Sale on canvas prints! Use code ABCXYZ at checkout for a special discount!
January 22nd, 2021
The Proskynesis of St Stanislaus Kostka (1550 - 1568)
“I find heaven in the midst of saucepans and brooms.” St Stanislaus Kostka
“Born to the Polish nobility, the son of a senator. Attended the Viennese Jesuit College from age 14 with his brother Paul, who badly mistreated him. While staying at the home of a Lutheran, he became gravely ill but was not allowed to call for a Priest. He prayed to his personal patron, St Barbara, who appeared to him in a vision with two angels, and administered Communion. He was then cured from his disease by Our Lady holding the Holy Child who placed Him in Stanislaus’ arms to hold. Our Lady then told him to become a Jesuit, though it was against his family’s wishes. He attended the Jesuit College in Rome and was a friend of St Peter Canisius. Stanislaus became a Jesuit Novice in October 1567, and student of St Francis Borgia...between 3 and 4am of August 15, 1568, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother, he died in Rome.”
(Profile from Catholic Saints and a few additions from me ...)
This is one of my very favorite icons. I was 40 years old when I began my iconographic apprenticeship. It was painted/written, during the loving and intense period of great fervor which lasted (nonstop) for over 10 years; a time when I was painting night and day. The word “proskynesis” means bending low in adoration. Since St Stanislaus was so young when he died, I wanted to show him as not too much larger than the Holy Child. I was commissioned to paint/write several Jesuit saints for the New York Novitiate which was in Syracuse at that time.
I was to do the three famous young boy saints, Stanislaus, Aloysius and John Berchmans, I never did get to do John, which I regret because I often visited the chapel of his apparition at Grand Coteau, Louisiana (where I made Jesuit Tertianship). It was in 1866 St John Berchmans healed a young novice, on her deathbed, named Mary Wilson. I was allowed to add two more of my favorite Jesuits; the Martyr Rutilio Grande and the Worker Priest Egide van Broeckhoven, both are on my website.
My earliest memory of Stanislaus was from my childhood. My Aunt Mamie O’Haire had a very large framed sepia print of a painting of St Barbara and two attending Angels bringing the Eucharist to St Stanislaus. This is one of the miracles of his brief life. Then as a Jesuit Novice at age 19 (one year older than Stanislaus, who died at 18) I was given the honor of preaching a panegyric (a homily or speech in praise of someone) on his feast. This was a tradition of every Novitiate, long ago, that one Novice would be asked on November 13 to honor St Stanislaus . I remember I was shy about public speaking, frightened and did a terrible, awkward job. One of the elderly Fathers sitting in the back of our incredibly beautiful Novitiate Chapel, (filled with Jesuit saints, in Florissant, Missouri) sat upright straining to even hear me, summoned me to him, after my failed attempt, and gave me kind but firm criticism. It would take me at least 5 years after being ordained a priest, to finally find my own preaching voice. I kept trying to copy or mimic the great Jesuit preachers in our community, especially Fr John J. Walsh, SJ. He was so extraordinary, that we all thought we had to be like him.
During the Hospice years, (80-90) I was very blessed, for just one year, to live in one of the most magical and beautiful estates I have ever seen, in the entire world. Not because of any great opulence, but because of the incredibly imaginative indoor/outdoor carvings,and fairy tale bas reliefs, as well as a small exquisitely gorgeous chapel to St Nicholas and St Genevieve. The whole experience was like living inside a children’s book, or an abbey or an art museum. It was St Ignatius retreat house, in Manhasset, Long Island, New York (now sadly torn down) which was given to the Jesuits by Nicholas and Genevieve Brady. The Brady’s named the estate “Inisfada” - the Gaelic word for Long Island. I could write an entire blog on that very “alive” mansion or estate with its lovely grounds. It was also in the midst of my Illustration career, and the Jesuit Rector of the Community invited me to create the house Christmas card. Because I’ve always been intrigued by the male saints who are portrayed holding the Infant or Child Jesus, I decided to draw the Jesuit saints known for a devotion to the Child. I did three :
Stanislaus Kostka, Bernardino Realino, and Robert Southwell. I think the male saints like Joseph, Anthony of Padua and Cajetan who hold the Child, signal, perhaps unconsciously, a special tenderness and trust inside of us. St Stanislaus was a special favorite of St John Paul II and the Medical Doctor and brilliant Mystic, Adrienne von Speyr. He is patron of novices, seminarians, people with broken bones, aspirants to the Oblates of St Joseph, the last Sacraments and, of course, Poland.
