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The Servant of God Father Pedro Arrupe SJ

November 11th, 2021

The Servant of God Father Pedro Arrupe SJ

The Servant of God Father Pedro Arrupe, SJ
“There is only Christ : He is everything and He is in everything.”
Colossians 3:11
“Grant me, O Lord, to see everything now with new eyes,
to discern and test the spirits that help me read the signs
of the times, to relish the things that are yours and to communicate
them to others. Give me the clarity of understanding that you gave
to Ignatius.”
Fr Pedro Arrupe, SJ
“My way of depicting Jesus is rooted in my being a Japanese novelist. I wrote this book for the benefit of Japanese readers who have no Christian tradition of their own and who know almost nothing about Jesus...The religious mentality of the Japanese is - responsive to one who ‘suffers with us’ and ‘who allows for our weaknesses,’ but their mentality has little tolerance for any kind of transcendent being who judges humans harshly, then punishes them. In brief, the Japanese tend to seek in their gods and buddhas a warm-hearted Mother rather than a stern father. With this fact always in mind I tried not so much to depict God in the father-image that tends to characterize Christianity, but rather to depict the kind-hearted maternal aspect of God revealed to us in the personality of Jesus.”
From “A Life of Jesus” - 1973 by Shusaku Endo
Last January I received an email from Mr Mark Mongelluzzo the Director of Development at Xavier High School in New York City. It was a request for an icon of Fr Pedro Arrupe, SJ, the 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus (from 1965 to 1983) and the only Spanish Basque General since St Ignatius. The model Mark suggested that the school wanted, is the iconic photograph of Fr Arrupe kneeling in a Japanese prayer position. Fr Arrupe’s life is intimately tied to Japan from his arrival in 1938, then living and ministering to a 150 wounded in the horrific atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and becoming the Provincial of Japan in 1954. In 1965 he became Superior General and was much beloved. I think the main reason we all love that photo is it’s not only a picture of his prayer but also his deeply profound humility. It’s a picture that actually draws you into a prayer. And this is also the purpose of an icon. If you attempt to copy a photo exactly, you can only fail, but if you try to reinterpret it then, you might be able to bring something new to the understanding of this holy man.
At the age of 24, I was a young Jesuit Scholastic, teaching art and theology at Regis High School in Denver. I was in St Louis because Fr Arrupe was making one of his visits to the United States but I never expected to meet him personally . I stepped into an elevator in Jesuit Hall, on the campus of St Louis University, and right in front of me stood Fr Arrupe. I was so shocked, and undoubtedly it showed. I could hardly speak. He took my hand, squeezed it with a big smile, and said “It’s okay dear !” His gentleness and compassion, as well as the humorous twinkle in his eye... I can still feel today. What a great gift now, to be able to paint him and his gentle, strong, loving spirit. The moment I saw Mark’s email I knew I had to honor his love of Japan and try to bring the beautiful Japanese style into the icon, as well as the impression of Jesus that Shusaku Endo gives us in his “Life of Jesus.” There are three orbs in this icon; for the Blessed Trinity. First the halo designating his holiness, then the Moon which in Catholic symbolism is always Mary (the reflected light of her Son Jesus) and finally, the circular symbol on his heart, the Holy Name of Jesus. The Greek letters in the colored rectangular shapes, say “Holy (Pedro) Peter.”
While painting (writing) this icon I was thinking of all the students passing by this image and hoping they will stop just for a moment to connect with the incredible saintly man who once was asked by a journalist: “Who is Christ for you ?”
“For me,” said Fr Arrupe, “Jesus Christ is everything!”
May the Most Holy Trinity, through the intercession of The Servant of God Fr Pedro Arrupe, SJ, continue to bless you all !
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 August 2021

