Pray to the saints before mealtime
Fall is blessed with great saints’ feast days and a bountiful harvest
October is my favorite month. With October comes a distinct change in the air. And after the relentless heat of summer, almost any change in weather — no matter how small — is a welcomed change. Yet it’s more than just the change in temperature that makes October such a hinge month. It’s also the change in season. Leaves go from green to the full array of autumn colors: red, yellow, burnt orange, brown. At least that’s what I’ve heard.
Down here in southern Louisiana, the leaves go from green to brown to the ground … almost overnight. Either way, there’s a natural quiet that descends in nature this time of year — a sort of majestic and solemn preparation for winter. For me, October exudes a sense of quiet festivity.
As a Catholic, October is truly festive. Some of my best saint-friends celebrate their feast days this month. The festivities actually start at the end of September (with the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael on Sept. 29) and culminate at the beginning of November with the Solemnity of All Saints. And in between? Well, it’s a veritable feast of feast days!
Check out this lineup: St. Thérèse of Lisieux (Oct. 1), the Guardian Angels (Oct. 2), St. Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4), St. Faustina (Oct. 5), Bl. Francis Xavier Seelos (Oct. 5), Our Lady of the Rosary (Oct. 7), St. John XXIII (Oct. 11), St. Teresa of Ávila (Oct. 15), and St. John Paul II (Oct. 22). And those are just some of my favorite saint-friends!
Have you ever thought of the saints as your friends? Making friends with the saints has been so helpful for me and my family. But I didn’t always see the saints as my friends.
Have you ever thought of the saints as your friends?
Many years ago, when I was in the seminary, I went through a period of time when I felt almost hopeless (and angry!) because there seemed to be such a divide between me and the saints. All the books on the saints that I read made them seem superhuman. And I was far from superhuman. I loved Jesus like the saints did. I wanted to do God’s will like the saints. But I was nowhere near where the saints were … according to many of the books I read.
Thankfully, a wise old monk set me straight. While walking together at dusk on the monastery grounds, he asked me to pick a favorite saint and describe to him what that saint was like. Not details about that saint’s life, but what that saint was really like as a person. I chose St. Francis of Assisi and began to describe how I saw him. I told the monk about his radical approach to life, how he poured himself into whatever he did. I described his lavish, ardent love of Jesus, how he held nothing back.
“Francis made his life into poetry for Jesus,” I said. “And I want to be like Francis.”
A full smile slowly widened under the monk’s long gray beard. “Yes,” he said, “you can be like Francis. Start by being his friend and he can help you to love Jesus like he does … or even more!”
“Start by being his friend.” That had never occurred to me. But that new angle changed everything. I began talking to Francis like a friend. Thérèse, too. And Teresa of Ávila. And my guardian angel. Novenas took on a new vibrancy, because I was talking with my friends. This made all the difference. A few years later, now married and with children, I was able to share this same approach with my family. We have lots of little reminders around the house that our friends the saints are close by: paintings on the wall, statues on a little prayer table, holy cards and books about the saints, even movies and videos. All these reminders help us to see the saints as human like us, and they remind us that they are so near. We can turn to them at any moment.
From the beginning of our marriage (20 years ago!), my wife and I have made mealtime a priority. We understood that God made us for communion … first and foremost with himself, but also communion with others, especially within the family. As Mother Teresa frequently reminded us, “Love begins at home.” We wanted to provide daily opportunities for our children to connect with each other and with us, and we found that mealtime was the perfect and most natural way for us to do this.
For years, we had dinner together nightly. It’s a bit more challenging now that the three older kids are in their mid to late teens. Outside activities certainly impact our family schedule. But we all still gather around the table together as often as possible. One of our family traditions is to remember some of our best friends at the end of the Prayer Before Meals. It’s like a little litany: “St. Joseph, pray for us. St. Thérèse, pray for us. St. Francis, pray for us. Mother Teresa, pray for us. Holy Guardian Angels, watch over us and protect us. Amen!”
A culinary “tradition” that we adopted many years ago was — as much as possible — to cook and serve only what was fresh and in season at the time. We find the fall produce to be some of the most comforting of the year. The recipe and cooking method I share with you today is perfect for fall vegetables. I use cauliflower as an example, but broccoli and Brussels sprouts also work well. As a matter of fact, when I roast Brussels sprouts, I like to add thick-cut bacon! Yum!
Roasting vegetables is easy to do and yields amazing results. Add a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and let the dry heat of the oven work its magic. Roasting makes vegetables perfectly tender on the inside while caramelizing the outside. The result is an intensification of the natural flavor of the vegetable.
We find the fall produce to be some of the most comforting of the year.
The trick to helping the caramelization process when roasting is using flat surfaces. You want to cut your vegetables in such a way that they lay flat in the roasting pan. With cauliflower, for example, this can be done by slicing each floret into ½-inch or so thick pieces. If you cut them too thin, they will be unable to hold their shape.
This same basic recipe can be used to roast just about any vegetable — squash, zucchini, eggplant, potatoes, carrots, peppers, broccoli, onions, tomatoes, asparagus … anything!
You can also play around with the seasoning. Instead of thyme, use oregano … or curry powder, or cumin!
1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
In a mixing bowl, toss together the cauliflower with olive oil, salt, red pepper flakes, garlic, and thyme. Mix together well.
Transfer to a large baking sheet on a single layer. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden and tender.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the October 2018 issue of Catholic Digest.