November 26th, 2016
Our Lady of the New Advent : Gate of Heaven
Our Lady of the New Advent : the Burning Bush
It's often said that one person or event can change your life forever , but can one painting or artwork ...in this case an icon change you forever?
This one did. It was only my third icon and I was not yet comfortable with the entire "genre " or experience or vocation yet. I was in every way a beginner and to be asked to do this icon for the Archdiocese of Denver was a surprise filled with anxiety. But I had the best teacher "in the World" in my estimation, Robert Lentz, (now Brother Robert Lentz, OFM) the Russian American Master of Iconography.
When I finished the icon it was used almost immediately as the cover of a book
"Queen of Prophets : The Gospel Message of Medjugorje"
By Dudley Plunkett
Doubleday Press 1992
I had no idea then (1991) that I'd be taken to visit Medjugorje four times beginning in 1997. I had no idea a print of this icon would be taken to Rome by kids of the Archdiocese of Denver to convince Pope John Paul II to come to Denver for the occasion of World Youth Day 1993. I had no idea I would do a second icon of Our Lady of the New Advent: the Burning Bush for him, and that I'd end up giving it to him personally on 14 August 1993 in Denver...no idea I'd be blessed beyond words to be in the aura of a Saint.
All these miracles small and large came from this icon.
And in 1992 the icon was given a feastday December 16, the next day the 17th the ancient "O Antiphons" begin with "O Wisdom" and bear a different name for Christ each day until the 24th. You can hear the different titles in the song "O Come O Come Emmanuel " sung all through the Advent season. And this song often appears on Christmas CDs.
There is so much more to say about this icon but I'd like to say, that through this icon I also ended up visiting Our Lady of Akita in Japan. I was there in April 1999 when the terrible Columbine Murders struck the world with grief. It was then I saw why the Holy Child was holding the columbines in his hand. They were the children that had been killed. I had been instructed by the commissioner, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Stafford to put the Colorado state flower somewhere in the icon.
As Advent begins we are aware of the coming darkness, I mean that it actually is a darker time. I will never forget a thought I read at the time I was working on this icon, from the book "The Cult of the Black Virgin by Ean Begg." The author said that Black Madonnas are mysteriously popular, they draw you in, because the Black Madonna symbolizes not the darkness of despair but the darkness (or waiting) of pregnancy.
May this icon or any in the world you might choose to pray with, heal you, heal us, this Advent of 2016 when there is great fear of the darkness in our world. May she only shed her light as she presents to you, in a mandorla (almond shape a mandala is round) within her, the Light of the World. May the Archangel Gabriel's words to Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1 : 30) be spoken within you as well:
(from the Amplified Edition of the Bible)
"Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace free, spontaneous, absolute favor and loving- kindness) with God."
Fr Bill McNichols
October 31st, 2016
This recent Jesuit Martyr Thomas Anchanikal was beheaded on October 25 1997 like two of the "Apostles to India" before him, St Thomas the Apostle and St John de Brito. I hope if you are moved to do so, you will look up his story on google. I painted him using the Indian symbol of a tiger killing an antelope to show his gentle yet strong martyr's love for his own people like Jesus. I also used the idea of him holding his severed head after icons of St John the Baptist. The icon is at Santa Clara University in California and I personally believe students are incredibly interested and inspired by true martyrs. The icon then is intentionally "calling" the students to ask questions and look into this Martyr who sought for justice especially for the poorest of the poor.
Fr Bill McNichols
25 October 2016
October 4th, 2016
Nuestro Padre San Francisco de Asis
It’s no exaggeration to say that Francis was probably one of the few true fundamentalists that have ever lived. Once he was converted at age 25 he looked to the Gospels for every step of his way. If Jesus said “ Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me ...“ then Francis named his group the Frati Minori ...the Least Brothers.
Francis only lived to be 44 but two years before he died, he felt like a failure.
His least brothers had grown from 12 to over 3,000 and he could no longer guide or control them. So he had a dream that he was a black mother hen with pink feet surrounded by chicks that were running everywhere. He interpreted the dream to mean he must surrender his order to the Pope and go to Mt La Verna, north of Assisi, to bemoan his sins of failure. He left on August 15, the feast of the Assumption, to make what he called “St Michael’s Lent“ until the feast of the Archangel on September 29 th.
