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
February 17th, 2016
For Lent 2016: Jesus Christ Morning Star
(Jesucristo El Lucero Radiante del Alba)
Following the murders in 1999 of the teenagers at Columbine High School in Colorado , I began to imagine creating an Icon of Jesus as a teenager. It seems that the world children have inherited is increasingly impossible for them to bear. With the recent massive number of deaths, in so many ways, we all feel the stalking presence of evil.
In 2001 Olga Torres-Reid invited me to create an altar for the Day of the Dead, in an exhibit, held in Taos, New Mexico entitled "Sobre Muerte" which placed me directly at the center of this tension. Death itself is not evil. St Francis of Assisi spoke to death as our friend, Sister Death. However the deliberate murder of innocent people is evil. How to respond to this conflict? Bringing the teenage Christ into the worl , gave me an opportunity to respond through art.
The frame was carved for this exhibit by my friend, the master woodworker and Santero, Roberto Lavadie. I had seen the haunting image of the skull with wings during my years of study in Boston, on the old New England gravestones. What does it mean for a skull to have wings?
I painted the frame black and white and brought a Taos teenager, as Christ, into the ominous landscape and sky, as the color , the light , and the life in the midst of death. Before I finished this work, the horrendous disaster of September 11 shook the world and so I painted the wounds onto the hands of Christ. Jesucristo El Lucero Radiante del Alba comes from the last chapter of the Apocalypse (Revelation), chapter 22 verse 16:
"I am the Light of the Dawn or the Bright Morning Star."
Though surrounded by darkness, death has no dominion over the youthful Lord of Life.
Fr Bill McNichols
Lent of 2016
February 17th, 2016
Michele L. Catanese has a Master’s degree in Christian Spirituality as well as certification as a Spiritual Director and Retreat Director from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. She was a Religious of the Cenacle for 7 years during which time she began training as a Spiritual director. In addition to Creighton University, she did her theological studies at St. Vincent’s Seminary in Latrobe, PA, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA, and Boston College in Boston, MA. She taught Theology, primarily Scripture and Christian Spirituality, at the high school level for 22 years and she offered faith formation, spiritual consultation, and educational formation for faculty. Michele has also taught adult education courses on Scripture, Prayer, and Christian Spirituality. She has given various seminars, days of prayer, and retreats in a number of cities and she has practiced spiritual direction since 1986.
January 26th, 2016
The Silence of St Thomas Aquinas ( feast day January 28 )
In my six year apprenticeship with master Iconographer, Friar Robert Lentz, OFM, I began to experience the importance of the silent mystery in so many enigmatic icons, such as Mother of God Similar to Fire and Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence. I think in the West we are uncomfortable with mystery and silence. We want an immediate explanation of what we are looking at in a work of art, but that kind of impatience will only frustrate the viewer of icons.
This icon of Thomas Aquinas deferring to an apparition of Holy Wisdom, is the result of reading two books on the Angelic Doctor:
Aquinas Search For Wisdom by Vernon Bourke and Silence of St Thomas by Josef Pieper.
(we ) "...man, in his philosophical inquiry, is faced again and again with the experience that reality is unfathomable and Being is mystery - an experience, it is true, which urges him not so much to communicate as to silence. But it would not be the silence of resignation, and still less the silence of despair. It would be the silence of reverence."
Happy Feast Day Angelic Doctor St Thomas!
January 7th, 2016
St Catherine of Siena: Guardian of the Papacy
For the people of the Church of the Risen Savior, Albuquerque, New Mexico
(From their Pastor Fr Timothy Martinez)
One of my favorite biographies of Catherine is by her spiritual guide, the Dominican friar, Blessed Raymond of Capua, still available today. But if you are looking for a glimpse of Catherine in a brief (25 page ) essay, there is nothing better than Carol Lee Flinders portrait in her beautiful book, "Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics."
