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El Lucero Radiante del Alba -Jesus Christ Radiant Light of the Dawn- Teenage Christ

February 19th, 2018

El Lucero Radiante del Alba -Jesus Christ Radiant Light of the Dawn- Teenage Christ

El Lucero Radiante del Alba (Jesus Christ Radiant Light of the Dawn) : Teenage Christ.
This icon was originally painted (written) for an exhibit in Taos, New Mexico called “Sobre Muerte” (About Death) for the annual honoring of the Day of the Dead, November 2, traditionally called All Souls’ Day. I have written about this image often and John Dadosky has written about it, beautifully, in the newly released book from University of New Mexico Press, “Image to Insight.” It was after the Colorado Columbine High School murders that I wanted to paint Jesus as a contemporary teenager, fatally wounded, amidst a cemetery, yet very much Resurrected.
When I was a college student I went to Boston College for philosophy (a Jesuit requirement) and Boston University for Art. I’ve always been enthralled with the everlasting-Puritan influences on the United States. I read into Nathaniel Hawthorne to see what happened to us. It’s all there. I had an incredibly insightful,intelligent teacher for a course in education (before I became a teacher) she told us “You will never understand the United States unless you read “The Scarlet Letter” by Hawthorne. This has never left me. As a young student I would wander in the old graveyards of Boston and Salem and continually see these winged skulls on the tombstones. They spoke of the finality of death but the wings spoke of life after death. My dear friend, Master woodworker, Roberto Lavadie carved the frame for this Young Christ. Just today I read that the teenagers in Florida who survived the latest onslaught of terrifying murders are going to have a march in Washington DC to ask us to protect them, on March 24. Whatever political position you hold, they tell us they are the victims of our moral somnambulant/numbness. I offer this icon of Jesus as the awakening of the children who have seen the Skull-With-Wings , way way way too often.
This is a part of a litany I wrote for this icon...
Jesus Christ
Lamb of God,
Lamp of the Heavenly City.
Jesus Christ
Shepherd of the despised
and rejected,
Lamb led to slaughter.
Jesus Christ
Word of God, Eyes of Fire,
Prophet in exile,
Garment of Blood.
Jesus Christ
Eternal Bridegroom,
Faithful and True.
Jesus Christ
Morning and Evening Star,
Firstborn of the Dead,
Alpha and Omega,
Beginning and the End...
Dear Lord Jesus, we beg you ,please continue to inspire our youth to wake us up with their anguished prophetic cries.
Amen
Fr Bill McNichols
Second week of Lent 2018
(You can read more about this icon in Professor John Dadosky’s new book.)