St John the Forerunner

November 11th, 2021

St John the Forerunner

St John the Forerunner (the Baptist)
🎶 “Well, get up John go down to the Jordan / get up John prepare the way/ Man from Galilee is waiting / You must meet him there today/
Get up John go tell my people / This will be a holy day / Tell them of the Jew that’s waiting / That the Savior’s on his way/
John / You’ve been chosen / John / Go unafraid / John / I’ll go with you / John the Baptist / This is the day/ Well get up John go tell Jerusalem / Savior’s waiting on the shore / Baptize him in the river Jordan / I’ll send a Dove from Heaven’s door/
John / You’ve been chosen / John / Go unafraid / John / I’ll go with you / John the Baptist / This is the day/ Well get up John / Your work is finished / Daylight breaks the soldiers come / You will die for me tomorrow / Welcome home your race is run /John / You’ve been chosen / John / Go unafraid / John / I’ll go with you / John the Baptist / This is the day. “
By Bill Monroe 1953
(sung by Emmylou Harris’ live album “At the Ryman” 1992)
This icon was commissioned by Fr Svetozar Kraljevic at the time he was living in Medjugorie . On my first visit there (I was blessed by my late friend Mimi, to be taken there 4 times) one evening Fr Svet drove up to the house where we were staying . He said he wanted an icon of Our Lady of Medjugorie (Croatian, Medugorska Gospa or Queen of Peace, Kralijica Mira) I was hesitant because an icon is rather formal and having met a few of the visionary’s and listening to them describe Mary’s radiant youthful unearthly beauty, I was naturally intimidated. I told Fr Svet no one could create that kind of beauty- inside and out - that has been given to Mary. But he insisted saying that no one sees the apparitions of Mary except the few. He said they need an icon to gaze into, even though there are very “realistic” pictures and statues of Mary all over the area. So I went ahead and created two icons; the second was John the Baptist because the first apparition occurred on the feast of the Birth of John the Baptist, June 24 (1981); signaling that Mary is the Prophet preparing us for the return of Christ as King. Medjugorie has been under investigation since 1981, and yet since 1981 over 40 million people have made the pilgrimage to this tiny village in Bosnia, Herzegovina. Pope Francis is skeptical of the longevity of the apparitions (they are still going on today) but believes in the initial ones. He did say that there are millions of people who go there, convert and change their lives, “this is a spiritual and pastoral fact that cannot be denied.” So the official position of the church is not to approve or condemn the apparitions as being supernatural. I myself felt her presence there. I can only describe it as the feeling when somehow you know, when someone is looking at you, right near or behind you, and you turn around or toward them and see them. I felt that way. And when we’d leave for example, to go to Dubrovnik, her presence was gone. As soon as we’d return, I felt her again. I’m sure if you talk to anyone who has “been called” to make the pilgrimage, they will have many stories to tell you. When Mimi asked me to go with her and a friend I was very skeptical, but I cannot deny after my 4 visits, that the desire to come ever closer to God, and a perpetual desire for conversion; these continue to lovingly touch my life since my first visit.
The tradition of icons is that almost always the artist does not sign the work because it is believed the Holy Spirit is the author/painter. I have several books of Greek, Russian and Siberian icons. I saw this beautiful, powerful icon of St John the Forerunner in a Greek book, signed by the Greek master iconographer Michail Damaskenos 1530-1595. It is such an honor to attempt to copy any of the exquisite masterpieces of the past. You live with the presence of the iconographer and you learn so much by looking into their work, during the time it takes you to complete the copy. I have my favorites, of course St Andrei Rublev, Dionisius the Wise of the Novgorod school, Simon Ushakov the 17th century master who was so influenced by the west, that an archpriest Avvakum regarded his icons as “lascivious works of the devil.” Then there are the Greeks, Michail Damaskenos, Photios Kontoglu, and finally, my Russian American teacher, Friar Robert Lentz, OFM. At this “kairos time” in my life I find myself very drawn to Dionisius the Wise, and wish I could just spend the rest of my life copying his work ! He is so deceptively pure and simple.
John the Baptist has been painted, sculpted, portrayed in plays, films, and in the Bill Monroe song I began with. A couple of my favorite images of him are in the National Gallery in Washington DC by Andrea del Verrocchio and the Caravaggio in the Nelson Art Gallery in Kansas City, Missouri. John begins the summer with his birthday and ends summer with the feast of his death August 29. I love Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich’s visions of his life, and also the contemporary British historian and theologian, Joan E. Taylor’s book on John. Both women have fed me for years. Who can imagine Jesus’ fear and anguish when he heard of John’s murder ? “ Despite this exalted ministry, the Baptist’s work is one of humility. At the height of his apostolic activity, John does not seek to grow his own ministry apart from the Incarnate Word. He is content directing others to Christ. He aims to make Christ known as he himself fades into the background. Augustine praises John’s clarity in mission : ‘he identified himself, he pointed out the difference between Christ and himself, he humbled himself.’ In our Christian life, we need to imitate St John the Baptist. Whether it be on our lips or in our hearts, we echo the words of the Baptist: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’” (Jn. 3:30) written for “Faith and Culture: The Journal of the Augustine Institute” by Ben Akers. This is also, I believe, the perfect definition of iconography and the mission of iconographers.
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 end of August 2021

Mother of God Asking For Humility

November 11th, 2021

Mother of God Asking For Humility

Mother of God Asking For Humility (The Queenship of Mary)
“From the earliest ages of the Catholic Church a Christian people, whether in time of triumph or more especially in time of crisis, has addressed prayers of petition and hymns of praise and veneration to the Queen of Heaven. And never has that hope wavered which they place in the Mother of the Divine King, Jesus Christ; nor has that faith ever failed by which we are taught that Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, reigns with a mother’s solicitude over the entire world, just as she is crowned in heavenly blessedness with the glory of a Queen.”
Pope Pius XII from the encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam (To the Queen of Heavens)
(On the Feast of the Maternity of the Mother of God, 11 October 1954)
“Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
To thee do we cry poor banished children of Eve (and Adam): to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears . Turn then most gracious advocate thine eyes of mercy toward us. And after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary, pray for us who have recourse to thee.
Amen “
(Traditional prayer)
A most blessed and hopeful feast of the Coronation of the Mother of God !
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 August 2021

