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Mother of Sacred Activism

January 22nd, 2021

Mother of Sacred Activism

Mother of Sacred Activism (with Eichenberg’s Christ of the Breadline)
“My book called ‘A Life of Jesus’ may cause surprise for American readers when they discover an interpretation of Jesus somewhat at odds with the image they now possess. Jesus as I depict him is a person who lived for love and still more love; and yet was put to death, for he chose to live without violent resistance. My way of depicting Jesus is rooted in my being a Japanese novelist. I wrote this book for the benefit of Japanese readers who have no Christian tradition of their own and who know almost nothing about Jesus... The religious mentality of the Japanese is - just as it was when people accepted Buddhism - responsive to one who ‘suffers with us’ and who ‘allows for our weakness,’ but their mentality has little tolerance for any kind of transcendent being who judges humans harshly, then punishes them. In brief, the Japanese tend to seek in their gods and buddhas a warm-hearted mother rather than a stern father. With this fact always in mind I tried not so much to depict God in the father-image that tends to characterize Christianity, but rather to depict the kind-hearted maternal aspect of God revealed to us in the personality of Jesus.”
From “A Life of Jesus” by Shusaku Endo 1973
A few years ago the great British author of many books on universal mysticism, Andrew Harvey, decided to found an Institute of Sacred Activism, and he asked me to create an icon of a Black Madonna. When I’m not copying an existing icon, such as Our Lady of Yaroslavl, Vladimir or Mother of God Similar to Fire, I must imagine how to portray Our Mother. I saw this as a kind of Pentecost icon with Fritz Eichenberg’s powerful drawing he did for Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker, “Christ of the Breadline.” This image of Christ follows Shusako Endo’s Jesus who, as he said, “suffers with us.” The Black Madonna is surrounded by the blue flames of the Holy Spirit, and she brings the Church into a new era as we, today, begin a long and beautiful healing process. I wanted to show this icon for Dr Martin Luther King Day because he epitomizes the very concept of Sacred Activism. In fact he is the very definition of those words.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others ?’
...Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that . Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that...The time is always right to do what is right...Every man lives in two realms: the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live... We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 January 2021