Holy New Martyr Nestor Savchuk 1960 - 1993

December 30th, 2017

Holy New Martyr Nestor Savchuk 1960 - 1993

Holy New Martyr Nestor Savchuk 1960 - 1993
Nestor Savchuk was born in the province of Crimea, southern Russia, as Nikolai Savchuk, in 1960. As a youth he excelled in boxing, wrestling, martial arts, and painting. In his twenties he began to work as an apprentice painting religious murals in Odessa. There, the older artists told him the stories of the Russian saints. Inspired by the saints with a love for God, Nestor set out for the 13th century monastery of Pochaev to become a monk. This love grew naturally and expressed itself through his devotion and prayer with the holy icons, which one day would become the source of his martyrdom. After his ordination his spiritual father advised him to go to an isolated village in the Ukraine, by the name of Zharky. There he found a church dedicated to the Nativity of the Mother of God, which had many ancient icons and from that church he felt a deep mystical feeling and an invitation. There he also found many blocks and difficulties. The church caught fire once and also became the target of an icon stealing ring connected to the Russian mafia. He was warned by the mafia that if he continued to keep the icons from them, he would be killed. Nestor would stay up all night guarding the church. He was then touched with a desire to ask for the grace of martyrdom. He began to pray for long hours. A friend warned him of this prayer and told him he ought to be asking for a long life of suffering for God instead. Nestor replied, “Yes, I understand that, but maybe if I will pray for martyrdom, perhaps I will be able to pray it out.” Late in the dark morning of December 31, 1993, the friend was awakened by a dream of St John the Baptist who told him to, “ Go immediately to Father Nestor.” But he did not go until that morning where he found Nestor murdered, outside his rectory in Zharky.
Adapted from a brief biography in the book “Youth of the Apocalypse” by Monks John Marier and Andrew Wermuth
I was blessed to be asked by the late Archbishop Hurley of Anchorage, Alaska to paint an icon of Our Lady of Magadan, (a former concentration camp from 1938-1955) which is in the Far East of Russia, four hours flight from Anchorage. When I visited there in October 1995, I went to the Lavra (monastery) of St Sergius of Radonezh. The monks there asked me to paint Our Lady of Pochaev for them. I asked if they knew of Nestor and his martyrdom. They said, “No, there are so many new martyrs in Russia.” I was stunned into silence by their answer. Months later I received a picture of Archbishop Hurley giving Our Lady of Pochaev to the monks and one was bending down to kiss the icon. That’s a picture I treasure and a great honor from the Russian Orthodox Church. We are all aware of the great suffering today in Russia and their need to continue to worship God freely. Our Lady of Fatima asked the three children she appeared to in Portugal, in 1917, to pray for the conversion of Russia. This was just months before the bloody Bolshevik Revolution, which Russia recently celebrated in November 2017. St Padre Pio prophesied, “Yes, Russia will be converted as the Blessed Virgin said She would. However, Russia will teach the United States a lesson in conversion.”
In this year of 2018, O Mother of God, Immaculate Heart of Fatima, Magadan, Pochaev, Mother of All Nations, and Holy New Martyr Nestor, help us all move quickly toward the conversion you both desire for us and the entire World.
Amen
Fr Bill McNichols
30 December 2017

The Nursing Icon of the Mother of God

December 24th, 2017

The Nursing Icon of the Mother of God

The Nursing Icon of the Mother of God (Feastday, along with St Stephen , December 26)
After my Mother died in August 2006, as Advent approached I was still in grief inside and couldn’t feel the usual intensity of the beautiful four weeks before Christmas. I never realized how much (for me) the Mother is Christmas, in that she teaches the whole story to her children and creates the atmosphere inside the house that really begins your understanding of the entire season. This includes the Nativity set (which also contained figures from her childhood) the tree, the lights, the decorations, the candles, the Advent wreath, food, music, and magical presence around the house. So that Advent of 2006 I painted the Nursing Icon as a living memory of Mom. There are hundreds of great Christmas poems, here are a few lines from my favorite one, by St Robert, who had a truly childlike innocence and yet always manages to dazzle you with his theological insights into very deep Christian mysteries.
“Behold the Father is His daughter’s son,
The bird that built the nest is hatc’d therein,
...Might feeble is and force doth faintly creep,
...Up heavy hearts, with joy your joy embrace!
From death, from dark, from deafness, from despairs,
This life, this light, this world, this joy repairs...”
St Robert Southwell, SJ
English Martyr
1561-1595
A most beautiful, Spiritfilled, and joyful Christmas!
Fr Bill McNichols
24 December 2017

