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Our Lady of the Sign- A Christmas Blessing

December 26th, 2023

Our Lady of the Sign- A Christmas Blessing

Our Lady of the Sign (of Ireland) and, A Christmas Blessing
“If you only knew how powerful it is to bless people, you would bless people all the time.”
(Paraphrase of the words of Our Lady of Medjugorje)
On one of my visits to Medjugorje, I heard these words which were given by the Blessed Mother, but I haven’t been able to find the exact quote. Yet, I never forgot them. So much so, that when I returned to my church at that time, San Francisco de Asis, in Ranchos de Taos, I taught all the children to bless during one of the weekday Masses, just for the school children.
Then, just this morning I was once again given the children’s Mass at St Charles Borromeo, here in Alburquerque, because the pastor was ill.
I had already taught them all how to bless last September during the homily at Mass, so today I renewed that teaching and told them the same thing, that Our Mother wanted us to bless everyone. I also told them that some of the greatest blessings I have received were from the “anonymous” people behind the counter at gas stations and small convenience stores all over town. I also told them how it really helps when you’re in a car desperately trying to get to some place on time and you bless the people right in front of you, impeding your speed, rather than yelling or cursing them.
At this, I received bewildered looks but I meant it. I have a friend who has been receiving Hospice Care for quite some time, and I often stay at his house when his caregiver is unable. On the way over, I end up stopping to get him some food, coffee, brown sugar, milk or whatever I think he might need. It’s a very rare occasion when I don’t get the blessing of a smile, joke or some kindness that restores me in a moment. We never really know how many people we actually touch by, as the Buddhists say, a simple act of kindness.
In my 44 years as a priest I can’t even begin to tell you how many people and things, like houses, specific rooms, photographs, cars, motorcycles, statues, Rosaries, Miraculous Medals, medals and Crosses of all kinds, holy pictures, and an abundance of other things too numerous to list. So yesterday when Pope Francis announced that we can bless same sex couples, I thought, well it’s about time and quietly laughed at all the objects I’d been happy and willing to bless... “If you only knew how powerful it is to bless...” - these words came back to me again.
I met Fr Patrick O’Brien (+ 25 November 2021), a pastor of St Joseph’s church in Caherlistrane, Co. Galway, Ireland in New York, in Daniel Berrigan’s apartment in the 80’s. Pat was utterly devoted to Dan, and to his prophetic poetry and prose writing, also a friend of poets like Seamus Heaney and Fr John O’Donohue ... who helped unearth the Catholic Celtic Heritage of Ireland, with books like “Anam Cara.” An extraordinary man I was also privileged to meet.
Pat O’Brien was an avid collector of Irish contemporary abstract artist’s works. He was not so much infatuated by Byzantine icons, but he loved my work so I decided to “write” him an icon with the colors of county Mayo (my ancestors too, on the McNichols side of the family) and bring it to him on my last visit to Ireland.
This icon based on Isaiah 7: 14, Our Lady of the Sign, is one of the most prominent depictions of the Mother of God. I poured all my love for Pat and Ireland into the long/lovely experience of working on this icon. It’s obviously meant with the Christmas Star, for this holy season of Advent moving into the Christmas season which begins, not ends ... with Christmas Day.
If you count the benedictions and blessings in Holy Scripture (even the stolen blessing of Jacob over Esau !) you’ll find there are over a hundred. St Clare of Assisi, (who only had apparitions of the Christ Child, never the adult Jesus) is said to have cured many people of illnesses, just with her blessing.
I believe in your ability to bless. I believe in your intercessory prayer. I believe you can change an ambiguous or tense situation with your blessing. I believe in blessing people you know you can never ever, reach or change. I believe in the arrows of love, as the Carmelite saint,
Mary Magdalen de Pazzi gushed after receiving an apparition of St Aloysius Gonzaga,
“... Oh, how much he loved on earth ... he shot arrows into the heart of the Word when he was alive, and now that he is in Heaven those arrows rest in his own heart, because those communications of grace that he merited through his acts of love and of union that he made, he now understands and enjoys.”
“May you have great dignity
And a sense of how free you are
Above all, may you be given the wonderful
Gift
Of meeting the Eternal Light that is within you. “
Fr John O’Donohue (+ 1956 - 2008)
A Christmas Blessing🖖🏼 I know and pray,
you will give away this Christmas
Fr Williams Hart Dominic McNichols 🌠🎄 🌠 December 2023

El Santo Nino de Atocha

December 26th, 2023

El Santo Nino de Atocha

El Santo Nino de Atocha (Christmas card illustration, 1985)
“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that
Her service is at an end ...
A voice cries out: in the desert prepare a way for the Lord!”
Isaiah 40
“For those who love God, all things work together for the good. “
Romans 8:28
Long ago, after my first visit to the Santuario de Chimayo’ in northern New Mexico, I became entranced by this little Christ Child, whose legend grew out of Spain. I was later to learn, the Dominicans had brought the legend up from Mexico, into New Mexico, long before it became part of the United States. In fact the last house I lived in, on 16th Street down near Old Town Alburquerque, was built while we were still part of Mexico.
So this illustration I did in pen and ink, while living at the former Jesuit Retreat House In Manhasset, Long Island, in 1985, was stimulated by my growing affection for (truly) this “Land of Enchantment” - New Mexico. A land that has managed to retain the strong influence of the Pueblo Indians, Spain and Mexico. Even the food here has elements of the Pueblo Indians, Mexico an Spain. I revere this land because it is “La Tierra Sagrada.” For me it’s like a person, if I’m away too long, I miss it.
Our Lady of Guadalupe and El Santo Nino, are everywhere in New Mexico.
I learned the ancient legend of Santo Nino and couldn’t wait to get it out. So I asked my late friend, Fr Jim Janda, to write it for me and Paulist Press agreed to publish it, in 1986, along with 3 other children’s books by Fr Janda ...and I joyfully illustrated them.
At that time I was deeply committed to a ministry of those dying of HIV-AIDS, so Our Lord provided me with these children’s books to emotionally balance living with all the tragic deaths.
“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God ...”
These words along with so many from Isaiah, have made him my favorite prophet. And though Jesus quoted the Psalms more than any book in the Hebrew Scriptures, he also loves quoting Isaiah.
Because of Handel’s musical masterpiece we are all familiar with the words of Isaiah,
“For unto us a child is born...”
That this Child be born in you and me again, each year at this time, is imperative.
And each year His birth in us gets more important; that His tender yet very strong love continues to flow into the whole World.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the
government shall be upon
his shoulder:
and his name shall be called
Wonderful
Counselor
the Mighty God ,
the Everlasting Father,
the Prince of Peace “
Isaiah 9:6
Fr William Hart McNichols 🕎 December 2023

The Advent of Hagia Sophia

December 26th, 2023

The Advent of Hagia Sophia

The Advent of Hagia Sophia
“She it was I loved and have searched for from my youth; I resolved to have Her as my Bride, I fell in love with Her beauty.
Her closeness to God lends lustre to Her noble birth, since the Lord of All has loved Her. Yes She is an initiate in the mysteries of God’s knowledge, making choice of the works He is to do. If this life wealth be a desirable possession, what is more wealthy than Wisdom whose work is everywhere?
... I am your servant, child of your serving maid, a feeble man with little time to live... Despatch Her from the Holy Heavens, send Her forth from your throne of glory to help me and toil with me and teach me what is pleasing to you, since She knows and understands everything. She will guide me prudently in my undertakings and protect me by Her glory. That all I do will be acceptable... As for your intention, who could have learned it, had you not granted Wisdom and sent your Holy Spirit from above?”
From The Book of Wisdom, chapters 8,9, The Jerusalem Bible
Do you ever wonder why all the anger at Pope Francis and his inclusion of women and men in the recent Synod? In Scripture Holy Wisdom is always feminine.
Why haven’t we heard from Her in the official meetings of Holy Mother Church?I believe Pope Francis heard Her calling representatives of the whole Church to speak and be heard.
Lately I find myself saying, I was a lot smarter when I was younger. The older I get, I realize the less I know. I am naturally deeply humbled and aware that most of the rest of my learning must now come from only the Holy Spirit.
As the author of The Book of Wisdom wrote I’m getting to be, “a feeble man” with not a long life ahead of me. I’m offering some of what I’ve learned through art and conversation with my brilliant theologian and friend, Christopher Pramuk, in our book coming out from Orbis Press, in Spring of 2024, “All My Eyes See.”
This may sound odd, but it is very comforting to me to know I will never “know or understand” in my tiny human mind, the presence and full concept of the Holy Spirit or Holy Wisdom.
But I have experienced that the Holy Shekhinah, Holy Wisdom or as many of us have learned to describe Her, in a semi-secular, commercial way, “the Christmas Spirit” descends sometime in Advent.
I do know this is real, palpable, because you can feel it when She ascends again, sometime in January.
In this icon I’m trying to portray Her descent.
This year Advent is basically only about 3 weeks and so I have no idea when She will choose to descend. Some years She comes around the 9th or 12th of December and some years, She waits longer until its almost Christmas Eve. Sounds very much like a pregnancy doesn’t it? And indeed it is.
Many churches teach that the Word of God is simply or only, in the Bible and some teach the Word is in the same book, the Bible, but also pregnant in each one of us.
We are asked to give birth to the Word and then follow His maturity and infusion into our world, whether it be a huge city like New York or Washington DC, or in a smaller city like Alburquerque, or in the vey small, ancient,Taos Native American Village. Wherever you are, whoever you are, you bring Christ into the world in an absolutely unique way; a way only you can bring Him.
“O Come thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us
in Her ways to go ...
Rejoice, rejoice, O Israel, to thee
shall come Emmanuel.”
Fr William Hart McNichols 🕯... always a New Advent, 2023

Mother of God Seeker After the Lost

December 26th, 2023

Mother of God Seeker After the Lost

Mother of God Seeker After the Lost
When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his Mother said to him,
“Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s House?”
St Luke 2: 48, 49
“Once Mary would go wandering
to other land would run
that she might find her Son,
that she might find her Son.”
“Mary’s Wandering”
Traditional song, date unknown (but I tried to find it !)
From Noel, 1966 Christmas Album by Joan Baez
“As portrayed by the Gospel, the Holy Family is a family that is
painfully opened up,
undergoing suffering that surpasses that known by earthly families, yet in a
manner exemplary for all ... The Son has been obedient to his parents and will continue to be obedient, but obedience to the eternal Father rules obedience to earthly parents - even though they cannot understand it and are filled with the anxiety of an unsuccessful search and an even deeper anxiety caused by the words, ‘Did you not know?’ “
from “Light of the Word” by Hans Urs von Balthasar
When I first began my apprenticeship in 1990, I was utterly dazzled and deeply “soul-touched ”by the hundreds of beautiful poetic titles given to the icons of the Mother of God. So much so, that anytime I would get a commission and the person would allow me to do anything I wanted I’d choose an icon of the Mother of God with a title I could spiritually explore. This is one of those icons.
Not just this year, but for the past few years, I’ve had so many people tell me, almost shamefully, that they feel lost. There is no shame in feeling lost, but often we get the message that being emotionally guarded, strong, or ... God forbid, spiritual is the “right” way we should feel.
The Servant of God Dorothy day once said, “We are all called to be saints. We might as well get over our bourgeoisie fear of the name.” And CS Lewis ; “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.”
Because of my vocation as an iconographer I’ve been able to meet so many completely different kinds of Saints and holy ones. In so many cases, they suffer tremendous anxiety, Hildegard of Bingen famously said she never had a moment without anxiety. Read any of the multitude of books on St Padre Pio, and you’ll be overwhelmed by his moment to moment dependence on the touch of God in his soul to keep him going.
I believe it takes great humility and enormous strength to admit you’re lost at times. And right now the severe state of our world’s suffering is almost impossible to ignore; you can choose denial, but ultimately you will find yourself or someone you love, to be in a place that cannot be “fixed.”
Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks to God and those we love, who have been brave enough to open themselves to the suffering in our world and in themselves. And to be thankful for those who have not run away from accompanying us in the times we feel lost.
It is also a time of joyful family meals and laughter. It’s always the smallest things that give us real joy.
Mother of God Seeker After the Lost
You find us and your Son, deeply seeking
Our Father’s House.
You too found it difficult and painful
to watch Him leave you and begin the
Work that would lead him through
Prophetic actions, meant to bring us back to God,
and into his death and
Resurrection.
Lead us through these challenging times, and please,
Never stop your tender care, following after,
Seeking after, us !
Amen
A most blessed Thanksgiving 🍂 2023 !
Fr William Hart McNichols