Jesus - Listen and Pray

January 22nd, 2021

Jesus - Listen and Pray

Jesus : Listen and Pray
“Keep watch with prayer, so that you may not be put to the test: the spirit is ready but the flesh is feeble.”
Matthew 26:41 (Basic English Bible)
“He remained for some months in this state of tribulation, and bore it all with great courage, and with the firm hope that God would eventually console him in this grievous trial ... Though God permitted the devil to torment Joseph at this stage with various temptations, especially with that of mistrust, the Saint, nevertheless, remained steadfast, and always relied more upon God’s goodness. After he bore this desolation with patience and resignation and courageously resisted all the attacks and temptations of the evil one, the more did it please God to relieve him and reward him for his faithfulness.
As he was praying one night in his distress, Joseph perceived the Divine Voice itself, telling him of His love for him, and asserting that He had never forsaken him, but had always been at his side, assisting him by means of His grace. The voice was permeated with a remarkable sweetness, and in the fullness of his consolation Joseph gave way to tears. His mind was very much enlightened during this manifestation, and he gave praise and thanksgiving to God for consoling him in such a sublime manner, and for restoring him to his original state of peace.”
Maria Cecilia Baij, OSB (1743-1766)
The Life of St Joseph, page 38
After my heart collapse on 27 April 2012, I had open heart surgery on the feast of St Norbert, June 6. As a 19 year old Novice, I requested to see a therapist at St Louis U and it turned out he was a Behaviorist following the controversial work of BF Skinner. He asked me if I wanted to try shock therapy (now called “conversion therapy”) to change my sexuality. I thought to myself if God wanted to change me I could submit to Him and in 1968, this was my limited wisdom, and therapy was completely new to me. Luckily, the doctor placed the electrodes on my ankles, not my head. During one of many sessions, I received over 70 shocks, 110 volts. To make a long story short it didn’t work. An older kind Jesuit Father and mentor told me to stop; that God had made me this way, and I’d learn later, that he was trying to say, I’d have to wait to see all the gifts that would come from just being myself; accepting who God made me to be. The doctor told me I had the strongest resistance to pain he’d ever seen. I think that’s enough about that for now...
I remember telling the brilliant heart Doctor that morning in June 2012, that I had a very strong resistance to pain and I’d be okay. He gave me a look I’ll never forget, as if to say, you have no idea what you’re saying. He was right. But a week later I was back in my studio in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico (17 miles north of Taos) and some weeks after, in July I was longing to paint Jesus. I did this small 5”x7” image, based on a beautiful illustration I’d seen on a greeting card, I added three stars for the Trinity. It was such a joyful experience to be back to painting. I knew I had to keep it simple and I knew the scripture (watch and pray) was connected to the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, so I changed the title to Listen and Pray because, once again, I was longing to hear from God - “Why did I come back ? What hadn’t I finished ?” What kept coming to me was that I hadn’t gotten the images and icons into the world yet, they were still sitting on a website, most, unseen. I kept asking, listening, and it was always the same answer. So (thankfully) my sister Marjory McNichols Wilson, a professional artist, took two months and put all 300+ on Fine Art America. I’ve taken some “close” criticism, that I’m pushing myself, but the message I heard was that the images and icons do not belong to me. God gave them to me to give to whoever needs them, or whoever wants to receive them.
Then many things came my way without me doing a thing. My friend Christopher Summa wanted to make a film about the icons and images, and my friend John Dadosky wanted to write a book for UNM Press, Kathy Hendricks my childhood friend and I collaborated on a book called “Heavenly Friends.” All this happened and many more gifts have come my way ... right now my friend Christopher Pramuk and I are working on a book about the drawings and images, with a few icons too. All of this is about now...I mean this time in life. Inside the continuing pandemic of Covid and inside the continuing pandemic of an attempted insurrection, by sadly misled and some vulnerable people, and when I watched them, I thought I “know” some of these people, they’re not really monsters. I also saw some fatally proud people who’d rather see bloody mayhem than admit they made a wrong choice; following a cult of lies. I actually painted an icon of Jesus around this theme called “Jesus Christ Holy Forgiveness.” It’s so simple to say you’re sorry and have made a mistake, but I know some people are incapable of that simplicity. And while I was living in Manhattan, a wise Franciscan told me in Confession, that you must forgive everyone but if someone is continually abusive, you don’t have to let them back into your life. In fact if you do, you are contributing to their sin, against you. Almost all accounts of Near Death Experiences contain a story of a “life review” of every single moment of your life, including every far reaching good effect of your actions and every far reaching effect of your negative actions. They say, in these accounts, Jesus is with you and yet, you judge yourself . I’ve always loved the quote from Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see, in the world ...” but I like all of us, I am capable of self-deception . During this time I’ve been going through this life review, on purpose, to try and look at both. The point is not to wallow in your past faults or sins, but to see them honestly as well as your gifts and ability to love; and keep trying to love. Now at 71, I clearly see we are here for such a brief time. I see this year of St Joseph as a healing balm. The “hidden years” or hidden life of Jesus, is part of the good we are being given now. I am so grateful to Pope Francis that to honor and invoke St Joseph, he didn’t make it just a week or month but a year. I’d like to close with another poem from the Hospice years...
Of the Tao/ Of Jesus
Of the Tao
it is always said:
“Those who speak
do not know;
those who know
do not speak.”
One marvels at
the cleanliness of
this crisp seed,
this secret chamber
of transformation.
One feels a reverence
for the mystery and
anxiety over the
discipline of initiation.
Of Jesus
there is no end
to the speaking.
His name is cast about
today as currency ...
Indeed for some evangelists
He is only profit.
But for children
of the kingdom
there are no words
to describe
being near Him.
He is comfort
He is safety
He is solitude
He is communion.
There are no words
to describe
being near Him.
His discipline is light -
followed from crib to cross.
This intimacy with God
awakens transfiguration.
(1986)
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 January 2021

San Jose Sombra del Padre

January 22nd, 2021

San Jose Sombra del Padre

San Jose’ Sombra del Padre (A blessed New Year of St Joseph !)
“If earthly princes consider it a matter of so much importance to select carefully a tutor fit for their children, think you that the Eternal God would not, in his almighty power and wisdom, choose from out of his creation the most perfect man living (St Joseph) to be the guardian of his divine and most glorious Son, the Prince of heaven and earth?”
... And more “Joseph-like” wisdom from the deeply holy Bishop of Geneva, (21 August 1567- 28 December 1622), who was given an abundance of Holy Wisdom during his life, by the Holy Spirit, extremely relevant for us now ...
“Never be in a hurry; do everything in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset...Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength... Have patience with all things, but, first of all with yourself...Do not wish to be anything but who you are, and try to be that perfectly.”
St Francis de Sales ⚜️ (Bishop of Geneva feastday 24 January)
Looking for words about St Joseph, I came across these quotes from the brilliant Francis de Sales. This icon (with the Spanish title for St Joseph Shadow of the Father) was one of 4 icons commissioned by the late Fr Paul Locatelli, SJ, for the University of Santa Clara. Paul had a great devotion to St Joseph rooted in his Italian heritage, and I’m sure he’s with him now; both interceding for us during this very difficult time. But along with all the many heartbreaks and challenges, we have also been given by Pope Francis, a year of St Joseph as our teacher, guide, protector, patron of a happy death(s) and as St Teresa of Avila called him - the great teacher of contemplative prayer. The symbolism within this icon is that God the Father (dressed in salmon and green) is holding a cloak of night to protect Joseph (green garment) and the Holy Child, who is wearing a salmon color to indicate that he is God, Incarnate. I often place the Moon in an icon, which is a symbol in Catholicism of Our Mother Mary; being the reflected light of her Son. The Child sleeps safely, calmly, in his father’s arms, assured of his powerful love. I think I’m saying at this time, through this icon, that your soul is now in Joseph’s Year, like the Child, echoing Psalm 131 but instead of a child safely in his mother’s arms, as in the Psalm, this time its the father, Joseph. Back in time, during the AIDS pandemic I was continually blessed with prayer/poems that helped me understand and cope with all the tragic young deaths. I was 33-40 during those years. I’d like to share one of these poems that express the hidden life of the Holy Family in Nazareth as a school. It’s called ...
“The Pearl Sutra”
When I think of
the Child at home,
my heart and soul
wax eloquent.
And so the words
“hidden life”
represent not just
a portion or phase
of the Savior’s work,
but call up in me
a command
to be taken
as urgently
as the public life
which follows.
This call to
School in Nazareth
is such mitigating balm
to cover vengeful
vainglory,
to shatter those
delusions
all in the Way of the Tao
or Therese’s “little way”
or Francis’s street theater.
But most of all
it is the teaching of
the Child ...
the way of
the little kingdom
spoken of as the
pearl
still being born
in the shell.
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 1985 ... and more about Joseph all of this year 💮
“Our Lord would have us understand that as He was subject to St Joseph on earth - so now in Heaven Our Lord grants all his petitions.”
St Teresa of Avila

