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
June 30th, 2016
The Bride : Images of the Church
By Daniel Berrigan, SJ
Orbis Press, 2000
I have been unusually blessed to have prophetic, poetic as well as very talented writers look into the icons which have been "given to me." This includes Megan McKenna, Fr. John Dear and Mirabai Starr, all published through the kindness, insight and generosity of my friend Robert Ellsberg Editor of Orbis Press.
The first book was written by the late Daniel Berrigan, SJ and I chose the title to echo his very first book called "The Bride : Essays in the Church" published in 1959.
I had been introduced to Daniel Berrigan's writings in the Novitiate at age 19 and he became a mentor to me long before I actually met him in 1983. If you google the articles that have been written about Dan since his death on April 30, you will see how many thousands of people he mentored through his heroic peace work and activism, his hospice work at St Rose and St Vincent's in NYC and his searing, dazzling and absolutely unique writing of brilliant poetry and over 50 books on Scripture.
I was missioned by the Society of Jesus to begin an apprenticeship as an iconographer in 1990 and every icon and image (almost 300 now) have been for the Society and the Church. Dan commissioned 3 icons of Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, William Stringfellow and Holy Prophet Benjamin Salmon. After his brother Philip died in December 2002 I came home from his funeral in Baltimore and began work on his icon too. Now I am working on one of Dan and it's impossible to put into words the feelings and prayers I am having working on someone I knew so intimately. It's a blessing I knew someday would be asked of me, yet to actually sit with him, talk with him, continue to love him, is a mixture of grief and elation; a joy, an honor I pray, will come through to you when the icon is finished. One of my cherished memories is accompanying Dan to an upstate New York retreat center where a group of Vietnam Veterans had asked him to give them a retreat, they had felt he was the best priest to understand their suffering. A man who had shown the true meaning of compassion - "to suffer with."
Rest in Peace, in the Light of His Presence - dear friend, mentor to multitudes of people of all faiths, artistic genius guided by the Spirit, and Holy Prophet Daniel Berrigan, SJ. Watch over us dear Dan, and give us the courage to keep seeking for and listening to God's will and to be faithful to our vocations.
Fr Bill McNichols
June 30th, 2016
In May this year, Pentecost and also the traditional month of Mary:
Mother of God Similar To Fire
Published by Orbis Press
In 1990 I bought my first book on icons published by Rizzoli, New York. It is called simply "Russian Icons" by Father Vladimir Ivanov and within that book I found so many beautiful icons I would later try to copy. Such as the title of the book, the enigmatic "Mother of God Similar To Fire", which originally came out in hardback in 2010 and is now in paperback. It is often the title of the icon as well as the beauty which leads me to copy it so that people from the West can experience some of the Russian Orthodox mystical spiritual genius. My friend and brilliant writer Mirabai Starr wrote 51 unique prayer/poems for each icon and image. It is a book so many people have told me they look through all year, whether it is May, Advent, or Lent and find something new each time, and comfort in times of struggle or grief.
The icon shown is called "Mother of God Your Lap Has Become the Holy Table" and is a 19th century Russian Icon which seemed to be perfect to copy in 1999 for the coming of the Eucharistic Year of 2000 which was given to the world by St John Paul II. In this icon I love the evocation of the Tabernacle as Mary's womb. On the feasts of Mary we often get readings at Mass from the Hebrew Bible of the carrying of the sacred Ark of the Covenant where the presence of God dwells. Mary becomes the literal fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant as she carried the Infant Jesus in her body.
Fr Bill McNichols
25 May 2016
My 37th Anniversary of Ordination 1979
June 30th, 2016
Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the Earth.
Inspire us to care for her as well as each other.
Inflame us with the courageous love of Holy Father
Pope Francis to include all people in the voice and
ministry of our Mother Church.
St John XXIII and St John Paul II prayed for a New
Pentecost which has truly, already begun; help us to
receive you Holy Spirit who bring these abundant graces.
Give us wisdom and guidance in our daily lives and lead
us always, through the Gospels into the heart and mind
of Jesus the Lord.
April 19th, 2016
I was asked by Tim Rivera to do something for the room in the Rivera Funeral Home, in Taos New Mexico, which might bring Hope and Comfort to families of all Faiths, as they sit in the main room during a service for their deceased loved ones.