San Lorenzo del Fuego

November 11th, 2021

San Lorenzo del Fuego

San Lorenzo del Fuego : (Retablo of St Lawrence of the Fire
The philosophers and the orators have fallen into oblivion; the masses do not even know the names of the emperors and their generals; but everyone knows the names of the the martyrs, better than those of their most intimate friends.
“It is in these terms that Theodoret bishop of Cyrrhus sought to convey the extent of the triumph of Christianity: by the mid-fifth century, the cult of the saints had ringed the populations of the Mediterranean with the intimate invisible friends. ‘The Invisible Friend” - the “Intimate Friend” - these are terms on which Theodoret and his contemporaries dwelt lovingly in relation to the saints ... we shall touch upon the subtle transformation of immemorial beliefs that was involved when Mediterranean men and women, from the late fourth century onwards, turned with increasing explicitness for friendship, inspiration and protection in this life and beyond the grave, to invisible beings who were fellow humans they could invest with the precise and palpable features of beloved and powerful figures in their own society.”
From “The Cult of the Saints : It’s Rise and Function in Latin Christianity”
By Peter Brown
I think just of a few Christian and spiritual writers that for me combine “readability” with deep love, and affection for their subject and the kind of scholarship which sends you to an abundance of other sources, to learn more. Peter Brown, Valentin Tomberg, G.B. Caird, Monika Hellwig, Christopher Pramuk, Dorothee Soelle, James Martin, SJ, William Lynch, SJ, Melissa Raphael, Mirabai Starr, Kathy Hendricks, Noel Dermot O’Donoghue, Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, Iain Matthew (and also a follower of Eknath Easwaren,)Carol Lee Finders ...just a few. If a person can change the world then also a book can change your life.
Anything Peter Brown writes is that way for me. He’s transcendent, I believe, without knowing it. I think some of the great scholarly saints like Thomas Aquinas, or Edith Stein must have been the same way. It seems to me now that any “working-Christian” must often feel the heavy weight of being an Christian apologist to friends and even blood family, concerning beliefs. I believe too, that the desire to share your beliefs/loves comes naturally if you are given a “church-soul” as von Balthasar calls a person who loves the church so much that they speak of her, like people speak of the greatest loves in their lives.
This is how I encounter Peter Brown’s book on the very beginning of the deep love and veneration of the saints. It began with the early martyrs. Just imagine if you were living then, these would be people you either knew or had heard of living near by you; friends, family. They’d be Agnes, Pancratius, Lawrence, Tarcissius, Sebastian, Cecilia.
The legend of the most compassionate Lawrence the Deacon is filled with the “fuego” of the early church, and how they they regarded earthly rulers to be continually passing-fleeting; don’t ever give your soul to them. Yet people have done just that for centuries, and ended up being shadows of themselves and (to them) surprisingly and shockingly betrayed, when the present emperor, always has no clothes.
Lawrence shocked me, as a child, and the older I get the more shocking he becomes. He drags the Roman guards (police) when they demand that he take them to the place where the riches of the church are kept. He goes to a house of the homeless and proudly explains to the proud boys that these homeless, are the treasures of the Church. They are angry and humiliated and arrest Lawrence. He is later sentenced to die, not just for being a Christian but for being so disdaining, so naively cavalier about the reigning few, and his seriously not funny situation; the fact he’d soon be brutally tortured and murdered. But Lawrence wasn’t having any of the imaginary absolutes. Filled and afire with the Holy Spirit, he was reminding them and us, of part of the essence of the Gospel. After his arrest, he was sentenced to die laid upon a gridiron; and burned to death. And to add salt to the wound he managed to joke while being burnt on the gridiron,
“Turn me over, I think I’m done on this side.” If you ponder, really ponder this martyrdom story, concerning today, you’ll find a wealth of things to pray about. I know his legend has never revealed so much to me as it has this year.
St Lawrence is very present and wildly, impossibly relevant as a saint for us today.
I’ll continue to tell you why, but if you really pray about the contemporary graces of his legend it will open you to a possible spiritual reality of our times or any times on earth.
Here’s the story of the creation of this retablo:
“If you take care of the people, they will take care of you.” St Francis
This is a bit exaggerated in my case but in Taos, I loved the people so much and I felt they really loved me too. It was one of the best experience of community I’ve ever, or probably will ever, have. I have never lived in a Matriarchal Society so I had no idea of what that was like. If you think about the concept of a Matriarchal Society, you might begin to imagine what the life and death issues and values might be. There was a teenager in our community who took it upon himself to make sure I had a continual supply of wood for the winter. He was mature beyond his age and approached me with old fashioned reverence, but as an equal; a typically Northern New Mexican intuition about outsiders who for centuries, did not understand or perform a proskyinesis ((bowing low) to their ancient, God-given, wisdom. Lorenzo Herrera was taking a class in woodworking in school. He had made/carved a beautiful retablo board, and brought it to me to paint a retablo of his patron santo . At that time I was living in the guest Casita of a family situated near a well traveled road, and the kids I knew from church, used to honk when they’d drive by. Because I had so many commissions I was not getting to the retablo. I had these beautiful hand-made arched windows in my studio and Lorenzo would drive in and look in my studio window and there would be his retablo, waiting, on the floor up against a cabinet, undone. I finally began because of Lorenzo’s enthusiasm. Now you see the finished retablo, but I can’t say enough about that time (14 years) and how it continues to guide me. Someday I’ll try.
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 August 2021