St Peter Canisius - Doctor of the Church 1521-1597

December 21st, 2017

St Peter Canisius - Doctor of the Church 1521-1597

St Peter Canisius : Doctor of the Church 1521-1597
My friend Fr Paul Begheyn, SJ commissioned this icon for the Dutch Province of the Jesuits in 1996. The first image I had for the icon was Peter wading through a thick,foggy, ominous, Grimm’s German fairy tale-dark-forest, holding a lantern, as in the painting of Christ knocking at the (your) door, (The Light of the World) by William Holman Hunt. This was my image of the dangerous journey Peter Canisius had to manage during the Reformation. God, through the Church, has always produced men and women with what the late Cardinal von Balthasar has called “church souls.” These souls have been given a gift of a profoundly inspired knowledge of what is necessary and what is superfluous. They are not tied to their own times, but seem to have an ancient love for the church, going back centuries before them. Some are very prickly and irascible, ready to fight, and quite up to the task. But I am attracted to the ones who have a supernatural gift of being compassionate in the midst of incredible tempers flying at them while they serenely preach the truth. I think of these Master Apologists as almost “inhumanly human” and yet very much human at their core. Living in this, our time, of great anger and divisions about religion and politics, it’s not hard to imagine these furious battles of opinion, but to imagine the serene preaching and converse of St Dominic, St Catherine of Siena, Blessed Cardinal Newman, or the late Daniel Berrigan, SJ, is obviously miraculous. St Peter Canisius had this gift. There are many more in our history but those saints and prophets, always come to mind first for me. Peter could stand before his enemies and bear the flying rage coming toward him, then simply speak back to them with the truth. He was well aware of the need for a Reformation but saw it coming in a less violent/schismatic way. Today, I think Fr Jim Martin, SJ also has this Apologist’s gift and I admire him so much, with the Internet age, he gets twice, ten times, a hundred times, actually, the irrational, scurrilous rage thrown at him but he manages to remain inside his Lord Jesus who is our way, our truth and our life.
A key to St Peter’s spiritual depth is his devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was a gradual transformation within him, or mystical exchange of hearts, that created the heart and soul of Peter. On the day of his final vows Our Lord allowed him to see his Sacred Heart. This of course changed the way he saw and spoke to everyone. He could say no, and create what we call boundaries, or teach someone the depths he had received with an incredible care for them, because his own heart had been transformed. Peter said, “Again, it is a mistaken policy to behave in a contentious fashion and to start disputes about matters of belief with argumentative people who are disposed by their very natures to wrangling. Indeed, the fact of their being so constituted is a reason the more why such people should be attracted and won to the simplicity of the faith as much by example as by argument.” So in this icon I finally decided to show him with Holy Wisdom gently whispering on his shoulder into his “inner ear”. She alone could teach him the countenance and the extremely practical, daily ways of Wisdom. Normally only St John the Evangelist is shown with Holy Wisdom (Sophia) but at the time I painted (wrote) this icon, I saw an icon with St Gregory the Great being similarly instructed by Sophia, so knew I had to portray St Peter with her too. He is prayerfully contemplating the book on his lap, the Prologue to St John’s Gospel, about the Light coming into the darkness and the darkness unable to receive or allow the Light in. If you’re looking for an example of getting through these times, I cannot think of anyone better than St Peter Canisius whom we celebrate, not accidentally, on the Solstice...Light returning.
“Let my eyes take their sleep, but may my heart always keep watch for you. May your right hand bless your servants who love you. May I be united with the praise that flies from you, Lord Jesus, to all your saints; united with gratitude drawn from your heart good Jesus, that causes your saints to thank you; united with your passion, good Jesus, by which you took away our guilt; united with divine longing that you had on earth for our salvation; united with every prayer that welled up from your divine heart, good Jesus, and flowed into the hearts of your saints. Amen”
St Peter Canisius

Fr Bill McNichols
21 December 2017

Our Lady of the New Advent The Gate of Heaven

December 14th, 2017

Our Lady of the New Advent  The Gate of Heaven

Our Lady of the New Advent : The Gate of Heaven
The commissioning of this icon of the Archdiocese of Denver by Cardinal Stafford in 1991, was, unbeknownst to me at the time, an Annunciation of not only the New Advent , but an entirely new life for me as well.
The Sisters of St Walburga’s Benedictine Abbey, in Virginia Dale, Colorado wrote one of the most beautiful, evocative and prophetic prayers I have ever read - to Our Lady of the New Advent in 1992, which you can read below. Her feastday is December 16th.
“ In 1 Corinthians 15 : 24-25 St Paul depicts the enemies of Christ as battling against Christ, reigning on high. In reality, however, these enemies are only able to persecute the members of Christ’s body still on earth. They battle against the Head, but can only inflict harm on the Body. A clear case is Acts 9: 4 f, where the risen Jesus states that Saul is persecuting him, whereas Saul was bent on the murder of the disciples of the Lord (v 1)
‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?
And he said, who are you Lord?
And he said , I am Jesus ,whom you are persecuting...’
Saul persecuted Jesus in person when he persecutes the members of Jesus...
Does the same hold for Mary? Is there a similar (though not identical) unity between Mary and the Church as between Christ and his members? In speaking of Mary, the sacred writer would also have the church in mind. And, in parallel to the above passage concerning Christ, the battle of Satan would rage ( in Revelation 12) against the person of Mary, although in actuality affecting the Church on earth.”
The Woman Clothed With The Sun by Bernard Le Frois,SVD