“Lord our God, you looked upon St Stanislaus Kostka with love as he consecrated his youth to you with such generosity of heart. Renew us in spirit so that we may be eager and joyful as we walk the way of your commandments. Help us to fill our days with good works and so redeem the shortness of this life. We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen”
From the wonderful book “Jesuit Saints and Martyrs” by Joseph Tylenda, SJ
13 November 2020 💮 Fr Bill McNichols
January 22nd, 2021
“The Souls of the Just Are In The Hands of God”
“The souls of the just are in the hands of God and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction. But they are in peace. For if before men, indeed they be punished, yet is their Hope full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them and as sacrificial offerings, he took them to himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble; they shall judge Nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord shall be their King forever. Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: because grace and mercy are with his Holy Ones, and his care is with his elect.”
As I write, on this snowy night in late October, I looked into google, concerning Covid 19...
“Authorities in 215 countries and territories have reported about 42.5 million Covid 19 cases and and 1.1 million deaths since China reported its first cases to the World Health Organization in December.”
This image was commissioned for All Souls Church in Denver, Colorado when a dear friend of our family, Fr Robert Fisher, was pastor. All Souls Day or The Day of the Dead, is November 2, following All Saints Day, November 1, and of course the night before, October 31, is called All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween. It has always been believed by cultures round the world, that this time of year, the Souls come closest to the earth. In my experience this coming close starts around October 15 and lasts about a month until November 15...which happens to be 40 days until Christmas. The first Sunday of Advent this year, is on the anniversary of the Servant of God Dorothy Day’s passing into God, November 29th. Because of Covid 19, never before in my lifetime have so many souls around the world have continually “passed into the Light of His presence.” These constant deaths have caused us all to reflect on our brief time on earth. The ancient Buddhist teachings encourage people to keep their certain death always before them. As Christian Catholics we have many paintings (El Greco especially) showing saints like Francis, Mary Magdalen or Jerome, contemplating a skull. We keep photos of those we have loved and lost, in a way, this is contemplating our own certain departure and a hope that we will be with them forever. For many people this continues to be a lonely and horrific time, that seems unending. It’s very difficult at times, to reassure ourselves that our death is just the beginning of Eternal Life. St Paul then reminds us that this is not wrong or unusual, but a part of being human...”For now (in this time of imperfection) we see through a glass darkly (a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma) but then (when the time of perfection comes we will see reality) face to face. Now I know in part (just in fragments) but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known by God.” 1 Corinthians 13:12, (from the Amplified Bible).
For me, the most comforting part of that passage from Paul, is that I’ve (you’ve) always been known by God, even before I (we) knew God. I began to draw and paint images relating to that longing for God as a little kid. Now they’ve graduated into icons, and paintings perhaps more polished, but I look upon all my work as a child as just as telling as my adult work. For it’s not just polished technique that speaks to the heart, but the heart-longing-prayer that goes into the drawing, painting or icon.
And now for all the Holy Souls, we sing and pray...
“May Light Eternal” 🎶🎶🎶
“May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord,
with your saints forever, for you are merciful.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and
let perpetual light shine upon them,
with your saints forever,
for you are merciful,
with your saints forever,
for you are merciful.”
From the “Funeral Folk Mass”
By Rev. Ian Douglas Mitchell, 1967
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 October 2020
January 22nd, 2021
St Martin de Porres : Patron of All Those Seeking Racial Harmony, Mixed Race People, Public Health Workers, and more, Barbers and Innkeepers (9 December 1579-3 November 1639)
“Truly, truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will do the same things that I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father.” St. John 14:12
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
Lennon and McCartney
“Martin de Porres Velázquez, O.P., was a Peruvian lay brother of the Dominican Order who was beatified in 1837 by Pope Gregory XVI and canonized by St John XXIII In 1962. He is the patron saint of mixed-race people, barbers, innkeepers, public health workers, and all those seeking racial harmony.”
There are no accidents with God. Also, at the same time, He can and will, bring good even out of terrible evil. Imagine my surprise and incredible joy, when I realized Election Day this year, is on the feastday of St Martin de Porres. This icon came out of an unusual request; that I paint St Martin on the door of a medicine cabinet. The commissioner shipped the small door to me up in Taos and I began to read the beautiful 1963 biography of Martin, by Giuliana Cavallini, which in Italian had been called, “I Fioretti del Beato Martino” (The Little Flowers of Blessed Martin).