Our Lady and the Holy Child Visit St Ignatius the Convalescent

November 11th, 2021

Our Lady and the Holy Child Visit St Ignatius the Convalescent
(Celebrating an Ignatian Year 2021-2022, the 500th Anniversary of the conversion of St Ignatius)
“These holy desires were confirmed in 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 likenesses that he had previously had painted in it. Thus, from that hour until August 1553, when this is being written, he never again had even the slightest complicity in matters of the flesh...”
From the Autobiography of St Ignatius
“While preparing the altar, after I had vested, and during Mass, I experienced great interior impulses and wept very copiously and intensely, sobbing violently.
Often I could not speak... During much of this time, before, during and after Mass, I felt and saw clearly that Our Lady was very propitious, pleading before the Father. Indeed during the prayers to the Father and the Son, and at His consecration, I could not but feel or see her, as though she were part or rather portal of the great grace that I could feel in my spirit . At the consecration she showed that her own flesh was in that of her Son...”
From “St Ignatius Spiritual Diary” - 15 February 1544
I remember in the Jesuit Novitiate in Florissant, Missouri, around October 1968, reading Ignatius Spiritual Diary for the first time, it’s only about 37 pages. The two things that stood out for me was his sobbing during Mass, and the most beautiful, enigmatic quote “...she showed that her own flesh was in that of her Son.”
During this year of the 500th anniversary of the conversion of Ignatius I can only repeat what so many famous, saints, artists, musicians, writers, and prophetic political or social leaders have all said and lived : that one person can truly change the world. I think I can say honestly that most all of my icons and images celebrate these people. My friend, theologian, author, musician, husband and father, Christopher Pramuk has written a meditation on Ignatius’ conversion, I’m going to let him speak now.
—————
“…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.”
When I picture Ignatius in May of 1521, recovering from a shattered leg in his family’s castle at Loyola, I cannot help but also see him less than a year later, in the village of Montserrat, trading his fine clothing for a beggar’s tunic, and laying down his sword at the shrine of the Black Madonna. The image of the courtly soldier and romantic “superman” who exchanged his dreams of glory for a beggar’s bowl and pilgrim’s staff is a remarkable thing to behold. Yet it was only a beginning, a first step toward “overcoming oneself” and “ordering one’s life,” as he would later frame the Spiritual Exercises. He was beginning to measure himself by a new norm, a new love, who is Jesus, now bending all his desire toward the service of God and others.
The months of torment and consolation in the cave at Manresa were still to come. The gathering of newfound “companions in the Lord” at the University of Paris was 7 or 8 years in the future. But the initial opening of the heart came on that recovery bed at Loyola. “My life is a mess. My body is broken. Everything that I thought would bring me happiness has left me empty and unfulfilled. Why am I here? For what purpose am I called to live?”
Such questions mark the beginning of the shift from an inflated image of himself as fully in the driver’s seat to a vision of God and God’s love at the center all things. Ignatius would journey to Montserrat no longer thinking of the magnificent exploits he would perform for the king and ladies at court. He was imagining all those things he might do for the love and glory of God.
How ought we to live, to spend our lives, our talents, our freedom? Whom are we called to serve? The vulnerability that Ignatius experienced at Loyola was both physical (depending daily on the care of his sister-in-law and women servants who nursed him back to health) and spiritual (imbibing books on the saints and the life of Christ). It marked a radical turning in Ignatius’s life, we might say, from career to vocation, which means, “to be called from beyond oneself.” Notice the Child Jesus in Fr. Bill’s illustration above, tugging at Ignatius’s sleeve, as if to say, “Come on! Get better, and get up! I have things for you to do!” Ignatius was never alone in his vulnerability and yearning. The care and tenderness of others helped him turn the page on his old way of life and begin to imagine something new.
It seems to me that the global pandemic has exposed our human fragility in a similar way. As perhaps never before, we are experiencing the birth pangs of our own “cannonball moment.” Will we deny our brokenness, our radical need for others, for God, and for the earth, and seek only to return as quickly as we can to “the way things were” before? Or will we discern in this moment of social and planetary crisis the call to imagine and create together a new normal, a radically transformed future? We are not alone, and there is much indeed for us to do.
“The fragility of each one of us,” says Pope Francis, “is a theological place of encounter with the Lord.” Having faith, says Francis, means placing our trust in a God who “can work even through our fears, our frailties, our weaknesses.” One can picture the Jesuit pope, as he says these words, picturing Ignatius examining his life anew on his bed at Loyola.
It turns out that God is not terribly interested in human beings who present themselves to the world as superhuman, invulnerable, above and beyond the care of others. Just as Jesus himself dethrones all such pretensions—gathering companions, seeking out the lost, passing through the total human condition, including suffering, humiliation and death—so does Ignatius abandon such pretensions in his own way when he puts aside his sword and kneels before the altar of Our Lady, all through the night, “with his pilgrim’s staff in his hand.”
What begins to emerge in the journey between Loyola and Montserrat is a spirituality that is countercultural, collaborative, and revolutionary in a nonviolent way. (See the incident on the road with “the Moor,” for example, which nearly incited the headstrong Ignatius to commit murder.) It is the kind of vulnerability, humility, capacity for discernment with others, and readiness to serve that can lead, as it has for many Jesuits, to martyrdom.
In this, our first chapter of the Ignatian Year, consider the possibility that healing, fellowship, and the joy of discovering vocation, may find us, too, on the road from Loyola to Montserrat.
Is there a moment or period in your life that marks a shift from a youthful or pragmatic preoccupation with career to a deepening discovery of vocation?
Has physical suffering, illness, or disability – whether your own or that of someone you love – ever become for you a doorway to reevaluation, transformation, or unexpected grace? Is there a person who especially helped you through that experience? Is there a time when you have been that person for another?
Much of the earliest part of Ignatius’s story focuses on his individual strivings to make a name for himself, prior to his intensive experiences of God in the natural world, in community, in spiritual conversation with others. Are there similar chapters or phases of spiritual discovery in your life, e.g., between the individual and the communal, the youthful and the older, the active and the contemplative?
—————
A Blessed feast of St Ignatius !
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 31 July 2021

