"Feeding Your Family's Soul: Dinner Table Spirituality" by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle. Paraclete Press (Orleans, Massachusetts, 2016). 256 pp., $15.99.
The meaningful dinner conversations sparked by "Feeding Your Family's Soul" will make this book a daily dinnertime treat.
Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle, an award-winning author and an Eternal Word Television Network host, has captured something so critical to a family's spiritual survival: praying and eating together. Many families are missing real conversations and real connectivity to each other and to God at the dinner table, and this book is the solution.
The church teaches that the family as the domestic church should be the foundation of faith life. But hectic schedules and constant distractions get in the way of simply sitting down to eat dinner at the same time. "Feeding Your Family's Soul" brings everyone back together to focus on spirituality and on the family.
Each chapter, one for each week of the year, takes simply saying grace before meals and brings true grace to meals. The chapters include reflections, lessons, stories, questions and recipes. Using this book as a guide, Jesus truly is invited to dinner.
Although mostly appropriate for a family with elementary to high school age children, the book easily can be adapted for younger family members with a little creativity and minimal planning. The teachings range from lessons about the communion of saints, which may spark a dinner table conversation about purgatory and heaven, to the power of forgiveness as exemplified by St. Maria Goretti, and the importance of persistence as shown by St. Monica.
Weeks 21 through 37 address the sacraments and the Ten Commandments. The remaining weeks of the year discuss prayer life, the cardinal and theological virtues, more saints and a bonus chapter on angels.
The first chapter of the book, titled "Learning to Love Our Neighbor From St. Teresa of Calcutta," is dedicated to Cooper O' Boyle's friend St. Teresa and the saint's passion for prayer and service to the most marginalized. According to the author, St. Teresa used to remind her of Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton's famous saying: "A family that prays together stays together." In the chapter, family members are challenged to think of ways to see Jesus in others and to show extra love for others.
The reflection questions and "theme extensions" are meant to engage and challenge family members to live out these Catholic teachings through doable and realistic corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The recipes are also simple, for example Cooper O'Boyle included breaded drumsticks and slow-cooker pasta e fagioli in the book.
Perhaps that is the best part of this book. From its lessons to its extensions right down to its recipes, it serves not to complicate family life with another thing to do but to simplify family prayer life and refocus dinnertime around faith. As a working mother of five and a grandmother, the author seems to understand the need for obtainable faith development at home, and her book does the trick.
Lordan has master's degrees in education and political science and is a former assistant international editor of Catholic News Service.