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
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.