Prayer To Our Lady of the New Advent ***
O Lady and Mother
of the One who was and is and is to come,
Dawn of the New Jerusalem,
we earnestly beseech you,
bring us by your intercession
so to live in love
that the Church, The Body of Christ ,
may stand in this world’s dark
as a fiery icon of the New Jerusalem.
We ask you to obtain for us this mercy
through Jesus Christ, your Son and Lord,
who lives and reigns
with the Father in the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
Amen
(Composed by the Sisters of St Walburga Abbey)
Fr Bill McNichols
December 2017

St Andrew the First Called

November 29th, 2017

St Andrew the First Called

St Andrew the First Called
(for St. Andrew Christmas Novena - starts on 30 November)
“Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
In which the Son of God was born of the
Most pure Virgin Mary,
At midnight, in Bethlehem,
In the piercing cold.
In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee
O my God, to hear my prayer, and
grant my desires, through the merits of
Our Lord Jesus Christ and of His
Blessed Mother . Amen”
This Novena is said to be at least 100 years old, and you feel it, the way it’s is written.
The mention of the piercing cold at midnight, really brings the “real” Christmas to you.
When I was a theology student in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1976-79) we had to take on some kind of outside apostolate or learning experience that would somehow, prepare us for the priesthood. I chose to work on a suicide hotline and walk in service called “The Samaritans” originally founded in London by an Episcopal priest. He was apparently a great counselor and people sat in his office waiting to talk with him. One day someone came in and said, “Its okay Father, I don’t need to talk, the lady sitting next to me in your office really helped me.” After that, he decided to train people to listen and speak with one another, that was the beginning of The Samaritans. In the training we were told that you cannot proselytize, you have to find something inside yourself that can reach the one on the other end. We could not use our last name, but if a person wanted to talk with you on your shift, they could ask for Bill 249 (my number). The great thing for me was listening to the other volunteers and the way they helped people, some were incredibly funny, some deeply serious - in other words, it’s the “real You” that heals. The worst nights of the year were all around the holidays. Everyone thinks that people are all having a “Currier and Ives” or a “Norman Rockwell Christmas,” and they alone, are in darkness and depression. One Christmas Eve I did an overnight and the phones rang non-stop from dark until the first glimpse of light on Christmas Day. But listen to the prayer, “...at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold.” The prayer is to be said 15 times a day which you can break up by saying it 5 times in the morning, 5 times around noon, and 5 times at night.
Recently I read that Pope Francis asked priests to respect people’s devotions, and not get too intellectual or snobbish about simple longing- prayers from the heart.
This icon was a present to my great author-friend, Andrew Krivak from his wife Amelia.
I was really aware while painting (writing) the icon that it’s the Child Jesus (in icons called Christ Emmanuel) who is present above St Andrew, who was one of the first called by Jesus in the Gospel narrative...something to think about or contemplate in this Advent Season.
Abundant Blessings...........and I know the Child will call (is calling) you too!
“Unpleasant though it may be, the sense of personal sin is precisely that which keeps our sin from getting out of hand. It is quite painful at times, but it is a very great blessing because it is our one and only effective safeguard against our own proclivity for evil.
St Therese of Lisieux put it so nicely in her gentle way:
“If you are willing to serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.”
From “People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil” 1983,
by M.Scott Peck, MD (1936-2005)
Fr Bill McNichols
Advent 2017

