Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Hidden Chapels

This photo was the Interior of Carmelite Sister Chapel,
which is presently undergoing a major renovation (
My great aunt and uncle and their children and their families live in and around Van, Texas. Van (,_Texas) is a small town of just over 2,300 souls near the buzzing metropolis of Tyler. I actually love this part of Texas and would even consider living there if the ties that bind us to our present location weren’t so tightly bound.

I also love my Aunt Deb and Uncle Marshall, their three children, their spouses, their 6 grandchildren and the growing number of spouses to those grandchildren, and the one great-grandchild that they have so far. This is a family who never, ever (I mean truly and for real) met a stranger. They are loving and genuine and God-fearing and moral without even breaking a sweat. They cook some of the best grub I have ever eaten, play some mean dominoes, and know how to laugh hard enough to bust a gut. They are the kind of people you’d go to if you were in one hell of a bind (even of your own making) because they are Christian in the deepest sense of that word. One of the grandchildren (now 24 years old) was getting married to a long-time friend of hers this past Saturday night in Kaufman, Texas (pop 6,500+). It was a beautiful little rented chapel with tulle and twinkle lights and as reverent as a cowboy preacher can make it.

May God bless the union of Nicole and Brett.

Since my grandmother (sister to my Aunt Deb) had a stomach virus, she kindly asked us to consider staying elsewhere (other than her house in Ft. Worth) and we obliged ever so willingly, not being particularly partial to intestinal upset. Since the wedding was in Kaufman and our clandestine meeting Sunday morning was in Dallas, we stayed in the gigantic town of Seagoville, Texas (pop 10,000+), just about the halfway mark between the two.

This was exciting since we could see one of the major federal penitentiaries ( across the highway from our hotel. We (not so) lamentably were unable to visit. While Dallas is as awesome and ugly as any big city can be and Kaufman is as charming and quaint as any 150 year old Texan town can be, Seagoville appears to be industry built up around the Pen and not really a town in the proper sense of the word at all. Still, it had a Wal-mart, a Mexican restaurant and a clean affordable Best Western. Need I say more?

The Catholic part of our adventure began Saturday afternoon when we went in search of the church in Kaufman for confession. My mother, addicted to old things sold for way more money than the original owner ever thought possible, was checking out the local antique stores. I asked the owner of the one we were in where the Catholic Church was. She started slightly, looked at me quizzically and said, “Well, honey, it’s real easy, just go around the square and turn over there by Scott’s Pharmacy. It’s a real pretty building at the end of that street. You can’t miss it.” She was right and so my older daughter and I went for confession. Isn’t it strange that they have confession from 3:30 – 4:30pm on Saturday afternoon in Kaufman, Texas, just like in almost every Catholic Church in OKC??? What is up with that one special hour?

We entered St. Ann’s Catholic Church and almost stumbled upon a GIANT life-size rough-hewn cross lying on the ground in the vestibule. It was roped off like in a museum with a beautiful statue of St. Ann holding our Blessed Mother at the head of this cross. As we entered the church, we came upon a handful of adolescent girls in charge of the music ministry practicing for their performance(s) the next day. This church was what people-in-the-know call “in the round” with the altar in the center. I looked around and couldn’t find the confessional anywhere in sight. I asked a woman in a back pew where they were and she pointed me to an area I would have thought to be the sacristy. In fact, one had to walk around behind the altar and up to the tabernacle to within touching distance and then to the left to reach the confessional, the door of which was strangely marked “Chapel of Reconciliation."
There was a jambox on the ground there in front of the confessional playing soft tranquil music which collided unhappily with the live voices a few feet away. I knelt and tried to pray. Then I got the uneasy feeling that I would have to confess sitting and facing the priest. I had the urge to run screaming from the church but quickly asked God to help me “stay the course.” I turned to the 8 year old Mexican boy on my right and asked him if there was a kneeler or if one faced Father to confess. He told me that one had to face Father. My daughter motioned to me the “Let’s get outta here” hand signal and I was again tempted to run from that place. But God musta been bombarding us with His Grace and we stayed. There was a kneeler inside and it was a choice to face him or kneel behind the screen. Whew, was I happy! Thank You, God. We had considered going to Mass in Kaufman, but our experience led us to believe that the Hidden Latin Mass Chapel of Dallas was the way to go.

We were not disappointed in it at all!!! First of all, it’s in a part of town to which my mother, a veteran Irving/Dallas-ite, had never been – a mixture of industrial and lush tree-lined park. The chapel is located inside a convent, the grounds of which are like an orchard. Although the gentleman had warned us to be early – surprise – we weren’t. Since my toddler was asleep and my parents aren’t Catholic, they stayed in the van while D and I went in. I know those of you familiar with St. Michael’s will not believe me, but I think it was smaller than our tiny chapel. It was literally packed with husbands and fathers standing in the side aisles (which were exactly the width of my hips BTW). There was no vestibule per se, but a small opening in which stood another 5-6 men. To their credit as Catholic gentlemen and presumably a few Texans as well, they felt very uncomfortable with us two women standing in the middle of them without seats. Another gentleman very kindly found us seats.

It is a humbly beautiful chapel. When they say renovation, they really mean renovation. It doesn't look ANYTHING like the photo. Above the altar and crucifix was a traditional tableau of large statues in niches. Although this was a more humble representation than in a gothic cathedral, this is my favorite type of altar. Directly above the altar is a large statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague. On either side of and slightly below Our Lord stands Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and St. Joseph. Then on either side of them stands a male tonsured saint with a cross (St. Dominic?) and a female habited saint with a dove pulling at her veil (I think). They had a very nice all male choir. But the really cool thing was that the entire church did the Latin responses that only our choir does including the Creed. I really liked it that way. Fr. Terra has a wonderful voice and his sermon on the Sacred Heart was fabulous.

It was fun to see all the large families, hear all the screaming babies, and watch another wonderful priest as he took it all in stride. In fact, my mother observed while sitting in our van outside that there wasn’t a cry area and people had to come outside onto a covered ramp in the rain. She said, “You know what was cool. It was all the fathers, not the mothers who were outside holding their children.” I said, “Well, being head of the household doesn’t mean demanding another beer in a loud voice.” Thank you Hidden Chapel Catholic Fathers for making another good point in the favor of Our Lord’s Church to my stubborn mother.
So, that’s it. Our Catholic Adventure to the Hidden Chapels had come to an end.

No comments: