WASHINGTON — When Father Leo Patalinghug was leading parish marriage preparation programs, he noticed couples put a lot into wedding planning but didn't necessarily think about celebrating small milestones after they were married such as their month anniversaries.
But as he sees it, newlyweds should not wait a year to celebrate their wedding anniversary but instead they should do something special once a month to celebrate their marriage.
He isn't suggesting four-course meals necessarily but simply preparing and sharing good food and conversation. To that end, he wrote the cookbook "Spicing Up Married Life."
Father Patalinghug's apostolate is "Grace Before Meals" — encouraging families to eat dinners together and share their faith at the table. His "Spicing Up" cookbook offers prayer and conversation topics for couples along with pastoral advice about raising children, forgiving each other, caring for extended family members and aging, in between dinner and dessert recipes.
In the introduction, he notes that it "may seem strange for an unmarried priest to write a book about marriage (much less a cookbook about marriage)," but he also points out that he is, to use a cooking phrase, simply trying to stir the pot and encourage couples to actively work on their relationships.
He dedicated the cookbook, published in 2012, to his parents on their 50th anniversary. Today the book is used in a number of marriage preparation programs across the United States.
He told Catholic News Service that when he was growing up, his family life helped inspire the apostolate he now dedicates his life to. It involves travels across the country giving parish workshops and speaking at conferences, appearing on radio programs and communicating via social media about the need for families to celebrate everyday meals together. He also has written three books and is currently working on two more.
The Filipino-American priest is the youngest of four children and he jokingly says he grew up in "Hotel Patalinghug" because of his family's hospitality which is so typical of the Filipino culture. He said he helped or watched his mother cook and they never ate dinner until his father, a doctor, came home from work, usually around 7:30 p.m.
His extended family still gets together for big meals and his mom still does a lot of the cooking, because she's such a good cook, said Father Patalinghug while coincidentally getting ready for a family gathering at his home.
In his book, the priest says: "It doesn't take an extensive study to show me that couples that take time to share a meal together have stronger relationships."
He also said this information shouldn't surprise anyone, because if couples think back to when they first started dating they'll remember that they likely met for coffee, went on picnics or romantic dinners. "Why stop that momentum after marriage?" he asked.
Dinner dates work for married couples, he points out in another chapter, but he also knows that many couples give the excuse that they are too busy for this.
Again, he advises thinking back to the dating stage of a relationship, when couples may have been just as busy as they are now but they still made time to be together.
"Admit it, nothing was more important than keeping that relationship alive and well. So why should anything change now?"
And to that end, he would simply advise picking a recipe from his book, cooking it together and sitting down to eat it at the kitchen table. Bon appetit!