August 1st, 2017
"...I wish to thank you for your kind letter and the copy you enclosed of your painting of the Deposition. Your reproduction is most impressive and the theme - amor, muerte, vida -is inspiring. I would be quite anxious to see the original painting, for, as I suspect, it must be truly awe inspiring. I was humbled by the fact that you chose my picture as a model for the Jesuit laboring under the burden of Christ. I pray that the Spirit will enlighten and strengthen me to shoulder or 'take on' Christ more completely.
I am pleased with the work you and your fellow artists are doing. In many ways you have re-opened a door to inspired creativity that releases the human spirit from materialistic bondage as it searches for its Creator; thereby you have performed a noble service in your dedication to the following of your chosen apostolate..."
Fr Pedro Arrupe, SJ
Personal correspondence from
December 17, 1975
"I Come With Three Wounds : Llego ' Con Tres Heridas"
(Finding God In All Things)
Often I reference music . It's been a huge part of my life and I think most everyone 's life . My Mom had 78's going continually on the phonograph, she loved Nat King Cole, Perry Como,and Mario Lanza, Rosemary Clooney ... I can still hear her singing "Young At Heart" with Sinatra, this was before we had the 33 and 45 records. My brother Steve had a swing band orchestra , and a Jazz combo, with my other brother Bob on trumpet. They would practice in our basement and I'd sit on the stairs and hear those beautiful melodies of the "crooner era" as well as the genius work of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. I'd go into my brothers' rooms and take their records which included everything from Johnny Mathis, to Camelot , to Elvis etc....and then in 1960 suddenly it seemed, out of nowhere came Joan Baez. To my ears it sounded as if a lonely prophet had made a record for all the suffering souls in our land and world, singing with a strong,fierce, incredibly powerful, plaintive voice - with one guitar and a kind of majestic, noble and ethereal beauty. It's difficult to imagine her solitary impact or her deep effect on an 11 year old boy. Of course there were other folk singers before her , but she was the first one I heard. Joan Baez is still a noble and respected prophet to me. Gradually Beatniks turned into Hippies and the Beatles brought a world change, so much so, that me, a 16 or 17 year old boy in Denver was riding around in the car listening to the sitar and becoming aware of completely different and exotic sounds as well as (through osmosis) other world religions.
In 1974 while I was teaching Art at Regis High in Denver Joan Baez put out her first full Spanish Album "Gracias a la Vida." Ultimately, this would lead me to a deep love and reverence for the Hispanic cultures and specifically to live in New Mexico.
One song on that album was Llego' Con Tres Heridas : I Come With Three Wounds; one of love, one of death, one of life , a poem by Miguel Hernandez who died in Spain in the civil war. During a lonely dark spiritual time I decided to paint an oil painting about what it was like in the world ( Good Friday, Holy Saturday...)when Jesus was dead, because I couldn't feel him. St Therese was once seen (unbeknownst to her) knocking on the tabernacle door saying "Jesu! Are you there !?"
At that time Fr Pedro Arrupe was General of the Jesuits (I was so blessed to meet him "accidentally" in an elevator in St Louis) and I chose his likeness for the man taking down Christ (in art this is called a "Deposition")from the Cross. The sun is eclipsed overhead just as the Gospels describe. The man is struggling to hold him and lets out a cry of grief. I painted him in stripes because in Isaiah the prophet says "...by his stripes (flagellation marks) we are healed," Isaiah 53:5. I sent a copy of the painting to Fr Arrupe and he responded with one of the most humble and beautiful letters I have ever received. The letter is framed and is still next to the painting in the Regis Jesuit Community Chapel. Not only because Fr Arrupe was Basque as was St Ignatius, but we all (well not all, some did not like him) felt he was "kinda" St Ignatius "reincarnated." He fit the description that St Philip Neri, and centuries later Adrienne von Speyr gave of Ignatius. Both saw him as sun-like, emanating light and the love of God . Adrienne said nobody points to God with such shrewd intelligence as Ignatius. Fr Arrupe was exactly that way in his radiance and you felt (as you also did with St John Paul II) that you actually stepped into his sphere of sanctity. There are those people who do not hold back their love, because their love has become transformed into a direct way for God to reach you.