The Souls of the Just Are In the Hands of God Wisdom 3

December 26th, 2023

The Souls of the Just Are In the Hands of God Wisdom 3

The Souls of the Just Are In the Hands of God
Wisdom 3
The last Requiem Mass written for a Mass, was by French composer, musician, and organist for Cathe’drale Notre-Dame de Paris, Maurice Gustave Durufle’, and was first performed on All Souls Day, 2 November 1947.
Final additions were added in 1961, and everything (to my ears) in Durufle’s Requiem anticipates Vatican Council II, which took three years of preparation, 1959 to the opening, which occurred on the Feast of the Maternity of the Mother of God, 11 October 1962.
Gone are the bombastic notes of terror, in Mozart and Verdi.
Durufle’ is softly beautiful and I always see a leaf, or small boat floating down a river or creek when I hear this gorgeous work.
In grade school I was part of a Latin choir from 4th grade through 8th grade and we’d sing the beautiful Ambrosian Chant, lifted by Durufle’ in his Kyrie Eleison, at the very beginning of his piece.
Already he had anticipated a change in the Church’s attitude toward death.
Personally, I sense that the Season of the Holy Souls lasts about a month; around 15 October - 15 November, and then it lifts, palpably, for the Season of Advent to begin. St Albert the Great’s feast (15 November) Is 40 days before Christmas.
Accounts of the Holy Souls in Purgatory go way back into the ancient church, and mystics who speak about them are practically innumerable. The most recent are St Padre Pio, Mystic Maria Simma of Sonntag, Austria and the visionaries of Medjugorje.
Cultures all over the world speak of this season as the “thin veil between worlds” lifting, as the Souls come near, asking for Masses and our prayers. And I’ve read they are most happy for us to call upon them , as they really, really, want to help us too.
We were counseled as children to pray for them on 2 November, and as a little kid I had it in my wild imagination, that I’d pray for them that day and imagine them literally flying out of Purgatory. But maybe they just lift softly, as Durufle’ sees and hears them ? This is how I tried to envision them in this image.
Now as a priest, I offer every single Mass for them. I think of names in the daily news and wonder if anyone is inclined to offer their help ? Especially those who die suddenly, tragically and alone. Though I’ve read no one ever dies alone, and I’m inclined to believe their Guardian Angel, at the very least, is always with them.
“Eternal rest, grant unto them, O Lord, and let Perpetual Light, shine upon them.”
Amen
Fr William Hart McNichols 🍂🧡🍂 October 2023
(This image was commissioned by Fr Robert Fisher for All Souls Church in
Denver, Colorado)

Francis I Hold Out My Hand and My Heart Will Be In It

December 26th, 2023

Francis I Hold Out My Hand and My Heart Will Be In It

Francis : “I Hold Out My Hand and My Heart Will Be In It” (1979)
“Adrienne saw his stigmata, she was deeply horrified. And she thought everyone would have been horrified as she was ...
And now he sees the stigmata on his hands. They strike him as something foreign, as something that simply does not belong to him. As if the Lord’s wounds were like two rose-petals that accidentally fell into his hands as he gazed at the rose bush. And as if the petals served simply to contemplate the roses better...”
The Book of All Saints by Adrienne von Speyr (dictated to Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar)
Paintings of Francis receiving the stigmata have always deeply moved my soul, especially those of Giotto di Bondone (c. 1267-1337) and Taddeo Gaddi (1300-1366). In fact I made an eight day retreat in Boston, visiting the Harvard Fogg Museum every day, to sit in front of the Taddeo Gaddi. Little did I know I’d be trying to copy that painting for the Ranchos de Taos Church, of San Francisco de Asis, in 1999.
Immediately after my Ordination to the Priesthood 25 May 1979, I was asked by Fr Michael Sheeran, SJ, to be artist in residence at St Regis University in Denver. The only requirement was that I have an exhibit of my work at the end of the year, 1980. I called that exhibit “What A Fool Believes” after the popular song by the Doobie Brothers. It opened on April Fool’s Day, 1 April 1980.
To make a long story short, I created two Chapels for St Regis University. One was based on the now, ecological patron, St Francis mixed with paintings of the 4 Seasons, bringing in the father of modern poetry, Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, and his passionate love of the “wild.”
The other chapel was called “La Sangre de Cristo,” in the basement of the Jesuit Residence, Carroll Hall.
Francis, the first person to ever receive the wounds, was spending time on Mt La Verna, in September 1224, two years before he died at age 44. He was grieving what he felt, were his complete failures.
Near dawn he had an apparition of Jesus Crucified blended/with/a/Seraph with six wings, fly down from Heaven, and when the apparition slowly disappeared, he was left with the 5 wounds of Jesus Crucified, and the fiery love of a seraph.
So blest was I to visit La Verna in 1984. Outside of Israel, I have never felt so breathless, truly almost unable to breathe, at the palpable holiness of a place.
The chapel and community of La Verna is on a mesa, very similar to the Acoma Pueblo here in New Mexico. It was snowing heavily that March of 84, when the bus I was taking pulled up to the Santuario de La Verna and dropped me off. Nothing was open in the small town. I panicked as I watched the bus leave and looked up at the mesa and knew I’d have to hike up.
I spent 3 days (because of the weather) with the Friars and novices. I’d walk into a chapel and there were authentic Della Robbia bas relief masterpieces, right in front of me. I know I’ve never been as ecstatic as those 3 days. There was very little heat so I slept in all my clothes and the Friars insisted I down 3 large glasses of red wine, and it did the trick; I slept warm and well.
This painting done years before that experience, 1979, shows Francis on the mesa, (St Regis University) contemplating the wound in his hand.
It’s has perhaps become an annoying cliche’ to say again,
that we all, all, have wounds.
I have come to believe that as we grow older we have one decision to make; are we going to withhold love, or finally, just give it away, wounds and all ?
I’ve been inspired by so many women and men who decided to just give love, like my Dad, who died in 1997. He gave me a map to old age I’m presently trying to follow. I don’t intend to confuse you that you have to “let back in” abusive people, but Dad inspired me to slowly shed the scales of years of protection and love. Also meeting St John Paul II In August 1993, has had the same glowing effect.
This is my road now and my hope is that Dad and St John Paul will guide me patiently into the elder years. Everyone imagines Francis as elderly when he died but he was only 44. Everything I’ve read about him tells me he died with nothing; nothing but his love nakedly, passionately on display. On October 3, 1226, he asked to be laid down on the earthen mud floor, naked, and at sunset his soul flew into God.
He had nothing.
Yet, has made the greatest contribution to Catholicism of any saint. Just ask Pope Francis. Look at him. Now look again. Look at him now creating much controversy at the synod.
See his passion for our creation and ...
what what what about the church ?
Who is worthy enough to get in ?
To quote Pope Francis,
“Tutti, tutti, tutti”
Fr William Hart McNichols 🍂🧡🍂 October 2023

Francis I Hold Out My Hand and My Heart Will Be In It

December 26th, 2023

Francis I Hold Out My Hand and My Heart Will Be In It

Francis : “I Hold Out My Hand and My Heart Will Be In It” (1979)
“Adrienne saw his stigmata, she was deeply horrified. And she thought everyone would have been horrified as she was ...
And now he sees the stigmata on his hands. They strike him as something foreign, as something that simply does not belong to him. As if the Lord’s wounds were like two rose-petals that accidentally fell into his hands as he gazed at the rose bush. And as if the petals served simply to contemplate the roses better...”
The Book of All Saints by Adrienne von Speyr (dictated to Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar)
Paintings of Francis receiving the stigmata have always deeply moved my soul, especially those of Giotto di Bondone (c. 1267-1337) and Taddeo Gaddi (1300-1366). In fact I made an eight day retreat in Boston, visiting the Harvard Fogg Museum every day, to sit in front of the Taddeo Gaddi. Little did I know I’d be trying to copy that painting for the Ranchos de Taos Church, of San Francisco de Asis, in 1999.
Immediately after my Ordination to the Priesthood 25 May 1979, I was asked by Fr Michael Sheeran, SJ, to be artist in residence at St Regis University in Denver. The only requirement was that I have an exhibit of my work at the end of the year, 1980. I called that exhibit “What A Fool Believes” after the popular song by the Doobie Brothers. It opened on April Fool’s Day, 1 April 1980.
To make a long story short, I created two Chapels for St Regis University. One was based on the now, ecological patron, St Francis mixed with paintings of the 4 Seasons, bringing in the father of modern poetry, Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, and his passionate love of the “wild.”
The other chapel was called “La Sangre de Cristo,” in the basement of the Jesuit Residence, Carroll Hall.
Francis, the first person to ever receive the wounds, was spending time on Mt La Verna, in September 1224, two years before he died at age 44. He was grieving what he felt, were his complete failures.
Near dawn he had an apparition of Jesus Crucified blended/with/a/Seraph with six wings, fly down from Heaven, and when the apparition slowly disappeared, he was left with the 5 wounds of Jesus Crucified, and the fiery love of a seraph.
So blest was I to visit La Verna in 1984. Outside of Israel, I have never felt so breathless, truly almost unable to breathe, at the palpable holiness of a place.
The chapel and community of La Verna is on a mesa, very similar to the Acoma Pueblo here in New Mexico. It was snowing heavily that March of 84, when the bus I was taking pulled up to the Santuario de La Verna and dropped me off. Nothing was open in the small town. I panicked as I watched the bus leave and looked up at the mesa and knew I’d have to hike up.
I spent 3 days (because of the weather) with the Friars and novices. I’d walk into a chapel and there were authentic Della Robbia bas relief masterpieces, right in front of me. I know I’ve never been as ecstatic as those 3 days. There was very little heat so I slept in all my clothes and the Friars insisted I down 3 large glasses of red wine, and it did the trick; I slept warm and well.
This painting done years before that experience, 1979, shows Francis on the mesa, (St Regis University) contemplating the wound in his hand.
It’s has perhaps become an annoying cliche’ to say again,
that we all, all, have wounds.
I have come to believe that as we grow older we have one decision to make; are we going to withhold love, or finally, just give it away, wounds and all ?
I’ve been inspired by so many women and men who decided to just give love, like my Dad, who died in 1997. He gave me a map to old age I’m presently trying to follow. I don’t intend to confuse you that you have to “let back in” abusive people, but Dad inspired me to slowly shed the scales of years of protection and love. Also meeting St John Paul II In August 1993, has had the same glowing effect.
This is my road now and my hope is that Dad and St John Paul will guide me patiently into the elder years. Everyone imagines Francis as elderly when he died but he was only 44. Everything I’ve read about him tells me he died with nothing; nothing but his love nakedly, passionately on display. On October 3, 1226, he asked to be laid down on the earthen mud floor, naked, and at sunset his soul flew into God.
He had nothing.
Yet, has made the greatest contribution to Catholicism of any saint. Just ask Pope Francis. Look at him. Now look again. Look at him now creating much controversy at the synod.
See his passion for our creation and ...
what what what about the church ?
Who is worthy enough to get in ?
To quote Pope Francis,
“Tutti, tutti, tutti”
Fr William Hart McNichols 🍂🧡🍂 October 2023

Our Lady of Sorrows - Jesus Christ Extreme Humility - St John the Apostle - Triptych of the Passion

December 26th, 2023

Our Lady of Sorrows - Jesus Christ Extreme Humility - St John the Apostle - Triptych of the Passion

Our Lady of Sorrows * Jesus Christ Extreme Humility * St John the Apostle : Triptych of the Passion (Our Lady of Sorrows + 15 September)
“You are the ones who stood by me in my trials...” Luke 22:28
( I made a copy of this triptych for every priest of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe after the scandal and tragedy of the abuse of children began to come out in 1992, with these words of St Luke on the back. At that time, no no one was thanking the innocent priests who stayed under the Cross ...)
This very early diptych of Jesus and the Mother of God was commissioned by a Jesuit friend whose sister had just been diagnosed with HIV-AIDS. He first commissioned an icon of Our Lady of Sorrows, and then when she passed away, he commissioned The Man of Sorrows sor Jesus Christ Extreme Humility. He was one of my first patrons and the first person to put my work on the internet. Because of his lavish generosity, I decided to look at a Cimabue painted Cross, and found St John the grieving Apostle on the right wing of the Cross. I gave it to him as a gift. And so it became a triptych.
The two prototypes (originals) are found at the 14th century monastery of Meteora, Thessaly, Greece. At their peak in the 16th century there were 24 monasteries high above these ancient rock formations.
And as I mentioned, (from my college Art History classes at Boston University) I remembered the many late medieval Crosses which had Mary and John on the left and right wings of the Crosses. These figures of Mary and John appear in my favorite Crosses by Giotto and his teacher, Cimabue, and just a few years later, I’d be copying both of these deeply spiritual and passionate artists. I can’t express what a joy it is to try and copy great artists, and great iconographers.
I would say, the first ten years I was so grateful, happy and excited that I painted almost non-stop. My teacher demanded this work ethic, and I am eternally grateful to him, because by myself, I would never have thought I could give myself so completely to another vocation. After 33 years, I’m now trying to paint images and icons of people that have had a great influence on my life, people maybe some of you have never heard of, but by meeting them through books or providentially, they encouraged me to continue.
Sometimes there are people I’d love to do (for example, Mahatma Gandhi, or St Dominic, the Apache or Masai Christ, the Navajo Madonna on and on and on) but my teacher (Friar Robert Lentz) has done them so magnificently, I always point people to him. When I began, in October 1990, he told me there were probably around 15 people working on icons, now there must be over 1500, at least.
I truly believe it’s because of Robert Lentz, who singlehandedly created this renaissance of interest in icons, in the 1980’s. I say this because he was the first iconographer who figured out how to make modern clothes like skirts, dresses, pants, shirts etc, into “iconographic clothes,” so even those who openly disrespect him, must copy him. And he was the first to create icons of people’s of all races, not only black and white people, but all races. All the young iconographers are indebted to Robert.
In these times of rampant disrespect, in these times when mockery and violence are encouraged...as we get closer to the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, it’s essential (and healthy) to contemplate the Mother of all nations and peoples; asking her how we her ever-children, can move closer again. Because of its continued relevance,
I’m going to recall the prayer used to open Vatican Council II on 11 October 1962 :
“Almighty God, we have no confidence in our own strength; all our trust is in you. Graciously look down on these pastors of your church. Aid their counsels and their legislation with the light of your divine grace. Be pleased to hear the prayers we offer you, united in faith, in voice, in mind.
Mary, help of Christians, help of bishops; recently in your church at Loreto, where we venerated the mystery of the Incarnation, you gave a special token of your love. Prosper now this work of ours, and by your kindly aid bring it to a happy, successful conclusion. And do you, with St. Joseph your spouse,the holy apostles Peter and Paul, St. John the Baptist and St.John the Evangelist, intercede for us before the throne of God.
To Jesus Christ, our most loving Redeemer, the immortal King of all peoples and all ages, be love, power and glory for ever and ever.
Amen”
Pope St John XXIII, 1962
Fr William Hart McNichols 🍃 September 2023
(If you should feel called to pray with this triptych, it can be ordered in this way, or as individual icons. Our Lady of Sorrows is my sister Mary’s favorite icon)