The author tells us she “...added to the original Preface only the hope that these Fioretti, crossing the frontiers of the land where they blossomed, may carry to the vast world the sweet odor of sanctity of Martin de Porres and inspire in souls a love for the beauty of a holy life. May they contribute in their own small way to the revitalization of the Mystical Body of Christ which Pope John XXIII earnestly desired as a result of the Ecumenical Council, as he stated in his solemn address at the canonization of Martin de Porres...These Fioretti are neither a chronological nor a critical story of the life of Martin de Porres. They are episodes taken from the testimony given during the process of his beatification. The persons who gave the testimony had known Martín during his lifetime and they were asked to state under oath what they knew about him. It is certain, therefore, that these witnesses faithfully presented the facts as they knew them. The events were too extraordinary to be forgotten, especially since so little time had elapsed since they happened...
It was about nine o’clock at night, November 3, 1639, when, without a tremor, without a sound, Martin’s soul left the body which had been such a docile and heroic instrument of virtue, and entered the kingdom of eternal happiness.”
Martin lived in the city of Lima at the same time as two other Dominican saints, St John Macias, and St Rose of Lima. Among many other incredible miraculous things continually happening around Rose, was that her garden of roses bloomed year round. St Martin had the same blessing with his lemon tree, and so I have him holding a lemon sprig. He’s just about to give it to you; a simple sign of his extravagantly giving nature. As with the miracle working saints, (and many, many saints worked no miracles while they were alive) the tragedies of our expulsion from the Garden of Eden, seemed to be lifted as they made that Garden of Paradise bloom again and again- not against nature but with our original nature. Now, those who know me well, might be expecting me to quote one of my favorite composers and musicians, Joni Mitchell chanting in her dirge called “Woodstock,” that “...we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” It’s been fascinating to read that although Joni is extremely allergic to any organized religion, she has had from the beginning of her composing career, been drawn back and back to the story and effects of the expulsion from the garden in the Judeo-Christian Biblical account in the Book of Genesis. So much so, that she caused me to think deeper about this tragedy ( as well as our “new Joan of Arc” - Greta Thunberg ) and how can I (we) help ?
All these racial, environmental, divisive divisive divisive problems we are now living with - some that began centuries ago, some awfully recent, are pleading with us to listen to the disguised Divine Gardener Mary Magdalen encountered on that first Easter morning. Scripture begins with us in the Garden, goes through Enclosed Garden images in the Song of Songs,etc., and ends in the Apocalypse or Revelation with us back in the beautiful transformed/transfigured Garden.
“Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the Tree of Life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for
the healing of nations.
There shall be no more, anything, accursed, but the throne of God and the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be written on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign
forever and ever...
The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let them who hear say, ‘Come.’ And let they who are thirsty come, let they who desire, take the water of life.......without price.”
Revelation 22: 1-3, 17
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 October 2020
January 22nd, 2021
Our Lady of Silence
“When I awake, I am still with thee...” Psalm 139:18
“O God, you are my Lord, my father and mother, Lord of the mountains and valleys.”
Prayer of the Kekchi Indian
“Faith itself is the soul’s true country, and prayer is it’s native language...Suffering often makes people turn to God, or at least wonder about His presence or absence, and a cry amid suffering is among the commonest kinds of prayers. Love, too, in all it’s guises and categories, makes us aware of the inevitability of connection with another and others; this human experience cannot be separated from a sense of the divine...If the silence and hiddenness of God are signs of His presences and the key to understanding the deepest meaning of our lives, then we may listen for God, hear Him in His silence, and find Him as the ultimate real Reality precisely in that silence and hiddenness. In other words, communication with God may not only be possible but also necessary; indeed, it may be actual long before we realize it is as so. Hence the book you are now holding - an inquiry into the meaning, nature, history, quality, types and effects of prayer in human experience.”
From the book “In Silence: Why We Pray.”
By Donald Spoto 2004
O there are so many many many books on Prayer, and Donald Spoto’s is one of my favorites. I’ve read it several times and bought many copies of the paperback to give away. In this book are numerous prayers from every time and region of the world. I am particularly fond of an ancient Zoroastrian prayer of the 6th century BCE . (Zoroaster named God Ahura Mazda...)
“With outstretched arms, open mind and my whole heart, I greet you , Ahura Mazda, in spirit. Turn your countenance toward me, dear Lord, and make my face happy and radiant. My heart yearns for you with a yearning that is never stilled. You are my most precious possession. My joy is in you, my refuge is in you. Let me live before you and with you and in your sight, I humbly pray...Everything that my eyes rest upon reveals your glory...Help me to cultivate the habit of prayer, to know your will, and to conform my impulses to its demands...I will pray to you in silence, for you hear my prayers even in my thought.”