St Edith Stein - Patroness of Europe

November 11th, 2021

St Edith Stein - Patroness of Europe

St Edith Stein : Patroness of Europe
“Let go of your plans. The first hour of your morning belongs to God.
Tackle the day’s work that He charges you with, and He will give you
the power to accomplish it.”
Edith Stein (St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)*12 October 1891 - 9 August 1942
The saints have always been a huge part of my life, since I was very young, maybe 5 years old, when someone gave me the 4 little books by Fr Daniel Lord, SJ, called “Little Lives of the Saints.” At age 19 I entered the Jesuit Novitiate In Florissant, Missouri, on September 1, 1968. It might have been the next morning , I went outside into the Jesuit Cemetery to find Fr Lord’s grave and I thanked him for my vocation. People often tell me I know a lot about the saints, but truthfully, I just know the major feast days and a few of the thousands of Irish, Russian and Greek saints, thanks to my 31 years as an iconographer. Someone like my friend, publisher of Orbis Books and author, Robert Ellsberg...he really knows the saints ! His brilliant books on the saints are informative and wonderful. You could spend that “first hour in the morning” reading one of his many books about the saint of the day. The saints come to you to give you something and the one that has the power to almost instantly calm me down, is Edith Stein, the martyr of Auschwitz. So I keep her picture on my “prayer wall” and look at her every day. Around this time every year, it becomes the season of Edith and Franz Jagerstatter (see the new exquisitely heartbreaking film by Terrence Malick, “A Hidden Life”) who died on the exact same day, 9 August, one year after Edith and Rosa.
I won’t be able to tell Edith’s story here, but you can easily look her up on the internet. I like everything about her, but especially the fact she had to fuse together so many contradictory parts of herself into one. She was a Jewish woman born on Yom Kippur, a temporary atheist, a philosopher, writer, feminist, Catholic convert and finally a Carmelite nun and martyr. She managed to keep all these parts in tension without dropping a single one ... except of course atheism. And I love her humor. One of the Carmelites who knew her well, said she’d be the first one to laugh out loud if you told her she was going to be a saint. She knew she had a destiny, a vocation, but only began to grasp what it was when Hitler came into power in Germany. As she and her sister Rosa, (not a convert but was staying at the Convent when the SS guards arrived to take them away) were put on the train to Auschwitz, Edith dropped a postcard out the train widow, which actually did get to the Carmelites, that simply said “Going east...” Others on the same train had no idea of where they were headed but Edith knew. Her “calming power” was never as powerful, I think, as that day of arrival at Auschwitz, 9 August 1942. A survivor tells the story of mothers rocking in the fetal position, incapacitated by sheer incomprehensible terror and shock; their children scattered all over and terrified too. Edith sought out the children and for the few hours they had left, combed their hair, held them and gently calmed them.
Another dear friend and also a brilliant theologian and author, Christopher Pramuk introduced me to the work of Melissa Raphael a professor of Jewish Theology at the University of Gloucestershire, UK who also teaches Jewish thought at Leo Baeck College in London. She has written a book which I’m reading now and I cannot begin to say enough about it : “The Female Face of God in Auschwitz.” The stories she tells about the extraordinary compassionate strength of many women and the way they supported one another are tragic, beautiful and unforgettable. It is a deeply reverent book, one that automatically brings you into prayerful meditation; as accounts of any martyrs do naturally. The description from Amazon books says, “The dominant theme of post-Holocaust Jewish Theology has been that of the temporary hiddenness of God, interpreted as either a divine mystery or, more commonly, as God’s deferral to human freedom. But traditional Judaic obligations of female presence, together with the traditional image of the Shekhinah as a figure of God’s ‘femaleness’ accompanying Israel into exile, (in the Hebrew Scriptures such as Exodus, Numbers, etc..) seem to contradict such theologies of absence. “The Female Face of God in Auschwitz,” the first full-length feminist theology of the Holocaust, argues that the patriarchal bias of post-Holocaust theology becomes fully apparent only when women’s experiences and priorities are brought into historical light. Building upon the published testimonies of four women imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau...it considers women’s distinct experiences of the holy in relation to God’s perceived presence and absence in the camps. God’s face, says Melissa Raphael, was not hidden in Auschwitz, but intimately revealed in the female face turned towards the other as a refractive image of God, especially in the moral protest made visible through material and spiritual care for the assaulted other.”
“O my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage, and strength to serve You.
Enkindle Your love in me and then walk with me along the next stretch of road
before me. I do not see very far ahead, but when I have arrived where the horizon now closes down, a new prospect will open before me, and I shall meet it with peace. Amen”
St Edith Stein
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 Mid-Summer 2021