Down In Yon Forest

January 22nd, 2021

Down In Yon Forest

“Down In Yon Forest” (Repos de Jesus) Illustration, 1987
When Joan Baez put out her Christmas album “Noel”
in 1966, I heard the song “Down In Yon Forest.” There is
also a most solemn version of the song on Bruce Cockburn’s album,
“Christmas” released in 1993. But “Noel” had a hauntingly lovely
refrain “...and I love my Lord Jesus above anything.” This line runs
through the song creating a beautiful, prayerful mantra.
When I moved to Brooklyn in 1980 to attend Pratt Institute for Art,
I saw this joyful Infant Crib in the Metropolitan Museum
of Art in Manhattan. I used to visit it all the time and I knew
A Most Holy, Hopeful and Blessed Christmas
I had the perfect image for a Christmas card I illustrated and printed in 1987. The Little Bed of the Infant Jesus, entitled “Repos de Jesus”
is from Brabant, in the South of the Netherlands. It was carved and painted, so obviously out of love, in the 15th century around
the same time they think the song was first written.
.
Fr William Hart McNichols
Down In Yon Forest
Down in yon forest there stands a hall
The bells of paradise I hear them ring,
It’s covered all over with purple and pall,
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.
In that hall there stands a bed
The bells of paradise I hear them ring,
It’s covered all over with scarlet so red,
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything
At the bedside there lies a stone
The bells of paradise I hear them ring,
Which sweet Virgin Mary knelt upon,
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.
At the bed’s foot there grows a thorn
The bells of paradise I hear them ring,
Which ever blows blossom since He was born,
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.
Over the bed the moon shines bright
The bells of paradise I hear them ring,
Denoting Our Saviour was born this night,
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.
Traditional English carol c. 1500

Our Lady of the New Advent - The Burning Bush

January 22nd, 2021

Our Lady of the New Advent - The Burning Bush

Our Lady of the New Advent : The Burning Bush
“I beg you, dear children,
beginning today,
start to love,
with a burning love,
the love with which I love you.”
Message of Medjugorje, May 29, 1986
“O resplendent Virgin, here on the miraculous mountain
cleft everywhere by dazzling wonders,
and which all the faithful climb;
behold them with your merciful eye of love...”
“On this mountain, the Lord of
hosts will prepare a
banquet of rich food. On this
mountain the
mourning veil covering all peoples,
and the shroud enwrapping all nations,
He will destroy death forever.
The Lord will wipe away tears
from every cheek, He will take away
His people’s shame everywhere on earth,
for the Lord has said so ...”
Isaiah 25:6-8
“Now Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, the priest of Midian,
and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb,
the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of
fire from within a Bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight - why the bush does not burn up.’”
Exodus 3:1-4
Some of the most beautiful icons of the Mother of God entitled “The Burning Bush” are referring to this miraculous apparition in Exodus. Mary is literally filled with God and does not burn up. I think this is also a unique way to look at one of my favorite icons called, “Mother of God Similar to Fire.” I was extraordinarily blessed by Archbishop (now Cardinal) Stafford to create two icons of Our Lady of the New Advent; the first for the Archdiocese of Denver, and the second one you’re seeing now, for St John Paul II, which I was asked to give him at World Youth Day, 14 August 1993. The first is in Denver and this one is part of the Vatican Museum. The day I gave it to St John Paul, eventually began changes and understandings that are still, after all these years, unfolding for me. But the most precious honor bestowed on these icons is that Archbishop Stafford asked St John Paul for a Feastday of Our Lady of the New Advent and was given the day before the ancient “O Antiphons” begin, 16 December. Thanks to Pope Francis, creating a year of Joseph, I feel like we’ve got St Joseph as a guide, every day now. And I fully expect personal as well as world changes because of this consecrated year. I invite you to let St Joseph be your companion too. I can’t tell you exactly how to do this, except to simply say yes and ask him. St Teresa of Avila in a chapter on St Joseph in her autobiography will fill you in on all that Joseph will bring you . Just ask. This probably would never have happened without Pope Francis love of Joseph. He has made famous and available, at Church Goods Stores everywhere, a statue of the Sleeping Joseph (or you can order this statue online). He says before he goes to sleep, he puts all the pains and troubles of our pilgrim church under the statue, and lets Joseph take over. You can do this too, with any of your worries and troubles. Pope Francis’ Birthday happens to be 17 December which is also the feastdays of St Lazarus of Bethany and Holy New Martyr Nestor Savchuk. I have also been blessed to paint/write icons of both of these saints.
St John Paul II called the last years of the twentieth century, the New Advent, and he prayed the coming of the third millennium of Christianity would bring a New Evangelization, a new springtime of faith. After meeting him in 1993, I felt like my work should strive to be part of the New Evangelization, whether it be images or icons. As St Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel always, and sometimes use words.”
Happy Feastday of Our Lady of the New Advent and abundant blessings (and surprises, even in the midst of painful times) of this year of St Joseph !
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 16 December 2020