Francis had asked for two graces of Jesus to complete his following the Gospels.One, that he feel in his whole being the feelings and pain of Jesus as He died on Mt Calvary. Two, that he experience the love of Christ that could forgive even from the Cross. Somewhere around the 14th the feast of the Holy Cross and the 17th (the church used to have a feast of the Holy Stigmata on the 17th.) of September Francis saw something no one has ever seen before or since. Out of the sky came a figure of Christ Crucified bearing the six wings of a Seraph. It was the answer to his prayer for the two graces. He felt the pain of Christ and also the Seraphic love of Christ. Francis would live two more years until 3 October 1226, seared with the Stigmata. He was the first person ever to receive them. During those brief years he would continue to heal with his wounds. When the brothers would wash out the bandages, they would use the water to heal sick animals and people. This for me, is the most beautiful part of the story as we are all asked to continue to work with and heal with our wounds; they don’t disappear.
After the Resurrection the Lord Himself shows His disciples His wounds. God could have easily removed them as He did the flagellation marks and all the horrific damage to Jesus’ body. In the great legend of St Martin of Tours (San Martin Caballero) Martin has an apparition of a figure who says he is Christ the King, but Martin knows better because the figure has no wounds. It angrily vanishes in a whiff of sulphur.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve drawn, painted or created icons of the love of Francis for and with, his Seraphic Lord Jesus. It’s a meditation/contemplation I never tire of bringing to life; these wounds so ever present in all of us that Pope Francis has referred to the Church as a “Field Hospital“ where we tend to one another as Church, as if on a field of continuing battles.
I hope this image brings you hours of meditation, seraphic joy and sends you back into the world to share in Jesus’ Healing Gifts.
Fr William Hart McNichols
A happy feast of St. Francis and happy name day to Pope Francis!
October 4, 2016
September 8th, 2016
Mother of the Incarnate Word
In 1996 I was asked to do five icons for the Jesuits at Boston College and it was in Boston I met Fr Jim Martin, SJ who was a theology student at the time. His community wanted an icon that would be a Contemplation on theology. We were at dinner somewhere in Cambridge when he asked me. Immediately what came to mind was the beautiful Kaluga Icon of the Mother of God. I had seen a black and white picture of the icon in the Orthodox biography of the life and mystical revelations of a Russian Eldress: Schemanun Macaria (+1993) called "Beloved Sufferer " by Gennady Durasov.
In the icon Mary was pictured about fourteen years old and absorbed in a book of holy scripture. I decided to have Mary pregnant too , in order to say that Christ is in the holy scriptures as the word, but also inside Mary as the word incarnate. This symbolizes the study of theology for me; that we read the word, and the word is also inside all of us too. I will end with a well known Orthodox prayer praising Mary as Mother of God:
"More honorable than the Cherubim, more glorious beyond
compare than the Seraphim.
No mind comprehends how to praise thee fittingly."
I offer this icon for your contemplation on the feast of the Birth of the Mother of God.
8 September 2016
Fr Bill McNichols
August 29th, 2016
St John the Forerunner :
Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist 29 August
So many powerful, spiritual and artistic images of John the Baptist swirl around me today on the feast of his martyrdom. John's two feasts begin and end the season of summer. I think of all the Gospel accounts of the Evangelists, and Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich's beautiful visions of John woven within her Life of Christ, scripture scholar Joan Taylor's excellent and instructive book "The Immerser : John the Baptist Within Second Temple Judaism", Michael Damaskino's gaunt and majestic 16th century Greek icon which is the prototype for this icon, Andrea del Verrocchio's very, very tender and youthful John in his 15th century bust in the Washington DC National Gallery, Pasolini and Zefferelli's John in film, Ken Russell's radiantly pure John in "Salome" surrounded by the utter decadence of Herod's court, Emmy Lou Harris' literally moving, inspired version of Bill Monroe's song "Get Up John", and the still haunting, tragic pictures of the recent death of Catholic journalist James Foley.
On The feast of the birth of John, June 24 1981, it is believed that the Mother of God began appearing in the once tiny village of Medjugorje, in Bosnia. This is not yet approved by the church officially because the apparitions are still happening and is still quite controversial. On June 26 two days later, Mary appeared weeping and begging for prayers, asking to be called the Queen of Peace. It was ten years to the day when the wars in Bosnia would begin. You rarely hear from the pilgrims who come back from Medjugorje that Mostar is only 17 miles away. Mostar was hit harder than Sarajevo during the war, much of the city was destroyed. There were so many deaths that open parks had to be converted to cemeteries.
