Mary Ann Castronovo Fusco

The New York Times

Religion; A Priest Who Finds Messages in His Meals

During Lent, traditionally a time of spiritual reflection, a teacher might expound on the virtues of fasting, while a preacher might excoriate the self-absorbed preoccupations of the times. The Rev. James Cafone does both — and makes a heavenly pasta in shrimp sauce.
Since his seminary days in the early 1960’s, Father Cafone, known as a compelling teacher and
preacher, has also garnered a reputation as an exceptional cook, easily melding that craft with his theology.
”Food is an integral part of most religions,” Father Cafone said. ”They all focus around either denying oneself some food or having certain foods at certain times. One of the problems with society is a lot of people can have whatever they want whenever they want, and after a while they get sick and tired of everything; they just have no reason to live.”
Father Cafone, who will celebrate his 60th birthday on Wednesday, holds a doctorate in sacred theology and is an assistant professor in the religious studies department at Seton Hall University in South Orange.
When he’s not teaching courses on the religious dimensions of life, contemporary moral values
and Christian spirituality, he serves on the editorial advisory board of The Catholic Advocate, the weekly newspaper published by the Archdiocese of Newark, and as a theological expert for Renew International, a Plainfield publisher of religious materials.

Currently he is working on a manuscript on the foundations of Christian morality, which he expects to be published in the fall. He’s also on Seton Hall’s environmental advisory committee, says Mass in the university’s chapel two or three times a week and, like his fellow priests, serves as confessor and counselor to faculty, staff and students at the university. In between, he cooks.
”I started cooking as a hobby” — and a therapeutic one at that, Father Cafone said as he tended the red and yellow peppers roasting in the oven at his campus apartment. When he’s feeling down, he said, ”put me in the produce department of a Shop-Rite, and I go nuts; I’m all healed.”
Father Cafone mixes his passion for teaching and the priesthood with nearly equal portions of enthusiasm for cooking.
”When you teach about religion, you’re teaching about God, you’re teaching about the earth, life, love, pain, sorrow, joy,” he said. ”You try to teach a healthy reverence and respect for the gifts of God, including food.”