Mother of Fairest Love

November 11th, 2021

Mother of Fairest Love

Mother of Fairest Love (Theotokos Kasperovskaya)
“I am the Mother of fairest love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue...”
Eccelesisaticus, 24 : 24-25
“They got a name for the winners in the world, I, I, want
a name when I lose ...”
“Deacon Blues” by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen
“Brothers and sisters : That I Paul, might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12: 7-10
Around 1995, my Mother, Marjory commissioned an icon from me for a young couple she had met and felt they needed heavenly support. I had a beautiful book of Russian icons and I had her pick her favorite one. She chose this icon called “the Kasperov Icon.” So, as a surprise I chose another icon (Mother of God Rejoicing: the Pelagontissa Icon) for the couple and painted/wrote this one for her. Instead of the highly ornamented border in the prototype (original) I placed the name of my Father ... Stephen, and me and my siblings; Stephen, Robert, William, Mary, Marjory around the Mother of God and Child.
I will turn 72 this Saturday, 10 July. It was a full moon the night I was born and so I’ve always loved the moon, and you will see her in many of my images and icons. I’ve been preparing for my birthday by joking that , “I’d like to be like Gandalf the Grey turning into Gandalf the White; not Saruman the White.” One of the many gifts Dad gave me was, that’s what he did. He made the choice to be a kind older man, not the cranky, mean n’ frightened one. Now that I’m older too, I see how much it is a choice and how difficult a practice, (as the Buddhists say) this is. I’m certainly not there yet, I’ve had a few melt-downs on the way .... but I’m choosing this way, day by day. It does take practice for me. Dad also taught me how to lose everything and continue on, gradually ... finally gracefully. I would not be able to know the kind of love portrayed in these tenderness icons without feeling that extremely powerful and delicate love of my Mom. From each of my siblings, I have watched them love their children and now grandchildren, with this exact kind of fierce, gentle, passionate and forgiving unconditional love.
The reading from 2 Corinthians was from last Sunday. It hit me with a difficult and hard kind of healing. The word of God is so alive, you can hear a passage for years and then one day, it comes right at you. As a priest we have the same choice when we age; to become kinder or live with bitterness and anger. I’ve seen both in my life as a Jesuit, and these past 19 years as a diocesan priest.
But I promise to keep trying. This is my birthday prayer this year. As my late friend Fr Jim Janda wrote at the very end of his one woman play “Julian” about Lady Julian of Norwich:
“Life is a precious thing to me
and a little thing:
my life is a little thing,
when it will end here
is God’s secret.
And the world
is a little thing,
like a hazelnut
in his - her hand -
but it is in his ever-keeping,
it is in his ever-loving,
it is in his ever-making,
how should anything be amiss ?
Yes, all shall be well,
and all will be well,
‘and thou shalt see thyself
that all manner of thing
shall be well.’
I pray God grant you
all your good wishes,
desires, and dreams -
it is all in the choosing,
it is all in the asking.”
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 July 2021