I have longed for God as long as I can remember being conscious. My first experience of God was at age 2 or 3. I keep longing for God especially in this time of quarantine. Throughout my life I have felt his presence and even a couple of truly rare times, heard his voice within me. And there were days, years, without that feeling or comfort. Times I felt my soul and body starving for his love. Yet, I never blamed God. I really felt I had reached a point where my god was too small, ( like the glorious Broadway show, “ Your Arms Are Too Short To Box With God.”) and that I needed to know that God is infinitely beyond he or she, and infinitely beyond my tiny mind’s experience of a part of God. So I have let go and wait. This letting go and waiting has been my life, so far, with God and prayer.
Almost always, when I hear confessions, I ask the person “Who do you pray to?” They will say, always, God the Father, or always Jesus, or ... usually, the Blessed Mother, Mary, and sometimes, not often, I will hear I pray to the Holy Spirit. I believe when we find our own unique way of praying, we fly. For some it’s always with scripture. For others it’s brought on by loving another person, holding a newborn, music, paintings, icons, statues, lives of the saints,the rosary, nature...in the car... in a hospital or on the street, standing helpless beneath the cross of someone’s suffering. One of my most beautiful prayer experiences came in the depths of the New York subway standing beneath the falling light that came from above through the grills. Also seeing the moon enormous and shocking me awake one night outside my Manhattan apartment window. I don’t know why the moon is so so huge and comes down to make these visits in New York City. I’m sure there is an explanation. But it does !
I remember as a child caught into a prayer when I first saw The Seven Falls in the Colorado Springs area. In fact, writing these reflections on an icon, painting or image, is a prayer for me. I will also never forget our Novice Master, Fr O’Flaherty, SJ, telling us he had decided to teach his Mother how to pray and contemplate with scripture ... only to find, (which truly humbled him) that she had been contemplating in the deepest way saying her rosary for years.
Pope Francis has a great devotion to an icon of Our Lady of Silence, and I decided, when I saw the prototype or original, (in this time of natural hermitage-living for all of us) to do my own version to awake, reawaken... once again, that longing for God. Here is a prayer in the pamphlet about Our Lady of Silence: The Devotion of Pope Francis by Fr Emiliano Antenucci.
“O Mary, Our Lady of Silence,
you who were the womb of the eternal Word,
Help your children hear the word of love that flows like
living water from your breast. Give us the gift of an open ear,
open to him who through the touch of his love
transforms our life and history into a work of art,
illuminated and colourful.
O Mary, Our Lady who listens, help us to see the paths of life
and the designs of our Heavenly Father who loves us in a
unique, eternal and unrepeatable way,
O Mary, help us to live as God desires, so that we may live
in eternal joy together with the angels and saints.
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 October 2020
January 22nd, 2021
Seraphic Father Francis (1182- 1226)
“...he was always occupied with Jesus;
Jesus he bore in his heart, Jesus in his mouth,
Jesus in his eyes, Jesus in his ears, and in
his entire body; Jesus.”
1 Celano 115
I like to say that as far as the Gospels go, St Francis is the only true fundamentalist that has ever lived. After his conversion at age 25, he attempted to copy Jesus in the most deeply loving and radical ways. This lasted up until the evening of his death; sunset 3 October 1226. It is also why he was given the titles the Alter Christus (Another Christ), the Mirror of Christ, and Seraphic Father Francis.
My love of St Francis goes back as far as I can remember. At a very young age my parents traveled to San Francisco and brought me back a white porcelain statue of a beardless Francis his arms extended and covered with birds. Unconsciously I was taught that a man who could attract birds to rest on his arms had so much love that the little creatures, normally afraid of humans, felt no such fear with Francis. So similar to the very few male saints holding the Christ Child, (Joseph, Anthony, Cajetan, Stanislaus, Bernardino Realino ...) show the tenderness of a loving father. I think that’s part of the reason Anthony is the world’s favorite saint. You look at him and believe he is so approachable cradling the Child in his arms, that he will naturally intercede for you.
Two years before he died, 15 August 1224, Francis climbed the mesa of Mt La Verna, 90 miles north of Assisi, to bemoan his failures. He had prayed for 2 final graces. That he might know and feel the pain of the Crucified Lord, and that he might understand the love it took for Jesus to forgive all those who had rejected him and cried out for his Crucifixion. Then around the time of the feast of the Holy Cross, Francis received an apparition that no other human being had seen before or since. It was a Seraph who was also the Crucified Christ.