The Child Mary Soon to Become the Ark of the Covenan

December 26th, 2023

The Child Mary Soon to Become the Ark of the Covenan

The Child Mary Soon to Become the Ark of the Covenant ( for Mary’s Birthday 8 September)
“One meets the Blessed Virgin inevitably when one attains a certain intensity of spiritual aspiration, when this aspiration is authentic and pure. The very fact of having attained a spiritual sphere which comprises a certain degree of intensity and purity of intention puts you in the presence of the Blessed Virgin... just as the experience of having a mother belongs naturally to human family life on earth. It is therefore as ‘natural’ for the spiritual domain as the fact of having a mother is natural in the domain of one’s terrestrial family. The difference is that on earth one can certainly be motherless, whilst in the realm of the spiritual this can never happen.”
Valentin Tomberg
Page 281 “Meditations on the Tarot : A Journey into Christian Hermeticism” (published in English 1985)
I know that sounds pretty dense but I think he’s saying two things:
If you really long to meet Mary with an intense longing, you will.
And that she is the Mother of all of us, even if we never had, or no longer have an earthly Mother.
Please don’t be put off by his words about spiritual intensity and purity.
Like, I’m not good enough, Mary would never come to me.
I’ll tell you something our Croatian guide told us in Medjugorje, and she knew the visionaries there. She said a few of the kids (24 June 1981) were out sneaking a smoke when Mary first appeared and they all immediately ran home, when they saw her. But the next day at exactly the same time, without communicating to each other, they all showed up at the same time and place, and there she was again.
If that’s not true, the point is they were all very normal kids, and when they asked her, why us, she told them basically... that’s why. Mary wanted to turn a fairly normal parish into a place where people could come meet her, and prepare the world for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
So how do you define meeting Mary ? Since 1981 over 30 million pilgrims have traveled to Medjugorje, Bosnia, Herzegovina. And most of them come back with some kind of experience of meeting Mary, not an apparition, but in a million different ways. As I’ve said before, she lets you know that she knows you’re there, and that she actually brought you there.
She also gave the visionary Vicka an account of her life, and a date when it can be published. She promised to leave a major “sign” that she’s been there, when the apparitions are finished, which can be photographed but not touched.
Now if it turns out that all this is untrue, it won’t shake my faith at all, and I’ve been there 4 times.
In the early 80’s I did a beautiful watercolor and gouache painting of the Colorado mountains with a circle of bright stars above it. I never had it professionally photographed, and I don’t know where it is. If I find it, I’ll show it to you. The title is “The Birth of the Virgin.”
This image is really an Advent painting I’ve shown before, but I think you’ll see it better now, with no holiday stress around you. It’s a symbolic painting of the mist of the Shekhinah surrounding the child Mary, as she floats above the Ark of the Covenant, which the Israelites carried with them; a physical sign that they were walking with the presence of God.
And I imagine the child Mary just a few years before she was visited by Archangel Gabriel, and told that she would be carrying God inside her. That’s why the Litany of Loreto, calls her the Ark of the Covenant, House of Gold, Mystical Rose, and many more beautiful titles, like Seat of Wisdom, Gate of Heaven, Morning Star, Health of the Sick, Cause of Our Joy, Refuge of Sinners, Comforter of the Afflicted, Mirror of Justice, etc etc.
One title I love, not in the Litany, is Enclosed Garden. Maybe someday, hopefully, I can come up with that image. I have a friend here in Alburquerque who has this very beautiful enclosed garden, and it gets a lot of shade so everything blooms there constantly. It has a vey holy feeling to me, and he has a large statue of Mary, who seems to change her facial expression from softly gazing at you to outright smiling. I know, it sounds crazy, but ...
“Hail Mary full of grace
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women, and
Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners, now and at the
Hour of our death.
Amen “
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 September 2023

St John the Forerunner

December 26th, 2023

St John the Forerunner

St John the Forerunner (John the Baptist - “The Angelic Man”)
“...Then the King regretted what he had said; but because of the vow he’d made in front of his guests, he issued the necessary orders. So John was beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a tray and given to the girl, who took it to her mother.
Later, John’s disciples came for his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus what happened.
As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone...”
Matthew 14: 9-13
“To lead a better life, I need my love to be here.
Here, making each day of the year,
changing my life with one wave of (his) hand
Nobody can deny that there’s something there ...”
Lennon and McCartney 1966
The birth of John the Baptist comes at the beginning of summer, and his death, at the end of summer. A brief time just like his brief life. John in the Eastern Church is called “the Angelic Man” because of his preternaturally impossible existence in the desert. Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich’s visions of him, claim to tell many details of his childhood alone, in the desert wilderness. And her accounts are a delight to read, filled with miraculous interventions of John being taught by angels and led by the Holy Spirit.
Most often icons go unsigned because it is hoped that the Holy Spirit is the author. But this magnificent Greek Icon by Michael Damaskinos (1530 - 1593) is signed by the master. Whenever I copy any icon I try to be sure to give credit to the one who did the original (prototype) because “in the icon world” you learn by copying the masters.
This icon was created for the sight of the continuing apparitions, in Medjugorje, Bosnia, Herzegovina.
On 24 June 1981, the feast of the birth of John, Our Lady of Medjugorje appeared, later announcing herself as the Queen of Peace. And symbolically announcing that Medjugorje was the place chosen as the “new Jordan” where people could come and be transformed (baptized) awaiting the second coming of Christ. And Mary will be the prophet to prepare us for the second coming as John was the prophet for the first coming of Christ.
So I changed the original slightly, to reflect the apparitions and this is the companion to the icon of Our Lady of Medjugorje, which I was commissioned to write by the Franciscan friar, Fr Svetozar who lived in the Friary, in Medjugorje at that time. I believe the two icons are still in that Friary.
I have not been to many apparition sights of Mary, except for Knock, Ireland, Akita, Japan and Medjugorje.
Through the generosity of my dear late friend, Mimi, I was given the gift of 4 trips to Medjugorje .
When people ask me what it was like, did I feel her presence (?) I can only come up with an analogy, I say,
“Do you know what it’s like when someone across the room is looking at you and your back is turned away so you couldn’t possibly know; but you do. You turn around and they are looking at you. How do you know ?” That’s how I felt all 4 times in Bosnia.
As soon as we left for day trips to Dubrovnik or some other town, that feeling was gone. As we’d re-enter the boundaries of Medjugorje, I could feel her presence again. That’s my poor and inadequate way of explaining. It is further said that each person who travels to Medjugorje is aware, through some simple or bold “hit you over the head obvious way,” that she knows you have come, and that actually, she drew you, specifically you ... to her side.
The young visionary’s all adults with children and grandchildren now, have miraculously managed to stay sane throughout the years, and keep pointing to her and her monthly messages, given on the 25th of each month,
she, who still appears with the words, “Praise be Jesus.”
At the time I was working on this icon I could find very few books on him, except by two women; the amazing “John the Baptist in Second Temple Judaism “ by Biblical scholar Joan Taylor and John’s life interwoven into the “Life of Christ” by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich. So I was blessed to be nourished by a scholar and a mystic. Now if you go looking for books on John, you’ll find plenty.
I have to add a very poignant note here, about my personal relationship to John through a work of art. When I was nineteen as a Jesuit novice in Florissant, Missouri, we took a trip across the state to the Nelson Art Gallery in Kansas City, Missouri. I encountered a Caravaggio masterpiece “St John the Baptist in the Wilderness,” done in 1604. I was about the same age as John in the painting that first visit . The last time I visited this painting I was in my fifties, so I’ve spent many years being overwhelmed by one of the few Caravaggio’s in the United States. But on account of my long loving relationship to this painting, it’s my favorite Caravaggio.
Because of my friend and editor, Robert Ellsberg, I entered into email correspondence with the brilliant art critic, the late Sister Wendy Beckett. Robert would send her books (published by Orbis Press) of my work, and she really wanted to do a book with her own dazzlingly unique commentary on my icons. Can you imagine how excited I was ! But because of her declining health, she was unable to work on it, but managed to write on a very few, one was this icon of John. If you’d like to read it, it’s in the recent book “Dearest Sister Wendy : A Surprising Story of Faith and Friendship” by Sister Wendy Beckett and Robert Ellsberg. But, Sister Wendy gave me the greatest compliment I’ve ever, or will ever receive. She said (paraphrasing) I can’t write about his icons because every time I look at one I go into a prayer. She singlehandedly affirmed my whole life’s vocation of the past 33 years, in one sentence, really just meant to be a sincere apology. And that one sentence continues to be as affirming to me as if she had written a whole book. She also warned me of the cost of this vocation, which still rings in my ears.
I’d love to quote her whole meditation on the icon of John but then you might never read the wonderful book Robert published after her death. And this book is truly a spiritual experience to read, “two saints” talking intimately with one another.
“... He knew well that he would die as he was against the king, but he preferred virtue to safety.”
St Ambrose Doctor of the Church (340 - 397)
Fr William Hart McNichols 🌠 29 August 2023

Valentin Tomberg Holy Christian Hermeticist

December 26th, 2023

Valentin Tomberg Holy Christian Hermeticist

Valentin Tomberg Holy Christian Hermeticist (27 February 1900 - 24 February 1973)
“...the role accorded to the Virgin Mary does not stop growing. The Queen of the Angels, the Queen of the patriarchs, the Queen of apostles, the Queen of martyrs, confessors, virgins, and saints, the Queen of Peace, is, in the text of liturgical prayers, also the Mother of God, the Mother of Divine Grace, and the Mother of the Church. In the churches of the Greek Orthodox Church one sings : ‘More honoured than the Cherubim, more glorious than the Seraphim - thou who art the true Mother of God, we honour thee.’”
Valentin Tomberg
“...For these (letters) are in essence twenty-two spiritual exercises, by means of which you, dear Unknown Friend, will immerse yourself in the current of the living tradition, and thus enter into the community of spirits who have served it and are still serving it...The essence of the tradition is not a doctrine, but rather a community of spirits from age to age.
There remains nothing more to say in this introduction to the Letter-Meditations on the Tarot, because all other questions concerning them will find a response in the Letters themselves.
Your Friend
greets you, dear Unknown Friend,
from beyond the grave.”
Valentin Tomberg
By now it’s acceptable to say that Valentin Tomberg is “the Anonymous author” of what has been called, his magisterial work, “Meditations On The Tarot : A Journey Into Christian Hermeticism.”
Let me just get this out of the way from the very beginning, this book is not about doing or how to do a reading of the Tarot cards. And also tell you there is a photo of St John Paul II, with the German edition of the book, right next to him. It is said that von Balthasar gave it to him. Did he read it ? We’ll probably never know for sure.
As Catholic Christians we were taught that card reading was anathema, sort of like the worst case scenario; King Saul, desperate to hold onto his power, asking a Witch to summon the dead spirit of Holy Prophet Samuel ( 1 Samuel 28: 3-25). No surprise that it is not Prophet Samuel who arrives, but a false spirit. As the old saying by the Roman playwright Plautus goes, “a word to the wise is sufficient.”
So imagine my surprise when I read a review in the Catholic Commonweal Magazine In 1986, that the great theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar (considered at that time to be very conservative) had written an Afterword to the book :
“...By way of these Major Arcana, the author seeks to lead meditatively into the deeper, all-embracing wisdom of the Catholic Mystery.
Firstly, it may be called to mind that such an attempt is to be found nowhere else in the history of philosophical, theological and Catholic thought.”
Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar is also the author of countless works of theological and spiritual nourishment. One of my favorites is “Dare We Hope ?”
He became alarmed at how willing “good christians” were and are, to condemn each other to hell. So basically it’s about “dare we hope that all people will go to Heaven!?”
Here is where I must also say that during the last days of painting this image, I became aware of You Tube videos where some of the followers of Valentin Tomberg, were repeating dangerous conspiracy theories and criticizing our present Pope. From my reading of the Meditations, I found the loving spirit of a truly Catholic mind and heart, who I cannot believe would ever act or write in such a misguided and condescending way.
One of the most practical things I learned from Meditations, is that evil is only capable of repetition; evil has no imagination. And that God can create miracles, just at the right (kairos) time. How many times in your life when you were ready to give up, did the Holy Spirit create a way up or out for you that you never dreamed of ?
On 10 July, I wrote a birthday post about my experience of different models of the church, just in my lifetime alone.
If you read it you’ll see my present experience is that we have been led into a desert, similar to the Book of Exodus, where we’ll do just about anything to go back to Egypt... or the ways of the former church. I said clearly that this desert is also terribly uncomfortable for me too, but I know for certain, the Holy Spirit never goes backwards and always, always, forward.
Speaking to those who honor the Sophianic presence in the church and world, I would say that another great Russian theological master,
Vladimir Soloviev
(von B wrote an essay on him in his book “ The Glory of the Lord : A Theological Aesthetics : Lay Styles, volume 3 )
had one of his apparitions of Sophia, in the Desert. Isn’t this often where we meet Sophia in a literal or spiritual Desert ?
I believe that we as a church are always dependent on the Holy Spirit to bring us back to the center, to the Gospels.
And I truly understand, after the horrors Tomberg experienced during the Bolshevik revolution, that this alone, could have caused his painful ptsd to become enflamed during the iconoclastic period following Vatican II.
I look with wonder at secular France lovingly rebuilding the fire damaged Notre Dame of Paris. I could write much about what that Gothic Cathedral might mean to them, but it’s got such spiritual power, that it means as much to many all over the world.
Right in the middle of my vocation as a Hospice Chaplain, (I was in my mid-thirties) I was hungry ... starving for personal new life, because of the thousands of deaths we were all experiencing during the AIDS Pandemic.
So after reading that Commonweal Review, I immediately took the subway down to a bookstore and carried the beautiful first English edition home with me. The photo on the hard cover was a bas relief from Chartres Cathedral of Jesus Christ (the Pantocrator) in Glory surrounded by the traditional figures given to the 4 Evangelists. Inside the dedication was :
To
Our Lady of Chartres.
I devoured the book in one month understanding only about half of what I read. I felt a feeling inside of me, exactly like a few of the blurbs quoted on the back cover:
“The most extraordinary work I have ever read.”
Basil Pennington, Trappist Abbot
“The greatest contribution to date towards the rediscovery and renewal of the Christian contemplative tradition.”
Thomas Keating, Trappist Abbot
“Simply astonishing. I have never read such a comprehensive account of the perennial philosophy.”
Father Bede Griffiths
Another word to the wise from my friend Professor James Robinson, of Iona University in New York,
“Wisdom figures are to be communed with, not co-opted.”
This is not a book for everyone but certainly not to be treated as a book only the elite can manage. As I mentioned before, in my first reading I could only understand about half of it, but I kept coming back, because I knew this was a hidden treasure. A book you could read into all through your life, and grow in understanding with it... “And the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom...” (Luke 2:40)
In our church we consider little Francisco and Jacinta Marto as great as the most erudite of our saints. So as I see it, Tomberg ‘s book is an invitation to a spirituality similar to our great orders of women and men. Some people will love the Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, some the Catholic Workers, some Ignatian spirituality, some African American Theology, some the Liberation Theology of Latin America, or the Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk and Native American spirituality, some Feminist theology like the great Edith Stein or Elizabeth Johnson.
Some will fervently insist on “only Scripture” ... and some just want and need to simply pray the Holy Rosary. This is what I love about Catholicism; the innumerable ways to God.
Just as in music, I am attracted to a specific voice; it’s the same with theology.
I have mentioned before I love the voice of Biblical Scholar, George Bradford Caird, the voice of Adrienne von Speyr, the voices of “my 911 Saints,” Padre Pio and Therese of Lisieux, the voices of the Jesuits, Robert Southwell, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Teilhard de Chardin, Daniel Berrigan, Jim Martin, the voices of my friends, Christopher Pramuk, Kathleen Hendricks, John Dadosky, Mirabai Starr, and Robert Ellsberg...
I could go on and on. But it doesn’t mean these are the only or even “right” voices, just a very few of the ones who speak (sing) to me.
My first reaction to this book was “what a beautiful non-judgmental voice.”
The voice of Valentin Tomberg is a beautiful, loving, humble, and simply inviting voice. He never harangues or finger wags, or tries to convert you to what he has found.
I believe that if you really believe and love something, you don’t have to force people into it; and actually, in the end you can’t.
This is the very quality I want from Valentin; what I admire most about him.
Right now I’m discovering more each day as I look into a new biography which came out in 2022. So I have a lot yet to learn from him. This is a man who escaped Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution, after his mother was shot, and then the Nazi Regime in Holland. Much of his life he was in conflict, especially as he moved closer and closer to Catholicism. And a few jealous people sought to “cancel” him, as they say today.
After becoming a Catholic everything seemed to fall into place for him
and he wrote with his vast philosophical and spiritual knowledge with such transparent humility.
I have been wanting to paint an image of Valentin ever since 1986.
I’m not yet certain why he had to be blue, (I’m sure I’ll find out someday) as my artist friend Tyler says, just because the artist didn’t realize what he or she was putting into a work, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
I know that I had to indicate
that to me, he was and is led by the Holy Spirit; still speaking to us “from beyond the grave.”
Fr William Hart McNichols ⚜️Ⓜ️⚜️ The Queenship of Mary Mother of God 💠
22 August 2023