St Joseph Shadow of the Father

January 22nd, 2021

St Joseph Shadow of the Father

St Joseph Shadow of the Father
“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven...”
Matthew 18:18
“With the Apostolic Letter ‘Patris corde’ (With a Father’s Heart), Pope Francis recalls the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. To mark the occasion, the Holy Father has proclaimed a ‘Year of St Joseph’ from today, 8 December 2020, to 8 December 2021.”
Vatican News
“When we are introduced to the mystery of Joseph we also quickly understand a point. We realize that Mary has a most important role to play in the discovery of Joseph. She sets Jesus himself directly on the new road when she tells him: ‘Your father and I have been searching for you.’ (Luke 2:48). Indeed, one must make a journey in the very footsteps of Jesus: the effect of these words is that Jesus accepts to make a disconcerting descent. This descent strikes me very much personally and I would like others to share the remarkable impression it makes on me. I am deeply convinced that Mary is saying to each one of us these few words we have often read or heard without attention: ‘Your father and I have been searching for you ...’ What do they mean? Jesus himself does not appear to have accepted them straightaway! As a result of these words, his whole person will, as it were, keel over, from a high point of splendor to an apparently lowly, pitiable one where his Father is waiting for him, where his Father wants him to be for so many years. If Mary is speaking to me also in those same terms, as I cannot help but believe, what does she wish to tell me ?
What must I do?”
From the book “St Joseph Shadow of the Father “ by Fr Andre’ Doze 1992.
I could quote just about any page from Fr Doze’s book and you’d be led into a prayer. I haven’t read it since I painted/wrote, this icon in 1992. So today I went back to it and was bowled over again, by its depth and availability. I wish I could send one to everyone who is reading this, but it’s hard to get now. Maybe used copies are available, or hopefully the publishers will give it to us again in honor of this consecrated year.
Sometimes there are announcements that hit you hard immediately, but they are more often frightening like the first mention of GRID (AIDS) in the New York Times, in July of 1981; or the first mention of Covid 19, and the tragic catastrophe of 9/11. We feel something similar instantaneously. When I heard that starting today, this year will be dedicated to Joseph I was hit hard in a very hopeful and exhilarating way. I felt the same thing when St John Paul II wrote his Apostolic Letter, “Tertio Millennio Adveniente” 10 November 1994. He dedicated the last three years of the 20th century to the Holy Trinity; 97 to Jesus, 98 to the Holy Spirit and 99 to the Father. The year 2000 would be a Eucharistic Year to start the coming millennium.
Recently, I was told by my cousin Kathi that I might like the Netflix film “Messiah” which was supposed to be a series but was cut to only 10 episodes. If she hadn’t told me I’d have never seen it. Although Piero Pasolini’s Jesus, Enrique Irazoqui, will always be my favorite Jesus on film, the portrayal of Jesus returning today by Medhi Dehbi illuminated the Gospels for me more than any film about Jesus. If your not familiar with the Gospels you can miss just about everything. But if you are, it’s a brilliant, subtle retelling that had me watching 7 episodes one night and 3 the next. Although there may be troubling parts of the script for some, I found even the troubling parts set me wondering; what is faith ? I bring this up because it’s about the Divine coming literally to earth again and what happens ? What or who changes ? What is rejected ? What lasts forever...? What will then, happen when a year is dedicated to St Joseph ? What difference does it make ? All these questions are explored too, in the Messiah. Especially, again, what is faith ? And how does it affect people who have watched for centuries the horrors brought on by christians? Rabbi Heschel’s daughter Susannah Heschel, has written a tragically brilliant book about these effects, “The Aryan Jesus : Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany.” There are always individuals who keep faith, are trusting in what they experienced, and then manage to awaken others from the nightmare of isolation. It’s similar in a way to now, with all the deaths throughout the world from Covid 19 people while dying, barely able to speak, can say how can I be dying from a hoax? To return to this icon, people often ask why Joseph and the Child are dressed in red and why the dove on the Child’s hand ? Is this a symbol of the earthly Trinity ? The answer is at that time, I was reading about the 13th of October Apparition at Fatima in 1917. I learned that before that day, Our Lady of Fatima had promised Joseph would come and bring peace. He did come and he and the Child were wearing red. Joseph always brings a sense of inner peace, even though, or because, his own life was a daily walk in faith. Pope Francis has summoned Joseph again for a year long stay with us. What will he bring this time, along with Mother and Child ? Adrienne von Speyr’s portrait of Joseph in her “Book of All Saints,” taught me something invaluable about Joseph’s prayer, that we can adapt to our own prayer. For Joseph, just to watch Mary and the Child was prayer. To watch her bathe, feed or simply hold Him. I then wrote this prayer for the icon:
St Joseph
In the night
you teach a
hidden way of
retreat in silence,
in obedience
to your dreams.
But by day,
you lead us
in a prayer,
which is simply
to watch
Mother with
Child
Amen
8 December 2020 💮 the Year with St Joseph

