Sunday Dinner: A Family’s Place

Did you see the recent reports about a study out of Columbia University, sponsored by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse?

Very interesting…teenagers who eat with their families, for a sit-down meal, at least three times a week, are statistically much less likely to abuse drugs, alcohol, and tobacco!

That’s downright good news, is it not?

A few weeks ago I had a most enjoyable breakfast with three of the Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, visiting from Mormon headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.

During our pleasant conversation, I asked them about their pastoral priorities, what initiatives they were undertaking. First on their list, they were eager to share with me, was their vigorous campaign to restore the primacy of Sunday Dinner among the Mormon people. If a family united at least every Sunday for a sit-down family meal, the Elders reported, children were happier and healthier, prayer and worship were more consistent, marriages were stronger, and family life was more invigorated. All of that just because a family sits down for a meal every Sunday!

What a simple, practical, worthwhile pastoral project!

I’m reminded of a wonderful meeting I had awhile back with Catholic students on one of our state university campuses. These delightful young people were very involved in the life of the Church, and considered Sunday Eucharist the heart of their week. When I asked why most of their fellow Catholic students on campus did not share their enthusiasm for Sunday Mass, and, as a matter of fact did not even attend, one of the students perceptively replied:

"Archbishop, if a Sunday family meal has not been part of a student’s life growing up—as it has not been for most of the kids on campus—why would the weekly Sunday meal be an important practice for their supernatural family, the Church?"

All I could do was marvel at the logic and perceptiveness of her insight.

Are you sensing a convergence of ideas here? Columbia University, the Mormons, and that student all agree: the family meal, especially on Sunday, is a blessed, incomparably valuable event!

I know I’m dating myself here, but I grew up in a home where, except on a rare occasion, all seven of us—mom, dad, my brothers, sisters and I—always had supper together. This was especially enjoyable and festive on Sunday, when our grandma was usually there, too. This seemed common throughout the entire neighborhood.

Parents tell me that, unfortunately, for the most part, those days have gone the way of "Leave It to Beaver." Both parents working, sports, day care, car pools, practices, meetings…it’s now next to impossible to plan a family meal, even on a Sunday, they report.

Well, we’ve got a holiday coming up in a week when—at least once a year!— every family will gather around the table for a wonderful meal, for simple and sustaining unity, and to express praise for such a lavishly good God.

It’s Thanksgiving!

The simple things in life are usually the most profound, are they not? A table, a turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie, mom, dad, kids, grandma and grandpa, opening grace, happy memories…can’t get much simpler…but the effects are profound.

A good friend, visiting from England, here for Thanksgiving a few years ago, remarked to me, "Do you know how moving it is, that the entire nation takes the day off, is not afraid publicly to thank God, and gathers for a family meal? You won’t find that anywhere else in the world."

A nice compliment, is it not? God bless America!

I’ll be with mom and my family. I wouldn’t miss it.

My love, prayers, and best wishes to you, my spiritual family, for a blessed Thanksgiving.

Maybe, just maybe, we can long for and work for a renewal of the family meal, both with our natural family, and with our supernatural family, the Church, at Sunday Mass.