The Dormition of the Mother of God

December 26th, 2023

The Dormition of the Mother of God

The Dormition of the Mother of God 🦋 (15 August )
In virtually every icon of the Mother of God, she pleads for, prays for, grieves for and radiates with
the presence of
the Son.
To look at her is to see her love for Him.
The essence of the Dormition is the Son’s love for her, His mother.
In the west we celebrate the Assumption, in the east the Dormition (or falling asleep) is celebrated. The Son arrives at the moment of her passing, (falling asleep) in a mandorla of light and cradles her soul, as she so often cradled Him, and carries her Home.
The Archangel Gabriel, first to announce the miraculous news to her, is naturally there, bowing low, in a reverent proskynesis.
St John the Apostle, designated by the Son from the Cross to care for His, Our Mother, is bent over with sorrow aching with his indescribable loss.
This icon was commissioned by the Jesuit America Magazine around 1993 (if I remember correctly), and I wrote this poem/prayer, to accompany the Icon :
“The Dormition
She sleeps who
knew no rest here.
Promised early on a
knife in her soul, then
watching relatives, friends,
eventually multitudes ... dividing,
deciding, and finally calling for the
Blood of the Word clothed in her
very own flesh.
Stabat Mater Dolorosa
all through
the grisly Passion she echoed
a helpless harmony.
Tears that would not stop,
the convulsive grief, and then
all life leaving
from her eyes,
from His wounds.
Now He returns to take
her soul and body.
She of the abused and powerless,
She of the stifled and wordless,
She of the outcast and empty...
She is crowned forever
Queen of Heaven, indeed the
Universe,
in the kingdom of reversals.
And we, her waiting children
are assured such an ending.
After dust, we too shall be
carried Home
in the mandorla
of the Rising Son.
Amen “
Fr William Hart McNichols 🦋 15 August 2023

Charles Rich Holy Lay Contemplative

December 26th, 2023

Charles Rich Holy Lay Contemplative

Charles Rich Holy Lay Contemplative (1899 - 1998)
“With everyone else who works, can’t God want one person just to pray ?
... About two weeks ago, I was on the steps leading to the ground floor when all of a sudden I felt my inner being, Iight up in a way I would not attempt to describe. It was as if I were suddenly transported into another world, the one eternity is. The whole thing lasted only a few seconds ... it was a feeling of delight so excessive that I no longer felt myself to be where I am ... it was as if I saw God Himself.”
Charles Rich from a letter, 1983
“Woe unto you, when all men speak well of you !
For so did their fathers to the false prophets.”
Luke 6:26
“Now, ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend
When people can be so cold?
They’ll hurt you and desert you
And take your soul if you let them
Oh, but don’t you let them...”
Carole King
I think it was 95 or 96 I first came across a book by Ronda Chervin about
Chaskel (Ezekiel) Reich who later became simply, Charles Rich. I read her book “Hungry For Heaven: The Story of Charles Rich, Contemplative,” and his book, “Charles Rich : Autobiography.”
Personally, what attracted me to Charlie, was not so much his miraculous conversion story at age 33, but how he was able to live as a complete contemplative for 65 years after his conversion. Here is a brief introduction to Charlie ...
“Charlie Rich was born in 1899 to a devout Hasidic family in a small village in Hungary. As a child his schooling was entirely religious, and he had a prayerful, pious nature, spending many hours alone in the woods around his home in loving contemplation of God. However, after his family immigrated to the United States and settled in a Jewish ghetto in New York City, Charlie lost his faith and became an atheist. Desperate to find the meaning of life, and unable to afford formal education, he spent most of his twenties in the public library, studying philosophy and religion. When he was unable to find the answer there, he fell into despair and twice tried to commit suicide. Then, at the age of thirty-three, he found all the meaning he had been hoping for, and more, in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. He spent the rest of his long life as a lay contemplative, most of it with a Jesuit community in New York City. He died in 1998.”
from a chapter in the book, “Honey From the Rock” by Roy Schoeman, 2007.
I think it was when I was a novice, in the Florissant, Missouri Jesuit Novitiate of St Stanislaus Kostka, that I first heard the Ignatian concept of getting a-or-the-“Grace of office.” Simply put, if you are to become something new in your already existing vocation, you get a new grace of office. This actual need, really has to be recognized first. Like, I’m going to be a teacher now, or I’m going to be a parent now, or I’m going to be a painter now, please give me the grace to go 100% into that vocation within a vocation. It’s like Adrienne von Speyr ‘s portrait of St Clare of Assisi in her “Book of All Saints,”
“...she had to renounce the main hallmark of her character: the reasonability which was hers (and quite rightly) and the spontaneous readiness to help and to serve. It is harder to renounce something that is good and beneficial than something deficient. At the beginning of her contemplative life she would have gladly left contemplative prayer to others and not only out of innate inclination but for reasonable grounds.
But
she lets herself be formed
into what God wants to make
out of her.”
(Translated from the German “Das Allerheiligenbuch, 1” by the late Fr Edward T. Oakes, SJ)
Personally, when I began my apprenticeship with Friar Robert Lentz, I had to go from being a daily busy hospice chaplain to a contemplative painter. It took me well over 6 months to even realize I needed the grace of office to become a new person.
When I finally knew what I was asking for, it shook me to my foundation. I had severe doubts I’d be able to spend that much time alone, and work alone. Whereas as a chaplain I got energy and life from the people around me and the very powerful energy of the Island of Manhattan itself. As an iconographer I had to get the life and energy from God alone. It was about a year and a half until I gradually fell totally in love with this new vocation within my vocation. And I’m not sure I ever came out of it ?
In the early 90’s I was blessed with a friendship with a woman, Susan McClees who had been trained by Michael Harner, in the ancient Shamanic tradition. In 1995 I was able to visit Magadan, Far East, Russia, and a museum, in Magadan, of the very beginnings of Shamanism. And two of my favorite films are stories about a young boy becoming a Shaman, to save his people; “The Emerald Forest,” 1985, and the Norwegian film, “The Pathfinder, “ 1989.
Susan told me once, you can never call yourself a Shaman, others may do so if they experience that you deserve the title.
I feel the same way about the world’s Mystics, of every religious tradition.
If you find Charlie calling to you, there are two small books about him I’d suggest again, as a beginning :
“Hungry For Heaven : The Story of Charles Rich, Contemplative “ 1993, by Ronda Chervin
And
“Charles Rich Autobiography,” 1990
Both published by St Bede’s Publications,
Petersham, Massachusetts
So, let me end with another hopeful quote from Charlie...
“We are conscious of a change that has taken place in our thinking and feeling; but what exactly that change is, we are unable to say in words of any kind...All we do know is that something has occurred within ourselves, which we cannot express in a clear-cut-way and that, though we are the same people we have been prior to our conversion, in a mystical way, we are other than we have been.”
Charlie Rich, 1990
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 August 2023

St Ignatius Collapsing At The Altar

December 26th, 2023

St Ignatius Collapsing At The Altar

“St Ignatius Collapsing At The Altar” (pen and ink drawing 1982)
“Even if someone were to express everything that is ‘within him,’ we wouldn’t necessarily understand him.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein
“No one points to God with such shrewd intelligence as St Ignatius.”
The Servant of God Adrienne von Speyr
“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. The same continued after Mass. 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 a part or rather portal of the great grace I could feel in my spirit.
At the consecration she showed that her own flesh was in the flesh of her Son, with so many intuitions that they could not be written...”
Spiritual Diary of St Ignatius * 15 February 1544
I’ve often wondered whether St Paul ever expected his letters to the different churches to be read at Mass, or part of the New Testament. But they are, and because they are so candid, and filled with his spiritual experiences and “motherly kvetching” over even the smallest things, we see a very personal side to Paul we’d never see otherwise .
I also don’t know if Ignatius ever intended to have his spiritual diary printed.
But for me, a single part of a sentence like “... her own flesh was in the flesh of her Son,” stops me. I am led into a contemplation of why he said that and what this extremely intimate “motherly detail” means for us. Personally, I never forget those words during Mass.
The diary is an account of how he came to discern what the vow of poverty would be in his Society of Jesus. So it is not a diary in the normal sense of the term. Fr Philip Endean, SJ, says “... a descriptive title would be “A Discernment Logbook. It is an exceptional document in the fullness and in the sensitivity of its entries, and must be one of the finest accounts in the world’s spiritual writings of one process of discernment.”
For me it is a breathtaking glimpse into Ignatius’ intimacy with Our Lady and the Holy Trinity; something to be held in reverence and holy awe.
During my career as an illustrator, 1980-1990) I wanted to express Ignatius’ depth of feeling during Mass. Then I asked my dear friend, Fr Jim Janda, to use his “poetic license” to write a poem that I could illustrate to bring people into the spiritual life of Holy Father St Ignatius.
Please keep in mind this is a luminous interior vision, not, in this case, an apparition.
“When I write this my understanding feels drawn to see the Blessed Trinity, and appears to see, although not distinctly as before, three persons...it seemed to me in spirit that whereas before I had seen Jesus, as I said something white, that is his humanity, on this occasion my feeling in my soul was different. I was aware not of the humanity alone, but of Jesus as being completely my God, with a fresh rush of tears and great devotion.”
Spiritual Diary of St Ignatius * 27 February 1544
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 31 July 2023