This icon is part of a diptych which was commissioned by Fr Svetozar , one of the Friars who lived at that time, in Medjugorje, the other panel is Our Lady of Medjugorje : the Burning Bush. By appearing on John 's feast Mary is saying she is the prophet of the Second Advent or the New Advent as St John Paul II proclaimed these times to be, in his first encyclical Redemptor Hominis. Why Medjugorje? One explanation is that the Croatian people , as well as the Friars, have always remained faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and have resisted amidst martyrdom and persecution for centuries, becoming secularized. And they obviously (if you have experienced them) hold onto something of the Baptist's immersion ...when the young (at the time) visionaries asked the Mother of God " who is the holiest person in the village " she pointed to a Muslim woman and told them all religions are from God and you are not a Christian if you do not respect other true religions. Of course this does not mean cults.
John the Baptist was willing to baptize anyone with a humble interior disposition. But you had to come to him already humbled, ready to change, aware that you were a sinner, empty and hungering for God; not self-righteous as if you deserved Baptism.
"As we have seen, in Isaiah 1:12-15, God is described as saying that Temple worship is futile as are sacrifices, prayers, and festivals. For God, is not pleased with his people because their 'hands are full of blood.' In Matthew 3:11 John states 'I immerse you in water for repentance.' If one wanted to distinguish John's immersion from any other type of immersion, one would need to link it with the reason it was necessary : repentance ...repentance was for, or going towards, inward cleansing ...the process cannot go back to front. John's immersion was not primary or initiatory, as though one were accounted righteous afterwards. This notion was precisely what he rejected outright ...John immersed after righteousness had been attained."
Let's end then, with the famous words of St Augustine about the Immerser :
"Now there are many things that can be said of John the Baptist, but let me sum it up in a nutshell,
He must increase,
I must decrease."
Fr Bill McNichols
29 August 2016
August 29th, 2016
St Louis IX and his son Philip III
Patron of France and Bridegrooms
It's easy to look at the Medieval world and criticize it, and it's saints, from our "much wiser and less violent " world, which we all realize is not true. From any point of view, however, Louis had his blind prejudices; his engagement with the anti-semitism of the Disputation of Paris, and his active support of the Crusades, which it seems only one Saint at that time was against, and that's the supernaturally inspired, Hildegard of Bingen. St Hildegard also had a "theology of ecology:Viriditas " we see now is 800 years ahead of her time. And we are still engaged in coming up with truly Christian answers, and active responses, to the same problems of the inter-religious nature which St Louis faced. In fact these are the most urgent and pressing problems, along with the very survival of our earth, of today's leaders.
St. Louis was born of a Spanish mother and French father in 1214 and became King after his father died when he was just 12 years old. He was happily married to Margaret of Provence and together they had 11 children. His biography by one of his closest companions, Sir John de Joinville, is still available and I'm fairly certain if you read it, you will find his greatness, compassion, holiness and strikingly contemporary sense of humor, outweigh his blind spots. Can any of us claim to be above and beyond our own prejudices, be they religious or political? We all share that "disease" due to what St Paul calls the "fleshy" part of us meaning that stubborn blindness.
This icon was commissioned by St Louis Church in Littleton, Colorado, and I used the portrait by El Greco as my model. His son and successor, Philip, holds the testimony written to him by his father on how to be a good King, which I read at Mass from The Divine Office every August 25th. I dedicated the icon to my father, Stephen L.R. McNichols a man I know loved and ruled with Justice, and cared for the less fortunate as foremost in his mind, heart and governance.
Fr Bill McNichols
25 August 2016
August 15th, 2016
The Dormition of the Mother of God
She sleeps who
knew no rest here.
Promised early on
a knife in her soul
watching relatives, friends,
multitudes, dividing, deciding,
and finally calling for the blood
of the Word clothed in
her very own flesh .
Stabat Mater Dolorosa,
all through the grisly passion
a helpless harmony...
the tears that would not stop,
the convulsive grief,
then all life leaving
from her eyes,
from His wounds.
Now He returns to take
her soul and body.
She of the abused and powerless,
she of the stifled and wordless,
she of the empty and outcast.
She is crowned forever
Queen of all Heaven and Earth
in the kingdom of reversals.
And we, her waiting children
are assured such an ending,
after dust, we too shall be
in the mandorla
of the Rising Son.
In virtually every icon of the Mother of God she pleads, prays, grieves and shines with the presence of her Son. To look at her is to see her love for Him. The essence of the Dormition for me, is His love for her. This is also an icon of the joyful promise of a Christian's death. Here Christ's love gives life to the body of the one who loved Him unconditionally as Mother and true Disciple. Here He becomes mother as He carefully cradles her soul and takes her Home.
John, the Beloved Disciple, weeps and hovers over the body of the Mother given to him with Jesus' halting, broken words from the Cross. The candle moves with the presence of the Lord. John does not yet see Him in the radiant mandorla of light.
Archangel Gabriel bows low in loving recognition once again, of the one who became Mother of the Word Incarnate and Mother of all her offspring until the end of time and into eternity.