This was the beautiful and somewhat terrifying vision and answer to his prayers. From the Crucified Christ he received the five wounds and from the Seraph, (the highest form of Angelic love) he understood the love Jesus had to forgive as he was dying a horrible and painful death. The account in The Five Considerations on the Stigmata (considered one of the most beautiful pieces ever written in all of Italian literature) says the from the Cross Jesus smiled at Francis and gazed at him with a most loving gaze. Very early in my iconographic apprenticeship, I was commissioned to paint/write an icon of Francis. So I was eager to join Francis’s two graces in one image. This icon is my attempt . In a world tearing us apart with increasing, even daily, ever new divisions, I am offering this icon for contemplation. No one wants to live in hate and anger, and yet that’s what we are urged to do. We are getting exhausted, triggered by the least little thing and then striking out at those we love. Tonight I was watching an interview on tv with a man who spoke of his recently separated/divided family as everyone, being increasingly, overwhelmingly sad.
To find some hope for the soul and lasting love, I revisited (on Audible) a book I’d read at 20 years old; Viktor Frankl’s classic about his survival in the German concentration camp of Auschwitz, “Man’s Search For Meaning.” In a chilling sentence in the book he says “the best of us did not survive.” And yet I think of him as one of the best human beings I have ever let in, or read about. But I know exactly what he means from - the ruthlessness and frigid callousness I see every day. He never spiritualizes in a glib way, the immense suffering he lived through. He takes you into the depth of the horrors he lived through and how he came out still human. How do we stay human and compassionate in this world ? The Cross, the Gospels, the Wounds, Francis of Assisi, have always invited us to another way. And it’s no accident that living in this time, God has given us Pope Francis.
And finally I will invite you to listen to a true masterpiece of music released in 1981 which I think, personally, “channels” the life of Francis, “Troubadour of the Great King.” It was a double record in 1981, with the London Symphony, released for the anniversary of the birth of Francis 800 years ago, and now available as a cd by John Michael Talbot. During this “season of St Francis” I can’t think of anything more deeply spiritual, joyful, painfully poignant or life giving than this truly inspired music.
“Most High and Glorious God
Bring light to the darkness of my heart.
Give me right faith, certain hope and
Lord give me insight and wisdom
So I might always discern your
Holy and true will.”
St Francis from the cd Troubadour of the Great King
Fr William Hart McNichols for the Season of St Francis 💮 2020
January 22nd, 2021
St Padre Pio : Mother Pelican (25 May 1887 - 23 September 1968)
“O Loving Pelican ! O Jesus Lord ! Unclean am I but cleanse me in Your Blood !”
St Thomas Aquinas
“I will ask the Lord to let me remain at the threshold of Paradise, and I will not enter until the last of my spiritual children has entered...Once I take a soul on, I also take on his entire family as my spiritual children.”
Padre Pio of Pietrelcina
“When your children want explanations about Padre Pio, just tell them that he loves Jesus so much, and Jesus loves him so much, that they have become very much alike. Jesus has given Padre Pio his wounds, so that they can both suffer together to make us all be good. When God sees that Padre Pio is suffering so much, He gives him everything he asks for - he makes people get well and makes bad people become good.”
Holy Mary Pyle (1888 -1968)
“The name Pietrelcina is of ancient, uncertain origin...One of the more colorful stories is that an old foundation stone (pietra) was found in the ancient castle district of the town, and on it were carved a hen (pucina) and a brood of chicks, hence Pretapucina.” From the book The Holy Man on the Mountain (now republished as Padre Pio and America) by Frank Rega.
I see Padre Pio feeding us for 50 years with his very life blood, the way our mothers all did, when we were in the womb. He died while we Jesuit novices were in the midst of our first (Venerable Fr Arrupe gave our novice Master permission for us to do this retreat again in the second year) 30 day retreat in September 1968. In this icon I have him holding a painted disc of the ancient medieval legend, that if her chicks were in danger of starving, the Mother Pelican would pierce open her own side and feed them her blood. This feminine image of Jesus was very popular in art, especially Beato Fra Angelico placed her at the top of some of his Crucifixion paintings. In old churches, she is near the altar or on tabernacle doors. I once said Mass at I think, St Peter’s Church in Brooklyn, and pretty much gasped when I walked into the sanctuary and saw almost the whole floor covered with a beautiful mosaic of the Mother Pelican. When St Francis died at dusk 3 October 1226, St Care and her Poor Clare’s moaned and grieved aloud, “What will we do without our Father ? What will we do without our Mother ?” As I set out to paint (write) this icon, I wondered secretly, if Padre Pio would mind my titling him with that motherly name. A video was taken of Padre Pio’s final celebration of the Eucharist on 22 September 1968. He was very feeble during and after the Mass, and had to be helped, even to walk. As he turned around to attempt to genuflect or bow, I saw the Mother Pelican embroidered on the back of his (vestment) chasuble.