Hagia Sophia Crowning the Youthful Christ

January 22nd, 2021

Hagia Sophia Crowning the Youthful Christ

Hagia Sophia Crowning the Youthful Christ
“Wisdom will honor you if you embrace Her. She will place on your head a fair garland; She will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”
Proverbs 4:8-9
“When I was still a youth, before I went traveling, in my prayers I asked outright for Wisdom. Outside the sanctuary I would pray for Her, and to the last I shall continue to seek Her...by bowing my ear a little, I have received Her, and have found much instruction. Thanks to her I have advanced; glory be to Him who has given me Wisdom...Come close to me, take your place in my school. Why complain about lacking these things when your souls are so thirsty for them?
...My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes. Cling to Him and do not leave Him, so that you may be honored at the end of your days... Look at the generations of old and see: who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? Or who ever called on Him, was forsaken? Or who ever called on Him and was ignored? For the Lord is compassionate and merciful, He forgives sins and saves in the time of distress...”
Ecclesiasticus (from chapters 51 and 2)
It is the Eve of the Second Advent, 2020. I say Second Advent because we’ve been in this Advent since the Ascension of Christ. Before his birth was the First Advent. I’m going to concentrate on icons of (Sophianic) Wisdom during these (always too short for me !) 4 weeks leading up to the Birth of Jesus. I’ve already introduced one, “The Advent of Hagia Sophia.” Because of our more trained-logical nature and schooling in the West, we are not comfortable with concepts like Holy Sophia or Holy Shekhinah (see Rabbi Leah’s beautiful introduction “On the Wings of Shekhinah, 2008). We want exact definitions that we can understand. Yet this also evades us when we try to understand the Holy Spirit or the Holy Trinity. So it’s frustrating for us to be told, you just have to wait patiently, while contemplating these mysteries and allow God to reveal something to you. And just know, it’s been the same journey for me since I first encountered Sophia in 1990 when I began my iconographic apprenticeship. Why Sophia for this year which has been so awfully distressful with so many violent divisions, sicknesses, deaths and for so many, extreme loneliness?
I hope these images I’m going to offer you may begin to answer that question.
Now I’m going to let my dear friend and author, Christopher Pramuk introduce you to this icon for the first week of Advent, 2020.
One day in early 1959, Thomas Merton was visiting with his friends, the Viennese-born artist and printmaker Victor Hammer and his wife Carolyn, at their home in Lexington, Kentucky. As the three sat together at lunch, Merton noticed a triptych that Victor had painted, its central panel depicting the boy Christ being crowned by a dark-haired woman. As the artist would later recall, Merton, while looking at the image, “asked quite abruptly, ‘And who is the woman behind Christ?’” Victor replied, “I do not know yet.” Without further question, “Merton gave his own answer. ‘She is Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom, who crowns Christ.’ And this she was—and is.” Some days later Victor wrote to Merton, asking him to expand on his response. Merton obliges in a letter of May 14, 1959:
The first thing to be said, of course, is that Hagia Sophia is God Himself. God is not only a Father but a Mother. He is both at the same time. . . . To ignore this distinction is to lose touch with the fullness of God. This is a very ancient intuition of reality which goes back to the oldest Oriental thought. . . . For the “masculine-feminine” relationship is basic in all reality—simply because all reality mirrors the reality of God.
As the letter continues, Merton’s thoughts seem to spill onto the page as if by stream of consciousness. His friend’s inquiry seems to have unlocked a kind of floodgate in him.
Hagia Sophia, Merton explains, is “the dark, nameless Ousia [Being]” of God, not one of the Three Divine Persons, but each “at the same time, are Sophia and manifest her.” She is “the Tao, the nameless pivot of all being and nature. . . , that which is the smallest and poorest and most humble in all.” She is “the ‘feminine child’ playing before God the Creator in His universe, ‘playing before Him at all times, playing in the world’ (Proverbs 8.” Above all, Sophia is the Love and Mercy of God coming to birth in us. “In the sense that God is Love, is Mercy, is Humility, is Hiddenness,” writes Merton, “He shows Himself to us within ourselves as our own poverty . . . and if we receive the humility of God into our hearts, we become able to . . . love this very poverty, which is Himself and His Sophia.” And then Merton speaks more directly to Victor, who had shared details with him about the genesis of the painting. “The story you tell of its growth is very interesting and revealing and I am sure Hagia Sophia herself was guiding you in the process, for it is she who guides all true artists, and without her they are nothing.”
As he concludes the letter, Merton seems to realize that their conversation has given birth to something significant. He asks his friend, who had printed a number of first editions of Merton’s poetry on his hand press, “Maybe we could make a little broadsheet on Sophia, with the material begun here???” This is precisely what would happen. In January 1962, the prose poem Hagia Sophia came to print in a stunning limited edition on Victor Hammer’s press, with the artist’s icon illustrating the text. The poem would finally become the centerpiece of the collection Emblems of a Season of Fury, published in the same year.
Why place “Hagia Sophia,” an enigmatic poem evoking the feminine divine, at the very center of a collection that includes devastating poems on racism (“And the Children of Birmingham”), genocide (“Chant to Be Used in Processions around a Site with Furnaces”), and political oppression (“A Picture of Lee Ying”)? Why is faith in Sophia, as Merton suggests, “the great stabilizer for peace” in an era of unspeakable suffering and violence, not least violence against the earth? In a word: why Sophia? And I think the answer has to do with hope, that is to say, faith’s affirmation of divine and human possibilities even, if not especially, in those places and moments that seem by all rational accounts God-forsaken, devoid of hope, void of life, of goodness, of humanity. She is the Child who is prisoner in all the people, and who says nothing. . . She smiles, for though they have bound her, she cannot be a prisoner.
The constellation of influences and events over the course of many years by which the poem Hagia Sophia would gestate and finally come to birth in Merton can teach us something beautiful, it seems to me, about how God works in each of us: by invitation and by stealth, if you will, never by coercion, drawing us with mercy and patience toward the way of peace, truth, and nonviolence. Indeed, given Merton’s artistic sensibilities, it is not surprising that a significant “flash point” or pivotal realization of Sophia into his consciousness would come as he gazed on a work of sacred art. “It is she who guides all true artists,” as Merton tells his friend, “and without her they are nothing.” But with her, as Merton implies, the artist comes alive in each of us.
“There lives the dearest freshness deep down things,” writes the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. In other words, grace builds on nature. Human beings—through “God’s Art and Incarnation” coming to birth in each of us—must learn to labor with God in and through “found materials,” in the ordinary and utterly unique stuff of our own lives. Not least, we are called to work in creative harmony with the beautiful, suffering Earth and all of her creatures. Like Merton, we must learn to read the signs of the times with penetration.
And with Her, learning to hear and trust in Her voice, we can begin again to respond to the crises of our times with receptivity and creativity, generosity and hope.
Deep is the ocean, boundless sweetness, kindness, humility, silence of wisdom that is not abstract, disconnected, fleshless. Awakening us gently when we have exhausted ourselves to night and to sleep. O Dawn of Wisdom!
~ journal, July 2, 1960
Faith in Sophia, natura naturans, the great stabilizer today—for peace.
The basic hope that people have that man will somehow not be completely destroyed is hope in natura naturans.
—The dark face, the “night face” of Sophia—pain, trouble, pestilence.
~ journal entry, January 1961
His rebellion is the rebellion of life against inertia, of mercy and love against tyranny, of humanity against cruelty and arbitrary violence. And he calls upon the feminine, the wordless, the timelessly moving elements to witness his sufferings. Earth hears him.
~ “Prometheus: A Meditation,” 1960