Holy Priest Anonymous One of Sachsenhausen

November 11th, 2021

Holy Priest Anonymous One of Sachsenhausen

Holy Priest Anonymous One of Sachsenhausen
“Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;my eye is wasted with grief, my soul and body also.
Strong as I am, I stumble because of my inequality,and my bones waste away.
I am the scorn of my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors... I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have come to be like something lost.
Yes, I hear many whispering- terror on every side- as theyscheme together against me, to take my life...”
A rereading of part of Psalm 31
As June ends this year, Pride Month too, I am deeply aware of all those, like this Anonymous Priest ... who came before us. We all “stand on the shoulders of these giants.” They do not deserve to be “like something lost,” as the King David cries in Psalm 31, but to be remembered.
And now the story of this icon, from the book “The Men With The Pink Triangle,” by Heinz Heger. (I have to delete some words because of internet rules.)
“Toward the end of February, 1940, a priest arrived in our block, a man some 60 years of age, tall and with distinguished features. We after discovered that he came from Sudetenland, from an aristocratic German family. He found the torment of the arrival procedure trying, particularly the long wait naked and barefoot outside the block. When his tonsure was discovered after the shower, the SS corporal in charge took up a razor and said, ‘I’ll go to work on this one myself, and extend his tonsure a bit.’ And he shaved the priest’s head with the razor, taking little trouble to avoid cutting his scalp, quite the contrary.
The priest returned to the day-room of our block with his head cut open and blood streaming down. His face was ashen and his eyes stared uncomprehendingly into the distance. He sat down on a bench, folded his hands in his lap and said softly, more to himself than to anyone else: ‘And yet man is good, he is a creature of God!’ I was sitting beside him and said softly but firmly: ‘Not all men; there are also beasts in human form, whom the devil must have made.’
The priest paid no attention to my words, he just prayed silently, merely moving his lips. I was deeply moved, even though I was by then already numbed by the suffering I had seen and indeed experienced myself. But I had always had a great respect for priests, so that his silent prayer, this mute appeal to God, whom he had called upon for help and strength in his bodily pain and mental torment, went straight to my heart.
Our block Capo, however, a repulsive and brutal ‘green,’ must have reported the priest’s praying to the SS, for our block sergeant suddenly burst into the day-room accompanied by a second NCO, seizing the terrified priest from the bench and punching and insulting him. The priest bore the beating and abuse without complaint, and just stared at the two SS men with wide astonished eyes. This must simply have made them angrier, for they now took one of the benches and tied the priest to it. They started to beat him indiscriminately with their sticks, on his stomach and his sexual organs. They seemed to get more and more ecstatic, and gloated: ‘We’ll drive the praying out of you ! You bum -......!’ The priest collapsed into unconsciousness, was shaken awake and then fell unconscious again. Finally the two sadists ceased their blows and left the day-room, though not without scornfully calling back to the man they had destroyed: ‘Ok, you randy old rat-bag, you can piss with your ..... hole in the future.’ The priest just rattled and groaned. We released him and laid him on his bed. He tried to raise his hand in thanks, but he hadn’t the strength, and his voice gave out when he tried to say ‘thank you.’ He just lay without stirring, his eyes open, each movement contorting his face with pain.
I felt like I was witnessing the Crucifixion of Christ in modern guise. Instead of Roman soldiers, Hitler’s SS thugs, and a bench instead of a Cross. The torment of the Saviour, however, was scarcely greater than that inflicted on one of his representatives nineteen hundred years later here in Sachsenhausen.
The next morning, when we marched to the parade ground, we had almost to carry the priest, who seemed about to collapse again from the pain and weakness. When our block senior reported to the SS sergeant, the later came over to the priest and shouted ‘You filthy ...., you filthy swine, say what you are !’ The priest was supposed to repeat the insults, but no sound came from the lips of the broken man. The SS man angrily fell on him and was about to start beating him once again.
Suddenly the unimaginable happened, something that is still inexplicable to me and that I could only see as a miracle, the finger of God. From the overcast sky, a sudden ray of sunshine illuminated the priest’s face. Out of the thousands of assembled prisoners, only him, and at the very moment when he was going to be beaten again. There was a remarkable silence, and all present stared up fixedly at the sky, astonished by what had happened. The SS sergeant himself looked up at the clouds in wonder for a few seconds, then let his hand raised for beating, sink slowly to his side, and walked wordlessly away to take up his position at the end of his ranks.
The priest bowed his head and murmured with a dying voice: ‘Thank you Lord, I know that my time has come.’
He was still with us for the evening parade. But we no longer needed to carry him, we laid him down at the end of the line with the other dead of the day, so that our numbers should be complete for the roll-call, no matter living or dead.”
(By Heinz Heger)
“But I trust in you, O Lord, I say, ‘You are my God.’
Rescue me from those who persecute me!
I will rejoice and be glad for your unfailing love, because you have cared for me in my distress and have not abandoned me but
have set me free.”
Psalm 31
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 June 2021

Our Lady of Perpetual Help

November 11th, 2021

Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Our Lady of Perpetual Help (The Virgin of the Passion - feast day 27 June)
“It is said that Our Lady of Perpetual Help never refuses a request, no matter how small or frivolous it may seem. Many who have felt unworthy to call on her report hearing a calm voice saying, ‘Why don’t you just ask ?’”
“In the immense cathedral which is the universe of God, each person, whether scholar or manual laborer, is called to act as the priest of his (her) whole life ... to take all that is human, and to turn it into an offering and a hymn of glory.”
“The icon is the last arrow of Human Eros shot at the heart of mystery.”
Paul Evdokimov (2 August 1901 -16 September 1970)
In the pre-Vatican II Catholic world in the United States, the only icon familiar to most of us was Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Statues (or versions of holy figures) the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, St Joseph with the Holy Child, or Joseph the Worker, and the particular patron saint of a church, standing behind glowing red or blue vigil light stands, were in every church. I loved statues and had a collection - beginning with a St Francis, my parents brought me from San Francisco. By the age of 13 I had a collection of about 80. And most people had lovely/lushly illustrated colored holy card art leafed between pages of their missals. These prayer books had the Latin on one side and the English translations on the other. But most of all I was entranced by the artistically beautiful black and white illustrations in the missal. They were drawn by master draughtsmen - usually from Europe but some from the US.
(This icon was commissioned by my dear friend, Nicola (Nicki) Maddox and will one day, be given to the Church of her choice.)
My parents were married on 27 June 1942, so Our Lady of Perpetual Help was always somewhere in the back of my mind. I promised her I’d write/paint her icon in 2005, and finally completed that promise on May 18. I began the drawing in early November 2020. Because the panel I used for the icon is 25” x 44” I realized I’d have to extend her gown (maphorion) to fit the length of the panel. It was then I remembered an extended drawing in black and white I’d seen in an old missal. So that became my model. The original icon is Greek and called The Virgin of the Passion. It shows Our Mother looking seriously (icons are usually solemn and that’s one reason some people prefer paintings or illustrated holy card art, I know I did until I seriously studied iconography ) and longingly into our eyes while holding her Child. He has just jumped into her arms so one sandal is dangling off his foot. The Archangels Michael and Gabriel are brining the instruments of the Passion for him to see...the lance, the sponge, the Cross, some versions included the Crown of Thorns. My teacher Friar Robert Lentz, OFM did an absolutely brilliant version of this icon placing Holy New Martyr St Oscar Romero in the place of the Mother of God and helicopters act as the instruments of the Passion, replacing the Archangels. Robert is so creatively inspired and often has a very unique way of finding a saint that no one had yet been asked to portray. This icon preceded St Oscar’s canonization. He has the ability of Daniel Berrigan, SJ to cause you to rethink a gospel parable or the iconography of a new saint. Daniel collaborated on a book with me called “The Bride: Images of the Church”, from 2000. I chose the title because one of Dan’s first books was “The Bride: Essays in the Church” from 1959.
During the writing of this icon I ordered a book on Our Lady of Perpetual Help, called “The Story of An Icon” by Fr Fabriciano Ferraro, C.S.s.R. I was amazed at how many versions were created of this icon. My preference is the icon in the church of St Alphonsus in Rome, “... The results of the carbon 14 dating analysis put the wood of the icon between the 14th and 15th centuries (1325 -1480). On the other hand the artistic analysis tended to put the icon into the 18th Century because of the Cretan-Venetian influences that are evident in it...This has given rise to the suggestion that when the original colours began to fade and the wood to warp, it was decided to copy the precious original on to the back of the same wood.”
Fr Ferrero
If you would like further reading/meditation on this icon I’d suggest this book.
I love the dark blue of the maphorion of the Mother of God, with flashing gold lines (assist) and the teal blue/green of the Child’s chiton (a garment that looks like a long shirt). Because of the complexity of this icon, and no doubt my age (!) I worked many months to complete it. I asked my friend in Taos, the Master Woodworker, Roberto Lavadie to create a frame with roses all round it. Usually, as with the icon “The Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church” we keep the natural color of the wood. When I brought the icon to Taos, Roberto, his wife Carol and son Jose’ and I were having coffee together and suddenly I imagined the frame to be painted deep red. I think it turned out very beautiful. You can see both the framed and unframed pictures on my website.
The Redemptorists have always brought this particular Marian devotion into the world, and that of St Gerard Majella as well. My favorite writer on icons, Paul Evdokimov, once called icons “glass torches” in his book “The Art of the Icon : A Theology of Beauty.” I read this book in 1990 just as I was beginning my iconographic apprenticeship here in Albuquerque. This idea of a glass torch I intuitively understood, and that has been my dream, my hope. If only one out of the 320 images and icon turns out to be a glass torch for the Church; this is enough for me.
Once again to quote Our Lady of Perpetual Help, “Why don’t you just ask ?”
Abundant blessings