One time I was giving a power point show on my early art and the later images and icons, and I spoke about this 1975 painting. I said I was in a very dark time and didn't feel Jesus was alive for me. A woman raised her hand and said "But look. He's kissing the man on the head!" Even though I was the painter I never realized that until she showed me. That was a powerful lesson for me, that people when they spend the time contemplating a picture or icon, can teach you so much about your own work.
Fr Bill McNichols
31 July 2017
Feast of Holy Father St Ignatius Loyola
July 26th, 2017
The Shrine of St Anne
This was a commission for the Church in Arvada, Colorado with the name The Shrine of St Anne. They were having their 75th Anniversary and I opened my book of Greek Icons and found this lovely depiction of Grandmother Anne holding her daughter Mary, holding the Christ Child. To me it looked so childlike and yet Anne looked so elegant too. The only change I made was to have Anne pointing to the Child...as adult images of Mary shown deferring to Jesus with such profound humility. So it seemed a wonderful way of showing through this icon that St Anne is herself, the shrine. At that time I was reading Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich's life of Christ where she begins with lives and tribulations of many of Jesus' ancestors. For some people these private revelations are no more than novels because they are not in the Bible. But for me they are very much worth contemplating because they are fleshed out so intimately that the soul is nourished by reading them. In our tradition over the centuries many holy women have been given these revelations like St Bridget of Sweden, Anne Catherine Emmerich, Maria Cecilia Baij, Maria of Agreda, Maria Valtorta, and Adrienne von Speyr to name a few. Each one brings you something, and I think of them as "homilies" born of great devotion and prayer. As long as you know they are not the Hebrew Bible or the Gospels there is no harm in praying with them. For instance, Bridget talks of seeing the Holy Family gathered at their humble table with not enough to eat. Maria Baij tells of three stars appearing above the house of St Joseph, the night he was born to foretell that the "earthly three or trinity" was just beginning. Maria Valtorta sees St Joseph give the Child Jesus his first carpentry lesson. Anne Catherine watches the Passion of Christ which was so awfully powerful, that when the great Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins heard it read by a Jesuit when the community was at table, he broke down sobbing. So one great inspiration feeds another. The legend of St Anne and St Joachim and the birth of Mary has never been painted so beautifully as by Giotto di Bondone in the Enrico Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy (dedicated 25 March 1305). I love the image of the Archangel Gabriel flying through St Anne's window, and St Joachim asleep being visited by the Archangel too. Then the couple joyfully meeting and kissing under the Golden Gate.
Here is a shortened version of a litany to St Anne (who is often lovingly invoked in French Canada to find a spouse)
Good St Anne, Mother of Mary, and Spouse of St Joachim,
Pray for us
Steadfast St Anne, Miracle of Patience,
Pray for us
Holy St Anne, Ark of the Covenant and
Root of Jesse
Pray for us
Gracious St Anne, Dawn of Hope and
Consolation of the Afflicted
Pray for us
Glorious St Anne, Rose of Nazareth and
Grandmother of the Messiah
Pray for us
Fr Bill McNichols
26 July 2017
July 21st, 2017
St Mary Magdalen : Contemplative of Contemplatives
22 July 2017
"This is the kind of story," Dorothy wrote, "that infuriates those who term us superstitious."
Dorothy Day : The World Will Be Saved By Beauty
By Kate Hennessy
Perhaps a better word or concept of/for piety, is the Hindu notion of Bahkti which is a Sanskrit word referring to a very warm, devotional and loving means of practicing or praying. It's difficult to describe it's so bodily too. I think especially of the 15th century Hindu poet Mirabai's ecstatic poems of devotion to the "Dark One," Krishna. Piety is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and we ask for this gift. Piety sours into something awful when we impose our personal devotions on others. We've all experienced this self-righteous imposition, or we might have done it ourselves to others in a phase of zeal gone blind. Dorothy's daughter Tamar spoke of this painful (for and to others) period of Dorothy's extended conversion. The only check to this kind of soul-abuse is to be aware of our sinfulness (for me the best example is Pope Francis) which can humble you and, in a word or phrase I'd say - it's better to avoid "finger wagging piety" by way of inviting people to share what you love.