Dear Lord our God,
You renewed the marks of the sufferings of your Son in the body of Our Holy Father Pio, in order to inflame our hearts with the fire of your love. Teach us always to glory in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Henceforth let no one trouble me:
for I bear in my body the marks of Jesus.”
St Paul’s letter to the Galatians 6:17
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 beginning of Autumn 2020
January 22nd, 2021
Environmental Prophet Rachel Carson (after the artist Hiroshige)
27 May 1907 - 14 April 1964
“Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species - man- acquired significant power to alter the nature of the world. “
In the pre-Vatican II liturgical calendar of my childhood September 17 was the feast of the Wounds (Stigmata) of St Francis. Now it is the feast of the great Jesuit theologian St Robert Bellarmine. But since her death at 81 years, 17 September 1179, in Bingen, Germany , St Hildegard of Bingen has been celebrated and honored.
Pope Benedict officially canonized her 10 May 2012, and elevated her to becoming a Doctor of the Church on 7 October 2012. This unbelievably multi-talented woman was also deeply concerned about the environment. And she spoke prophetically, that if we continue to try and destroy Mother Earth, as St Francis called our world about 50 years later, God would allow nature to turn on us. So, for the feast of St Hildegard, artist, author of 9 books, 77 songs that we know of, the first opera, theologian, medical doctor and healer, Sybil (Prophet) of the Rhine... and so much more, I’m showing an image of her “spiritual descendant,”
Rachel Carson. This American marine biologist, scientist, writer and ecologist, singlehandedly changed our perception of the world. “She published her landmark environmental science book, “Silent Spring” on 27 September 1962, which helped start the process of re-awakening environmental consciousness in the modern west.” From “Rachel Carson: The Mother of the Western Environmental Movement” Changemakers by Kyle Pearce, 19 September 2019.
It’s difficult to think of a better advocate for immediate concern over climate change, especially in this hour of many people still rigidly, in denial. I often think of the 2014 film “Noah” starring Russell Crowe, and the Biblical story in the Book of Genesis about people who refuse to listen to the prophets God sent to them and continues to send to us. It is in the nature of being called by God to speak, that also the prophet-speaker, is ignored, mocked or put to death. Rachel Carson had plenty of that happen to her, and finally, she died of the cancer she was warning us about. About 5 years ago a present day Prophet Elizabeth McAlister put in her request for an image of Rachel Carson, here Liz, this is for you... with great love and admiration.
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 September 2020
“All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters harming no one...
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction...
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.”
Taken from A Prayer for Our Earth by Pope Francis
January 22nd, 2021
Our Lady of Sorrows and The Triumph of the Cross
- by Nicola Maddox
My only child, my son, Todd, died in a one-car accident on August 27th of that year. He was almost 19 years old and was heading off to begin college. On the morning of September 14th, just 18 days later, I was still reeling from knowing I would never again hold him, hear him, see him, feel him, enjoy his sense of humor, or talk with him. The only place I found any peace was at church, in the presence of Jesus, our Lord, and especially when I could receive Him in the Eucharist at Mass and take some comfort in Him. He was with me, physically inside of me, holding me up through this unimaginable pain and undeniable truth. Every day I sought out that experience at Mass. It is what fed me and sustained me for those days and then daily for the next 3 years. The Eucharist – Jesus - was my lifeline.
That particular morning, I awakened and realized I didn’t have a car so I couldn’t go to Mass. The day before it had broken down, and I had to take it in for service. It wasn’t supposed to be ready for a couple of days. My immediate thought was that I would miss Mass. Then I realized I could walk to church. Walk in Houston in late summer? Was I crazy? People rarely walked anywhere in Houston with its unforgiving heat and humidity. But I knew there was a church only about a mile and a half from my home. I could definitely walk there and back. So, I checked out the Mass times and planned my adventure.
I arrived about 10 minutes before Mass started and put myself in God’s hands. Since it was a weekday, we were in a small chapel and it wasn’t very crowded. This is not a church I went to often, but the location was perfect on that day – and God knew exactly what he was doing orchestrating my car troubles. He had a plan just for me. It was the feast of the Triumph of the Cross and the priest gave a homily that was written just for me. He didn’t know it, and neither did I, but God did. This is the gist of what he said:
“Today’s feast is not just about the Triumph of the Cross, but it is tied directly to tomorrow’s feast which is Our Lady of Sorrows. The two go together – always. One doesn’t happen without the other. Of all the people in the entire universe who had the right to be angry at God, Mary had that right. She had done everything God had ever asked of her – absolutely everything. She surrendered her life, her will and her very existence to Him. She had never done anything wrong, and now He was asking her again to stand at the foot of the cross and watch her beloved Son be crucified after being tortured and unjustly sentenced to death. Our Blessed Mother had every right to shake her fist at the sky and yell at God the Father for asking even more of her and of their Son. This was not fair – again. Of all people, she had the right to scream her frustration, hurt and anger at the God of the Universe. But she did not. Again, she just repeated her Magnificat – ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me as You will. I will love our Son forever and nothing will take me from His side, no matter how painful, no matter how wrong. I am in this for the long haul.’