I thought of 3 images of Trees that would convey different seasons, and also the life of the soul.
1 ) Trees of Winter Life
These trees symbolize what seems to be simply cold death, to us who see them.
And yet trees underneath the most bitter and cold snow are not really dead.
A candle burns beneath them symbolizing that they are destined to come back to life. The body dies but the soul is eternal, and the Full Moon is our night light.
2 )Tree of Life
A single pine tree grows out of a sepia-green color.
As it rises, it gains full green and life. The tree is surrounded by a Sun nurturing the climbing growth.
The Rose tops the tree as it's Crown. The Fiery Rose is a famous symbol in T.S Eliot's mystical masterpiece of poetry, The Four Quartets. In the last poem after quoting Julian of Norwich, he ends with:
"When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one."
3 ) Tree of Souls
At Mass we say to God concerning the dead, who have now transformed into souls,
"Welcome them into the light of your face."
How to picture souls rising into a Light which speaks of hope and a beautiful Star guiding them home?
Listening to a book on CDs The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, I heard a longing for an After Life in the two teenagers who are the center of the novel.
In my imagination I saw this Tree.
Fr William Hart McNichols
April 9th, 2016
As we enter Springtime,
I'd like to bring you to Therese.
Although we love all the saints for different reasons, when in great difficulty I always call on her as my 911 Saint . No one else answers so quickly. No one else makes you feel like she knows you and your problems so completely, as if she were your best friend, as Therese.
Several years ago I was living in Arroyo Secco, Northern New Mexico and it was a very harsh winter. Before a Mass on Sunday evening I was praying to her and as I entered the church of the Most Holy Trinity, the music director gave me a book she found that day at an out door sale, it was Kathryn Harrison's Penguin Biography of Therese. It's the most unusual book on Therese , and the one I think she wanted me to read . I've read it several times , I'm reading it right now. What makes it unusual is that Kathryn does her best to try to make Therese real and free from hagiographical touch ups. So that she has been criticized for not understanding the spirituality of the Saint. For me it was just what I needed, in that, it brought me closer to Therese than ever before, and I had first read about her as a child in the Vision Book Series called St Therese and the Roses by Helen Walker Homan. My icon is based on her two names as a Carmelite:
Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.
Let me end with the most beautiful poem on St Therese by my deceased friend and mentor Fr Jim Janda:
Therese de l'Enfant Jesus
Clip the bird's
the desire to
the Christ when
only meaning is
an opening rose
as the wafer
and that coughing
means only that
soul will be
from the body
and the only
possible is of
by Fr James Janda +
Fr Bill McNichols
March 27th, 2016
The Risen Lord Appears To His Mother Mary
I think my favorite painting of the Resurrection is the dazzling multicolored rising Lord by Matthias Grunewald where the shroud is lit with color and a large glowing rainbow aureole surrounds Christ. And you often see the stately, serene and victorious Risen Christ in Piero della Francesco's famous painting too. But I chose to copy and simplify the right panel of Rogier van der Weyden's Risen Lord from the Miraflores Triptych because the Lord in this beautiful work seems so tender and still "kind of shaking" as he appears to his mother. Both Teresa of Avila and Ignatius Loyola took for granted that Jesus must have come first to his mother, before anyone else.
At different times in your life, you look into a painting or an icon and it seems exactly right, to speak directly to you as a prayer. I also have a copy of Mark Rothko's "alive" painting called "Saffron:1957" which is a masterpiece evoking pure Resurrection to me.
I hope this icon after van der Weyden will bring you the quiet, momentous moment when Mary first sees her risen son, filled with the movement of sorrow-into- joy she must have felt. A blessed Easter season to you All!
Fr Bill McNichols
Easter Sunday 2016
March 23rd, 2016
Holy Week and Our Lady of Magadan
I believe it was during this same time, Holy Week in 1994 that I completed this commission for (now deceased) Archbishop Hurley of Anchorage, Alaska to give to the Orthodox Bishop of Magadan, Far East, Russia. Magadan is so distant it's not called Siberia , but Far East it's actually "above" Japan and only 4 hours flight from Anchorage, in the Bay of the Sea of Ohotsk.
