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The Souls of the Just Are In the Hands of God

November 11th, 2021

The Souls of the Just Are In the Hands of God

The Souls of the Just Are In the Hands of God
“...Only me beside you. Still you’re not alone.
No one is alone, truly. No one is alone.
Sometimes people leave you
Halfway through the wood. Others may deceive you.
You decide what’s good. You decide alone, but
no one is alone... Someone is on your side.
Someone else is not. While you’re seeing your side,
maybe you forgot; they are not alone. No one is alone.
Hard to see the light now, just don’t let it go. Things will
come out right now. We can make it so.
Someone is on your side, no one is alone...”
From “Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim 1986
“...And sorrow, sorrow like rain.
Sorrow to go, and sorrow, sorrow returning...”
Ezra Pound
It’s impossible to overestimate the daily effects of all the deaths and catastrophes we are living with at this moment now, and have been for years. Don’t run away from this... please, but contemplate what you believe is happening and why us ? Why now ? I always tell people at Mass, we were born to live now, this is not an accident. God knows we are capable of making some difference now. Think of the people born in the eras of the Medieval devastating plagues, or just recently, WW 1 or WW 11 ? They must have wondered why us ? Why now ? On November 2 we celebrate the feast of the Holy Souls and we are watching millions of souls rising into God every day. As if every day was 9/11. As the song says....... “over and over I keep going over the world we knew...”
I remember living in Manhattan during the beginning of the AIDS pandemic and I felt my vocation was to be a “midwife to the second birth.” At that time Stephen Sondheim came out with another one of his masterpieces- always centered on the cultural kairos times- and I was blessed to see the original broadway version of “Into the Woods,” in the late 1980’s, several times. I’d go to broadway shows as gifts from/with young men who were afflicted with AIDS and I saw many shows, but none affected me more than this show. The words, “...sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood...” were too close for comfort, and would wound/afflict my heart so deeply. I never got used to these young men dying by the thousands but I accepted my vocation to accompany them right to the doorway. Often they would die before I could get back to the hospital, and when I went in to see them, and found they had gone, I’d go outside in a kind of instantaneously, violently forced trance. I would take to the streets and walk miles up and down Manhattan; to get my bearings. I was disoriented; vertiginous. It was as if some huge part of me left too, or wanted to, and I needed to be grounded. Walking was my way of pounding the earth as an assurance that I was still here . I identified with the image of the tarot card “le pendu” or “the hanged man” - halfway on earth and halfway in the realm beyond life. I have never gotten back to the way I was before that time; fully on earth. My heart collapse in 2012 exacerbated this precarious state and I have accepted it as a “supra-normal, ab-normal,” condition. I mean it’s how we all live right now; part here, part there. I imagine that anyone who had these daily experiences would feel exactly the same way. The young men who were dying would often tell me that their relatives or someone they loved who had passed, was visiting them and “coaching” them into the process of coming home, of letting go. Almost any hospice doctor or nurse will tell you exactly the same things.
I have always been attracted, since childhood, to the devotion around the Holy Souls and you can read about this in the lives of many of our saints like Catherine of Genoa, Anne Catherine Emmerich, Padre Pio, Adrienne von Speyr, or the Austrian mystic, Maria Simma. But you don’t have to go into these Catholic visionaries to understand that we ache to remember and communicate with those we have deeply loved. I have often read that the feeling on their part, is mutual . They are literally waiting to hear from us and are willing, longing, to help us out in any way they can, for our brief time on earth. For some people the accounts of these holy people visited by souls, are terribly frightening, and so, there is no need for that. The best thing you can possibly do is to have Masses offered for them and to pray for and with them yourselves.
Every year on November 2, I place a large scrapbook filled with pictures and names of people who have passed into God, beneath the Eucharist at Mass and pray for them. Because we ultimately live forever, this passing is part of our continuing lives. The wildly veeringly/creative psychologist, Carl Jung thought of death as a Wedding. Right before he died, he asked a friend to drive him around his native villages, and the car was joyfully halted by several Weddings. This delighted him.
“Hard to see the light now, just don’t let it go. Things will come out right now. We can make it so...”
I love the last Requiem Mass ever composed for the dead by Maurice Durufle’. All the ones after Durufle’ are concert pieces. It is so soft, gentle, and like a small boat floating peacefully down a stream. Not at all the grand and portentous electrifying Mozart or Verdi. Durufle’ is a premonition of Vatican II and it’s theology of death-into-life. Just listen; you’ll hear and see. White vestments instead of black. An emphasis on life everlasting. It’s just utterly beautiful, and comforting.
“May light eternal shine upon them O Lord, with your saints forever, for you are Merciful. Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord. And may perpetual light shine upon them. With your saints forever, for you are Merciful. With your saints forever, for you are Merciful.”
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💮 November 2021

Jesus- Listen and Pray

November 11th, 2021

Jesus- Listen and Pray

Jesus, Listen and Pray
This is a very small image, 5”x7” - the first one I had the energy to paint after open heart surgery, in 2012. I had seen a card with Jesus in the lotus position praying and I knew I needed to go into it more, by painting/living with Him.
“The Jesuit Bernard Lonergan was one of the first theologians to recognize that God’s revelation is embedded in the personal narrative. The concrete stories of women and men carry within them the traces of the divine. As we come to know flesh-and-blood people in all their mystery, and all their ordinariness, we come to know more of the Creator and Redeemer and Sustaining Spirit. So it is with Monika Hellwig...As the Carmelite poet Jessica Powers noted, to live in the Spirit of God is to be a listener. Monika listened deeply and well.”
Dolores Leckey from the book “Monika Hellwig: The People’s Theologian”
I have not read all of Monika’s work but what I have has moved me to listen and pray. She has the inspired Art of writing about deep theological issues that are understandable and it seems to me, in a “clean” way, of having no agenda. I think the best Christian apologists have this grace. They assume your natural intelligence and don’t have to coerce you because their clarity is both scholarly and lovingly invitational. They trust the Holy Spirit. In these days of hourly rancor, that often explodes into some form of violence, such a person as Monika was/is a minor miracle. I’m hoping I will get the chance to paint her image too.
I’ve met many people, throughout my life who start off a conversation by putting you on the defensive. I’ve always wondered what do they have to hide ? Because this tactic actually kills any chance for a conversation. I don’t really know, maybe that’s the whole point ? Conversation assumes a vulnerability on both sides, a true listening and responding with a word or two that shows you’ve heard, an immediate rebuttal (and most of us are guilty of this) is another conversation killer. Oddly enough, I once read a very interesting take on this many years ago in ,maybe (?) chapter 5, of “The Celestine Prophecy.” I think it was about the reason people take swipes, verbal snipers. It might have answered that question, but it didn’t provide any lasting comfort.
The Gospels have several stories of Jesus going off to be alone and pray. And I was so taken with the image of Piero Pasolini’s Jesus, (The Gospel According To St Matthew) Enrique Irazoqui, that he became a living image for me from age 19, onward...of Jesus in a prayer. To talk with God, one has to be completely vulnerable and honest...
“Today, perhaps your soul can sense Jesus saying, Be unafraid to know yourself. Be fearless in your inward search. God’s care for you never wavers. No threat can silence God’s whispered call to you. No shadowy valley you walk through can extinguish the light that leads you to salvation. Hypocrites cannot damn you because God has deemed you precious. You count. So take courage. Come clean. Tell God, who never changes, everything you know about yourself, and more will be revealed. You will be counted among my disciples, one of my beloved friends.”
Rachel Srubas writing about St Teresa of Avila
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 October 2021

The Bride - The Church

November 11th, 2021

The Bride - The Church

The Bride : The Church
“You are the ones who have stood by me faithfully in my trials...”. Luke 22: 28
Today happens to be the feast of Pope St John XXIII, this is also the feast of the
Maternity of the Mother of God. And, this is the day in 1962, Pope John chose to convene the Second Vatican Council, the first one in 92 years. I was aware and alive to the symbols of the Church, but was always drawn to the ship, or Barque of St Peter. Most people imagine the Church as Michelangelo’s St Peters Basilica in Rome, or the thousands of beautiful structures of every age around the world. But only later, did I truly encounter the Bride. She is a poignant symbol in the Hebrew Bible, with the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea and Ezekiel. And in the New Testament Matthew, Mark, John, 2 Corinthians, Revelation 19 and 21, but especially in the Letter to the Ephesians 5: 22-33. My dear friend and mentor Fr Daniel Berrigan, SJ named his first published book of essays, “The Bride : Essays in the Church,” Macmillan, 1959. In 1996 we would begin collaborating on a book about my icons published by Orbis Press, four years later in 2000, and I titled it “The Bride: Images of the Church.”
In 1992, I was two years into my Apprenticeship in Iconography when the child abuse scandal broke out in New Mexico. It was so overwhelmingly devastating for the victims, and destroyed any positive connection to the church, forever. And the priests, that were innocent of any abuse, all naturally went into an isolated state of shock and grief. I had to find an image of the Church that could never be abused or even touched, in any harmful way. I read the magnificent book, “The Splendor of the Church” (written lovingly while he himself was silenced by the church) by Cardinal Henri de Lubac, SJ. I began to see the Bride as the only possible image of the Church that I could feel and ponder safely inside me.
In 2008 I was given my first exhibit of solely original icons and images, at the Millicent Rogers Museum In Taos, I named, “Silence in the Storm.” For this exhibit I painted this image of the pregnant Bride, surrounded by a protecting radiance which shielded her from any and all evil. And this is my firm belief that nothing demonic can ever come near her essence. She is pregnant with always new members, new souls. She is led by the Holy Spirit and covered by the hand of the Father. She upholds a Medallion of the Holy Child, after the beautiful work for the Ospedale degli Innocenti, in Florence, by the Renaissance master, Andrea della Robbia.
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 11 October 2021

St Francis Wounded-Winter-Light

November 11th, 2021

St Francis Wounded-Winter-Light

St Francis Wounded-Winter-Light
“He was always occupied with Jesus: Jesus he bore in his heart, mouth, eyes,ears, and in his entire body: Jesus.”
Blessed Thomas of Celano
“Put yourself out Brother Francis,” I used to cry. “Put yourself out before you burn up the world !”
Nikos Katzanzakis
This was originally a pen and ink illustration I made after returning from Assisi, which I later made into an icon commissioned by St Francis College in Brooklyn.
Francis came very early into my life as my favorite saint. My parents had traveled to his US city, San Francisco, and returned with an 8” porcelain white statue of a beardless young Francis with arms outstretched and a bird on each arm. Later I saw a holy card type version of the Esteban Murillo painting of St Francis beneath the Cross in one of my 4 “Miniature Lives of the Saints “ by Fr Daniel Lord, SJ. There was also a beautiful statue of him near the Franciscan Church of St Elizabeth of Hungary (herself, co-patron, along with St Louis the IX, of the Third Order Franciscans ) in downtown Denver.
To make a long story shorter, I would end up meeting the Third Order Franciscans in the Bronx, New York and being admitted as a member in 1984. After joining, I went on a pilgrimage to Italy to the graves of my patrons, St Ignatius, Francis and (my Confirmation name) Dominic. While Ignatius was convalescing in Loyola at his brothers estate, he had wondered, “What if I should do what St Francis did ? What if I should act like St Dominic ?” It was in March 84 and Assisi was so cold I wore my clothes in bed. For some odd reason I had expected Assisi would be much much warmer. One day I looked out my window and thought, O my God, Francis is outside in the snow barely covered p, and he’s suddenly caught in rapturous love, by the intricate artistry of the Creator, in a falling snowflake. When I was leaving Assisi I wrote this poem of my experiences, to say goodbye...
Reflections from Assisi : “Ciao Francesco”
Ciao Francesco of Assisi
whose bloody footprints in winter
(like carnelians cast upon snow)
can still disrupt Assisi….
Ciao Francesco of the Porziuncola
that blessed door too narrow
for me to enter, but led by you
I ask three things…….
Ciao Francesco of San Damiano
who led me along the same
road of renunciation
(while the silver olive trees wept)
and showed me that we
leave all our fathers…
Ciao Francesco of the Carceri
whose food was to do the
will of God, and when I
saw this—too true—I ran
all the way down Mt. Subasio…
Ciao Francesco of the Chiesa Nuova
your lively friar-son showed me
the prison where your father
tried to keep you and then
sensing my sins he let down his cape for me to walk on
--this still hurts…
Ciao Francesco who fought the devils
and guarded my own room with
Leo’s cherished blessing—while the
shutters rattled from the nightmare
howls, and the dark dreams
threatened to turn me back……
Ciao Francesco of La Verna
(my dearest home)
you climbed those rocks
to bemoan your sins and
left that mountain so transfigured,
so holy, that in that place
I could scarcely breathe…
Ciao Francesco of the Basilica
your body is the Feast of Fools,
parades, endless masses, cameras, dances
songs, candles, and those weeping
because they have put you up so high,
we can’t even touch you
for healing anymore….
Ciao Francesco wounded-winter light
you are stricken with love
by God’s smallest creatures…
Ciao Francesco of the Via Crucis
winter in Assisi is more harsh, silent
and bitter than I ever imagined,
and as I complained and nagged you
for comfort, you walked with me,
(like Jesus at Emmaus wounds aglow)
and taught me the grace of
Compassion….
Ciao Francesco of Assisi,
guide books, tapestries, and paintings
say you are dead,
but you still lead
the angels in song
at the Bronx Little Portion.
“Ciao Chiara”
Ciao Chiara of San Damiano
you led me up stone stairs
to the upper room and unbolted
the door to ancient visions,
and showed me how love
and the Holy Eucharist
put invaders to flight….
Ciao Chiara, Lady Poverty,
you are on display as some venerable mummy;
Your skeleton still observing
Stark humility and holy poverty….
Ciao Chiara who cried the Passion
every day (hope against hope)
and who bathed our father’s
wounds and kissed them when
he went Home…
Ciao Chiara de Favarone
the Spirit hovers in the mist
outside your basilica and
sits like manna on the olive trees
and the Spirit and the Bride say:
“God is enough.”

St Faustina Kowalska - Apostle of the Divine Mercy

November 11th, 2021

St Faustina Kowalska - Apostle of the Divine Mercy

St Faustina Kowalska : Apostle of the Divine Mercy (25 August 1905- 5 October 1938)
“When you reflect upon what I tell you in the depths of your heart, you profit more than if you read many books. Oh, if souls would only listen to My voice when I am speaking in the depths of their hearts, they would reach the peak of holiness in a short time.”
(Jesus speaks in the Diary of St Faustina #584)
“Be at peace, My daughter. This work of mercy is Mine; there is nothing of you in it. It pleases Me that you are carrying out faithfully what I have commanded you to do, not adding or taking away a single word.” #1667
“Heart of My Heart, be filled with joy.” #1669
Faustina asked the Lord about the meaning of the rays on the painting or image of the Divine Mercy, Jesus told her in reply:
“The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender Mercy when my agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross... Oh, how much I am hurt by a soul’s distrust! Such a soul professes that I am Holy and Just, but does not believe that I am Mercy and does not trust in My goodness. Even the devils glorify My Justice but do not believe in My goodness. My Heart rejoices in this title of Mercy. Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God. All the works of My hands are crowned with mercy.” #299
According to the spirituality of St Ignatius one is advised not only to refrain from defending oneself when reproached, but to rejoice in the humiliation. As Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me...” Matthew 5:11
“You will encounter disapproval and persecution. They will look upon you as a hysteric and an eccentric, but the Lord will lavish His graces upon you. True works of God always meet with opposition and are marked by suffering. If God wants to accomplish something, sooner or later He will do so in spite of the difficulties. Your part, in the meantime, is to arm yourself with great patience.” #270
“My daughter, if you knew what great merit and reward is earned by one act of pure love for Me, you would die of joy. I am saying this that you may constantly unite yourself with Me through love, for this is the goal of the life of your soul. This act is an act of the will. Know that a pure soul is humble. When you lower and empty yourself before My majesty, I then pursue you with My graces and make use of My omnipotence to exalt you...Do not fear anything. I am with you. These matters are in My hands and I will bring them to fruition according to My mercy, for nothing can oppose My will... I am always in your heart; not only when you receive Me in Holy Communion, but always.” # 575
This year I had so many choices for the last days of September and the first few days of October. The 3 Archangels, St Therese of Lisieux, the Holy Protection of the Mother of God, the Guardian Angels, St Francis and Faustina. Because Pope Francis has written so much on the Mercy of God, (Apostolic Letter “Misericordia et Misera” 20 November 2016) and he, himself is being persecuted just like she was, I chose Faustina.
On October 5, 1938, Sister Faustina whispered to Sister Felicia, “The Lord will take me today.”
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 28 September 2021 feast of “Good King Wenceslas 👑”

St Padre Pio- Mother Pelican

November 11th, 2021

St Padre Pio- Mother Pelican

St Padre Pio : Mother Pelican (25 May 1887-23 September 1968)
“I will ask the Lord to let me remain at the threshold of Paradise, and I will not enter until the last of my spiritual children has entered...Once I take a soul on, I also take their entire family as my spiritual children.”
St Pio of Pietrelcina
“O loving Pelican! O Jesus Lord! Unclean am I but cleanse me in your blood.”
St Thomas Aquinas
“Surely he has borne our infirmities, and carried our sorrows. And we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins. The chastisement of peace was upon him: and by his wounds we are healed.”
Isaiah 53
“This wounding is for healing, now the hand raises only to cherish, to bless, to praise.”
Fr James Janda from the play “Julian of Norwich”
“The name Pietrelcina is of ancient, uncertain origin...One of the more colorful stories is that an old foundation stone (pietra) was found in the ancient castle of the town, and on it were carved a hen (pucina) and a brood of chicks, hence Pretapucina.”
From “The Holy Man on the Mountain” later changed to “Padre Pio and America” by Frank Rega
I have read so so many books on Padre Pio, and I never tire of reading about him, and am always lifted and filled with spiritual joy and hope, when I read anything about his life. When I was a little boy he was still alive, and I remember looking into a book at Daleidens Catholic Church Goods Store, in downtown Denver, with pictures of his wounds which actually frightened me, but I never forgot those pictures of him. The wounds, or stigmata, have been a theme in my life and art ever since childhood. Later I would be drawn to the healing power of the wounds and the healing that has come from my (our) wounds if you accept them and fend off the bitterness and tragedy of injustice and rejection. Much later in my thirties, when I became a Third Order Franciscan in the Bronx, New York, I read and was deeply instructed, and deeply moved by the story that during the last two years of his life (1224-1226) the flabbergasted and astonished friars who changed St Francis’ bloody bandages, would dip the blood-soaked cloths in buckets of water and feed the water to sick people and animals, and all were healed by this “Mother’s Blood,” ( when he died the Poor Clare’s cried out, “What will we do without our father, without our mother, Francis?!”) I don’t think, to my limited knowledge, that any male saint has been referred to as father and mother. But Our Lord Jesus has these most tender qualities, and in his final grieving, referred to himself as a Mother Hen. (Matthew 23:37)
Let me suggest just two wonderful books:
“The Holy Souls : Viva Padre Pio!” and
“Send Me Your Guardian Angel”
Both by Padre Alessio Parente, OFM, CAP.
Padre Pio received the visible wounds of Jesus on 20 September 1916. He bore these wounds for 50 years and when he died, they disappeared and his flesh became soft as a child. Truly, just about any of the many, many books on Padre Pio will feed you. And you can never stop learning from and leaning on him for vital strength and support. He’s one of those “911 Saints” like Therese of Lisieux , who respond immediately. Because of the story of St Francis and the healing water from his wounds, I decided to portray Padre Pio holding a medallion of the ancient, pure legend, of the Mother Pelican who, when her chicks were starving, would open her side and feed them her own blood. We are actually all nourished in the womb by our Mother’s blood. But I wondered would Padre Pio approve ? Then right after I finished the Icon (early 90’s) I saw a VHS cassette of his last Mass at San Giovanni Rotondo , 22 September 1968. As the Friars helped him down from the altar, he turned his back to be led away, and on the back of his chasuble (vestment) was embroidered an image of the Mother Pelican. I felt okay then.
A most blessed feast of Padre Pio ! and why not ask him to become one of his spiritual children, all you have to do is ask. “🎶 Seek and ye shall find. Knock and the doors shall be opened. Ask and it shall be given, and the love come a’ tricklin’ down!🎶” ( “Love Come A’tricklin’ Down”) recorded by the Womenfolk 1964)
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 20 September 2021

St Hildegard of Bingen - Doctor of the Church 1098-1179

November 11th, 2021

St Hildegard of Bingen - Doctor of the Church 1098-1179

St Hildegard of Bingen : Doctor of the Church (1098-1179)
“Holy Spirit, you, quickening life, prime mover of the universe and root of all creation, cleanse your creation from impurity, heal the guilt and anoint the wounds. O radiant life, worthy of praise, awaken and reawaken the universe!”
St Hildegard
I have this little book of prayers of Hildegard with my teacher’s (Friar Robert Lentz, OFM) masterful icon on the cover, published by Franciscan Media, 1989.
They have been gathered by the former prioress for 23 years, of St Hildegard’s Abbey, in Rudesheim-Eibingen, Germany, Cecilia Bonn, OSB. I noticed that looking through them, I could have chosen just about any prayer and it would speak to us today. Such is the power of Hildegard’s connection to God. I could go into so many things about my relationship to her dating back to the first cassette of her songs I received as a gift in 1986. But let me send you to a few living experts and scholars, who will help you to find her on your own. My favorites:
“Voice of the Living Light : Hildegard of Bingen” edited by Barbara Newman, 1998
“Vision : The Life and Music of Hildegard von Bingen” 1995
By Barbara Newman and commentary on her visions by Fr Matthew Fox
“Vision : The Music of Hildegard von Bingen” CD, 1995
And once again ...
“Vision : From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen” Zeitgeist Films, 2009
Margarethe von Trotta’s beautiful film using Hildegard’s actual words for the bulk of the film and starring the unforgettable Barbara Sukowa.
I watched that film over 10 times mostly when I was recovering from my heart collapse in 2012. It became so familiar that I no longer had to look at the subtitles anymore. As I write this on the Thursday evening before Hildegard’s feast, the 17th of September, the next day, “demonstrations” are planned round the country in support of the people who stormed the United States Capitol and wounded over 100 Capitol police on January 6. I have heard the best recreation of that day, is a 40 minute film called “Inside the Capitol Riot : An Exclusive Video Investigation.” After my work in the AIDS Hospice in New York (83-90) I couldn’t watch any movies about AIDS. And I haven’t been able to watch the video investigation of the violent riot for the same reasons.
When I got this commission to paint/write Hildegard’s icon (around 2005?) I chose an image of her own painting, from her book, “Scivias,” called “The Zeal of God.” I’ll let Fr Fox, an Episcopal Priest, now tell you about the image, though I did not include the walls, just the fiery angelic head.
“...Where the two walls meet, there is a ‘zealous red head.’ Hildegard describes this head as having ‘a fiery color, shining red like a flame of fire. It had a terrifying face.’ It had three wings ‘of amazing breadth and length which were white as a shining cloud’ and these wings grew larger as they beat and beat. The head itself did not speak and did not move. Christ, however, spoke. ‘This head signifies the zeal of the Lord,’ Hildegard says. The Zeal of God is essentially justice-making; it comes about when we are aroused by injustice. ‘In mirror (that is speculative) knowledge and in human work there is a common boundary of injustice,’ Hildegard tells us. God cares so much for justice that in the past, under the Old Law of Abraham and Moses as well as in the present, under the New Law of Christ, the divine zeal always and continues to be for justice.” One of my favorite (almost impossibly rational at this time) speakers, Beau of the Fifth Column, always ends his videos with “Just a thought.”
“O Shepherd of souls,
O first Word, through which we were all created, may it truly please you, to free us of our misery and from our brokenness.”
Doctor St Hildegard
16 September 2021

Our Lady of Sorrows by Kathy Hendricks

November 11th, 2021

Our Lady of Sorrows  by Kathy Hendricks

Our Lady of Sorrows
by Kathy Hendricks
I saw them as I entered the supermarket parking lot. A family of four crouched in the shade of a small tree. Two young boys sat with their mother and waved at passing cars. The father held a sign asking for assistance. I parked the car and made a mental note to buy something for them to eat before heading back home. My good intentions slipped away, however, as I made my way up and down the aisles, searching for all of the items on my list. As I exited the store the sight of the family brought me up short. I unloaded my bags and pulled out the lunch meat and rolls I bought for lunch with a friend. After handing over my meager offerings, along with a few dollars, one of the boys looked up and smiled. “God bless you,” he said.
Of all the feasts to honor Mary, the one I love most is Our Lady of Sorrows (September 15). It recalls not only the sufferings she experienced in her life, but also the way she consoles others in the midst of theirs. Mary, a woman who praised God for the blessing bestowed upon her, was not defeated by the sorrow that pierced her heart. She gave herself over to God’s grace, allowing herself to be transformed in the process. Her pierced and wounded heart is a sign of blessing and hope. Thus we turn to her in our own need, asking for her prayers on our behalf.
Mary’s response to our cries of pain is not unlike the little boy in the parking lot. It is a reminder that God’s merciful blessing is given to all of us, particularly in times of our greatest need. It is also a call to open our hearts to others, to be people who know sorrow and allow it to make us more generous and caring. What we have to offer may seem a pittance given the vast sum of human misery across the globe. The life and witness of this humble woman, however, should remind us that no act of charity is insignificant and that each extension of kindness is one more ripple in the vast expanse of love that consoles us all.

The Servant of God Father Pedro Arrupe SJ

November 11th, 2021

The Servant of God Father Pedro Arrupe SJ

The Servant of God Father Pedro Arrupe, SJ
“There is only Christ : He is everything and He is in everything.”
Colossians 3:11
“Grant me, O Lord, to see everything now with new eyes,
to discern and test the spirits that help me read the signs
of the times, to relish the things that are yours and to communicate
them to others. Give me the clarity of understanding that you gave
to Ignatius.”
Fr Pedro Arrupe, SJ
“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 - responsive to one who ‘suffers with us’ and ‘who allows for our weaknesses,’ 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” - 1973 by Shusaku Endo
Last January I received an email from Mr Mark Mongelluzzo the Director of Development at Xavier High School in New York City. It was a request for an icon of Fr Pedro Arrupe, SJ, the 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus (from 1965 to 1983) and the only Spanish Basque General since St Ignatius. The model Mark suggested that the school wanted, is the iconic photograph of Fr Arrupe kneeling in a Japanese prayer position. Fr Arrupe’s life is intimately tied to Japan from his arrival in 1938, then living and ministering to a 150 wounded in the horrific atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and becoming the Provincial of Japan in 1954. In 1965 he became Superior General and was much beloved. I think the main reason we all love that photo is it’s not only a picture of his prayer but also his deeply profound humility. It’s a picture that actually draws you into a prayer. And this is also the purpose of an icon. If you attempt to copy a photo exactly, you can only fail, but if you try to reinterpret it then, you might be able to bring something new to the understanding of this holy man.
At the age of 24, I was a young Jesuit Scholastic, teaching art and theology at Regis High School in Denver. I was in St Louis because Fr Arrupe was making one of his visits to the United States but I never expected to meet him personally . I stepped into an elevator in Jesuit Hall, on the campus of St Louis University, and right in front of me stood Fr Arrupe. I was so shocked, and undoubtedly it showed. I could hardly speak. He took my hand, squeezed it with a big smile, and said “It’s okay dear !” His gentleness and compassion, as well as the humorous twinkle in his eye... I can still feel today. What a great gift now, to be able to paint him and his gentle, strong, loving spirit. The moment I saw Mark’s email I knew I had to honor his love of Japan and try to bring the beautiful Japanese style into the icon, as well as the impression of Jesus that Shusaku Endo gives us in his “Life of Jesus.” There are three orbs in this icon; for the Blessed Trinity. First the halo designating his holiness, then the Moon which in Catholic symbolism is always Mary (the reflected light of her Son Jesus) and finally, the circular symbol on his heart, the Holy Name of Jesus. The Greek letters in the colored rectangular shapes, say “Holy (Pedro) Peter.”
While painting (writing) this icon I was thinking of all the students passing by this image and hoping they will stop just for a moment to connect with the incredible saintly man who once was asked by a journalist: “Who is Christ for you ?”
“For me,” said Fr Arrupe, “Jesus Christ is everything!”
May the Most Holy Trinity, through the intercession of The Servant of God Fr Pedro Arrupe, SJ, continue to bless you all !
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 August 2021

St John the Forerunner

November 11th, 2021

St John the Forerunner

St John the Forerunner (the Baptist)
🎶 “Well, get up John go down to the Jordan / get up John prepare the way/ Man from Galilee is waiting / You must meet him there today/
Get up John go tell my people / This will be a holy day / Tell them of the Jew that’s waiting / That the Savior’s on his way/
John / You’ve been chosen / John / Go unafraid / John / I’ll go with you / John the Baptist / This is the day/ Well get up John go tell Jerusalem / Savior’s waiting on the shore / Baptize him in the river Jordan / I’ll send a Dove from Heaven’s door/
John / You’ve been chosen / John / Go unafraid / John / I’ll go with you / John the Baptist / This is the day/ Well get up John / Your work is finished / Daylight breaks the soldiers come / You will die for me tomorrow / Welcome home your race is run /John / You’ve been chosen / John / Go unafraid / John / I’ll go with you / John the Baptist / This is the day. “
By Bill Monroe 1953
(sung by Emmylou Harris’ live album “At the Ryman” 1992)
This icon was commissioned by Fr Svetozar Kraljevic at the time he was living in Medjugorie . On my first visit there (I was blessed by my late friend Mimi, to be taken there 4 times) one evening Fr Svet drove up to the house where we were staying . He said he wanted an icon of Our Lady of Medjugorie (Croatian, Medugorska Gospa or Queen of Peace, Kralijica Mira) I was hesitant because an icon is rather formal and having met a few of the visionary’s and listening to them describe Mary’s radiant youthful unearthly beauty, I was naturally intimidated. I told Fr Svet no one could create that kind of beauty- inside and out - that has been given to Mary. But he insisted saying that no one sees the apparitions of Mary except the few. He said they need an icon to gaze into, even though there are very “realistic” pictures and statues of Mary all over the area. So I went ahead and created two icons; the second was John the Baptist because the first apparition occurred on the feast of the Birth of John the Baptist, June 24 (1981); signaling that Mary is the Prophet preparing us for the return of Christ as King. Medjugorie has been under investigation since 1981, and yet since 1981 over 40 million people have made the pilgrimage to this tiny village in Bosnia, Herzegovina. Pope Francis is skeptical of the longevity of the apparitions (they are still going on today) but believes in the initial ones. He did say that there are millions of people who go there, convert and change their lives, “this is a spiritual and pastoral fact that cannot be denied.” So the official position of the church is not to approve or condemn the apparitions as being supernatural. I myself felt her presence there. I can only describe it as the feeling when somehow you know, when someone is looking at you, right near or behind you, and you turn around or toward them and see them. I felt that way. And when we’d leave for example, to go to Dubrovnik, her presence was gone. As soon as we’d return, I felt her again. I’m sure if you talk to anyone who has “been called” to make the pilgrimage, they will have many stories to tell you. When Mimi asked me to go with her and a friend I was very skeptical, but I cannot deny after my 4 visits, that the desire to come ever closer to God, and a perpetual desire for conversion; these continue to lovingly touch my life since my first visit.
The tradition of icons is that almost always the artist does not sign the work because it is believed the Holy Spirit is the author/painter. I have several books of Greek, Russian and Siberian icons. I saw this beautiful, powerful icon of St John the Forerunner in a Greek book, signed by the Greek master iconographer Michail Damaskenos 1530-1595. It is such an honor to attempt to copy any of the exquisite masterpieces of the past. You live with the presence of the iconographer and you learn so much by looking into their work, during the time it takes you to complete the copy. I have my favorites, of course St Andrei Rublev, Dionisius the Wise of the Novgorod school, Simon Ushakov the 17th century master who was so influenced by the west, that an archpriest Avvakum regarded his icons as “lascivious works of the devil.” Then there are the Greeks, Michail Damaskenos, Photios Kontoglu, and finally, my Russian American teacher, Friar Robert Lentz, OFM. At this “kairos time” in my life I find myself very drawn to Dionisius the Wise, and wish I could just spend the rest of my life copying his work ! He is so deceptively pure and simple.
John the Baptist has been painted, sculpted, portrayed in plays, films, and in the Bill Monroe song I began with. A couple of my favorite images of him are in the National Gallery in Washington DC by Andrea del Verrocchio and the Caravaggio in the Nelson Art Gallery in Kansas City, Missouri. John begins the summer with his birthday and ends summer with the feast of his death August 29. I love Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich’s visions of his life, and also the contemporary British historian and theologian, Joan E. Taylor’s book on John. Both women have fed me for years. Who can imagine Jesus’ fear and anguish when he heard of John’s murder ? “ Despite this exalted ministry, the Baptist’s work is one of humility. At the height of his apostolic activity, John does not seek to grow his own ministry apart from the Incarnate Word. He is content directing others to Christ. He aims to make Christ known as he himself fades into the background. Augustine praises John’s clarity in mission : ‘he identified himself, he pointed out the difference between Christ and himself, he humbled himself.’ In our Christian life, we need to imitate St John the Baptist. Whether it be on our lips or in our hearts, we echo the words of the Baptist: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’” (Jn. 3:30) written for “Faith and Culture: The Journal of the Augustine Institute” by Ben Akers. This is also, I believe, the perfect definition of iconography and the mission of iconographers.
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 end of August 2021

 

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