La Gloriosa Venida de Cristo Rey

January 22nd, 2021

La Gloriosa Venida de Cristo Rey

La Gloriosa Venida de Cristo Rey (The Glorious Coming of Christ the King)
“For as lightning flashes and lights go up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in His day.”
Luke 17:24
“...Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to our leaders. But my kingdom is not of this world.’ “
John 18:36
All through my life as an iconographer, I have wanted to portray the second coming or return, of Christ the King. Through the vision and insight of the late Fr Paul Locatelli, SJ the former president of the University of Santa Clara de Asis, and the Jesuit community at the University, I was given the blessed opportunity. That’s why I set this scene, this return, in Santa Clara, California.
St. John Paul II’s inspiration to call the time of his papacy “the New Advent,” appeared at the very beginning of his first encyclical, “Redemptor Hominis,” In 1979. Two years before in 1977, the prophetic theologian William Stringfellow had published two articles (still available) of great power, wisdom, and Biblical insight about how Christians are to live in the Second Advent of the Lord. Stringfellow wrote, concerning the two Advents, “The manger scene itself is a political portrait of the whole of creation restored in the dominion of Jesus Christ in which every creature, every tongue and tribe, every rule and authority, every nation and principality is reconciled in a homage to the Word of God incarnate.” From “A Keeper of the Word : Selected Writings of William Stringfellow “ edited by Bill Wylie Kellerman, see also “William Stringfellow: Essential Writings (Modern Spiritual Masters) Orbis Press.
Apparitions of the Mother of God in Fatima, Amsterdam, Akita, Japan, Bosnia, Medjugorje, Rwanda, Africa all point to a prayer for peace and for a longing (equal to the first Advent) for the Returning Christ the King. Probably the most dramatic, loving and radiant of these revelations in our own time have been to St Faustina Kowalska asking for a deep trust and devotion to His Divine Mercy. Jesus calls all of us to stay awake with our lamps lit awaiting Him, Our Lord and Bridegroom. In the sacrament of Baptism we are all anointed as kings and queens of a kingdom that, as we say in the Nicene Creed, will never end. This is not just a kind endearing fairy tale fantasy but literally the truth.
“High above, he set his tabernacle for the sun, who comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber.” Psalm 19
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse ! He who sat on it is called Faithful and True...He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name He is called is The Word of God...on His robe and on His thigh He has a name inscribed, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.” Revelation 19: 11, 13,16
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8
Advent begins in just one week, November 29 !
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 22 November 2020
“Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!”
Revelation 22:20

