing one’s weaknesses which can lead to a good strength training plan.

C: Control. Patalinghug clarified that it is not the devil who can be controlled, but one’s own reaction. He said, “If I don’t control my reactions to the temptations, then the temptations control me.”

D: Destroy. “Like a spiritual Ninja … because the truth sets you free.”
For the final part of the evening’s presentation, Fr. Leo arranged six other young men in pairs on the stage with three pieces of wood.
Final lessons were given based on the martial arts technique for breaking boards.

One lesson: Go with the grain, not against it.

“Work with the Church, not against it,” he admonished.

Acknowledge that it is going to hurt.

“We’re not spiritual wimps; we need to toughen up,” he challenged.
Aim for the target.

“Don’t settle for mediocrity,” Patalinghug urged.

Then wowing the crowd, he broke each board in succession.

In conclusion, Fr. Leo asserted, “We all have something to offer.” He encouraged those present to choose God’s way, to make well informed – and well fed – decisions.

Laura Schissel, main organizer of the event, said she was very pleased with the turnout.

“Typically we have 250-300 (people),” she said.

The much larger crowd was anticipated given the strategic marketing put in place by the planning committee.

Participants represented all ages and stages of life, coming from as far away as Illinois. Holding the event on a Wednesday evening was key, with religious education students attending with their parents, as has become an established tradition for similar events at St. Joe’s.

Asked why Fr. Leo was chosen as the speaker, Schissel said they wanted someone who could engage a mixed crowd. She appreciated the chance to “allow yourself to laugh and give yourself permission to hear the message that God wants to give us in our humanness.”