When I was growing up, we had a chapel in our house.
I knew that other children didn’t have a chapel and we did, but it didn’t strike me as odd. It was one of the rooms in the house. The basement. The living room. The kitchen. The chapel. I was used to it.
The chapel had been put in when we got the addition built, when I was seven. My mother had just had her fourth of five children; we didn’t quite fit in the three-bedroom house. At first, we planned to move; we fixed up the house and put it on the market. But then my mother noticed a sign from God in one of the new kitchen cabinets. It had a big, black, swirling knot in the wood grain finish– a knot that, if you were religiously inclined, looked a bit like the Virgin Mary. My mother said that this meant we weren’t to sell the house.
We did not sell the house. We hired workmen to build an addition. We added on a rec room, a big master bedroom with walk-in closet and a bath, and a chapel. The chapel was my mother’s idea.
“It’s called the Chapel of the Eternal Father,” she told me gravely. “There are no churches in the world named after the Eternal Father. This is the first one.’
The chapel’s focal point was a big black and white print of some artist’s line drawing of the Eternal Father, elderly and sad, holding the dead Christ; an all-male Pieta. This print was framed by brass candelabras with electric lights made to look like candles.
Some nights, we would pray the Rosary in the chapel. I hated the Rosary. My mother had told me the story of a woman she knew who had a vision of the Virgin Mary showing her an armload of dead roses– these represented the prayers that were said coldly, while distracted. A Hail Mary said with devotion was a nice fresh rose. I went through agony trying not to offend the Virgin Mary with any dead roses, obsessively concentrating on every single word of every single Hail Mary and cringing in embarrassment when I got distracted. I worried about what the Blessed Lady would do if she received a bouquet with six or seven fresh roses, a few dead ones, and the rest ripped apart by my obsessive worrying about the dead roses that had already been delivered and couldn’t be taken back. Some nights, the idea scared me so badly that I burst into tears.
It wasn’t easy to not be distracted during the Rosary in the first place. My little sister got it into her head that her devotion would be liturgical dance.