The Triumph of the Cross was first that Jesus surrendered to the will of the Father and died so we could have eternal life, but secondly that His Mother, Mary, did the same. Then it becomes about each and every one of us who join in Jesus’ Triumph when we, too, choose to accept and Triumph in our own crosses, our own sorrows. Our Lady of Sorrows had so very many deep wounds, deeper than most of us can ever feel or imagine. Yet, she knew that her surrender was also her own Triumph of the Cross, it was her way of sharing in the pain and anguish of her Son, as only a parent could.”
Obviously, I cried through the entire sermon and was glad I hadn’t forgotten my small packet of Kleenex. I knew being in that place at exactly that time was ordained by God. It was God’s way of gifting me with a deeper understanding and peace as I became more and more able to accept His will for my son and for me. I could not understand it, but I could trust in Him and add my surrender to that of Jesus and of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, my personal role model from that day forward. She has shown me the way, with the grace of God and the beauty of the Eucharist. If Mary didn’t shake her fist at God in anger, neither would I.
I am grateful to that priest, to Mary and to her Son, to the Father and to the Holy Spirit for showing me the way – and to my own son, my Todd, from whom I have learned so much, even after his death.
January 22nd, 2021
She Who Hears the Cries of the World : Birthday of Mary the Mother of God
“During the Edo period in Japan, when Christianity was banned and punishable by death, some underground Christian groups venerated Jesus and Mary by disguising them as statues of Kannon holding a child; such statues are known as Maria Kannon.
Mary had a cross hidden in an inconspicuous location.”
Wikipedia: Guanyin, Guan Yin, Kuan Yin
If you are looking for a magnificent set of novels, you won’t ever want to end.... similar in some ways to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but with many more heroic women, then you will love the series of “The Tales of the Otori” by Lian Hearne, the first novel is “Across the Nightingale Floor.” This is where you meet the underground Christians, called “the hidden” and see what their persecuted lives were like, in every part of society, amidst such unforgettable compelling story telling by Lian.
Just before the immense tragedy of the total destruction of the World Trade Centers in New York City, September 11, 2001, I was immersed in these “Tales of the Otori” and the significance of the Chinese goddess of infinite compassion, Kuan Yin. I was feeling very restless, uneasy, sensing something awful was coming and simultaneously telling myself I was crazy or my intuition was misleading me. So I decided to use these uncomfortable feelings to create two icons of Mary with the names I was so attracted to, given to the Kuan Yin; “She Who Hears the Cries of the World” and “She Who Carries Me”. I had leaned from many books that this is how the “hidden” in Japan had survived.
When tragedy hit us all that awful morning , I knew that for all of us the world would never be the same. I gave the two icons to my dear friends in Taos, Mari Tara an incredible counselor who could listen to people better than anyone I have known in all my life. Mari died June 21, on St Aloysius feastday last year. And the other icon to my friend Roberto Lavadie, with whom I have collaborated on 5 Crosses ...now in Loyola Marymount in LA, Aurora, Colorado, Taos, a private collector, and finally one which may soon find a home. On this traditional day of the birth of the Blessed Mother, September 8, I offer to you one of these icons we all need and want to see; “She Who Hears the Cries of the World.” Her head is tilted in a listening position and one hand is raised to “catch or receive” the cries of our world, now. She is wearing the healing color of green, most unusual for an icon of the Mother of God, and yet we are in unusual and on every front, frightful Times. Did the Mother of God ever feel the fear and unending stalking of evil that many of us feel today ? Absolutely. At the Presentation of her child in the Temple, she is warned by Holy Prophet Simeon that she herself would live with a sword through her heart. A terrible prophetic pronouncement we painfully honor on the coming feast of September 15, Our Lady of Sorrows. But this is not why I’m bringing you to this icon now. It’s because of the hopeful appellation of She-does hear, the cries of our world. How do we know she hears ? What evidence says that God listens to our Mother who brings our cries to, as Jesus said, our Heavenly Father ? I can only speak for myself and hope you see these signs too. Caregivers, doctors, nurses, store workers, loyal friends, relatives, grace-touched strangers who out of nowhere make your day by some simple act of generosity or kindness. I can personally attest to these “chance” meetings on numerous occasions which truly did change my day. I believe we were born to live in this time for a reason. The same way as Lady Julian of Norwich survived 3 outbreaks of the Plague and wrote of a vision which gives us comfort centuries later. Or St Oscar Romero who was born to share in the brutal, inhuman suffering of his people in El Salvador, and then continues to transfigure this evil by becoming their saint and intercessor. Some of our present suffering, due to the grace of living through the AIDS pandemic, I clearly see... and some of our suffering I won’t see or know until I go “Home”, for Good. “For every season under Heaven,” there are hundreds of unacknowledged saints traveling beside us, quietly sent to touch us by God. Think or pray on your own on her feastday. What has the birth of Mary meant to your life ? Or what will it come to mean if you contemplate her presence in the Gospels ? Or what if you look into the written meditations by by hundreds of our men and women artists, musicians, saints and mystics ? What inspired or who inspired such humble aching love ?