Holy Poet-Martyr St Robert Southwell and The Burning Babe

November 28th, 2017

Holy Poet-Martyr St Robert Southwell and The Burning Babe

Holy Poet-Martyr St Robert Southwell and The Burning Babe
In an essay on the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, Roland Barthes, the brilliant writer of linguistics, comments that this small book which was long supposed to be of little literary value, is actually one which creates a whole new language. In its painstaking attention to sensory and contemplative detail, it is a school for writers and image makers. Many schools of prayer would warn the students about visions and the use of images. Luther and the Reformation cried out, “The ear, the ear alone is the Christian organ.” The Flemish and Spanish mystics would further caution against the praying imagination, pointing to the cloud of unknowing, the dazzling darkness, the void en route to God. Barthes claims that “...to these mistrustings of the image Ignatius responded with a radical imperialism of the image: product of the guided imagination, the image is the abiding material of the Exercises...It can be said that Ignatius takes as much trouble filling the spirit with images as the mystics (Christian and Buddhist) do in emptying them out ...” Enter, St Robert Southwell (1561-1595) poet, martyr, genius image-maker and gifted “graduate of the school of Ignatian Exercises.” He delights in turning a phrase to make us see a new side of the mystery he is contemplating; taking us by the hand into a scene to share in his amazement. For example, he takes a kind of Ignatian “aerial view” from the cosmos, over the Nativity of the Lord calling us to: “Behold, the Father is his daughter’s son. The bird that built the nest is hatched therein...Might feeble is, and Force doth faintly creep.” In a brief poem to the Child Jesus called “A Childe My Choyse” are found these beautiful, unforgettable lines: “First friend He was, best friend He is, all times will try Him true.” Robert’s 19th century spiritual descendant, Gerard Manley Hopkins (the father of modern poetry) would later contemplate these lines and almost echo them in his poem “The Lantern Out of Doors” speaking also of the Savior as “...first, fast, last friend.” There is no one like St Robert. His poetry evolved from a somewhat stiff neo-classical style to a vivid,playful devotional praise of God. There is so much adoration in Robert. He loves and adores the Holy Family , the Child Jesus, the saints he sees closest to Jesus in the Gospels ,like Sts Peter and Mary Magdalen. Robert’s most famous poem, “The Burning Babe”actually anticipates the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by almost a hundred years. He has been termed a minor poet of the Elizabethan Renaissance, but I think this has more to do with his pure and devotional subject matter than with his gifts as a poet. The English poet and dramatist, Ben Jonson said he would have given anything to have written “The Burning Babe,” and there is scholarly talk of Robert Southwell’s influence on the art of William Shakespeare. Robert was betrayed by a family friend , Anne Bellamy, and captured in June of 1592 by the sadistic monster, Richard Topcliffe who led him, bound in chains, to his residence next to the Gatehouse prison at Westminster , where he had his private torture chamber. On February 21 , 1595 Robert was taken to Tyburn to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The crowd was hushed and reverent as he prayed three times including a prayer for England and Queen Elizabeth. He begged Our Lady and all the saints and angels to intercede for him, ending with Jesus last words, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” The cart that he was standing on slowly pulled away and left Robert hanging. Ordinarily prisoners were taken down while still alive and then dismembered. As the hangman moved to take him down the crowd growled, “He prayed for the Queen!” Then, mercifully the hangman pulled his legs breaking his neck. The long years of horrific suffering came to an end. Afterwards his heart was said to have leaped from his body at the touch of the knife.
His head was cut off and placed on a spike on London Bridge; his body cut into four parts and exhibited around the city as a warning. It is said that two collections of Roberts devotional poems fell into the hands of Elizabeth after his death; upon encountering his beautiful soul in the poems, she deeply regretted his murder. Tragically, three hundred Protestants were also murdered under Elizabeth’s sister, Queen Mary. St Robert Southwell, along with Edmund Campion, Margaret Clitherow and forty other English and Welsh martyrs, out of three hundred Catholics, were canonized by Pope Paul IV in 1970. Their feast is December 1st.
Fr Bill McNichols
27 November 2017
In his 2014 Christmas CD “If On A Winter’s Night” - the British singer-songwriter Sting put St Robert Southwell’s poem “The Burning Babe” to music.