My first picture of St Mary Magdalen was the Crucifixion I drew at age 5. I also put her image in Beato Fra Angelico's icon and the first icon I created of her was called Apostle to the Apostles, her title in the Eastern Churches. Then recently I did a round third icon of the legend of Mary Magdalen preaching to Pontius Pilate after the Resurrection. Now I have a fourth icon commissioned of her also. When I was commissioned to do the second icon I remembered those beautiful Giotto paintings of her being lifted daily to heaven by the Angels. These images come from legends of her life I found in Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich's Life of Christ and in a biography of Mary Magdalen by Edith Filliette who founded the Mary Magdalen Society in 1979 and died in 1988.
The legends tell of Mary living in a Cave in Sainte Baume, near Marseille and living literally on her very "much alive-memories" of being near Jesus while he was on earth. Testimonies from hardened skeptical witnesses tell of Anne Catherine Emmerich's twelve years of living on nothing but Holy Communion (the Eucharistic Host).They watched her 24/7 and some became close to her after watching, that they became convinced she was "the real thing".
I guess for me these stories are about a love of God so overwhelming that this love is only fed by God. Don't you have times you are so hungry for God and the solace of a spiritual life that you blame everyone and everything around you for not being enough? And then you turn to God in a prayer and slowly get reconciled to your life again? Reading about Dorothy I see her struggling to put together her personal piety and her mission to renew the church like St Francis. Like Mary Magdalen she was an apostle and a contemplative. I'm going to close with a prayer very dear to St Ignatius, who's feast is coming closer, and a prayer which verbalizes this kind of love : (PS for those who like music I think kd lang must've known this prayer when she wrote "Wash Me Clean" it has the same imploring yet uplifting quality ...)
The Anima Christi
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within thy wounds, hide me
Permit me not to be separated from thee
From the wicked foe, defend me
At the hour of my death, call me
And bid me to come to thee
That with thy saints I may praise thee
Forever and ever...
Fr Bill McNichols
22 July 2017
Send your Holy Spirit to give us the apostolic gift of piety.
St Mary Magdalen and Servant of God Dorothy Day, please be the new patrons of all of us trying to put together so many contradictions in ourselves and especially at this moment in our troubled times. Watching you ,dear heavenly friends, we know this is possible.
Amen... for now
July 14th, 2017
Our Lady of Mt Carmel : 16 July 2017
"As soon as the reader has penetrated to the substance of this book, he will understand why it is dedicated to Our Lady of Mt Carmel. It is chiefly concerned with the doctrine of the Carmelite theologian, St John of the Cross. Then again under her title (among others ) of Our Lady of Mt Carmel the Blessed Virgin is venerated as patroness of contemplatives and, above all, those who try to share with others the fruits of their contemplation. The whole aim of the Order founded in her honor is to enable its members to reach the height of contemplation under her guidance and to bring others to the same end, aided by her intercession.
There is no member of the Church who does not owe something to Carmel. But there are few who owe more to the saints of Carmel and to its Queen than does the author. Above all, this book was written, so to speak, under her direction and tutelage."
From the introduction to:
The Ascent To Truth
Thomas Merton 1951
"This was the first time I had been struck by such a feeling of spirituality in anyone who professed Christianity."
The Dalai Lama
A blessed feast of Our Lady of Mt Carmel to all those who love Our Mother and anyone "living in the what" John of the Cross calls the Dark Night... and anyone still seeking, trying to live within a life of prayer. So many of us feel this is a life-long journey. So let's never give up (!) because God blesses all our attempts to come closer to His infinite love.
Fr Bill McNichols
July 7th, 2017
Looking For God Outside and Within :Self Portraits With Symbols 1977 and 2014
In the time of selfies it's probably not necessary to explain why artists have long been commissioned to paint portraits or why they have looked into themselves to find something of the mystery of the meaning of their lives. There is a long tradition of painters placing themselves in their art, such as Beato Fra Angelico, Artemisia Gentileschi, El Greco, Michelangelo, or doing self portraits like Durer, Rembrandt, Mary Cassatt, Edvard Munch, Van Gogh and of course, Frida Kahlo and Joni Mitchell, are some of the most widely known.