“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you...”
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans...”
Happy Birthday Blessed Mother ! May the Spirit teach us how to love you and all your children, our brothers and sisters.
January 22nd, 2021
Princess Diana : The Queen of Hearts
31 August 1997. I was living in Albuquerque for that summer to finish a triptych on Jesuit Martyrs for Boston College because I really needed my teacher’s help. I had just completed the massive work and I was going back to Boston in a few days, when a friend called that night of August and said “Billy, quick, turn on the news Princess Diana has been in a car accident.” I was like most people interested in Diana and fond of her for visiting people with AIDS and single handedly changing the world’s attitude towards the disease. I did not think of her as a saint, but as an extremely important woman who had brought the royalty out of the palace and into the streets. As I watched the events for the next few days - nonstop - I found myself painting her image in much the same way I have read that people are gripped by a phenomenon called “automatic writing.” I know that sounds extreme but that’s about the only way I can describe what happened to me. I did not think, should I do this...or even with the little time I had left in Albuquerque, do I even have time to do this? I sat down to paint and it was done in about two days as I remember, and also done (as I was soon to learn) very very naively. I never intended to paint her as an icon but as a woman “moving toward iconic likeness.” Since I was used to painting in an icon style of course it came out that way, was that unconscious? Did I really think deep down her life merited being “pointed to” as exemplary? It was a picture of us all, in a way, paralyzed by our insecurities, faults, ecstatic moments, attempts to live in love, and yet it was a picture of a woman who was given an impossibly complicated public life that she could easily have squandered. A woman who modeled what royalty can be and do. A woman who was trying to break out of the gilded cage to find a personal love to support her. She chose, knowingly at great risk to her life, to take her fame into the care and concern for the sick, the homeless, victims of land mines, people with AIDS, and an endless list of others, and reach down, physically get down, for example, to meet children, eye to eye. No other image I have painted has been so criticized. I will not bother with telling you what has been said and written about this image, but I’m sure you can imagine. The thing is I was so absolutely unaware of that negative possibility when I was painting her. I poured in all the love I had, as I do with all the icons and images I paint. And because I think it came out so well I trust that- more than anything. If an image or something I paint comes out “alive” to me I am not swayed by even the harshest of criticism. And if I don’t like what I’ve done then it’s impossible to convince me otherwise.
Given this 20th Anniversary of her death I don’t think I have to tell you anything about her. More news than ever has been coming out about her life and legacy. Her sons are a living example of her inherent warmth and her concerns put into action. Did she change the world? In my estimation, yes she did. Am I aware of her struggles and the fierce criticism that still stalks her? Yes. Does it change my opinion of her extraordinary life? No. Do I wish we had someone of her selfless compassion in public life? Every single day. Am I glad I did this image now twenty years later ? Yes, and what I’d say to the critics now is, what are you doing that even comes close to what she did for people? As Daniel Berrigan used to say “I like my critics up close. I like to see what they are doing with their lives.” With her bouts of extreme depression it makes her ability to literally push herself out of the palace and into a hospital all the more heroic. I guess that’s the heroism I saw daily with so so many mothers in Ranchos de Taos when I lived there.
I was told by someone that Diana “ran into the St Therese story of her shower of roses” while visiting a Catholic Church and found her idea of help from heaven truly delightful. But I don’t know if that’s true. Her quotes though sound like she must have heard of Therese.
This is a very simple image, with Diana looking into you and raising a hand to help you as if to say :
“Nothing brings me more happiness than trying to help the most vulnerable people in society. It is a goal and an essential part of my life. A kind of destiny. Whoever is in distress can call on me. I will come running wherever they are.”
Fr Bill McNichols