Leo McWatkins Films, Inc., www.gracebeforemeals,org, 2012; $19.95
Will a wife and husband who together create a meal for just the two of them not only stay together but enrich their relationship in ways that contribute to their long-term happiness?
Something along those lines appears to be just what Father Leo Patalinghug has in mind in “Spicing Up Married Life: Satisfying Couples’ Hunger for True Love.” He lays out a plan for couples to celebrate their wedding day “not just one day a year, but a dozen days a year!”
Dinners prepared by a couple with recipes the priest-chef provides are intended as evenings of “feasting, praying and heartfelt conversation.”
A prospective reader picking up this book might suspect initially that it is a typical book of recipes. Certainly, its monthly recipe suggestions for couples seem not only enticing, but doable, even for those who tend to keep true cuisine on a lonesome back burner. But this book is not typical of the recipe-book genre at all.
“I care far more about the process of eating together than the specifics of food preparation,” Father Patalinghug explains. “It doesn’t take an expensive study,” he adds, “to show me that couples that take time to share a meal together have stronger relationships.”
This, in fact, is a book of “bite-sized theological essays” about marriage. Its 12 chapters encourage couples to reflect upon and recall their wedding proposal and wedding day, to converse about matters involving in-laws, money, sexuality or health and sickness, and, if they are parents, to focus on their role as their children’s first educators.
As spouses prepare and eat a simple but delicious pasta carbonara or an entrée of sweet, spicy bourbon broiled salmon, topped off – Get this! – with chocolate fondue sauce and fresh-fruit skewers or a graham-crusted banana split, the author hopes to spark their conversation with the discussion points each chapter proposes.
“Just talking about how one date after another eventually led to your wedding day – now that would be a great dinner-date conversation,” Father Patalinghug writes in a chapter titled “Dating Mr. or Ms. Right: Are You the Perfect Person for Your Spouse?”
One of that chapter’s discussion points asks, “While you were dating, what did you learn about yourself? How did your dating experience help you make the decision that your spouse is Mr./Ms. Right?”
The chapters in this book challenge couples with questions like:
- “What role do you think God played in bringing you together?”
- “If you were to plan your wedding day all over again, knowing what you know now, what would it look like?”
- “What was the greatest lesson your parents taught you? What will be the greatest lesson you think your children will learn from you?”
Each chapter includes a prayer related to its topic and a section titled “Growing Together” for writing down “a few ideas, thoughts or prayers on how this chapter can strengthen your marriage.”
One prayer asks, “Please give us the courage to do the things that will strengthen our relationship, including a romantic night just for the ‘Three’ of us – me, my spouse and You, the Lord of Love.”
In another prayer a couple asks, “May our relationship be a good example of what it means to be forgiving and faithful.” It petitions God, as well, on behalf of couples who “struggle in their marriage.”
Father Patalinghug, a priest of the Baltimore Archdiocese, is the founder of a movement and website known as “Grace Before Meals” that aims to strengthen families through family meals together.
It is a movement “to bring families back to the dinner table – away from work, school, TV, games and the many other things we get caught up in.”
“Grace Before Meals” centers on a “fundamental concept,” namely that “the simple act of creating and sharing a meal can strengthen all kinds of relationships.”
He developed his love of cooking, Father Patalinghug says, when he was a seminarian at the North American College in Rome and got the opportunity to trade cooking secrets with several Italian restaurant owners.
Near its conclusion, “Spicing Up Married Life” has a prayer in which the author asks God to bless those “who read this book, get inspired by these recipes and share the dinner conversation that will lead to a deeper conversion of heart and mind.”