Thus icon was commissioned by the Jesuit magazine, America.
Fr William Hart McNichols
August 15 2016
July 28th, 2016
Our Lady and the Holy Child Jesus Visit St Ignatius the Convalescent in Loyola
"...But in that house none of those books which he normally read could be found, and so they gave him a life of Christ and a book of the lives of the saints in Spanish ... Still, Our Lord was helping him, causing other thoughts, which were born of the things he was reading, to follow these. For, while reading the lives of Our Lord and the saints, he would stop to think, reasoning with himself : 'How would it be, if I did this which St Francis did, and this which St Dominic did?' ...And here the desire to imitate the saints were occurring to him, not considering the details beyond promising himself, with the grace of God, to' do it as they had done it'... These desires were confirmed for him by a visitation as follows : being awake one night, he saw clearly a likeness of Our Lady with the Holy Child Jesus, at the sight of which, for an appreciable time, he received a very extraordinary consolation. He was left so sickened at his whole past life, especially at matters of the flesh, that it seemed to him that there had been removed from his soul all the likeness that he had previously painted in it."
From the Autobiography of St Ignatius Loyola
Before I began a life as an apprentice Iconographer, I was a student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. My goal at that time in the 1980's, was to be an illustrator of children's books. I think I illustrated over twenty, including some too, for adults.
One is still available from Paulist Press called The Hurt by Teddi Doleski. These books were so joyful to do and I asked the late Fr Jim Janda to write a trilogy on the Holy Child as a way of teaching children about the kingdom of God. These were The Legend of St Christopher, The Legend of the Holy Child of Atocha and (the legend of the Infant of Prague, titled) Appointments With the Little King. Many more books followed before I sensed that I was being called to paint other images and also enter the world of painting icons, technically called "writing" icons because the Iconographer is doing a work of sacred theology. I offer this drawing made during my life as an illustrator, and the beautiful story of the holy visit, for this year's feast of St Ignatius, 31 July.
Fr Bill McNichols
Books Available at:
July 4th, 2016
St Andrei Rublev : 1370-1430
Patron of Iconographers : feast day 4 July
Any list of the top 10 or 15 movies ever made will contain Andrei Tarkovsky's masterpiece Andrei Rublev also known as The Passion of Andrei Rublev.
" ... In Tarkovsky's own turbulent time, the film lit all manners of controversy. It's Christian spiritualism offended the Soviet authorities ...and it's challenging form led to various cuts. After opening in Moscow in 1966, it was suppressed until the 1969 Cannes Film Festival and it didn't reach Britain until 1973 ....
When in the final minutes, the film pulls off its most famous flourish : the ( black and white ) screen bursts into colour and we're finally ready to see Rublev's paintings in extreme close-up-coming at the end of his epic journey, they can reduce a viewer to tears ...We're reminded of what beauty is. It's as close to transcendence as cinema gets."
The Guardian 2010
"Andrei Rublev is described by the chroniclers as a man of great humility, 'full of joy and brightness.' His art was the same; limpid and deep, supremely luminous, invested with the privilege of a perpetual childhood. "
This icon depicts the medieval Iconographer, canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1988. Here the blessed Monk holds the face of Christ from his magnificent icon (the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah) of The Most Blessed Trinity.
Though it has been copied innumerable times, no one has ever been able to render the grace and loving quality, as each angelic figure defers to one another creating an endless circle of divine love. It has been a source of wonder and awe for centuries for people who contemplate this timeless icon of the holy Spirit inspired St Andrei Rublev.
Fr Bill McNichols
June 30th, 2016
I assisted at a funeral today and this first reading spoke to me of the great tragedy and grief we all feel about the murders of innocent people in Orlando.
A reading from the Book of Lamentations 3:17-26
My soul is deprived of peace,
I have forgotton what happiness is;
I tell myself my future is lost,
all that I hoped for from the Lord.
The thought of homeless poverty
is wormwood and gall;
Remembering it over and over
leaves my soul downcast within me.
But I will call this to mind,
as my reason to have hope:
The favors of the Lord are not exhausted,
his mercies are not spent;
They are renewed each morning,
so great is his faithfulness.
My portion is the Lord, says my soul;
therefore will I hope in him.
Good is the Lord to one who waits for him,
to the soul that seeks him;
It is good to hope in silence
(and in loving community)
for the saving help of the Lord.
The Passion of Matthew Shepard is an image I created for the contemplation and conversion of hatred and homophobia as a part of a Lenten issue on contemporary passions in Maryknoll Magazine.
Fr. Bill McNichols