St Elizabeth of Hungary

January 22nd, 2021

St Elizabeth of Hungary

St Elizabeth of Hungary 💮 (7 July 1207 - 17 November 1231)
“We must give God what we have, gladly and with joy.” St Elizabeth
“What is sanctity but the mystery of beauty?” Nesta de Robeck (1886-1983)
“She was known
for
mismanagement
and
giving away
food and clothes
to the poor
who
bloomed as
extravagantly
as
meadow flowers
both of which
sustained
her but Louis
needed roses
red
and white
to
confirm whom
his
wife found
Christ
suffering
and reigning
and
hiding in all”
By Fr Jim Janda (30 March 1936 - 7 August 2010)
I think it was a year or so before she died that Elizabeth found a boy suffering with scurvy and she nursed him back to health. That boy is shown with her in this illustration I did for my dear friend, Fr Jim Janda and his delicately inviting and loving poem.
I have been a great fan of Nesta de Robeck’s lives of Franciscan saints, (Francis, Clare and Elizabeth) and her book on the The Christmas Crib - which tells the true story of how the crib came into being. St Francis did not invent the crib, but “downsized” it. I know there are lots of books on these 3 saints but Nesta’s biographies are so appealing to me, especially her 1953 book of St Elizabeth, “Saint Elizabeth of Hungary: A Story of Twenty-four Years.” Here is a description of Elizabeth’s brief life by another great writer on saints, Robert Ellsberg from his wonderful book “Blessed Among Us : Day by Day With Saintly Witnesses.”
“St Elizabeth, the daughter of Hungarian royalty, was betrothed as a child of four to Ludwig, the nine year old prince of Thuringia in southern Germany. Despite this arrangement, the two children established a close friendship that eventually blossomed into a loving marriage. Elizabeth bore three children. But Ludwig’s family disapproved of her piety (she had become a Franciscan tertiary) and especially her ‘excessive’ charity toward the poor and sick. Ignoring their wishes she opened the royal granaries during a time of famine. This won her the people’s devotion, though such generosity made her an object of scorn among the elite members of the court.
In 1227 Ludwig embarked on a Crusade and died on his journey. In a paroxysm of grief, Elizabeth cried, ‘The world is dead to me, and all that was joyous in the world.’ Without her husband’s protection, she was forced to leave the palace on a winter night, carrying nothing but her newborn child. She accepted shelter in a pig shed.
Eventually to avoid scandal, she was provided with a simple cottage, where she supported herself by spinning and fishing. Otherwise, she visited the sick in their homes or in the hospices she had endowed. Over time, her reputation for holiness spread, and she earned the grudging respect of those who had persecuted her. She died on November 17, 1231, at the age of twenty-four. She was canonized less than four years later.”
Very few married couples are both canonized, and Blessed Louis, or Ludwig is commemorated on 11 September. There are many tales and miracles around the story of Elizabeth. One legend I always like to remember is that Francis was still alive when Elizabeth became a Third Order Franciscan. She asked some traveling Franciscan Friars to bring her something from Francis. He sent his shawl which she wrapped round her while she prayed, and claimed that God always answered her wrapped in Francis’ garment. We have a wonderful group of women at our church of St Joseph on the Rio Grande, who knit shawls for anyone who is sick. So, because of Elizabeth’s story I asked them for a green one, so when I pray I still use it. I should also tell you there is a beautiful oratorio by Franz Liszt called The Legend of St Elizabeth, here’s a review:
“Mahler admired this piece very much, but it has not received anything like the attention it deserves. This is,in fact, it’s only recording, and thank heaven, it’s such a fine one. St Elizabeth of Hungary, is one of the patron saints of the poor and downtrodden. A woman of uncompromising goodness and strength, she suffers a series of misfortunes (she loses her husband in a war, gets thrown out of her home by her mother-in-law, has her children taken away) but retains her faith until her death in utter poverty. Liszt had a strong social conscience, he cared about the poor, and he lavished an enormous amount of care on this moving tribute to their divine protector. It may be something of a curiosity, but it’s a worthy one.”
David Hurwitz
Dearest St Elizabeth,
You suffered so much deeply personal loss and abuse during your brief life.
And yet, you could find the holy motivation and strength to care for the sick; like the little boy you sheltered and healed with your attending love.
Be with us now as we are suffering with this pandemic.
Help us do whatever we can to heal one another.
Amen
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 for the “new/changed feast” of St Elizabeth, 19 November