Christ the King The Bridegroom

November 21st, 2017

Christ the King  The Bridegroom

Christ the King : The Bridegroom
(O Nymphios - in Greek)
“The Lord comes out before the people, attired in the signs of his nonfulfilled kingship. In this nonfulfillment of his rule, his entire mission is contained. For if it had been fulfilled on earth, it would have been limited in space and time and thus would not be his mission...in all areas, he only made starts, only sowed beginnings...on some hearts, he engraved the sign of the Divine Always-More, the sign of what is unfulfillable in this world. To be a Christian means this: to close nothing off as completed, but to open oneself up into the always-more of the Son’s love for the Father...As the nonfulfilled and thus, for the world, the contemptible-he is displayed to all. In himself, he wants never to be fulfilled, but only to live in the ever-greater fullness of the Father. And thus he is presented to the world.”
Adrienne von Speyr
Commentary on the Gospel of St John, volume 4.
“Christ the Bridegroom is the central figure in the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13); Christ is the divine Bridegroom of the Church as described in the Book of Isaiah, chapter 54, as well as the primary image of Bridegroom Matins. The title is suggestive of his divine presence and watchfulness, ‘Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night...’ “
Orthodoxwiki.org
As a child our familiy’s first parish home was Christ the King, and later, St John the Evangelist (now renamed Good Shepherd) and Mother of God Church-all three in Denver, Colorado. The theology of the Sisters of the Precious Blood who taught at Christ the King is very evident to me when I look back at one of my first drawings of the Crucifixion, “colored and drawn” at age 5. You can see it if you go to the “drawings, illustrations ,images” gallery on the website. Although the Crucified King is right there in that early drawing, I have to say my understanding of Him has grown over the years through the writings of William Stringfellow, Jim Douglass, Dan and Phil Berrigan, Dorothy Day, Pope Benedict and Adrienne von Speyr... to name just a few...as well as a host of scripture scholars. Listen to this: “...God did not intend Israel to have a kingdom. The kingdom was a result of Israel’s rebellion against God...The law was to be Israel’s king, and through the law, God himself...God yielded to Israel’s obstinacy and so devised a new kind of kingship for them. The King is Jesus; in him God entered humanity and espoused it to himself...The feast of Christ the King is therefore not a feast of those who are subjugated, but a feast of those who know that they are in the hands of the one who writes straight on crooked lines.” Pope Benedict XVI . The story the Pope refers to can be read in the Book of Samuel (1 Samuel 8:5-22). This is one of the most chilling passages in all of scripture, and lays bare our lust for nationalism and war. The people demand from the prophet a human king. Samuel is disgusted with their request and warns them, “...If you have a king he’ll make an army and take your sons. He will enslave your daughters, maidservants and manservants. He will take your property, your vineyards, your livestock.”...nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel...”we will have a king over us; that we may be like all the nations.” And the Lord said, “they have not rejected you Samuel, but they have rejected me that I should not reign over them.” When a child (or adult) is Baptized the deacon or priest says I Baptize you as a priest, prophet and king (or queen). This is not just a quaint or complimentary designation, but the absolute truth. We are destined to be Kings and Queens in the only kingdom that will last forever, as we say in the Nicene Creed on Sunday’s , “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.”
Here is a beautiful Orthodox exaposteilarion hymn from Holy Tuesday:
“I see Thy Bridal Chamber adorned, O my Savior, but have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul, and save me.”
Our desire to be with God even though we often feel unworthy, reminds me of the death of St Thomas More in the play/film “A Man For All Seasons” by Robert Bolt. More tells the executioner to do his duty because he will send More to God. Then Archbishop Cranmer says how can you be so sure? More replies because, “ He will not refuse one who is so blithe to go to him.”
Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday in the church year, this year, November 26. On the following Sunday, December 3 ,Advent begins...O Come, O Come Emmanuel...and Christ the King, the true Desire of All Nations.
Fr Bill McNichols
November 2017
For the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

The Non-Violent Cross and The Holy Cross of Talpa

November 8th, 2017

The Non-Violent Cross and The Holy Cross of Talpa

The Non-Violent Cross: and The Holy Cross of Talpa
I was twenty years old and a Jesuit Novice when I read the theological masterpiece by Jim Douglass, “The Non-Violent Cross”, at a very humble place called” Charboniere Villa” (an old, warm, charming and slightly broken down house with bunk beds) which was the Jesuit Novices’ villa. We went there for two weeks in the summer and most weekends during the year while we were imbibing St Ignatius’ Spirituality at St Stanislaus Seminary, formerly in Florissant, Missouri. This was for me during the years, 1968-1970.
I remember sitting on an old wooden chair reading by the window, on a very hot and humid summer day. As I read Jim’s understanding of the changes in Christianity, after Constantine (in the year 312) saw the vision in the sky of the Cross, and the now legendary words around the Cross, (in Greek but translated into Latin) “In hoc signo vinces-In this sign thou shalt conquer!” I could barely go on, I was stunned and fixed to my chair. This book was something completely new to me but also something I had intuitively known in my soul and body since early childhood. Jim basically says (and please read his book for yourselves ) that the Sign was the non-violent Cross. The very meaning of the Cross is non-violence...no retaliation, no vengeance, on and on...flowing from the Beatitudes of Jesus given in his Sermon on the Mount, in what the scripture scholar G.B. Caird, in his commentary on the Gospel of Luke, calls Jesus “inaugural speech.” And in this book “Holy Theologian” Jim Douglass reminds us of the true meaning of the Sign, and warns us, that we’ve taken down the Cross in the sky and turned it into a sword ever since that vision given to Constantine.
Last night the young artist and filmmaker, Christopher Summa (“The Boy Who Found Gold”) emailed me an article printed from the Chicago Tribune “Why church shootings don’t intimidate the church”by Russel Moore. It overwhelmed me in the same spiritually enlightening way as my first encounter with Jim’s Douglass’ book. Mr Moore seems to me, to be saying that Christianity is Only enlivened by the Cross, and that the pompous triumphal christianity, we want because it is safe, yet numbing, leads to our personal and collective soul death. As St John says in the Apocalypse, “See, the Lion of Judah has conquered...then I saw a Lamb...” (Revelation 5:5,6)
“...For John looks for the Lion from the tribe of Judah and sees a Lamb.” (Page 74, G.B. Caird “The Revelation of St John.”)
The Cross I chose to illustrate this blog was commissioned by the deceased, and much beloved artist (d+2013) and my friend from Talpa (a small village within Taos) Charlie Strong. His widow Lyn B. Strong has been trying to find a church or “perfect home” for the 6ft Cross ever since the death of Charlie. It was made at his instruction with a small painting of Charlie and Lyn’s adobe home in Taos, modeled after the Ranchos de Taos Church,in the right panel near the body of Jesus. I decided to set the scene of the Cross in the Talpa night, using the Catholic symbolism of Mary as the Moon, the reflected light of the Sun...her son. I was very influenced by the gorgeous night paintings of Frederic Remington (1861-1909) and of course, the Italian master and teacher of Giotto, Cimabue (1240-1302).
This work, entitled “The Holy Cross of Talpa” was first shown in my exhibit at the Millicent Rogers Museum, “Silence in the Storm” in September 2008. It was a very difficult time for me personally so, in my mind the Cross shows and bears that difficulty in its essence. Because of that serious “discomfort,” I chose to place a small mandorla (almond shaped or egg shaped-form) with the hint of the Russian-Protecting-Icon, “She Who Reigns” hovering above Charlie and Lyn’s home in the night sky. This icon is said to have appeared right before the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia telling the people that Jesus and the Mother of God were/are the true and only rulers of the Russian people. As we near the feast of Christ the King of the Universe, it’s a reminder for our entire world. I don’t pretend to have an answer for the daily shootings and murders we are living in now. But I do know people have lived through plagues, pandemics, natural disasters, mass murders and wars since the first murder in Scripture of Abel by his brother Cain. I always remember and have quoted this before in other writings, that Holy Prophet Daniel Berrigan would often say, “The first murder in the Bible was of a brother by a brother and it’s been that way ever since.” When Mr Russell wrote in his article about the true nature, meaning and comfort of Christianity returning or staying with the Cross, I felt awakened again out of numbness and helplessness. This is a great mystery and can only be found through meditating or contemplating the Cross of Jesus and it’s meaning for us today, right now as we wait for Thanksgiving, Christ the King, and moving gradually as “the Shekhinah “ (or as some people experience it-the spirit of Advent“) descends gently, palpably to earth for the brief four weeks of the Holy Season of Advent; into the Christmas Season.

Let me sum all this up with a quote from St Louis de Montfort (1673-1716)the founder of the women’s religious order the Daughters of Wisdom :
“Wisdom is the Cross, the Cross is wisdom.”