Holy Prophet Philip Berrigan of Jonah House

December 26th, 2023

Holy Prophet Philip Berrigan of Jonah House

Holy Prophet Philip Berrigan of Jonah House (5 October 1923 - 6 December 2002)
“We pray that : God intervene in the ecological crisis as Lord of Creation, because we refuse to change our abuse of the earth... and that the global war against children be lifted...”
Philip Berrigan
“Peacemaking goes nowhere, and yet, it must be done.”
Daniel Berrigan, SJ
Tomorrow evening I will go with two friends to see “Oppenheimer.” From everything I’ve heard, it is a masterpiece, coming at “the last hour” as a cinematic plea for us to have a metanoia or dramatic change of heart...heart and soul, especially about the putrid, infectious, multitude of lies we are knowingly fed daily, and must swallow and live in; not to mention the horrors of Ukraine.
So I reflect on the heroic life of Philip Berrigan who spent his adult years as a Prophet calling us out of violence, and paid the price spending a total of 11 years in prison. In the above prayer he made in the months before he died are many petitions. One is “That Americans grasp that war is our #1 business: that we are a violent, killer people.”
This was in 2002, what would he think of us now, as there are daily mass shootings?
And his petition for us to stop abusing the earth as we live through a summer of fires, tornadoes and floods. And the war against children; what would he think about Ukraine or the order from the Texas Governor to push migrant children back into the water, the water ... which is seeded with barbed wire which lacerates their tender bodies ... one brave border agent has called “in humane.” This is what we’ve become. In humane.
We know from Jesus that prophets are never respected during their lives but persecuted, mocked and often murdered.
I have to raise up Philip right now as I know the conversation about nuclear annihilation will begin, after tomorrow, because of an artistic masterpiece which I imagine, I hope, will begin to invade our entire world.
Because I was so close in the 1980’s to Daniel Berrigan, I was blest to be brought into his extended family. This included the Syracuse branch of Jerry and Carol Berrigan (Jerry often spoke to me about the incredible privilege and experience of serving St Padre Pio’s Mass during WW II) and the Maryland branch of Philip, Liz and children. These are people quite extraordinary in every sense of the word, and committed to non-violence in a ways you rarely ever see. But they were/are also loving, funny and delightful makers of a community of friends who stretch round the world.
I was/am deeply grateful for the continuing impact they have on my life. You naturally change around such holy people and they changed me in ways I continue to discover.
I’d say number one, you never give up your love of God and the vocation God’s given you. Never.
They were ultimately, very respectful of each person’s particular way of serving God.
Being around Phil and Liz I felt tremendously loved. And I have so many stories I can’t even begin to tell you.
Before Phil died those of us close to him were called and I flew in from Alburquerque to Jonah House in Baltimore. His son Jerry had made his coffin, at Phil’s request, and for days I was asked to paint it. When he died around 9pm on December 6, I remember that day Amy Goodman and her partner Denis Moynihan, had made a visit to pray Kaddish prayers for the dying with Phil. The whole house was hushed and I cannot forget those precious days.
When it came time to bury Phil I was asked to do the nighttime burial rites. It was freezing cold in the snow and friends of the family stood round the grave with torches; it was like you’d imagine, the burial of King Arthur.
Phil was a rather fierce man, who hid his tenderness, but he always treated me with the gentleness and the love of a true brother. His love was palpable and I can still feel it.
Liz, Liz... so much to say and ponder. I have always loved her as an example, someone to look up to and as an incredible artist, friend, mother, wife ... Prophet.
I realize these words are woefully inadequate. So please google him and the family, and their many books, and find out more !
But after tomorrow, and “Oppenheimer” I don’t expect I’ll be able to say much, except to praise the artistic accomplishment and to pray everyone sees and is shaken awake by the film.
This icon shows a ghastly nuclear fire partially blocked by the sufferings and numerous imprisonments (once visiting him in prison with his brother Dan, Phil called prison “a minor inconvenience” ) of Holy Prophet Philip while he was on earth.
But we have choices too. Through his intercession and example, “Teach us your ways O Lord,” from Psalm 25.
“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’
And let him who hears say, ‘Come!”
And let him who is thirsty come,
let him drink of the waters of life
without price.”
The Apocalypse 22: 17
“Dear Lord,
Fill us with that spirit of courage
which gave to Your Holy Prophet Philip
the strength to offer his life in faithful witness.
Help us to learn from him to cherish Your Law
and to obey You rather than men and women.
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”
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 19 July 2023

Write what you see in a book and send it to the Seven Churches

December 26th, 2023

Write what you see in a book and send it to the Seven Churches

“Write what you see in a book and send it to the Seven Churches...”
The Apocalypse 1:11
“The end is not an event but a person.”
From “The Revelation of St. John the Divine” by
George Bradford Caird (17 July 1917 - 21 April 1984)
“We are all in exile on earth because Heaven is our true Home.”
St Padre Pio (1887 - 1968)
I wanted to write something for my 74th birthday post and I wanted to speak about the Church and my images of the church, during different periods in my life and the current image of the church as I see her now.
During the first years of my life I thought of her as most people do; as the buildings. Starting of course with St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Vatican. And the beautiful ancient cathedrals all over the world, the large or small chapels.
Then with the sudden arrival of Vatican Council II, in my seventh grade year, things began slowly to change. In eighth grade, at St John the Evangelist School, our teacher, Mrs. McGuire, asked me to make a ship out of felt for the class bulletin board. A ship ?
This was something new for me. A ship is not firmly planted on the ground but is moving across the waters.
I did not realize this image went way back to the early church and was often portrayed as the Barque of St Peter. Briefly, Carol Lee Flinders tells a fascinating tale of St Catherine of Siena, in her lovey, unique book, “Enduring Grace : Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics.” As probably you all know Catherine was alive during the chaotic time when there were three Popes. God had chosen her as the one to find the true Pope who had escaped to Avignon, France, then bring him back, and end the chaos... always temporarily.
One day Catherine was praying in St Peter’s Basilica before a huge mosaic of the Barque of St Peter. Suddenly the Barque jumped of the wall and landed on her shoulders. My teacher Friar Robert Lentz, OFM, did a most beautiful icon of Catherine with the ship on her shoulders.
This of course was a sign, that she alone, was carrying the fate of the entire church.
So I too, began to do illustrations of the church as a ship.
And this image very much helped me talk about the church to the dying young men I met during my Hospice Years, 1983 - 1990, and beyond.
In the midst of the child abuse scandal I was attracted to the church as The Bride.
An image I “encountered” in the 80’s and later on in icons and St Hildegard of Bingen too.
It felt like “the church had left the buildings” and the “ship was almost sinking,” and so I read deeply into the Jesuit, Henri Cardinal de Lubac’s masterpiece, written while he was silenced by the church ...”The Splendor of the Church.”
Of course we all know of references to the church as the Bride in scripture. But what appealed to me, was the Bride was on the move; moving through everything for over 2,000 years, always toward the Groom, and that a “radiance” protected her.
Nothing or no one could ever hurt or even touch her. I finally painted this image for my exhibit “Silence in the Storm” in 2008, at the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, NM.
The Greek meaning of the word Patmos, the rocky island where St John was exiled for his adherence to Jesus Christ, is “my killing.”
Very significant and at the same time, rather bone chilling.
“ I John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (Revelation 1:9)
This image has been with me ever since I read GB Caird’s book on Revelation. I had read many commentaries on the Apocalypse during my 3 years of theological studies, 1976 - 79, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
But as they say, they all went “ in one ear and out the test.” And though I passed the tests, I still could not, for the life of me, begin to tell you what the Apocalypse or the Book of Revelation, was about. Finally, Caird opened or unsealed the book for me. Illustrations and drawings poured out of me in a flood of excitement; in just three years, beginning in 1983, I’d have a tragic experience of watching the deathly arrival of the Pale Horse of the Apocalypse ; I’d be thrown into the midst of the AIDS Pandemic.
With the miraculous anointing by the Holy Spirit, a new Pope would be chosen to lead the church on the 13th of March 2013. Born on 17 December 1936, the first day the church begins to sing the ancient “O Antiphons;”
17 December is “O Wisdom.”
Now everyone has heard of the resistance Pope Francis has been getting, almost exclusively from the United States bishops, priests and laity. When the Catholic media and television began to consistently attack him, his response was short and blunt.
He said “You can criticize me because I’m a sinner too. But when you divide the church, that’s from the devil.”
For me I’m beginning to see another image of the church and that’s
the Desert experience in the Book of Exodus. Moses was asked to lead the people out of Egypt into the desert and finally 40 years later, after the unbelieving generation died off, they were led into the promised land. At first, the people were overjoyed to be free from their slavery in Egypt. Then mistrust, panic and violence began to take over and they slandered Moses, blasphemed God and wanted at any cost to be back in Egypt .
In my final year of theology a brave teacher told us, “If you choose to be ordained, you will sow the seeds for the new church, but you won’t live to see it.
If that’s clear to you, and you still want to be ordained, then go ahead, if not I’d advise you not to be ordained.”
I was stunned when I heard this, but extremely grateful that someone was telling us the unvarnished truth. This is (just) one of the graces that has contributed to my staying in during the past 44 years in the “Church of the Desert.”
So we are in the Desert and once again people are angry and want to go back, to a church most of them, never remember, what it was actually like. They want the clericalism and even the language of the church of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. ( I can truly understand the desire for a reverent Mass, but the language does not bring this about. The celebrant or priest has to pray the Mass with reverence and the people will too).
People who want to go back really don’t believe the Holy Spirit
is and always has, led us forward.
The Holy Spirit, never, ever, goes backwards.
I understand why people are angry about being in the Desert, I don’t like it either, but this is the way the Spirit is moving us, with Pope Francis as our Shepherd. And if you ask me , that’s why he gets attacked, not for the other things he does to make the church more inclusive. It’s really our discomfort not knowing where we are going
...yet.
Scripture “makes a miracle” of the desert, in these beautiful prophetic words, from Holy Prophet Isaiah,
that I used with an illustration of the Desert, on my ordination invitation:
“Let the wilderness rejoice and bloom.
Let it bring forth flowers.
For water gushes in the Desert,
and the thirsty land
springs of water.”
Isaiah 35
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 10 July 2023

St Maria Goretti- Patroness of Abused Children

December 26th, 2023

St Maria Goretti- Patroness of Abused Children


St Maria Goretti : Patroness of Abused Children (1890 - 6 July 1902)
“We are not to make of the work of Acts of the Apostles such an object of veneration that we take small account of this on going story; how God continues to write large the lives and deaths of our saints today. The great momentous acts of hope against hope, of love against hatred.”
from his book “Whereon to Stand : The Acts of the Apostles and Ourselves” 1991
Daniel Berrigan, SJ (9 May 1921 - 30 April 2016)
Alessandro Serenelli was in prison nine years for the attempted rape and murder of the 11 year old child, Maria Goretti ... before Maria came to him in a dream. She was gathering flowers and she gave him, one by one, fourteen flowers; one for each stab wound she had received. I learned this while painting/writing, her icon, and later from the film “St Maria Goretti : Fourteen Flowers of Pardon.”
When my niece Carry was going to be Confirmed in 1996, she asked me to be her sponsor. I was so touched and excited about what name (of a saint) she was going to choose. I admit to shuddering when she told me, Maria Goretti. When I asked her why Maria, she said, “Because she forgave.” I was very impressed by the depth of her understanding of Maria and decided to paint a very small ( 5” x 7”) icon for her as a gift.
In my theology years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we were allowed to take courses at three other schools beside the Jesuit Weston School of Theology. I had heard that James Fowler was teaching a course at Harvard called “stages of faith” in preparation for the book he published, by the same name, in 1981. Since we are all at different stages in our growth in faith, the course was very enlightening, and to this day, I use it to understand where I am and to understand others too. I remember James telling us that people die at all different stages, including the saints. I’d like to go deeper into his theories but I think it’s best to let you read the book for yourselves if you’re interested. Basically we have very young saints like Maria, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, and the early child martyrs like Agnes, Tarcisius, Pancratius...Emmerentiana. And then we have saints and holy people like Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Mother Teresa, Sr Dianna Ortiz, Dorothy Day, Sr Dorothy Stang, Thomas Merton, Sr Thea Bowman... all who lived longer lives. If you’re often perplexed by “us adults” who often seem to be stuck or adamantly self-righteous, I’ll just offer that today, with all the theological disagreements and outright battles, it’s helpful to know Fowler’s compassionate insights from his book.
The saints are like New Testament prophets and their “Acts” are the continuation of a book that will only close with the return of the Lord as Christ the King; a feast we celebrate, usually in late November, as the end of the Liturgical Year.
I don’t have to remind anyone of the recent deaths of children from Sandy Hook to Uvalde, just to name 2. As I mentioned in my blog on Daniel Berrigan, he was often bewailing what he called “the war on children.” By this he meant deaths from wars, starvation, the unborn, sex trafficking, and all other kinds of abuse. He was frequently accused, as all prophets are, of having something to offend everyone.
Maria Goretti surfaces over and over in the culture as a stumbling block and witness. In 1996 Kathleen Norris reopened Maria’s story for another generation in her beautiful book “The Cloister Walk.” She connects Maria to a contemporary murder where a young girl says to her killer, “...there are some things worth dying for.” I think here of the horrifically tragic film “The Lovely Bones;” a film I sometimes wish I’d never seen, but ... I’m such a big fan of Saoirse Ronan, that I decided to watch it. But honestly I don’t suggest seeing it. If you have a vivid, empathetic imagination, it’s just too traumatic.
Maria is the prematurely “old child” bearing heavy responsibilities because of the death of her father and the family’s subsequent poverty.
Maria is the “radiant child.” Her Mother, who lived to see her canonized, said she would have been a saint anyway, had she not been murdered. She carried herself with a dignity beyond her years, and radiated the light of holiness which always attracts good and evil.
Maria is the “abused child” determined to protect herself while being worn down, stalked, and continually threatened by Alessandro.
Finally Maria is the mature “Christ figure” forgiving the unforgivable from her hospital death bed; a sign and symbol of the Flowering Cross.
I’ll never forget years ago, seeing a powerfully visual symbol of the universality of the Catholic Church. I saw a photo in Maryknoll Magazine of a procession in a village church in Africa dedicated to Maria. The villagers were carrying a banner of this 11 year old white child because in heaven and on earth, she is their (our) sister too.
“Then I saw the Lamb who appeared to have been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders...and they sang a new song : You are worthy to take the scroll and open it’s seals, because You were slain, and You purchased people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Revelation chapter 5
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 in the beginning of July; the month dedicated to the Precious Blood of Jesus.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help