Archbishop Hurley wanted to open a Catholic parish in Magadan and he longed to give a gift of an appropriate icon.
Magadan was a concentration camp of the former Soviet Union from 1938 under Stalin until it closed in 1955 under Krushchev. No one knows how many thousands of people died in the prison camps and are buried there. I traveled there in October 1995, and could write many pages on my short but indelible visit; most of all I remember the incredible generosity of the Pastor Fr Michael Shields and the Russian people. And I also visited the Lavra (monastery) of St Sergius of Radonezh, where the Orthodox monks commissioned another icon, Our Lady of Pochaev, which is now in their monastery church. An honor I will never forget.
When designing the icon for Magadan, with its tragic history, I could only imagine a Pieta. I added the pastel or Easter colors to give a sense of what the grieving Mother would soon experience through her Risen Son.
I dedicate the icon and the prayers it hopefully inspires, this year, to the grieving people in Brussels, Belgium and to anyone suffering from a recent loss.
Fr Bill McNichols
Holy Week 2016
March 11th, 2016
Mary, Mother of Mercy
(Dedicated to Pope Francis in this Year of Mercy)
"...Send your Spirit and consecrate
everyone of us with its
anointing, so that the Jubilee of Mercy
may be a year of grace
from the Lord, and your
Church, with renewed enthusiasm,
may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to the captives and the
oppressed, and restore sight to the blind.
We ask this through the intercession of
Mary, Mother of Mercy,
you who live and reign with the
Father and the Holy Spirit
forever and ever.
After hearing the truly good news that Pope Francis had planned to consecrate us all in a Year of Mercy, I immediately went looking for a prototype of an icon I could give to people wanting to pray with an icon of Mary and the Child. While looking at many "tenderness icons" I found instead, the Terebinskaya Icon, which is probably one of the happiest icons I have ever seen. This icon caused me to reexamine the whole concept of the joyful effects of Mercy. It would evoke the blessings on the merciful from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount ....how happy, how blessed are the merciful!
Our Mother is praying in the ancient "orans" position with hands outstretched and raised while looking tenderly, with so much love at her Child. The Child seems to literally dance upon the world, as Holy Wisdom in Proverbs 8:30, 31.
As the Messiah he is always bringing, and playfully showering his abundant gifts upon our world.
I used the same green atmosphere around the world as in the Viriditas Icon commissioned by Loyola Chicago last year , to show that , not only is mercy alive, but it continues to actually transform our natural world. For us who at times can be severely limited in our ability to know how to forgive and be merciful, this Child can open and easily create infinite possibilities in our everyday lives - still unknown to us, for the miracles of mercy to happen.
Fr Bill McNichols
February 17th, 2016
Variation On Our Lady of Sorrows
"For I know that my redeemer lives ..."
As a part of the Passion Triptych I had painted (written) an icon of Our Lady of Sorrows that shows the Blessed Mother lifting up one empty hand, the very hand that once held the Christ Child. We see this mother almost every night on tv news, bereft and grieving over the loss of some child or children in one or another recent accident, incident of violence or natural disaster. Then there are flowers brought by people to the scene of death or to the family.
In this image I wanted to symbolically represent both the mother and the flowers.
We usually associate white lilies with Easter. Yet during Lent we are not yet witnessing the Resurrection yet . And so the red lilies speak of the Passion; of the three days before Easter and the passion of terrible grief and loss. God can and will turn our grief into joy, someday - even during our life on earth. And we wait, sometimes for years, in the most stark faith and dark night for Him to return.
Having worked in a hospice for so many years I learned, slowly, reverently, that grief has its own time. You cannot set a time for anyone's grief to end. The Book of Job cautions us about being glib or judgmental with easy answers because we cannot bear to be with someone too long in their grief. Gustavo Gutierrez' book on Job has the most comforting "answer" to Job's grief, that in the end It is simply God's presence, appearance to Job that heals his grief; not an explanation.
And so this symbolic picture of Mary inside the Passion of her Son is a reminder that hers and our grief will one day change with the apparition of the Risen Lord, however and in what way, He chooses to come to us.
Fr Bill McNichols
Passion Triptych http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/featured/passion-triptych-william-hart-mcnichols.html