Fr Bill McNichols
November 2017

The Holy Souls - The Souls of The Just Are In the Hands of God -Wisdom 3

October 20th, 2017

The Holy Souls - The Souls of The Just Are In the Hands of God  -Wisdom 3

The Holy Souls : “The Souls of The Just Are In the Hands of God” -Wisdom 3
On April 27 2012 I was walking in the mountains with my friend and great Artist, Warren Kelly and his daughter Kaylie. I was gradually getting breathless, as if my life was a light dimmer - getting dimmer by the second- and mentioned that to Warren. He said “I hope it’s your breath and not your ticker.” At that point I knew it was my heart or ticker. I sat down and within a half hour I think, I was being flown to the Durango, Hospital in Colorado. They put me under and I was then flown to Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque. My Doctor, the incredible Doctor Carl Lagerstrom, said when I arrived, on a one to ten scale my heart was a one. I woke up two weeks later partially hallucinating because I’d had nine drugs put in me, but my sister Mary remembers I told her my hero-doctor St Hildegard had been in the room. I don’t remember this, but after that time, well into recovery , I believed she brought me back to life. Since early childhood I’ve been aware of the Holy Souls or the Souls in Purgatory. In grade school we were told that on All Soul’s Day, November 2nd, we could save a soul by saying a set of prayers and going in and out of the church-for each set. I remember not wanting to go home because I thought I could help another soul. I’d love to write in great depth about the change in attitude toward death after Vatican II, but can only say a little...the vestments (for a funeral) went, literally, from black to white. The last church Requiem written for a Funeral Mass was Maurice Durufle’s Requiem (completed in 1948). The music is so tranquil, soft and beautiful it sounds like the soul is floating down a stream, lit like a candle inside a tiny boat . Compare it to Mozart or Verdi, and you’ll see what I mean. There have been requiems written since Durufle but not to be sung at a funeral mass, they are concert pieces. This awareness of the Souls at this time of the year is in many many cultures, for example the ancient Celtic Sawan or Samhain. I personally experience, this “season of the souls” lasts about a month, from October 15-November 15. It’s a time to “embrace” those who have gone be before us and pray for them. The Mexican culture’s Dia de los Muertos (day of the dead) celebrations are entering into more American cities each year. After Raymond Moody’s book “Life After Life” came out in 1975, attitudes toward death began to change rapidly. I am very fond of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s “On Life After Death” and Kenneth Ring’s “Lessons From the Light.” Now there are lots of books on this subject. And so , what is Purgatory? Is it in some ways similar to the Tibetan Toll Houses? Not being a Buddhist I can’t say for sure. But I put myself on a journey to find out what different cultures believed about life after death when I was a Hospice chaplain in NYC in the 80’s. Now I can say that because of many saints and church mystics I believe we ourselves choose Purgatory. The Austrian mystic Maria Simma (1915-2004 - the Church has not officially approved of her revelations yet, so it may not be for you) and St Padre Pio have a lot to say on this, and the Official Catechism of the Catholic Church, is a very good start. But a quick explanation is that when we die there is so much we regret. Mostly withholding love and our human penchant for cruelty, vengeance and the belief we are right...at all costs. We all share in these sins against the unconditional love of God for us. We can also say an absolute no to God and choose Hell, and yet both Origen Adamantius (“rehabilitated” by von B) and Cardinal von Balthasar believed in an empty Hell at the end of time . So imagine the Light of God is so overwhelmingly filled with love that we can only take a little at a time. We feel we are not yet purified enough and we choose to be at a “safe” distance from this Light while still feeling it’s pulling us toward it. Meanwhile we wish we could go back to earth and clean up all the damage we’ve done, but it’s too late. So there is agony in knowing what we did and we can’t pray for or forgive ourselves. Those who have lived with us, and are still on earth, can pray for us and in Purgatory, apparently we feel these prayers like the most soothing balm. Then when the souls go into heaven completely, they never forget the help we gave them. This is why we say Mass for them, and pray the Rosary or any prayers that honestly do touch the Holy Souls. I am well aware this is way too brief but I know you can go on your own journey to look into our Catholic beliefs about Purgatory. I’ll close with an experience of St Gertrude the Great from Susan Tassone’s book “Day By Day for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.”
“One day St Gertrude was praying for the Holy Souls when Jesus admonished her for not praying with confident assurance, the faith and realized hope, that God hears and answers our prayers. He assured her: ‘It would not be past my justice to release those suffering souls for whom you are praying, immediately, if you pray with confidence for this petition.” Page 281
This image from the Book of Wisdom, chapter 3, was commissioned by my friend Fr Robert Fisher for All Souls Church in Denver, Colorado.
Fr Bill McNichols
“We’ve been around, we fall, we fly
We mostly fall, we mostly run
And every now and then we try
To mend the damage that we’ve done
Tonight, tonight I just can’t rest
I’ve got this joy here inside my breast
To think that I did not forget that child
That Song of Bernadette...”
Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

 

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