December 26th, 2023

Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Our Lady of Perpetual Help * Feastday 27 June)
“It has been 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 in their direst need report hearing
a calm voice saying,
‘Why don’t you just ask ?’”
And so Dear Lady Mary,
We have a very long list, beginning with
Ukraine
and then all the other countries horrifically
burdened by wars and starving children.
Mother of All Nations, do not forget those
affected by “natural” disasters we see consistently
on daily, nightly, news.
And then in the last days of this month,
Your feastday month, of
June, all lgbtqia2s+ people.
Next, Dear Lady and Mother,
all your
children who experience the violence of
racism, bigotry and even
the unseen abandoned ...
indeed invisible elderly,
who have no families or any real connection,
to simple human Community.
O and Dear Mother, what about the intense
suffering of young people today who have
been hypnotized by the alluring dark content
of our social media?
Also the once rational adults who have become
addicted by conspiracies religious or political?
(I’m sure I could spend all evening adding more)
As you look down on so many of us, frantically
swimming upstream,
Hold out your tender hand and
bring us Home to our
Faith
Hope
and the Love that the
Holy Spirit sets aflame in us
for simply
Asking.
Amen”
Fr William Hart McNichols 🌳 June 202

St Charles Healer of Mount Argus Dublin

December 26th, 2023

St Charles Healer of Mount Argus Dublin

St Charles Healer of Mount Argus, Dublin (1821 - 1893)
“Become accustomed to repeating these words so sweet and so meritorious: Blessed be God. May His will always be done. I adore thy holy will, O my God...What does it matter where we are on earth if only we are united with Jesus and Mary through all eternity.”
St Charles of Mount Argus
For me, being an iconographer has meant stretching myself, sometimes so far into different lives, different centuries, from the earliest Christian martyrs to the present day holy ones. And I think my poor friends often experience me, or my present theology, as “very oddly, idiosyncratically stretched” that way too !
In my 20’s as a Jesuit high school teacher, I was at table with other young Jesuits and they were going around the table deciding who was “conservative or radical” - the present term “liberal” was used as its original meaning and was still a compliment then. When they got to me, everyone paused and finally one of the guys said, “O Billy, he’s medieval.”
A “successful” image or icon means to me, that you as the viewer or pray-er, feel the presence of a St Charles or a Dorothy Day. Today we finally have a term for this kind of ancient contemplation with images: “Visio Divina.” This is the slow, thoughtful contemplation of a picture, photo, work of art, image, icon or anything visual that helps you find God; as “Lectio Divina” is praying slowly with Scripture, or the written life of a saint, etc.
When God led me into my apprenticeship here in Alburquerque, in 1990, I knew after my second Icon, Our Lady of Vladimir (or Kyiv which is on my website as Our Lady of Grace) that I had been firmly led into another vocation. It was as Jesus said,
“finding the pearl of great price or the net cast into the sea, which gathered of every kind,” (Matthew 13).
Every kind ... that’s a very good description of what it’s like to be asked or allowed to artistically, respectfully, look into all these holy lives. Then after looking, try as much as possible, to be faithful to who they were and are now to us, in the veritable communion of the saints.
I vividly remember the joy of “being 11 again” as I looked into the life of St Francisco Marto of Fatima, or feeling the “long loneliness” and simultaneously, the winter cold of Manhattan during my time with The Servant of God Dorothy Day.
And yet the iconographer’s vocation is to also show them as they are now, with God in Heaven, so they can intercede for you. This is a delicate balancing act, so I’ve chosen to call some of my works images and some icons, and then, ultimately, leave it up to God to decide, which is which. So this time, I went from the year 303 with Pancratius of Rome, to 1874 in Ireland with Charles of Mount Argus.
Charles was born John Andrew Houben on 11 December 1821, in Munstergeleen, Holland. His family practiced a very natural and simple piety, devoted especially to praying the Rosary.
John Andrew was naturally friendly yet quietly shy at the same time, and found studying difficult. At 19 he was enrolled for military service, but was not very comfortable as a soldier because he always wanted to be a priest. During his service he heard of the Passionist Order founded by St Paul of the Cross, and joined the Order in Belgium, in 1845. He was then given the religious name Charles Andrew and after being ordained a priest, he was sent to England and then to Ireland in 1857. He was apparently not a good preacher because he never mastered the English language, but was an extraordinary confessor, comforting the sick and broken hearted in the confessional. He loved the Irish people and the feeling was mutual. It was through his blessings that people began to feel, and be healed, not only physically, but spiritually as well.
Like the other fairly contemporary “healer- saints,” Blessed Solanus Casey and St Padre Pio, Charles was in a constant prayer. And like them too, the persecutions began; doctors claiming he was telling people they no longer needed their medical assistance, which of course was not true. He always told people to seek medical help first, but the slander of some of the doctors and other jealous people got him moved back to London for 8 long years.
In 1874 he was allowed to return to his beloved Ireland and spent the last 19 years of his life among “his people” as he called them, but also suffered persecution amongst his own Order. One of his fellow Passionists was tasked with “micro-managing” Charles, even during his celebration of the Eucharist. Like Padre Pio, Charles during Mass, would become so deeply aware of the sacredness, the utter holiness of the Mass, that others felt, his Masses were too long, etc etc... The people however, were led into his prayer simply by praying with him at Mass, and then after, asking for blessings, through which, so so many were healed. People all over Ireland and Europe came to seek his help.
Charles was so constantly available to them, that his poor body began to break down.
This always reminds me of St Francis at the end of his life, finally apologizing to his own body he called “Brother Ass,” for his poor treatment and neglect of it.
Charles died at 5:30am on 5 January 1893, that date is now his feast day.
His body lay in state within the Church of Mount Argus for 5 days. Through the bitter winter weather snows, thousands waited to walk by him and say goodbye. In 1949 his remains were moved from the cemetery behind the church to inside the church.
Charles was canonized by Pope Benedict on 3 June 2007. Today, people come to Mount Argus to be blessed with his relic, twice a day.
I can only say that having this experience of being with Charles was very “hushed and holy, a time-out- of-time;” similar in many ways, to the one I had during Advent, with the icon of Holy Prophet Thomas Merton. I felt both of their their lives so deeply, and that’s always such a beautiful and sacred gift, which I hope n’ pray, now translates through this icon, to you.
“St Charles of Mount Argus, you knew the isolation of being exiled from your home and family. Living in a foreign land, you must have found it hard to say what you really wanted, to find words to express how you felt. Be a friend to me in my pain and isolation. Intercede for me that I may know God’s peaceful presence in my daily life.
Amen”
From the “St Charles of Mount Argus Prayer Book,” Glasgow, 2009
Fr William Hart McNichols ☘️ 3 June 2023 ( on the anniversary of his canonization)

The Holy Spirit

December 26th, 2023

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit: (Viriditas- The Holy Spirit - detail)
“Behold, a sacred voice is calling you; All over the sky a sacred voice is calling.”
The Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk
“She is Divine Wisdom... For She is with all and in all, and of a beauty so great in Her mystery that no one could know how sweetly She bears with people, and with what unfathomable mercy She spares them. “
St Hildegard of Bingen : Doctor of the Church
We are at the end of May, the month of Mary, and the season of Joan of Arc who heard critically important voices all through her brief 19 years of life.
While contemplating writing something about hearing “a voice” I realized how vast this could be, and the subject of an entire book. I so wish someone would write such a book but it would be several volumes, for sure . From the Biblical Prophets, holy women, men, children ... like Samuel, through St Paul, and almost every saint afterwards; they heard a voice, a strong nudge, a call. Or they saw some heavenly being who called them into a vocation that would alter their lives forever.
And it would be wonderful to include, interview, people of various religions and people who are agnostic. I know many people who are non-believers who have told me of an experience of knowing, hearing or seeing.
As the great photographer, Minor White experienced, “For the right photographer, Nature will pose.” For the open heart, God is everywhere. At times of loss and grief, we are like fish swimming in God, but still asking, “Where is God ?”
This Pentecost, I turn to the beginning of the visions of Nicholas Black Elk, who is now being considered for canonization as a saint.
“It was when I was 5 (or some say probably 9) years old that my Grandfather made me a bow and some arrows. The grass was young and I was on horseback. A thunderstorm was coming from where the sun goes down, and just as I was riding in the woods along a creek, there was a kingbird sitting on a limb. This was not a dream, it happened. And I was going to shoot at the kingbird with the bow my Grandfather made, when the bird spoke and said: ‘The clouds all over are one-sided.’ Perhaps it meant that all the clouds were looking at me. And then it said: ‘Listen! A voice is calling you.’ Then I looked up at the clouds, and two men were coming there, headfirst like arrows slanting down; and as they came they sang a sacred song, and the thunder was like drumming. I will sing it for you ...’Behold, a sacred voice is calling you; All over the sky a sacred voice is calling.’ “
Both books dictated by Nicholas Black Elk, “Black Elk Speaks” and “The Sacred Pipe”
Have been the source of countless studies and books. Speaking of a study by Joseph Epes Brown, the great author of “The World’s Religions : Our Great Wisdom Traditions,” Houston Smith said, “Brown stands alone in his detailing, in his important study, the way in which the Native American Religion embodies the Sophia Perennis (perennial wisdom) in its own distinctive idiom.”
The Vatican II document “Nostra Aetate : In Our Time” October 1965, encouraged dialogue, concerning the Holy Spirit’s “omni-presence,” and in 1998, “The year dedicated to reflection on the Holy Spirit within the context of preparation for the Great Jubilee also invites us to fix our attention on the presence and action of the Spirit in other religions and in the world,” from the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, by Giovanni Cereti.
The excitement around the coming of the Jubilee Year, was created by Pope St John Paul II, in his apostolic letter, “Tertio Millennio Adveniente” promulgated on 10 November 1994.
Don’t mean to over intellectualize or complicate something so memorable and joyous, because that Apostolic Letter
came at me like a Personal Commission; a voice. I was very aware of those 3 years (97, 98, 99) and I “painted to them” with an ecstatic, deliriously happy, heightened awareness. I felt part of a spiritual awakening, which unbeknownst to me, (the Spirit) ushered in Pope Francis for the world we live in right now.
Pope St John Paul prayed for a New Pentecost, very much aware of the prayer of Pope St John XIII invoked to convene Vatican II :
“Divine Spirit, renew your wonders in this
our age as in a New Pentecost, and grant that your Church, praying perseveringly and insistently with one heart and mind
together with Mary, the Mother of Jesus,
and guided by blessed Peter, may increase the Reign of the Divine Savior,
the reign of truth and justice,
the reign of love and peace.
Amen”
Fr William Hart McNichols 🕊 🔥 Pentecost 2023
(Monday after Pentecost is now followed by a new Feast Pope Francis wanted to
promote, he did so on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11 February 2018 : “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.” If you’d like to see the icon, it’s on my website under the category of “Mary, Mother of God.”)

The Burning Bush - for my 44th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood

December 26th, 2023

The Burning Bush - for my 44th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood

The Burning Bush : for my 44th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood * 25 May 1979 (and also, unbeknownst to me at the time, it’s also Padre Pio’s Birthday)
“I’ve taken long walks
craving one thing only:
lightening,
transformation,
you.”
From the poem “Transformation” by Adam Zagajewski
“The voice of God,
that has been my wish,
that has been my desire...”
From the one woman show “Julian” by Fr James Janda
“Listen, I will tell you a mystery : We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed - in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye...”
1 Corinthians 15 : 51, 52
In the spring of 2012, I was commissioned to paint/write, an icon around these words of St. Paul for the Southwest Liturgical Conference held in Alburquerque in January 2013.
I can remember thinking about the mystery of being changed in a moment, and somehow surviving that change too. I thought of many possibilities but the one that kept coming back to me was from the book of Exodus, chapter 3, where Moses encounters the burning bush, which is on fire but the fire doesn’t consume the bush. The voice of God tells him to take off his sandals because he is on Holy Ground. Just as an aside,
New Mexico is often called “La Tierra Sagrada.” And having lived here for so long, I have experienced this truth.
In the really really wonderful animated film, “The Prince of Egypt” the voice of God and Moses, are spoken by the same actor, Val Kilmer. It’s a stroke of genius, because it signals subconsciously so many things, but especially that our own inner voice can be the voice of God; especially in the case of Moses.
Mary, the Mother of God, and the Child within her, are considered by the Orthodox Churches, to be the Burning Bush, because having the Creator of the Universe within her, she was not consumed either.
I had painted everything but the trunk of the tree, and I was feeling very tired inside and out. When I’d try to go to sleep, I could literally feel my heart just pounding, as if it was exhausted and trying very hard to keep me alive. But I ignored these signs, figuring I was 62 and I thought, well, I should be tired I’m getting old.
Then on 27 April 2012, I went for a walk in the mountains near Pagosa Springs, Colorado, not too far from Taos, where I lived,
with my friend Warren and his daughter Kailey. You couldn’t say I was hiking or exerting myself, and I suddenly felt like I was on a dimmer, and the lights were going out slowly. I had to sit down, and I told Warren, I was really struggling to breathe. He said, I hope it’s your breath and not your ticker.
Then I knew. I said, O yes, it is my ticker.
Long story short, I woke up 11 May after being put into an induced coma.
When I got out of the hospital and rehab, I awaited open heart surgery on 6 June.
By August I was, longing to get back to finishing this icon, and because of what had happened to me, I painted the trunk of the tree “evergreen,” (The “Viriditas” instead of “ariditas” so connected to Hildegard’s music and theology).
That near death experience changed everything. Everthing. I knew that I survived and my first 2 thoughts were,
O no. Now I’m going to mess things up and I should’ve died; then I could die without all the humiliation and chaos that followed.
My second thought was, why did God let me come back? And the inner answer was (like Hildegard at age 44) that I hadn’t gotten my “work or visions” out. I had assumed the Art I’d done was mine, and I felt chastised and instructed, in the way Hildegard describes, from that interior voice, she calls the “Living Light,” that
oh no no no,
it’s not yours.
You must share what you’ve been given.
You know how often, different holy ones have disagreed over this kind of sharing ! Some say no, don’t do it, you’ll be fooled by your ego and then “trampled under foot.” And then some say, it’s definitely not yours, you have to share it.
So, “caution to the winds”
I got the courage to chose Hildegard’s way, and truly felt impelled to share the work, and some of my experiences.
I couldn’t bring myself to share them all, because I believe in the
Mystery of God’s life in you ...
that we are a mystery, especially to ourselves
and don’t really know at all, even slightly,
what we have done or are doing, until after we’re gone, and safely on the other side where we can see our vocation “through God’s eyes.”
So I sought out one of my best friends, the brilliant theologian, Christopher Pramuk to help me, and only God knows why, but he agreed. The book
“All My Eyes See : The Artistic Vocation of William Hart McNichols”
will come out someday through Orbis Press, run by another dear friend, Robert Ellsberg.
Let me say briefly, that Orbis Press is the only Catholic Press I know of, which publishes the great diversity of voices in the Catholic Church. Without Robert Ellsberg none of these people, women theologians and women’s voices, black Christians, third world Christians, gay Christians... and on and on and on, you name it, none would have a voice. Robert is also the author of several books on the infinitely diverse voices of holy people and canonized saints. He holds an absolutely unique place in our church. And one day, will be counted amongst the holy people he’s introduced us to. I’m sure of that.
As St John Cardinal Henry Newman saw prophetically, “The voice of the whole Church will in time make itself heard.” This is shown beautifully on a scroll, in my teacher, Friar Robert Lentz’s Icon of St John Henry Newman.
During my extensive healing time, after my heart collapse, I’d listen to the audible version of “Black Elk Speaks.” Like Hildegard he finally gave into sharing his story, and said,
“If a man experienced a powerful dream, he must sing it in front of others or he would sicken and die.”
I’m celebrating 44 years as an ordained Roman Catholic Priest this 25 May. Only through the “Holy Protection of the Mother of God” (an icon I’ve painted too) I’ve been able to survive and at times even thrive !
And it “takes a village” and the hand of God to survive. Not just from the abuse outside, and inside the church , but also from your own considerable sins and failings.
When I almost died, my siblings Steve, Bob, Mary, Marjory, flew into Alburquerque immediately. I woke up from the coma to see them all there. They were all phenomenal, shaken up too, and showed unconditional love. And after it was all over, and until this day, I’ll never be the same. And I did not die, or as Paul says, “sleep, but I was changed forever in the twinkling of an eye”.
I hope this last quote from a favorite poem, makes some sense of all this mystery above, and of the 44 years I’ve been asked
only by the Lord; for
“No one takes this honor on himself; instead, a person is called by God” (Hebrews 5:4) ... to minister, and “carry hearts ...”
It’s a very scary thought, but try as you will, one cannot escape the truth of it.
“...here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)
1952, by e.e. cummings
,Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💮 25 May 2023

The Yakhrom Icon of the Mother of God

December 26th, 2023

The Yakhrom Icon of the Mother of God

The Yakhrom Icon of the Mother of God 🌺 Happy Mother’s Day !
(I can still hear my Moms voice teaching me this prayer at age 5 - it flows
so beautifully and I guess now, I’ve been saying this prayer for nearly 70 years)
The Memorare
“Remember O most gracious Virgin Mary,
That never was it known,
That anyone who fled to thy protection,
Implored thy help, or sought thy intercession
Was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence
I fly unto thee, O Virgin of Virgins
My Mother.
To thee I come, before thee
I stand sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
Despise not my petitions, but
In thy clemency, hear and
Answer me !
Amen”
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 May 2023

St Pancratius of Rome

December 26th, 2023

St Pancratius of Rome

St Pancratius of Rome (28 August 289 - 12 May 303 -Patron of youth who are bullied)
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)
Every once in awhile I’ll be painting an icon of someone whose story has meant a lot to me and one of my friends will say something like, “Where do you come up with these people ?!!!”
My Dad’s older sister Dolores, had a novel written in 1854, “Fabiola : Or the Church of the Catacombs” by Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman. I loved to look at it and read about the ancient church of Rome. On the front cover is an illustration of Pancratius in the Roman amphitheater we all know as the Coliseum. He is facing Emperor Diocletian who looks down upon him with obvious bewildering disdain, while a panther circles the 14 year old boy getting ready to pounce. One legend has it that the panther had to be given permission by Pancratius to kill him, another says he was beheaded.
In the UK he is known as St Pancras, and St Pancras Station in London (1868) is also one of one of the “wonders of Victorian engineering ...it is a masterpiece of Victorian Gothic architecture.” His remains are held in the Chiesa di San Pancrazio, a Roman Basilica of the 5th or 6th Century.
Pancratius name in Greek means “the one who holds everything.” His mother died during childbirth and his father died when he was just 8. After that his Uncle Dionysius took him to Rome and they both converted to Christianity. In the novel are some of the early young martyrs, Agnes, Tarcisius, Emerentiana, Sebastian, and the young man Cassianus
“...another thread of the story deals with the young boy Pancratius, a pious Christian...Pancratius nemesis is Corvinus, a bullying schoolmate who is irritated by the young Christian’s saintliness. He does everything he can to bring him and the Christian Community of the Catacombs down. This includes the orchestrating of the lynching of their former teacher Cassianus, who is secretly Christian. Yet Pancratius shows his enemy the meaning of Christian forgiveness when he saves his life shortly after Corvinus had Cassianus killed.” (From a Wikipedia plot summary) and ...
you can see I don’t remember much of the novel, but I still feel the deep impact it had on me as a young kid who experienced bullying in grade school and especially, the first two years of high school. Those two years I purposely got myself into “after school detention” so I wouldn’t have to take the bus home until much later than the other boys. It scarred me in permanent ways, (also positively, opened wide the door of empathy) but..... I do know that today, it’s far, far worse. I can’t even imagine the cyber bullying lgbtq children bear today.
I’ve often mentioned in these posts, the great 87 year old Irish historian of Late Antiquity, Peter Brown. His books are both scholarly and readable. I love his writing voice, especially in his 1981 book (with a very poor and today, misleading title )“The Cult of the Saints.” There is a chapter in that book called “the invisible friend” referring to the rise in popularity of the early martyrs of Catacomb times. Professor Brown helps you see how these martyrs became household names and literal-heavenly-friends.
Nicholas Wiseman creates a story where they all knew each other.
In the fifth grade we were given the potentially heroic Sacrament of Confirmation. I was 10 and very much wanted to take the “older teenage saint”, Pancratius for my Confirmation name. When you’re 10 you really look up to 14 year olds. Now I see them as children. I think I’ve already mentioned in other posts that my teacher shook her head (like, again, where do you come up with these people ???) and then said, “No. You either take Anthony or Dominic.” I convinced my oldest friend (our Mothers put us in the playpen together) Kathy Seep Hendricks to take Philomena and at the last minute, “they”pulled her off the liturgical calendar so she took Agnes instead. So in honor of our friendship over the years, and our collaboration on the book “Heavenly Friends : An Introduction to the Beauty of Icons” published by Twenty-Third Press, in 2019, I knew whenever I got to paint/write the icon of Pancratius, he had to go to Kathy.
Kathy’s most recent book is a beautiful paean/threnody for all of us, who continue to grieve...published by Twenty-Third Publications,
“Grace In The Wound : Finding Hope In Long-Term Grief.”
“My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes. Cling to him, and do not leave him, so that you may be honored at the end of your days.
Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient, since gold is tested in the fire, and the furnace of humiliation. Trust him and he will uphold you ...”
Ecclesiasticus 2: 1-5
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💮 for 12 May 2023

San Jose Obrero

December 26th, 2023

San Jose Obrero

San Jose’ Obrero : (St Joseph the Worker) 🌺 1 May 2023
“those who listen for the monkeys:/ what of this child /in the autumn wind ?”
Basho (1644 - 1694)
And happy Feastday of the Catholic Worker 🕊
For some unknown (to me) reason, I keep returning to Joseph, especially my favorite books on him by Fr Andre Doze, and Mother Maria Cecilia Baij, OSB. I think it’s because when I moved from Taos to Alburquerque 10 years ago, I was assigned by Archbishop John Wester, to help out at St Joseph on the Rio Grande Church. Each time I’m invited to celebrate Mass there, as I drive into the parking lot, I never forget, and in my heart I say, “this is Joseph’s Church !” The inside is filled with wooden beams and a beautiful skylight
through which the Holy Spirit descends.
I just discovered this Novena Prayer to St Joseph the Worker, attributed to the Carmelite Order:
“St Joseph, by the work of your
hands and the sweat of your
brow, you supported Jesus and
Mary, and had the Son of God
as your fellow worker. Teach me
to work as you did, with perseverance,
for God and those whom God
has given me to support.
Teach me to see in my fellow
workers the Christ who desires
to be in them, that I may always
be charitable and forbearing
towards all. Grant me to
look upon work with the eyes
of faith, so that I shall recognize
in it my share in God’s own creativity
and in Christ’s work of our redemption,
and so take pride in it.
When it is pleasant and productive,
remind me to give thanks to God
for it. And when it is burdensome,
teach me to offer it to God, in
reparation for my sins and the
sins of the world.
O good father Joseph! I beg you,
by all your sufferings, sorrows and joys,
to obtain for me what I ask .
(Name your petition)
Obtain for all those who have
asked my prayers, everything that
is useful to them in the plan of God.
Be near to me in my last moments
that I may eternally sing the praises of
Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Amen “
“You too shall pass away. Knowing this,
how can you quarrel?”
Buddha
Fr William Hart McNichols 🌺 May 2023

Holy Prophet Daniel Berrigan SJ

December 26th, 2023

Holy Prophet Daniel Berrigan SJ

Holy Prophet Daniel Berrigan, SJ ( 9 May 19 1921 - 30 April 2016)
“Daniel my brother you are older than me
Do you still feel the pain of the scars that won’t heal
Your eyes have died but you see more than I
Daniel you’re a star in the face of the sky ...”
Bernie Taupin , Elton John
“Daniel is the child
who never learned
to speak in lies, and
who suffered
endless false fathers,
brutal and misleading.
His own gentle inner skin
was scorched by prisons
and the blasphemies
of a violent culture
drunk on the blood
of the Lamb.
He brings the sun
of the Beatitudes
to those beyond the pale
and molesting reach
of churches and society.
He cannot see
what we around him
are honored to behold :
the shower of light,
the hovering dove.
He cannot hear
tender Father say
what we drink in
full mercy:
‘This is again,
my beloved
hear him.”
1986 ... from my self- published book of poems
“Fire Above / Water Below”
The first time I heard of Daniel Berrigan, was in high school and I think (?) it was an article “The New Breed” by the late (2013) Fr Andrew Greeley, which our Jesuit Scholastic teacher mimeographed for us to read.
In the Jesuit Novitiate in Florissant, Missouri, our Novice Master, Fr Vincent O’Flaherty, introduced us to as many different kinds of Jesuits as he knew existed ... as the famous Jesuit cliche’ goes, “If you’ve met one Jesuit, you’ve met one Jesuit.”
At that time the diversity was so wide you could use your imagination to attempt, at best, to come up with something new. There were Jesuits in every field, every corner of the world, and it was exhilarating. And this has always been the case, and is now. And I have to say, one of the only good things about my leaving the Jesuits is that now I get to openly brag about them, and I do. So, from Daniel Lord to Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Rahner, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Egide van Broeckhoven, Jon Sobrino, Harvey Egan, Anthony de Mello, James Martin ... to medical Doctors like Dr Myles Sheehan, artists, teachers, historians, Biblical scholars, scientists, theatre actors, directors, pastors, saints, martyrs, prophets, and tons and tons of writers. But even in the midst of writers, Dan stood out as unique. He was given the poetic voice and gift of a Biblical Prophet.
His poetry and books have that spiritual authority you know can only come from the Holy Spirit.
I was very blessed to meet him one day in Manhattan, on the uptown #1 train. The doors opened, I stepped in to see him sitting right in front of me. I staggered onto a pole and swayed back and forth as we began a conversation that would lead to a deep friendship, and he began to work in the AIDS Hospice with me, and we shared that blessed experience too.
I can only compare his writer’s voice to that of a singer; one that with the first notes you know exactly who it is. He used that voice for decades to champion the poorest of the poor, to castigate oppressors like a fierce angelic blow torch from the Apocalypse... as the saying goes, “to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.”
As a mentor and friend, it’s difficult for me to overestimate the effects he still has on my life. One reviewer called him “the Jeremiah of the Jesuits.” But not only was he a Prophet, but we’d laugh until we couldn’t get a word out. He was witty, charming, and so shrewd, he could see right through people, infamous, famous and all of us somewhere in between; all of us “in a pilgrim church, wandering as pilgrims on this earth.” Through Dan I was fortunate enough to encounter many women and men with similar prophetic gifts. Like all great writers he attracted a huge following with that voice ... that voice that dazzled and shook the world.
Following the publication of his autobiography, “To Dwell In Peace,” he was very critically reviewed twice in the New York Times; on Friday and Sunday. When he didn’t appear at dinner for those few days, I finally knocked on his apartment door and gently asked him how he was doing . He looked up with a wry smile and said, “Well, I must be doing something right.” Not too long after that he’d say of all his critics, “I like my critics up close. I like to see what they are doing with their lives.”
Of all my memories and times with Dan I think the one that stands out the most is when he asked me to go with him to a retreat for Vietnam Veterans. They were all around my age, and had asked him to give them a retreat. The Vets at the retreat never saw Dan as against them, they saw him as someone who wanted to save their lives too.
When I began to live into my vocation as an iconographer, Dan commissioned three icons from me; Benjamin Salmon, William Stringfellow and Blessed Franz Jagerstatter..
Because he often grieved over and wrote about, what he called “a constant war against children” - meaning all the ways we kill our young, (what would he say today about all the daily horrific shootings ?) I decided to pose him as a St Simeon figure; with the prophetic flame over his head, encountering the Christ Child (Luke 2 : 21-40).
I’ll close with a poem of his that I love, called “Insight.”
INSIGHT
When I look, I see
I’ve spent my life seeing -
under that flat stone, what ?
Why that star off kilter ?
Turn, Turn ! I intoned, and
out of the stone there stood
What-Not in a white garment.
Jacob’s ladder descended
(the angels holding steady) -
I mounted and I
saw
what
Daniel Berrigan, SJ
William Hart McNichols 💮 for 30 April 2023