The Advent of Hagia Sophia

January 22nd, 2021

The Advent of Hagia Sophia

The Advent of Hagia Sophia
“Into this happy night
In secret, seen of none,
Nor saw I aught,
Without other light or guide,
Save that which in my heart did burn..”
San Juan de la Cruz (John of the Cross)
“She it was I loved and have searched for from my youth;
I resolved to have her as my bride,
I fell in love with her beauty.
Her closeness to God lends lustre to her noble birth,
since the Lord of All has loved her.
Yes she is an initiate in the mysteries of God’s knowledge,
making choice of the works He is to do.
If in this life wealth be a desirable possession,
what is more wealthy than Wisdom whose work is everywhere ?
...I am your servant, child of your serving maid,
a feeble man with little time to live...
Despatch Her from the holy heavens, send
Her forth from your throne of glory to help me
and toil with me and teach me what is
pleasing to you, since
She knows and understands everything.
She will guide me prudently in my undertakings
and protect me by Her glory.
That all I do will be acceptable...
As for your intention, who could have learned it, had you
not granted Wisdom and sent your
Holy Spirit from above ? Thus have the paths of those
on earth been straitened and people have been taught
what pleases you, and saved,
by Wisdom.”
From The Book of Wisdom, chapters 8,9 (Jerusalem Bible)
“I recommend to you the virtues of courage, which defends science
in a world marked by doubt, alienated from truth, and in need of meaning;
and humility, through which we recognize the finiteness of reason before
Truth which transcends it. These are the virtues of Albert the great.”
St John Paul II
“One of the myriad natural subjects to interest St Albert was that of individual differences. What makes each one of us unique?”
From St Albert the Great by Kevin Vost
The feast of St Albert the Great, a Doctor of the Church, November 15, marks 40 days until Christmas. We always get 40 days of Lent before Easter, but it seems never enough time to really prepare spiritually for Jesus’ birth. So for years, I have begun this preparation on St Albert’s day. Because he was a scientist, dedicated to Biblical Wisdom, he is a very important intercessor this year, when the world has been asked by the scientific community to listen and follow their advice about protection against Covid 19.
“St Albert from his heavenly eminence, can appreciate exactly the task of scientific research. He did a great deal of it himself, not only in one subject, but in the whole field of science, which today is divided into so many specialties. St Albert’s specialty was no less than ‘everything created.’ He wrote on botany, mineralogy, astronomy, physics, chemistry, anthropology, cosmography, and other subjects. No single science escaped his attention... On December 16, 1941, Pope Pius XII designated St Albert the Great as patron of all who engage in scientific studies. As such, he is the special Saint for researchers, technologists, and all who engage professionally in any of the sciences, as well as those who study science.”
From “The 35 Doctors of the Church” by Christopher Rengers, OFM, Cap.
To quote Mr Vost again on St Albert, “What makes each of us unique ?”
One of the things is our relationship with God. Because each of us is unique, God treats us in an absolutely unique way. And God comes to each of us in such a loving and beautifully touching way, as well. How will you spiritually prepare for Advent and Christmas this year ? There are nearly infinite ways and you get to imagine and find your own unique way. Maybe read the above mentioned book on St Albert the Great ? Or pray a Rosary every day, in the car for all the Holy Souls passing into God stricken by this pandemic. Or maybe pray in your own way, especially for all the doctors, nurses, and those on the frontlines who are beyond exhausted as we face a massive surge of infections. Or find ways to physically help some one who is carrying a heavy burden.
I have heard so many people say that during this time of quarantine they have become aware of past cruelties they have endured or caused. We can write them down and go to Confession, ( I have always loved Confession, but I know it’s not that way for everyone...find an understanding Confessor if possible ) or find another way to stop carrying these heavy burdens in this time when we are overwhelmed by so much already. As Our Lord said “Come to me, all you who are weary and overburdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
The Holy Spirit who never goes backwards, and is capable of inspiring infinite possibilities will, I promise you, guide you in your imaginative, creative or simple choice of how to live this Advent of 2020. Every year calls for a new way to return God’s love. I remember so fondly, the organization founded during the AIDS pandemic in New York City, who delivered food to those who could not get out, they are still at work and call themselves: “God’s Love - We Deliver !”
Finally a quote from our New Advent Heavenly Friend and Pope Pius XII :
“You should make your heart like your neighbor’s heart, so that when he is happy you are happy, and you grieve with him when he is grieving.”
St Albert the Great
“May St Albert, who in his own very difficult times proved by his wonderful work that science and faith can flourish harmoniously in people, through his powerful intercession with God, arouse the hearts and minds of those who devote themselves to the sciences, to a peaceful and orderly use of the natural forces, the laws of which, divinely established, they investigate and seek after.”
Pope Pius XII
Dearest Friend St Albert,
how much we love you and seek after your holy wisdom and infinite curiosity about our blessed world, St Francis called, Mother Earth. Help us lay down our heavy burdens so that we can live through our own “very difficult time” of this pandemic. And, dear friend, also continue to inspire us with new hope, new joy and most of all, new love for God and one another.
Amen
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 November 2020

 

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