I began my first Self Portrait With Symbols in 1977 strongly influenced by the Russian children's book artist Ivan Bilibin (1876-1942). I first discovered his illustrations while teaching high school art at Regis High School, and I fell in love with his drawings and paintings too. On the covers of many of his children's book he would surround the central image with little boxes of flowers, goblins or whatever enhanced the fairy tale.
This Russian tradition began with what is called "talking icons" where the Saint is surrounded by small images from his or her life. This is actually the beginning of children's books. I could go on and on about my favorite illustrators, but I guess the question is why do a self portrait as a cover for a children's story and where did it lead? At that time my dream was to be an illustrator and I really had no idea that two of my favorite artists El Greco and Ivan Bilibin had anything to do with Icons.
In his extraordinary autobiography, "Balancing Heaven and Earth" the great-souled Jungian master Robert Johnson has an honestly-lived theory that God calls some people to be "claimed by the inner life" and if you feel that call, you will be led by "slender threads" which are there for you just in time to lead you to the next part of your life. I did these two self portraits to look into my own beginning of a life as an artist who is also a priest, and then the latter part of trying to live into that continuing mystery. One of the things I have learned is you have to keep something, as Jesus seriously counseled, of the child within you or you cannot see or find the true kingdom of God. When I see my siblings surrounded by grandchildren, I can see God provides this naturally for them. Those without children must work a bit harder to stay young at heart and not become jaded, hard hearted. My prayer for this birthday is to paraphrase the very brief Psalm 131:
O Lord let me not get too stuck in fear or any feelings
inside that stop me from giving You back any gift
You gave to me-to give away.
Make me an "Archer of Love" to send these gifts into the
Church, the Bride and into all the waiting
Then let me rest like a little child in Your arms.
Let me continue to see the wonders of life
as a child and not fall into cynicism or despair.
Open my heart (again and again) to You and the
World of people made for Infinite
Love, which is only You.
10 July 2017
May 26th, 2017
Sadhu Sundar Singh
3 September 1889 - ? April 1929
I met the Sadhu through a book of his writings published in the wonderful series by Robert Ellsberg and Orbis Press the "Spiritual Masters". Then I read the beautiful biography by A.J.Appasamy which spoke of the miraculous meeting of the Sadhu with the tiger, and I couldn't wait to paint this scene from his life. This one event appeared to be symbolic of the life of a man, who ,like St Francis, seemed to bring Christianity back to life again. Today I have been viewing videos of the Sadhu, and wanted to share this image with you.
In April of 1929 he left for a missionary visit to Tibet where he had previously been welcomed and hated too, in fact he had been stoned, and once thrown into a well. This time he did not return. It is assumed he was martyred during that last visit . I believe when you read about this man, you will never forget him, his life has that luminous power of Christ which flows right into you.
Fr Bill McNichols
25 May 2017
May 11th, 2017
Mother of Fairest Love for Mother's Day 2017
In 1995 I had just finished the beautiful book by Carol Lee Flinders, "Enduring Grace : Portraits of Seven Women Mystics" and was inspired to work on Mechtild of Magdeburg. My Mom called concerned about a young couple she had met and wanted me to paint a very tender Mother of God for them. I had her pick her favorite icon out of a book of Russian Icons I showed her. She choose an exquisite version of the Kasperov Icon. The legend of this icon is that it was so ancient and had been naturally darkened by time, that the features were hardly recognizable. One night in February of 1840 the owner of the icon, Mrs Kasperova had been praying to Our Mother in great need and grief, when she noticed the features of the icon begin to emerge. And so she had the icon cleaned and renewed and this began a series of miraculous events through the intercession of the Mother of God.
Because Mom loved this icon I painted another one for the young couple she was interceding for, and secretly painted the Kasperov Icon for her, as a surprise, "For Marjory With Love." I then placed my Dad's name at the top left side and all my siblings names around the icon : Stephen, Robert, me, Mary and Marjory.
A blessed and happy Mother's Day to all Mothers!
Fr Bill McNichols
May 4th, 2017
Blessed Solanus Casey, OFM, Cap
25 November 1870 - 31 July 1957
1982 was the eight hundredth anniversary of St Francis' birth, and so many tributes to Francis happened around that year, including the most incredible and beautiful double album (now on CD) by John Michael Talbot "Troubadour of the Great King." I think I wore out those records more than once. That year the whole world seemed Franciscan and I was invited to create a slide presentation on Francis' life by St Joseph's church in the West Village. Later I was asked to take that same presentation up to the Bronx to a Third Order group of Franciscans started by Fr Andre' Cirino, OFM, which I gradually could not help but join, in 1983. Andre' remains one of the great mentors of my life. It was through these Franciscans I first heard of Solanus. Later I visited his tomb in Detroit, to ask for help in working with the dying. It was in Detroit I found the only book available on Solanus at that time, now a classic, by James Patrick Derum, "The Porter of St Bonaventure's."
Now I believe there are many books, including two wonderful accounts I have read by Catherine Odell and Michael Crosby, OFM, Cap. It was Fr Crosby who commissioned this icon.
The icon shows Fr Solanus with a large soup pot getting ready to feed you , as he fed so many during his life, physically and spiritually. I placed the Blessed Mother in a mandala hovering near him because one of the set of books that nourished him most in his life, was the four volumes of the Mystical City of God , the life of the Mother of God by Venerable Maria of Agreda. I believe I read in the book by Derum, that Solanus read the entire set of books, four times through, on his knees.
During his life there were so many, many miracles, like Padre Pio, that you wonder why it has taken so long for him to be beatified? The letters near him refer to his miracles and gifts of healing... "Holy Solanus Thaumaturgus." He also had a sense of humor and often when people would come to him worrying, or trying to control everything and everyone, he'd say,
"Aren't we going to let God do Anything !!?? "
I think this is enough of an introduction to Fr Solanus. In him you will find a loving guide, friend, and someone who lived in God continually, who always preached one of the great themes of St Francis - Gratitude. Solanus often urged people, as they'd ask for something from Heaven, to have hope and to,
"Thank God ahead of time."
Fr Bill McNichols
4 May 2017
April 28th, 2017
Jesus Christ Seraphic Guardian of the Spilled Blood
Here it is just near the beginning of May and why write a blog about this icon concerning the Wounds? Two reasons :
1) The Season of Easter is the season of the post resurrection appearances of Jesus where he shows us his wounds
2) I am corresponding with a dear Sister in Norwich (Great Britain) who has a metal print of this icon and I owe her an explanation, so ....
I've been meaning to write to you for months, about this icon, but now in the Easter season (as well as Autumn when Francis and Padre Pio received the Wounds) seems to be a good time ......One very curious observation and question ; more women have received the wounds than men. Doesn't this make them a second Christ or an icon or image of Christ? With all these contemporary battles in the church about men and women ...I wonder.
We believe the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead and my understanding of the gospels is that His body was healed of all the horrific damage of His flagellation and crucifixion, except the five wounds. Have you ever wondered why? Well, I have for over 60 years. In the New Mexican Church which is the oldest tradition in the US, over 500 years, there is also a devotion to the shoulder wound, where he carried the Cross, as well as the other five.
I believe my understanding of the passion, blood and wounds of Christ come very early from my elementary teachers, the Sisters of the Precious Blood. These women laid the groundwork of a devotion, quite naturally, (almost like osmosis) and I drew my first Crucifixion at age 5.
Suffice it to say this pull towards the Wounds of Christ, as well as wounded saints, has been the subject of many drawings and paintings in my life . I am most fond of the painting of Francis receiving the Wounds hanging in the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard by Taddeo Gaddi (I once made a retreat in Boston where I visited this painting every day) and of course the Giotto's in Florence and Assisi. This particular two winged Seraph is a copy of a fresco by Giotto I saw in a book in 1992 and cannot find it now, or I'd tell you where to look. Around the same time two events occurred in the News which sparked my desire to paint the Seraph for all those people who are tragically killed and especially the ones no one hears about or knows. The first event was the finding of the Romanov bodies or charred remains in Ekaterinburg, Russia. The second was the violent murder of 22 year old Navy officer Allen Schindler, who was beaten to death because he was gay, by two other fellow shipmates in Sasebo, Nagasaki.
The Russian Orthodox decided to build a church on the spot of the Romanov burial ground called "The Church On The Spilled Blood." I thought to myself , in the west we would never call a church by that graphic, yet profoundly evocative title. Then, I decided to honor every human tragic murder with an icon of Christ which would say in painted form, the words of God in the King James Version of Genesis 4:10 "What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground!"
The late Prophet Daniel Berrigan once said that the first murder in the Bible was a brother killing a brother, and it's been that way ever since.
We all have wounds. Some are hidden, some are even beneficial in that they awaken compassion for others .... and some cause us to wound others. I know for me, mine won't stay hidden so I'm trying to use them to feel the wounds of others as was the idea behind Henri Nouwen's famous book " The Wounded Healer." I'm afraid this is not always the case with Henri or myself. Yet is this the reason the Wounds of Jesus and our wounds do not disappear? Of course Christ was innocent and never intentionally hurt anyone, and as Isaiah said ( 53:5 ) "By his stripes we are healed." Yet we can work toward our wounds being a source of healing for us and others in this way... let me end with one of my favorite stories of the Wounds of St Francis.
The Friars would have to change the bandages that wrapped Francis' stigmata. Instead of disposing of them, they would drop them in buckets of water to feed the sick people and animals and all the "two legged and four legged" (as Native peoples say) creatures would get well.
My intention for this icon was/is that gazing on the Innocent One Wounded By and For Us, would bring about such love for him that we would begin to try and heal one another, not by hiding our wounds, but by using them to see and understand as many forms of human suffering that God wills to show us.
With love and continual gratitude to you dear Sister,
27 April 2017
April 15th, 2017
The Risen Christ Appears to His Mother
We all see Jesus differently, and my image of Jesus was forever and dramatically changed at age 19 when Fr John J Walsh, SJ showed us in the Jesuit Novitiate in Florissant, Missouri, Piero Pasolini’s black and white film made in 1964 : The Gospel According to St Matthew. Before the film was released, the churches were poised and ready to condemn it, as Pasolini was well known to be a gay man with communist leanings. Yet when it finally came out, most churches realized no one had ever made such a stark and beautiful film about Christ and the Catholic Church gave it their annual film award. Like many masterpieces of the past, in art, music and film it’s difficult to re-create the impact this film had on everyone. Pasolini filmed it in the poor hill towns of Italy. It’s as far from a Hollywood Jesus or film about a Him, as you can possibly get. The soundtrack is likewise unique in its use of Bach, the African Mass, Missa Luba, and the Black American spiritual, “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.” I could write a very long time on the impact this one work of art still has on me. But it’s mainly Jesus, played by the only Spaniard in the film, Enrique Irazoqui, that changed me , turned me upside down, inside n’ out and made my love for Jesus burst into flame and grow immensely. Such is the power of the Holy Spirit working through an artist who is empty enough to be used by God.
I’ll just mention two of the film’s unforgettable scenes : one is the Child Jesus running on a beach-like landscape in Egypt, into the arms of the waiting Joseph while Mary looks on with deep love, at a distance. Another is Jesus kneeling in prayer with his head partially covered by a dark mantle, in which your own soul feels and copies His prayer just by watching. I can still see and feel these scenes in my heart and soul.
Although the Gospels are silent about this, St Teresa of Avila and St Ignatius Loyola (out of many, many of church mystics) could not but help imagine that the Risen Lord would appear first of all to His waiting Mother.
Many paintings show a triumphant, even muscular, Risen Lord. And icons generally show Him actively breaking down the gates of death or Hades, trampling the devil, and grabbing the wrists of Adam and Eve - then freeing all the Old Testament saints within.
At the heart of many of the recent Marian Apparitions is a prophecy that the church will undergo death and resurrection, (and then a New Pentecost) to be conformed to its Savior, the Lamb of God. During this Lent and Easter we cannot help but contemplate the staggering new pageant of innocent victims across the world, who in their deaths join the immense Retinue of the Lamb, portrayed in the Apocalypse (book of Revelation). For this reason, I chose to turn for inspiration concerning a Risen Jesus, to one of many of Rogier van der Weyden’s masterpieces, of a “still shaking, visibly vulnerable” Risen Christ appearing to his Mother.
A blessed Joyfilled Easter!
Fr Bill McNichols