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Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers’ Board of Directors

Go Home and Have Dinner Together

In an article for the Washington Post, Harvard Medical School Professor Anne Fishel writes, “As a family therapist, I often have the impulse to tell families to go home and have dinner together rather than spending an hour with me.” Citing research demonstrating the benefits of family dinners, she notes that regular family dinners have been shown to boost academic achievement in children, increase healthy eating, and improve psychological health.

Fishel is the founder of the Family Dinner Project, a Harvard-based organization that promotes the benefits of families gathering for meals together. Stories are shared on the Family Dinner Project website, like the one about Edward and Valerie, whose young adult children had developed the habit of getting fast food and eating in separate parts of the house. Edward and Valerie wanted some way to reconnect with their children so they came up with creative ways to get their kids excited about enjoying a meal as a family. They picked topics of conversation that might involve current events or subjects relating to their own lives. They played games at the table and worked on preparing the meal together.

Summarizing the positive impact these gatherings had on them, Edward said, “We got back some of what was lost in the family. Sitting down together, talking and laughing helped us get back a sense of closeness and family unity.”

Trying as best we can to gather with loved ones for meals is an important first step in building the solidarity God wants us to have with one another, but it shouldn’t stop there. We should prioritize family time and make a point of talking regularly, being present for each other, and finding enjoyable activities to do together.  

                In his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis reflects on the attention family members should give to one another, comparing it to the attention Christ gave people during His earthly lifetime. Francis writes, “Our loved ones merit our complete attention. Jesus is our model in this, for whenever people approached to speak with him, he would meet their gaze, directly and lovingly (cf. Mk 10:21). No one felt overlooked in his presence, since his words and gestures conveyed the question: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ (Mk 10:51).”

This is a beautiful model of love within the family that Pope Francis presents to us, and it is important to cultivate this kind of love because it is within the family that we learn so much about how to treat others. Through daily interactions, family members learn how to be attentive to each other’s needs and to respond to those needs in a selfless manner.

It is within the family that we learn how to seek true joy through communion with God and others. Christ taught us about this kind of communion in a very simple but profound way in the breaking of the bread at the last supper. It must have made great sense to the disciples that Christ chose a meal to institute the miracle by which He would remain with us down through the ages. Their memories of breaking bread with Him on many occasions must have been as joyful as any conceivable human experience. He holds out that joy to each and every one of us in the meal He invites us all to partake in. We must remember to keep that joy alive when we gather as family so that we can carry it forth into every aspect of our lives.   


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