During the papacies of Popes St John Paul II and Benedict XVI, I found and held onto, a picture of a mosaic of Catherine holding the papal tiara worn by Popes of the past, actually up until St John XXIII who wore it right after his election (I think Blessed Paul VI did too). Catherine has always been connected intimately with the Church and specifically with the Pope. So I began to think of the tiara as a kind of earthly crown, in people's eyes, but the actual tiara worn by any pope, bishop, pastor, male or female superior of a religious order, or any great leader, is the Crown of Thorns.
I see this clearly with all the popes of my life beginning with Pius XII, and especially now with Pope Francis I. In this year of Mercy, I imagine Catherine asking us to have a special kind of Mercy, for the Pope himself. She asks in this icon that we continually pray for him and if you can, love him too; I personally do, with enormous thanksgiving.
Fr Bill McNichols
November 3rd, 2015
St Jude Patron of the Impossible
Feast Day October 28
I can remember living in NYC in the 80's and continually seeing on the back page of local alternative newspapers the words "Thank you St Jude for ..." A multitude of things. There was never a mention of any other Saint and the requests and testimonies of answered prayers always moved my heart into a prayer.
The popular iconography, or colors and symbolism of St Jude are now set; whether it be statues, candles, holy cards or novenas. He looks similar to Jesus, he wears green, he holds a club or staff of his martyrdom, he also holds a medallion or cloth of the Holy Face of Jesus, and there is a flame of the Holy Spirit over his head.
You can google the ancient story of the miracle performed by St. Jude with the Holy Face and King Abgar of Edessa; a beautiful narrative of Jude's first mission after Jesus' death and Resurrection.
But how did he get to be patron of the impossible?
I found a "clue" in Adrienne von Speyr's wonderful Book of All Saints where in her portrait of Jude she calls him "a beast of burden" that during his life he already carried lots of people's troubles and burdens to God. And then she says a most beautiful thing about our Saint Jude:
"He prays well and a lot, especially petitionary prayer. And if someone makes a mistake, then he is the one who prays most for him and petitions in his name for forgiveness... He is a beast of burden, who loads burdens on himself and carries them to God ... He is also the one who understands others, a person to whom they are able to go. He is like a confessor for all of them."
Page 279, Book of All Saints
Most of Fr. Bill's icons are done as commissions, but this original icon of St. Jude was done as a special prayer for cancer patients. It is available for sale, if you are interested please contact us.
November 3rd, 2015
3 card choices for Christmas
1) Our Lady of Maryknoll
In light of Pope Francis recent beautiful Encyclical, "Laudato Si" about our care and concern for "our common home", I chose this icon of the Holy Child lovingly holding our world, for this Christmas.
2) Hagia Hesychia : Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence
This is my version of an enigmatic, beautiful 19th century Angelic icon who represents the young Jesus, and a call, especially in Advent, into a contemplative place within us.
3) The Holy Family of Bethlehem
Less than two miles from the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem is the Holy Family Hospital . What a privilege to create this icon for this extraordinary maternity hospital that serves women and men of all faiths.
October 8th, 2015
St Teresa of Avila:Doctor of the Church
(she is shown with the hands of Christ)
This year is the 500th Anniversary of Teresa's birth in 1515
"One day while I was in prayer, the Lord decided to show me just his hands.
I could never describe such beauty! The vision shocked me. I am always frightened when God gives me a new supernatural favor. A few days after this, he showed me his divine face, and I was completely absorbed.
Since the Lord would ultimately grant me the favor of seeing him whole, I wondered why he chose to reveal himself little by little. Later I understood that his Majesty was giving me exactly as much as my delicate nature could handle ...
Why, may you ask, does it require such strength to see some hands and a face? Glorified bodies are so exquisite that a mere glimpse of such supernatural beauty leaves a soul dazzled and confused. At first, this vision stirred intense fear in me. But the agitation soon melted into a sense of calm certainty and peace."
Teresa of Avila : The Book of My Life
Translated by Mirabai Starr
New Seeds Books
Used with permission