St Anthony Heals the Sick

November 11th, 2021

St Anthony Heals the Sick

St Anthony Heals the Sick (feast day 13 June)
“Dear Anthony, you have always helped those who invoked you. I fervently pray for a sick person so dear to me. I beg you to obtain for him/her the gift of healing, or at least to ease his/her pain and find inside him/her the strength to offer those tribulations to the Lord in union with the Passion of Jesus Christ. You, who in your earthly life were a friend of the suffering and supported them with your deep charity and your gift of miracles, be close to us through your protection, console our hearts and turn our physical and mental suffering into a source of merit for the eternal life.
Amen”
Prayer from the Basilica of St Anthony in Padua, Italy
Here’s another prayer.....
“never known to fail, provided that the request is for one’s spiritual benefit or for those whom we are praying for. It is important to remember that God always answers our prayers. His response may not be what we expected or wanted, but he always grants us exactly what we need.
O Holy St Anthony gentlest of Saints, your love of God and charity for his creatures, made you worthy, when on earth, to possess miraculous powers. Encouraged by this thought, I implore you to obtain for me (request).
O gentle and loving St Anthony, whose heart was ever full of human sympathy, whisper my petition into the ears of the sweet Infant Jesus, who loved to be folded in your arms. The gratitude of my heart will ever be yours.
Amen”
This icon was commissioned by St Anthony’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado. I also painted/wrote another icon of Anthony holding the Infant Jesus, or actually, Jesus is clinging tightly to him. Another story for another time. But now I think we are in a specific time/need for Anthony the Healer.
In my twenties I was blessed to visit his tomb in Padua, (Anthony was actually from Lisbon, Portugal but is always known as Anthony of Padua). I’ve never seen anything like the people walking by the wall where he is buried and touching it with their hands. It moved me so much. I’m certain that people who visit St Padre Pio or Our Lady of Lourdes have the same experience. I also felt that way visiting the tomb of St Aloysius in the church of Sant Ignazio in Rome ... and yet I was alone. I wrote down names of people who were sick with HIV/AIDS on little pieces of paper and stuck them into the bricks near St Aluigi Gonzaga. He is known in Italian as Luigi, but his own signature, we still have, is Aluigi.
Anthony was my Mom’s favorite saint and happens to be the most popular of all the millions of saints. He’s known for finding things that are lost. Mom always told us “He doesn’t exactly find it for you; he tells you where to look.” Last year in the middle of the pandemic, before the election, I lost my wallet and I felt him tell me to give up, it was gone. I forgive him because the address on my driver’s license was in Arroyo Seco, up North, 17 miles from Taos, and if I hadn’t gotten a new one I couldn’t have voted down here in Albuquerque.
I know that we all have several people that need healing. This year St Anthony follows the feast days of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I promise to ask God during Mass tomorrow to answer all your prayers even if I have never met you ... God knows what you need.
A blessed feast of Anthony ‼️
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 June 2021

 

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