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July 29th, 2022
The Black Madonna : Your Lap Has Become the Holy Table
“Ave, ave, verum Corpus, natum de Maria Virgine, vere passum, immolatum in Cruce pro homine; cuius latus perforatum unda fluxit sanguine. Esto nobis praegustatum in mortis examine. O dulcis, O pie, O Jesu Fili Mariae, misererere mei. Amen “
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 1791
“While preparing the altar, after I had vested, and during Mass, I experienced great interior impulses, and wept very copiously and intensely, sobbing violently. Often I could not speak. The same continued after Mass. During much of this time, before, during, and after Mass, I felt and saw clearly that Our Lady was very propitious, pleading before the Father. Indeed during the prayers to the Father and the Son, and at His consecration, I could not but feel or see her, as though she were part or rather portal of the grace that I could feel in my spirit. At the consecration she showed that her own flesh was in that of her Son, with so many intuitions that they could not be written.”
St Ignatius “Spiritual Diary,” 15 February 1544
In 1990 before I left New York City to begin my apprenticeship in Albuquerque, I went to Rizzoli Book Store in SoHo to find a book about icons. They had one; “Russian Icons” by Fr Vladimir Ivanov, 1987. From that one book I found and copied at least 7 prototypes of icons:
Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence, Our Lady of the Sandias (the Kykko Icon), the Savior of the Fiery Eye, the Virgin of the Don, the Holy Face (the Mandylion), Mother of God Similar to Fire, and this Eucharistic Icon, Your Lap Has Become the Holy Table.
This was commissioned by my first real “patron” Fr Ray Bucko, SJ for the Jesuit Villa Chapel In Cazenovia, New York. Ray was one of the first Jesuits to post on the internet and began to feature my icons. I remember living in the Jesuit Community on 98th and Broadway, later, in 1997, when one of the community members came into dinner one evening and said wryly, “Well, I delved into “Society of Jesus” on the internet and what came up was St Ignatius, Fr Pedro Arrupe, and ... you !” Everybody laughed, and me too...nervously. Ray also commissioned the triptych of the Passion, Jesus Christ Extreme Humility, Our Lady of Sorrows and St John the Apostle. I’m forever grateful to him.
In 1994 Pope St John Paul designated the Year 2000 as a Eucharistic Year, following the 3 years he dedicated to the Trinity, 1997, 98, 99 (see the Apostolic Letter, “Tertio Millenio Adveniente” 10 November 1994) . So naturally I wanted to find an icon that celebrated that Eucharistic Year. I found this 19th century Russian Icon which featured a Black Madonna, a black Child Jesus and a black-brown, Holy Spirit. It shows Mary’s womb as the Tabernacle and the Child arising from the chalice, and a brown Holy Spirit. My teacher told me the table represents the Father, as the ground of all being. Since that time I’ve seen several renditions of this icon, but none of them portrayed the Mother of God, the Child and the Holy Spirit as black or brown. This led me to two remarkable and instructive books about black Madonnas throughout history; “Longing For Darkness” by China Galland, and “The Cult of the Black Virgin” by Ean Begg. I would recommend both, especially today, because I remember Ean Begg saying that this “darkness” of the Black Madonna, is the darkness of pregnancy and not the darkness of depression or despair. I often think about this every Advent, which is the darkest time of the year. My experience is that people really need images and words of hope, now, more than ever. I'm working on an icon now of Sister Thea Bowman and feel inspired by the 19th century icon, to use the brown Holy Spirit again.
The entry from 1544, in Ignatius’ Spiritual Diary, is so profound, that I’ll try to write about it as we move closer to his coming feast day. And I’ve always loved some of the old hymns concerning the Eucharist, like Pange Lingua Gloriosi , Adoro Te Devote, and especially Mozart’s setting of Ave Verum Corpus, a motet he composed for Corpus Christi Sunday, dated 17 June 1791. I’ve quoted the Latin and will finish with the musical /prayer translation. I don’t think anyone can listen to this Mozart motet without being moved by the hushed, utterly reverent and then strong, beautiful setting:
“All hail, O true Body, of the Blessed Virgin born, which in anguish to redeem us did suffer upon the Cross; from whose side, when pierced by a spear, there came forth both water and blood. Be to us at our last hour the source of consolation. O loving, O holy, O Jesus, Son of Mary, have mercy on me. Amen “
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💮 July 2022
July 29th, 2022
St Padre Pio : Mother Pelican (25 May 1887 - 23 September 1968)
“We should not forget that the saints are, first of all, masterpieces of grace, so that at times, in addition to imitating the example they leave for us, we should admire the extraordinary plan of God in them, completely unique and unrepeatable... in 1916, San Giovanni Rotondo had absolutely nothing to recommend it. It was a very poor little town, like so many of the out of the way towns of the Italian South...It was here Padre Pio arrived on July 28, 1916, in the company of the superior, almost as if for a break of a few days, to get away from the sweltering heat of Foggia...He was happy to be there, and the friars were happy to have him. But the arrangement was not to everyone’s liking. Deep within, Padre Pio was subjected to a tremendous battle. He felt ‘exposed to the fury of Satan”, who surely did not want to see him in that place. The Padre felt assaulted by temptations against the faith that were so strong that he was prompted to write, ‘What a mystery I am to myself!’ So sure of guiding souls, he felt then, as he always did thereafter, so weak and uncertain when it came to his own person.”
Fr Gabriele Amorth ( 1 May 1925 - 16 September 2016 )
from his book, “Padre Pio : Stories and Memories of My Mentor and Friend”
We all have mentors, teachers and friends in our lives who can make a world of difference in how we see ourselves and give us the confidence to reach for the stars. I see the saints that way too. So I’m going to share a bit about one of mine, Padre Pio. Another mentor has been Adrienne von Speyr, (whose guide was St Ignatius Loyola) whom I remember clearly saying something like, “the saints are especially available around their feasts.” Now, “Padre Pio season” is not until September, but around my 73rd birthday, I felt his wanting me to come closer to him. I was actually trying to find a book for two friends about him, when I ended up buying 3 and realizing one was for me. It’s one I hadn’t read by the famous Vatican Exorcist and friend of Padre Pio, Fr Gabriele Amorth. I feel a sort of urgency to get this out so I cannot possibly go into all my Padre Pio stories, but I can clearly remember the first. When we had to move into the Governor’s Mansion, (gifted to the state of Colorado by the Boettcher Foundation built in 1908) my room was a former linen closet and had a balcony overlooking Logan street in Denver. It was to say the least, a magical mansion with 27 rooms and art from all over the world . That “house” fueled, ignited, my nascent imagination. I was eleven and turned 12 not long after. I loved looking out over Logan street, a one way street, and watching the cars at night. A few blocks away, on Broadway street, was a Catholic Book Store, called Daleidens. I could walk down there and look into the books. One day I saw a book about Padre Pio and it had pictures of him showing his wounds. This actually really scared me, as he was still alive and suffering, but those pictures were seared into my memory and imagination. I don’t know when I discovered the female image of Jesus the Mother Pelican, but found out it was a medieval legend that when the chick’s of a Mother Pelican we’re starving, she would cut open her breast and feed them with her own blood. Later as an iconographer, I would see Padre Pio as that Mother Pelican. After I was finished writing the icon (1994?) I wondered if he approved? So I got a VHS cassette of his last Mass, and on the back of his chasuble, was the Mother Pelican. And also, providentially, in 1979, I was ordained on his birthday. What a gratuitous gift!
When I finished the book by Fr Amorth, I began to listen on audible, to a great book by Renzo Allegri, “St Padre Pio : Man of Hope.” Along with the first book I ever read on him by the Lutheran author, Bernard Ruffin, I think you’ll really get deeply moved by this book. It shows all sides of Padre Pio; his serious, angry, hilariously humorous, practical, clairvoyant ,deeply compassionate, and unspeakably holy side. But just about any of the many books on him will bring his presence into your home; (I confidently warn you 😊) without a doubt. In fact, be sure if you’re reading this, that he’s on his way to you too.
After encountering Ruffin’s book I was so entranced that I depended upon him during my years as an AIDS Hospice Chaplain, and never was disappointed. I began to discover the many biographies of Padre, and read as many as possible. With each one, I felt his presence. Right now so many of us are feeling overwhelmed by the staggering list of what’s happening to us and to all on this planet today, that I offer you a sincerely loving guide, Padre Pio, a man of hope, a literal “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” who in his own words, was a “mystery to himself.”
“O Loving Pelican! O Jesus Lord! Unclean am I but cleanse me in Your Blood.”
St Thomas Aquinas
“I will ask the Lord to let me remain at the threshold of Paradise, and will not enter until the last of my spiritual children has entered...Once I take a soul on, I also take on his (her) entire family as my spiritual children.”
St Padre Pio
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💮 July 2022 (... around the time he moved to San Giovanni Rotondo)
July 29th, 2022
The Virgin of Tenderness of Yaroslavl
“...the Russian soul recognizes His voice and with ineffable joy throws itself at His feet. Apart from this faith and this hope, there is nothing left for us. The Russian land has been trodden by the Mother of God’s feet ... Yes, there is no need to fear for Russia, because Russia is saved by the strength of the Mother of God. And this, believe it, all of Orthodox Russia feels it clearly.”
Sergei Bulgakov 1918
This icon is a rendition of the prototype of the “Virgin of Tenderness of Yaroslavl,” which originally came out of the spiritually sensitive, simply-mystically elegant Moscow School of the second half of the fifteenth century, which also gave birth to the wholly/holy, child-like genius and “iconographer of iconographers,” St Andrei Rublev.
Every year round the time of my birthday, I try and show a specific icon I truly loved painting/writing. This year I (we) feel very much connected to the horrific conflict in Ukraine caused by one man in Russia, trying to destroy the soul of both Ukraine and Russia, and the daily violence we are so close to in our day; nearly every day. Are they related? I believe yes, they are. After you carefully look into both, I think you’ll see.
In March of 1917 the Russian Revolution overthrew the imperial government and in November the Bolsheviks took power. When I visited Magadan, Far East, Russia in 1995 and was commissioned to write the icons of Our Lady of Magadan and Our Lady of Pochaev I immersed myself myself in Russian history. You might find it helpful if you want to begin to understand what happened in Russia in to watch two films, first :
“Nicholas and Alexandra” 1971, (chronologically) followed by “Dr Zhivago” 1965. If you feel called to go deeper still, I suggest the brilliant “A Long Walk To Church” 1995, by Nathaniel Davis , an unflinching, and painfully distressing - yet loving - look into Russia after the revolution. Nathaniel Davis also wrote “The Last Years of Salvador Allende,” 1985.
From everything I learned in my reading, praying and research on Russian Orthodoxy, every city, even every tiny village, had/has an icon of the Mother of God . In other words, Russia is as Sergei Bulgakov wrote months after the revolution, “...trodden by the feet of the Mother of God.” I know this must seem impossible to believe, given the years after the revolution and right now with the violent assault on Ukraine, and the Orthodox Patriarch of Russia, submitting in obeisance to Putin. But if you doubt what I said, look at the life of Jesus, and the present happenings in Israel and Palestine. Why is their so much violence in the most holy places? For some reason, the Mother of God has claimed Russia as Her own. Look into the many images of the “not much more than a child “ (see Lady Julian of Norwich) Mary, crushing the head of the deadly serpent. Look into the apparitions in Paris of the Miraculous Medal, 1830.
The question is, how could Bulgakov write something so confidently filled with “hope against hope,” during the appalling violence he was witnessing all around him ?
There is not space here to tell you why Russia is so dear to the Mother of God. When the revolution happened, the dominant legend is that an icon appeared in a tree entitled “Mother of God, She Who Reigns.” I have also copied this prototype and the central message of this icon, is that Mary will reign until Russia returns to Her, as their truly Infinitely Loving Mother. Now, perhaps, the messages of Our Lady of Fatima, concerning Russia will begin to fall into place, “...but in the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”
About that “hope against hope,” you may also want to read into a book that continues to change my life, “Images of Hope: Imagination As Healer of the Hopeless,” by the late Fr William Lynch, SJ.
“ O Lord, my heart is not proud,
I do not set my sights too high.
I have taken no part in great affairs,
in wonders beyond me.
No, I hold myself in quiet and silence.
Like a little child in it’s mother’s arms.
Let us hope in the Lord, now and forever.
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💮 10 July 2022
July 29th, 2022
St Maria Goretti : Patroness of Abused Children (1890 - 6 July 1902)
“We are not to make of the work of Acts of the Apostles such an object of veneration that we take small account of this on going story; how God continues to write large the lives and deaths of our saints today. The great momentous acts of hope against hope, of love against hatred.”
from his book “Whereon to Stand : The Acts of the Apostles and Ourselves” 1991
Daniel Berrigan, SJ (9 May 1921 - 30 April 2016)
Alessandro Serenelli was in prison nine years for the attempted rape and murder of the 11 year old child, Maria Goretti ... before Maria came to him in a dream. She was gathering flowers and she gave him, one by one, fourteen flowers; one for each stab wound she had received. I learned this while painting/writing, her icon, and later from the film “St Maria Goretti : Fourteen Flowers of Pardon.”
When my niece Carry was going to be Confirmed in 1996, she asked me to be her sponsor. I was so touched and excited about what name (of a saint) she was going to choose. I admit to shuddering when she told me, Maria Goretti. When I asked her why Maria, she said, “Because she forgave.” I was very impressed by the depth of her understanding of Maria and decided to paint a very small ( 5” x 7”) icon for her as a gift.
In my theology years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we were allowed to take courses at three other schools beside the Jesuit Weston School of Theology. I had heard that James Fowler was teaching a course at Harvard called “stages of faith” in preparation for the book he published, by the same name, in 1981. Since we are all at different stages in our growth in faith, the course was very enlightening, and to this day, I use it to understand where I am and to understand others too. I remember James telling us that people die at all different stages, including the saints. I’d like to go deeper into his theories but I think it’s best to let you read the book for yourselves if you’re interested. Basically we have very young saints like Maria, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, and the early child martyrs like Agnes, Tarcisius, Pancratius...Emmerentiana. And then we have saints and holy people like Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Mother Teresa, Sr Dianna Ortiz, Dorothy Day, Sr Dorothy Stang, Thomas Merton, Sr Thea Bowman... all who lived longer lives. If you’re often perplexed by “us adults” who often seem to be stuck or adamantly self-righteous, I’ll just offer that today, with all the theological disagreements and outright battles, it’s helpful to know Fowler’s compassionate insights from his book.
The saints are like New Testament prophets and their “Acts” are the continuation of a book that will only close with the return of the Lord as Christ the King; a feast we celebrate, usually in late November, as the end of the Liturgical Year.
I don’t have to remind anyone of the recent deaths of children from Sandy Hook to Uvalde, just to name 2. As I mentioned in my blog on Daniel Berrigan, he was often bewailing what he called “the war on children.” By this he meant deaths from wars, starvation, the unborn, sex trafficking, and all other kinds of abuse. He was frequently accused, as all prophets are, of having something to offend everyone.
Maria Goretti surfaces over and over in the culture as a stumbling block and witness. In 1996 Kathleen Norris reopened Maria’s story for another generation in her beautiful book “The Cloister Walk.” She connects Maria to a contemporary murder where a young girl says to her killer, “...there are some things worth dying for.” I think here of the horrifically tragic film “The Lovely Bones;” a film I sometimes wish I’d never seen, but ... I’m such a big fan of Saoirse Ronan, that I decided to watch it. But honestly I don’t suggest seeing it. If you have a vivid, empathetic imagination, it’s just too traumatic.
Maria is the prematurely “old child” bearing heavy responsibilities because of the death of her father and the family’s subsequent poverty.
Maria is the “radiant child.” Her Mother, who lived to see her canonized, said she would have been a saint anyway, had she not been murdered. She carried herself with a dignity beyond her years, and radiated the light of holiness which always attracts good and evil.
Maria is the “abused child” determined to protect herself while being worn down, stalked, and continually threatened by Alessandro.
Finally Maria is the mature “Christ figure” forgiving the unforgivable from her hospital death bed; a sign and symbol of the Flowering Cross.
I’ll never forget years ago, seeing a powerfully visual symbol of the universality of the Catholic Church. I saw a photo in Maryknoll Magazine of a procession in a village church in Africa dedicated to Maria. The villagers were carrying a banner of this 11 year old white child because in heaven and on earth, she is their (our) sister too.
“Then I saw the Lamb who appeared to have been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders...and they sang a new song : You are worthy to take the scroll and open it’s seals, because You were slain, and You purchased people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Revelation chapter 5
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 in the beginning of July; the month dedicated to the Precious Blood of Jesus.
July 29th, 2022
St Anthony and the Child
“Who are you, my dearest God ? And who am I, but your useless servant ?”
St Francis of Assisi
Through the intercession of my dear friend Fr Andre’ Cirino, OFM in Autumn of 1984, I was accepted into the Third Order of St Francis, which held its events, retreats and ceremonies in the Bronx, inside a small building called the “Little Portion” after the famous Porziuncola in Assisi. I still belong to this order and whenever I get mail from Andre’ it’s always addressed to William Hart McNichols, SFO. This was exactly at the same time of the “height” of my illustration career. After becoming a Third Order Franciscan, I was commissioned by a Franciscan pastor to illustrate a logo for St Anthony’s Parish in New Jersey. The pastor told me, “I want Anthony holding the Bible, as with all the earliest paintings of him, and that the legend of the apparition of the Christ Child came at least a century after Anthony ‘s death in 1231.” I looked into the paintings of Anthony and he was right; no Child. So, I decided to place symbols of the three cardinal virtues, Faith, Hope and Love in the drawing as well as a fish, which was from an account of one of the many miracles of Anthony. In one Italian city, his preaching was rejected by people and so he went to a stretch by the sea and began to preach. In response, the fish swam to the surface of the water, bobbing up and down listening to Anthony.
But I was loathe to take the Child from him because the male saints who hold the child (Joseph, Cajetan, Stanislaus Kostka...) are always loved and seen as safe; as kind and fatherly, or in Stanislaus case, an older brother. So, as I began to draw the logo I imagined taking the Child from him, and, as with any infant or child who loves the person holding them He began to howl and cry. So the drawing turned out with Jesus clinging to Anthony. When I delivered the logo and told the pastor that I tried but the Child cried and held on for dear life. He shook his head with a look of slight disapproval and wry amusement, but he accepted the logo.
Because of this experience, I wrote a poem, and when I was asked to write my first icon of Anthony, I used the same drawing.
St Anthony and the Child
In the beginning
Anthony held only
and taught with
the other hand
Artists simply assumed
of the Gospels
was best shown
with book in hand .
revelation of the word
He crept into
(1980’s New York City)
Happy Feast of St Anthony ! 👶🏻 13 June 2022
July 29th, 2022
he Mother of God Overshadowed By The Holy Spirit
“...I do not know what it is about you that closes and opens; only something in me understands / the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses / nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.”
From the poem “somewhere I have never traveled, gladly beyond” by e.e. cummings 1923
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
“The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit is the main aim of man (people) upon this earth, for it is through the struggle of ‘pulling down ‘ the Holy Spirit into a repentant, humble heart that man gains justification before the Face of God. Christ is our savior as long as we realize we are perishing; and the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is the actuality of being saved...”
From “The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit In Ancient Russia” by Professor Ivan Kontzevitch, 1950
“In 2018, Pope Francis decreed that the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church be inserted into the Roman Calendar on Monday after Pentecost (also known as Whit Monday) and to be celebrated every year. The decree was signed on February 11, 2018, the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes apparitions. It was issued on March 3, 2018.”
Mother of the Church, Wikipedia
This icon was commissioned by Weston School of Theology, formerly in Cambridge, Massachusetts, now part of Boston College. Because I had graduated from Weston in 1979, this commission meant a lot to me. In some ways I feel I “grew up” in New England because I had graduated from Boston College in 1973 and for so many reasons, from childhood I had been fascinated by our Puritan past. I have always loved the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his novels and short stories of New England. They teach you so much about the blind attitudes we still carry to this day. I think someday you would be deeply moved by reading his story, “The Gentle Boy,” (1839) about the Puritan persecution of the Quakers. With the publication of “The Scarlet Letter” In 1850, the Europeans all agreed, that America had finally produced a genius novelist, and a book they felt could truly be designated as great. His great-great-great grandfather William Hathorne had Quakers whipped in the streets of Salem, and his son Judge John Hathorne, sentenced 18 innocent women, and one man to death on the charge that they were witches. Nathaniel added the “w” to his name out of shame - to distance himself from the Hathorne’s and it is not just me, who believes his life’s work was an artistic attempt of repentance for his ancestors.
When I first visited Salem in the summer of 1971, there was one little museum about the horrific murders. When I returned in 1996, the town of Salem had decided to face its past, and put up a beautiful monument of stone-hewn benches with the name of each victim chiseled into the seat of each stone bench. We still believe that running from our past here in America is the best way; witness the banned books, the irrational fear of critical race theory, the denial of the genocide of Native peoples, the lust for tyranny, the insurrection’s unveiled hatred for democracy.
The Holy Spirit is so many things; notably this year, the Spirit of Truth, Advocate...Comforter. The Spirit is usually represented as a dove, sometimes a flame of fire. But in this icon he takes an angelic form. After I completed this icon I read this depiction in the account of the Annunciation by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, she saw the same form. Though we will never know exactly what form the Spirit took, it was comforting for me to read.
Mary is reading from the Hebrew Bible, the Song of Songs. The Spirit irradiates waves of light surrounding Mary, she is overshadowed also by the Light and Love of the Father, with whom she’d had an intimate relationship with since early childhood. She is the Mother of the Word of God and the Bride of the Holy Spirit. Mary is immersed in the Most Holy Trinity .
I admit to being shocked and taken aback by my own lack of faith in the Holy Spirit when Pope Benedict retired; and then Pope Francis was given to us. “For nothing will be impossible for God.” Luke 1:37
“In this shewing He brought forth our blessed Lady to my understanding, I saw her ghostly, in bodily likeness; a simple maid and a meek, young of age and little waxen above a child, in stature that she was when she conceived...she beheld her God and Maker, marveling with great reverence that He would be born of her that was a simple creature of His making...and the littleness of herself that was made - caused her to say full meekly to Gabriel: Lo me, God’s handmaid !”
From the Middle English, “Revelations of Divine Love” by Lady Julian of Norwich (1343 - +after 1416)
Fr William Hart McNichols 🔥 🎶🎶 Veni Creator Spiritus ... Deo Patri sit Gloria, et Filio qui a mortuis Surrexit, ac Paraclito, in saeculorum specula. Amen 🎶 🎶 Pentecost 2022
July 29th, 2022
Holy Prophet Daniel Berrigan, SJ (9 May 1921 - 30 April 2016)
“This Child is set for the rise and fall of many ... a sign that is spoken against a Child born to make trouble and die for it ...we say killing is disorder life and gentleness and community and unselfishness is the only order we recognize... How many indeed must die before our voices are heard?”
Fr Daniel Berrigan, SJ
“There is no keener revelation into the soul of a society than the way it treats it’s children.”
I began writing this for Dan’s Anniversary of his death, April 30. I just couldn’t decide what to include, he did so much. So I’ve let it sit, unfinished. Then the most recent massacre of children in Uvalde, Texas, happened and I remembered Dan always talked and wrote about the looming wars on children. This affected him so deeply at times, he’d stay up in his apartment alone and grieved ... and wrote. He would not come down for dinner, and I’d often go up to make sure he was okay. Most of you remember his most famous statement about burning draft files in Catonsville, Maryland, 17 May 1968:
“Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house...For we are sick at heart, our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning Children. And for thinking of that other Child, of whom the poet Luke speaks. The Infant was taken up in the arms of an old man, whose tongue grew resonant and Vatican at the touch of that beauty.
And the old man spoke; this Child is set for the rise and fall of many in Israel, a sign that is spoken against...”
And I have quoted most, but not all, of the rest on a scroll in this icon.
One of these days I would like to write more about a concept I discovered moving from Manhattan to Alburquerque in September 1990. It’s from the book “Iron John : A Book About Men” by the late poet Robert Bly. It is the concept of “male mothering.”
It’s similar to mentoring, but not at all similar to being a demanding coach , stage mother, or to “tough love.” It is however, similar to the unconditional love of a good mother, yet performed by an older man who takes you under his wing. Because of the scandals in the church, so much of that male to male attention is now scrutinized as nefarious and highly suspicious. Which is a tragedy for young men, not to inherit the wisdom of their elders.
In my 35 years in the Society of Jesus I had so many wonderful male mothers that I had to list all of them, that I could remember, in the catalog of my exhibit in Denver 2018. The catalog is called “Light In All Darkness“ and has pictures and brief writings on all the pieces from the exhibit (it’s still available to order if you’d like to see it).
Dan was part male mother and part searing prophet to me. I used to say the prophets have a “blow torch mouth.” When they turn the explosive fire on a huge religious institution or corrupt government, it’s necessary, fearless ,right, and we all applaud them. When they turn it on you personally, it can be devastating. So I definitely got both the mothering and the blow torch fire. I remember once during the AIDS Hospice years, (1983-1990) I went up to Dan to tell him my problems. One problem was that I’d been asked to write a diary of my work with people with HIV-AIDS, and because it was all so intimate, personal and confidential, I refused the offer. The publisher had even suggested he could get Dr Mathilde Krim, to write an introduction. I waited in silence for Dan to answer. I said, what do you think ? He said, “Well, pretty classy problems.” So we had a drink and I went down to my apartment, humbled, tail between my legs.
I first heard of Dan in the Jesuit Novitiate in Florissant, Missouri. Our novice master wanted us to experience every kind and stripe of Jesuit, from scholars, to missionaries, teachers, writers, musicians, visual artists, (literally at that time, 1968-70) a professional clown with a traveling circus (think “Godspell“) doctors, lawyers, scientists, historians, actors, directors ... and prophets. This was to tell us, you can’t possibly come up with a Jesuit who hasn’t already done what you may think is original and unique. Absolutely true.
The Novice Master would mimeograph articles by or about Dan and ask us to read them. We also had to do a monthly book report on a Jesuit holy man or canonized saint; at that time I was enthralled by the English Jesuit Martyrs and by Teilhard de Chardin... especially “The Divine Milieu.” I think back on reading that book at 19 and how it still is my spirituality, especially now, his comments about aging, which are right smack in front of me. Teilhard called aging, “the divinisation of passivities.” Or as one of my favorite male mothers, the Jesuit Fr John J. Walsh quipped, “Everytime you look in the mirror, something else has dropped.”
I began, after Novitiate, in philosophy studies to read everything Dan would write, including his early award winning poetry. But it was the book “No Bars To Manhood” that shook me to my core. I must say honestly, that I had been prepared to read Dan by reading my now dear friend, Jim Douglass’ book “The Non-Violent Cross” In 1969. That book confirmed everything I intuitively knew in my heart. Both these men are truly prophets and I “bow to their podvigs” (Russian Orthodox term for bearing heavy crosses - Catholic term is usually “victim soul”) in trembling and awe. Because of Dan’s utter genius with words he put into action, (I cannot emphasize this enough) and enormously poetic, inventive vocabulary God had/has designated him a prophet. In my experience all the Biblical, and many of the later prophets have this gift of precise language that goes right into your soul. Like Mahatma Gandhi, the whole Berrigan Family, St Oscar Romero, Delores Huerta, Caesar Chavez, Sr Dorothy Stang, Dianna Ortiz, Jim Douglass, Thomas Merton, Robert Ellsberg, Dorothy Day, Christopher Pramuk, William Stringfellow, Malcom X and Dr Martin Luther King, Fr Malcom Boyd, Fr John McNeill, Fr Bob Nugent, Sr Jeanine Gramick, SL, Fr Jim Martin, SJ, (to name a few) these prophets, as the cliche’ says, “trouble the comfortable, and comfort the troubled.” I was so in awe of Dan that I thought if I ever met him I’d be seared by his fire and would be withered. But God had a different plan.
One day in Manhattan, in the AIDS pandemic years I was taking the uptown #1 train from 72nd street. The subway doors opened and there he was sitting right in front of me. Hanging on the subway pole I stammered out that I was a Jesuit and had read everything he’d ever written and was utterly grateful. He invited me to have a picnic on Staten Island and so we met, later, took the ferry over, and I told him everything. He then asked to be introduced to Sister Patrice Murphy and became one of the AIDS Hospice team. Thus began a friendship (I have a box of letters I may be able to publish someday) which was both rocky and sublime. Through Dan I met some of the greatest writers and peace workers of our time, including his extended family. I designed a poster for Dan and 3 of his book covers. When I became an apprentice iconographer, he gave me a book of icons which belonged to William Stringfellow, and encouraged me by telling me his friend Thomas Merton had loved icons, he also said hauntingly, that it took him ten years to get over Merton’s death. I never wanted “to be Dan”, but I needed to experience how he could take such continual blows and still keep going. Dan was, as Adrienne von Speyr says in her book “The Mission of the Prophets, so much“ here” - so focused on human suffering that he (they) could not be comforted; prophets are inconsolable. I’d say it’s very similar to the Bodhisattva vow.
Now a word on the icon and why the Child? The flame over his head ?
Dan’s writings are filled with references to “the war on children.” He mentions children so often and so much, that I had to place him with the Christ Child; with a prophet’s fierce, ignited flame over his head. He always wore a medallion of a Fish (Jesus) and that’s in the icon too. The Christ Child is actually Dan’s grandnephew, Seamus, his niece Frida Berrigan’s boy. And in the photo I used for this icon, Frida is actually holding her son’s back while Dan pulls him into his heart. But I couldn’t put in Frida’s hand so it looks a bit awkward! But I watched him around his nieces and nephews, and it was sheer delight.
O there is so much more to say on Daniel Berrigan, but St John reminds us at the end of his Gospel, 21:25
“But there are many other things that Jesus did; if every one was written down, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 Ascension Sunday 2022
... just an aside, the Ascension was Teilhard ‘s favorite feast
July 29th, 2022
St Marina (Margaret) the Great Martyr: A Prayer For Marina Osvyannikova
(For my 43rd Anniversary of Ordination : 25 May 1979)
“Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers...he wanted to bring them - both men and women - back to Jerusalem in chains. As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from Heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul ! Why are you persecuting me?’ ‘Who are you, lord?’ Saul asked. And the voice replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must
The Acts of the Apostles 9: 1-3
How many saints, or heroic leaders in the world can you think of who have had a dramatic conversion or have been struck by “heavenly lightning,” with a clear mission? I can name so many, St Genisius, St Edith Stein, St Ignatius Loyola, St Francis of Assisi, but one that comes to mind, concerning St Margaret, is 19 year old St Joan of Arc whom we celebrate every May 30th. She was only 14 when St Michael the Archangel appeared to her, followed later by St Catherine of Alexandria and St Margaret of Antioch, born c.289 Antioch of Pisidia, died c.304 age 15.
“Margaret, known as Margaret of Antioch (July 20) in the West, and St Marina the Great Martyr (July 17) in the East...was reputed to have promised very powerful indulgences to those who read her life, or invoked her intercession; these no doubt helped the spread of her cultus. Margaret is one of the “Fourteen Holy Helpers, and is one of the saints Joan of Arc claimed to have spoken with.” from Wikipedia
Most people saw the news when that spiritual lightening hit Marina Osvyannikova as she dramatically held up a hand made sign on Russian television. She was a news anchor and producer spewing lies about Ukraine and finally could not live with herself any longer. Actually, she had planned to carry the sign to Red Square but her 17 year old son, grabbed her car keys and locked her in her room. So she ran onto the set of Vermya, the most watched Russian news and held up the sign : “No war, stop the war, don’t believe the propaganda, they are lying to you here.” She was interrogated and detained for 14 hours, saying later, “I’m ashamed that I allowed myself to tell lies from the television screen. Ashamed that I allowed Russians to be turned into zombies. We just silently watched this inhumane regime. The next 10 generations won’t be able to clean themselves from the shame of this fratricidal war.”
People who risk everything to tell a truth inspire us all, usually what they do only makes sense after their deaths, then it’s finally safe to applaud them... ”What sorrow awaits you ! For you build monuments for the prophets your own ancestors killed long ago.” (Luke 11:47)
I remembered seeing a beautiful 16th century icon of St Marina the Great Martyr in a book I have of Bulgarian Icons. So I brought it out of my collection of icon books. Why Marina and not a hundred other brave murdered Russians or Ukrainians ? President Zelensky (and other leaders) have openly thanked her, but I waited for a few days to be sure my impulse was “holy-inspired.” I felt deeply I needed to pray for Marina and her family’s safety as well as honoring her courage. I’m not sure why certain people hit me hard enough to want to paint something of or for them. For instance, why did I paint an image of Elijah McClain and not the obvious choice, George Floyd ? Most of the time, the reason reveals itself to me afterwards. It’s the same with the image of Matthew Shepard and the icon I painted (The Seraphic Guardian of the Spilled Blood) to honor the violent murder of Allen R. Schindler, Jr, and anyone, boy or girl, man or woman, who is innocent and whose “...Blood cries unto Me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10)
St Margaret (Marina) promised she would hear our cries, and this icon is my way of crying to her. Often I feel helpless to touch the deepest tragedies in our world. I know you will join me in this prayer for Marina, but most of all, it’s a way of praying for all of Ukraine and Russia, as the blood of Russian dissidents and thousands of Ukrainians cries to God from the ground. And the blood of the recent victims of the shooting massacre in Buffalo, New York...
“Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?”
From the play “St Joan” by George Bernard Shaw, published 28 December 1923, three years after St Joan was formally canonized.
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 25 May 2022
Rare opportunity, this original is available for sale. The icon is 12” x 16” framed for $4000. Please PM us if you are interested.
July 29th, 2022
ursing Icon of the Mother of God (for Mother’s Day 2022)
“...her who not only/ gave God’s infinity/ dwindled to infancy/ welcome in womb and breast/ birth, milk, and all the rest/ but mothers each new grace/ that does now reach our race/ Mary Immaculate/ merely woman, yet/ whose presence, power is/ great as no goddess’s/ was deemed, dreamed;who/ this one work has to do/ let all God’s glory through/ God’s glory which would go/ through her and from her flow...”
May 1883 : by Fr Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ (the poet’s poet) from his poem “The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe”
“Biblically based on the passage from St Luke’s Gospel where a woman in the crowd cries out ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you.” To which Jesus responded ‘Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.’ The icon shows the acceptance of God’s will by Mary becoming the Mother of God and metaphorically affirms the Church as Mother who nourishes her children...while a rare subject, it appears in both iconography and western religious art. The Virgin Mother through this icon patroness for nursing mothers. The icon is thought to be Greek in origin and particularly popular among Greeks, Russians, and Southern Italians.”
From a website on Eastern Icons : Holy Trinity
The feast day of this icon, is quite naturally, the day after the Nativity, 26 December.
Honoring today the Heroic Mothers of Ukraine, and all the brave suffering Mothers, in every country. Honoring dear friends who are mothers, my Mother and my sisters, Mary and Marjory, my sisters-in-law, Kathy, Jane, and also the Mothers of Taos and Taos Pueblo. For 14 years I learned so much from witnessing these women. I don’t think I’m the only one who has noticed that New Mexico is traditionally a Matriarchal Society. I think it’s part of the reason why some tourists and visitors become enamored with the mystical quality of this “Land of Enchantment,” and cannot explain why they keep returning and finally, move here. Just imagine what it might be like to live in a Matriarchal Culture ?! Not enough space to tell you all that means in church and society. There are also great women in St Joseph ‘s parish here in Albuquerque, who continue to teach me how to heroically survive, multitask, live and suffer gracefully.
I cannot help but think of Jesus the Mother Hen ( Matthew 23:37-39) , the ancient Eucharistic symbol of Jesus the Mother Pelican, Lady Julian of Norwich (feast day 8 May too...) who spoke of Our Mother Jesus ...”who takes us into his heart through his open side.” (See the warm, tender, authentic new translation from Middle English by my dear friend, Mirabai Starr).
But I would also love to write someday, about the concept of “Male Mothers” I encountered in 1990, in the book “Iron John : A Book About Men” by the late author and poet Robert Bly. And who can ever forget the cries of the Poor Clares as they saw the body of Francis of Assisi, carried beneath their window so they could say a final goodbye; crying aloud, “What will we do without our father? What will we do without our mother?”
I’ve often joked that at least for me, priesthood is being partly a glorified mother and father. I think this is what Pope Francis is trying to say to ordained priests, about “Shepherds smelling like the sheep.” He’s getting at the reality that like a father and mother, life is messy, ministry is messy, and often you feel like you can never get it right. Personally I’ve often been criticized for being too Catholic or... not Catholic enough. The book publishing company “Sounds True” was considering a book of my icons. Finally I got a letter that said something like “....we’ve considered every possible use for your work, but, ummm, they’re just too Catholic.” If I ever find the letter I promise I’ll get the quote exactly as written. Yet to quote a great New Mexico artist, Georgia O’Keefe, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
I’d only change “wanted” to “believed I should do.” And I’ll never forget when Dan Berrigan was being criticized by both sides, he told me, “Well, I must be doing something right !”
My Mother, Marjory Hart McNichols, died on 3 August 2006. I literally broke down while saying the Rosary at the funeral home. After the funeral I went back to Taos and it was the feast of the Assumption. I told everyone I couldn’t preach, and they completely understood. That Advent I was numb. I realized so many memories of Christmas were about Mom. To pull myself out of the grief I decided to paint/write, the Nursing Icon. It worked. Just touching into the infinite tenderness of this beautiful icon began to heal me. My prayer during the creation of this icon and now, it that it will be healing for you.
A most happy and blessed Mother’s Day !
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 May 2022
July 29th, 2022
Retablo de San Jose’ Obrero : Retablo of St Joseph the Worker : May 1
“Ite ad Joseph!” (Genesis 41:55 “Go to Joseph; whatever he says to you, do...”
According to an ancient tradition, this utterly tender prayer was found in the 50th year of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and passed down to generations of loving people and saints in the church...
“O St Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. O St Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of fathers.
O St Joseph, I never weary of contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him close in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St Joseph, patron of departing souls; pray for me .
In the above prayer, it says “I never weary of contemplating you...” During my years as an illustrator and in the past 30 years as an iconographer, I never weary of drawing and painting St Joseph. And it seems that he gives me new ideas continually. On my website there is a section just for St Joseph and so far, there are 7 images and icons of him. I plan to do another one hopefully during the summer.
When I moved down from Taos, nine years ago, I was assigned by Archbishop John Wester to St Joseph on the Rio Grande Church. It’s a large and beautiful beautiful Church and our pastor, Msgr. Luna’s middle name is Joseph. There is a lot of wood inside so even if you didn’t know the name of the church, it feels like Joseph.
One of the many many great things about Pope Francis is his authentic love for Joseph; he gave us the year of Joseph, 2020-2021. We all have different spiritual lives, so I always try to respect people’s way of praying. If you are open to a devotional mystical life, Mother Maria Cecilia Baij, OSB “Life of St Joseph” was very helpful for me, as well as the incomparable “St Joseph Shadow of the Father” by Fr Andre’ Doze. I don’t know if Fr Doze is still alive, but it’s a wonderful history of devotion to Joseph, and his love for Joseph really comes through every beautiful chapter.
A blessed feast of St Joseph the Worker may he continue to intercede for all who pray to him, and St Joseph, please intercede for Ukraine !
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 1 May