St Joseph, Mirror of Patience

December 26th, 2023

St Joseph, Mirror of Patience

"St Joseph, Mirror of Patience" (for Divine Mercy Sunday)
“... I recall a few lines from a fascinating apocryphal book of the sixth or seventh century entitled 'The History of Joseph the Carpenter.' In that story, Jesus says to Joseph at the saint’s death: ‘Whoever shall write the history of your life, your labor, and your departure from this world...I will commit to your care as long as he remains in this life. And when his soul departs from the body, and when he must leave this world, I will burn the book of his sins; I will not torment him with any punishment in the day of judgement; but he shall cross the sea of flames, and shall go through it without trouble or pain.'"
From “The Life of St Joseph: As Seen by the Mystics” compiled by Paul Thigpen
I am well aware that these stories by mystics are not to be taken as Gospel. But I find them one way of contemplating Jesus and those around him. So if you want to consider them pious novels, I can understand that.
Now it seems like a long, long time ago, we were given the Year of St. Joseph, proclaimed by Pope Francis (8 Dec. 2020 - 8 Dec. 2021). That’s probably because the pandemic was raging across the world at that time, and we were all hibernating, as the angel of death was passing ominously over all of us.
In Advent of 2021, I decided to read a mystical life of St Joseph by Venerable Maria Cecilia Baij, OSB, (1743 - 1766). It was a beautiful book that the author claimed was given to her by Our Lord to spread devotion to St Joseph.
Beautiful, but often painful to read, because Joseph was continually being slandered, attacked, unable to provide for his family because of lack of resources and when he did work, was sometimes never paid. In short, he suffered a lot. One of the most poignant things I remember was after the Baby was born, if he was terribly cold or depressed, Mary would hand him the Baby to hold and immediately his body and spirit would warm up.
I began to imagine him as a young man, before he was engaged, or even knew Mary, and his gradual understanding that God had set him apart for an absolutely unique vocation. So I looked into The Litany of St Joseph and painted “St Joseph Flower of Jesse.” Then later I was taken by another of his titles, and I painted “St Joseph Terror of Demons.” I imagine now as a saint in heaven, he’s like his son, and can banish the demons with a word.
Recently, just past the beginning of Lent, I was looking for a title from the Litany that would show his suffering; not just from people, but as any father unable to provide at times, the bare necessities. So I chose to find him in “St Joseph Mirror of Patience.” First of all, because I needed it too, and thought he might give it to me if I painted him.
But all during Lent, and while painting, I felt the opposite. I felt his pain, his suffering, intense anxiety, but I doubt very much, I ever responded with his heroic patience.
It was although, ironically, a very blessed time, as things about men, and especially fathers kept coming my way. Like the truly educational (for me, at least) documentary made in 2015, released in 2016, by a young feminist woman, Cassie Jaye, about men; “The Red Pill.” I’m especially aware, and you should be too, that 2016 was the sad end of an era and the beginning of another. So keep that in mind if you decide to watch this documentary.
Literally, every time I’d show the drawing, or painting in process, to a man, they’d all say, “O that’s exactly how I feel.” Actually, women and mothers would too.
I think we have all gotten used to depictions of a serene Joseph, never agitated, never doubting, always spiritually composed. But this is not the way the different mystics have seen his real life. And this gives me comfort.
As I painted, I’d listen to the audible book “St Padre Pio: Man of Hope,” by Renzo Allegri. It’s ten hours of listening, and so far I’ve listened to it four or five times, (I’ve stopped counting) because Padre Pio was harassed daily, by his own brother Franciscans, the Church, people who really hated him and thought he was a fraud, and by evil spirits. So, never think the saints glide easily through life, happily protected.
I’m offering this painting also as a meditation for Divine Mercy Sunday, which is always the first Sunday after Easter. This year it’s 16 April, (the feasts of Bernadette and Benedict Joseph Labre) and I see it as a way into understanding or contemplating the supra-abundant Mercy of God. And maybe, the not easily understandable complexity of that Mercy. Asking: What does this mean, considering all the suffering?
I love that the Buddhist teacher I’ve listened to for many years, Pema Chodron, always speaks of “practicing” a virtue such as patience. And then learning mercy or patience along with our failings. It’s not as if we’re unredeemable because we can’t get it right, we continue to practice. This leaves the doors open to hope, along with the humor of laughing at ourselves when we fail. This--instead of being ferocious or angry--first at ourselves and then of course, it goes right away to others.
Dear Joseph, Mirror of Patience,
You never gave up on yourself because
You always put yourself, finally, after much struggling,
into the hands of God.
This doesn’t mean you were without the terror of anxiety,
or the humiliation of failure.
But you loved your wife and baby boy.
Did you know we now refer to you all as simply,
The Holy Family ?
When that boy grew up he taught us something new:
that we’re all Family.
Simply because we’re all God’s children.
Teach us dear Joseph, a way to put that “practice” into a lasting practice.
O Joseph, patron too, of the dying,
never let us give up - even up to the moment of our death.
Be there with us then, and usher us Home.
Amen
Fr William Hart McNichols ❤️ Divine Mercy Sunday 2023

Prospect Park Flowering Azalea

December 26th, 2023

Prospect Park Flowering Azalea

Prospect Park Flowering Azalea (watercolor and gouache 1982)
“Let the wilderness and dry lands exult, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom, let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil, let it rejoice and sing for joy...
Strengthen all weary hands, steady all trembling knees, and say to faint hearts, Courage ! Do not be afraid...
For water gushes in the desert, streams in the wasteland, the scorched earth becomes a lake, the parched land springs of water.”
Isaiah 35
I’ve actually spent this entire Lent doing another painting from the Litany of St Joseph, but I will show you that painting, and explain why, after Easter.
It was incredibly exciting as a child to see all the purple satin cloths come off the statues and the Cross on Holy Saturday night and the next day, to see the sanctuary literally flooded with lilies. Just as Christmas is associated with the evergreen and red poinsettias, Easter is lilies and all kinds of flowers; eggs and rabbits.
I read somewhere (maybe it was National Geographic?) that some scholars had pinpointed the date for the actual Crucifixion as 7 April and Easter as 9 April. This is the first year I can ever remember falling exactly into those dates. This year there is so much suffering and death to be transformed into Resurrection.
My first real understanding of Resurrection happened while I was working as a chaplain in Manhattan for people dying of AIDS.
What I mean is, how the Spirit of Love can resurrect a person. I’d be visiting patients who were very close to death, bedridden and ready to move through that thin veil to “the other side.” They’d be telling me of “visits” from dead relatives, coaxing them to come forth, and easing their fears. Then, someone they really loved would fly in from another state to visit; like a dear friend or former partner. The next day I’d go in to their room and they’d be sitting up. The next day, they be sitting in a chair, and the next day they’d be outside taking a walk with the visitor. I was astounded and deeply moved by the sheer power of Love.
Eventually they would die, because at that time, there were still no medicines that could stop Mr Death. But just to witness the sudden transformation Love could bring about, so quickly, I will never forget.
I’ve tried (and failed) to do my best to copy this “kind of miracle” throughout my ministerial priesthood; the miracle of love giving life. And in my life and especially in my vocations as a priest/painter I’ve been the recipient of such miracles. It takes a village to raise and sustain a minister or priest and anyone who thinks otherwise has obviously just begun, and will not continue without the help of many loving friends and the sudden, unexpected arrival of a very human angel, just when you think you can’t go on any longer.
One of the many things I love about the midwestern, southern and eastern states is the lush greenery and abundance of flowers. It’s a very different kind of beauty in the west and southwest, and so this azalea in Prospect Park in Brooklyn was like a momentary apparition. At that time I was trying to mimic as many artistic styles as possible, especially the American Pre-Raphaelites and the pointillism of Georges Seurat. It would be a few more years before I was “startlingly, suddenly, kidnapped” by icons.
Let’s renew our iconic-Christian vocation to bring the light back to those who have been abused by churches of all persuasions, alarming contemporary cults, and those taken away by idolatry of being a democrat or republican. These are basically clubs, “dust in the wind,” and nothing one should or really can, give your soul to; only God is worthy of this kind of allegiance or worship. Sadly some are too far gone into the madness of narcissism or cult obeisance.
These are our times, the world we’ve inherited. And going backwards, is a blatant, hopeless denial of the evergreen (Viriditas), ever-transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
I’m offering you a flowering azalea this Easter to show that there will always be sudden, hope-filled miraculous apparitions in our life and our life to come, into Eternity.
A most blessed feast of the Resurrection and throughout this coming Easter season !
Fr William Hart McNichols 🌺 Easter 2023

Behold I Make All Things New

December 26th, 2023

Behold I Make All Things New

“Behold, I Make All Things New ...” (Revelation 21 : 15)
In early May of 1979, near the end of my theological studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts I needed to make a retreat to prepare for ordination (25 May) and I needed to study for the dreaded 3 hour oral examination.
I had my “Pentax K-1000” camera with me and wandered outside the huge open area of the retreat house in Weston, Massachusetts. I was particularly focused on the way that most of nature turns from red to green. I was 29 and this was the first time I really noticed this, and pondered the wounds in a tree giving birth. I photographed blossoms coming out of the arms of the wounds in trees which spoke to me of the Flowering or the Jeweled Crosses I had seen for years in Art History (and later in New Mexico). All of this ancient symbolism I felt was my vocation to first notice, and then give it back, by recreating these living signs of love incarnate.
Also, for many years I would spend Easter in Baden, Pennsylvania with the community of the Sisters of St Joseph . Nearby in Ambridge , on Easter morning, people decorated their lawns with wooden Crosses covered with real or artificial flowers. This really had an effect on me, and filled me with a quiet joy and a reminder that Jesus’ wounds never disappeared but “flowered” in post-Resurrection stories of love and forgiveness.
I’m not so much fascinated but more comforted, by the true accounts of how St Francis, St Catherine of Siena, St Padre Pio, St Gemma Galgani (11 April) or Adrienne von Speyr, used their wounds to heal (in various ways) during and after their lives on earth. I took Revelation seriously and “wrote this down” using this image to portray the joy and shock of the Resurrection.
In every place I’ve lived, one of the first trees to flower is the bright yellow forsythia.
It’s even seen like crocuses too, flowering under snow. This drawing was done around 1982 when I was bursting with new life and curiosity as an illustrator; resurrecting old symbols and looking to create new ones which point to the same beautiful mystery of Christianity. And truly, to create visual images of the life of Christ in the Gospels, then the way the saints each carry a part of his life in their lives to us, century after century.
As we come closer to the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus I’m hoping this illustration brings you closer to that mystery, of the Spirit raising Jesus from the dead. And that you take some quiet time to remember how many times the Spirit has brought you new life when you thought... it just can’t be possible this time. Maybe you’ll be inspired to wrap a wooden Cross with flowers ? !
“And the One sitting on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He says,
‘Write this down, for these words are faithful and true.’”
Revelation 21:5
Fr William Hart McNichols 🌷🕊 March 2023

Prospect Park Stairway

December 26th, 2023

Prospect Park Stairway

Prospect Park Stairway (color pencil 1982)
“Dear Lady, can you hear the wind blow ? And did you know, your stairway lies on the whispering wind ?”
Stairway To Heaven by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant
“The Poetics of Space” by Gaston Bachelard, 1958, is a most amazing book about which Etienne Gilson said was “...one of the major modern contributions to the philosophy of art.” Richard Kearney called this book “...the most concise and consummate expression of Bachelard’s philosophy of imagination.” It’s a book about architecture but so much more. I read it years ago, but what I remember is that it gave voice to the feelings you have about spaces like stairways, hallways, basements, and tiny objects like sea shells, nests, colored glass, or especially a photograph. How just entering a room may ignite feelings of gratitude, melancholy, transcendence, or that mysterious, inexplicable-deja vu. I have mentioned before that the photograph of the sea on the cover of Adrienne von Speyr’s book, “The Boundless God” does this to me. It’s a source of contemplation, she says, “In addition to creating the earth, God created the sea, which he separated from the dry land and which remains a particularly eloquent symbol for the strength, mystery, and perpetual unfathomable-ness of God.”
I loved living in Taos so much because in the midst of the mountains I felt properly small, and looking at them, I also felt I was part of the natural world. So nothing could define me that was too small of a category or box, because Taos Mountain kept pointing to infinity.
John’s Gospel has that same effect in that right from the beginning you are led out of this world to a kind of aerial view or transcendent view. St Ignatius has this view in his “Spiritual Exercises” where he “takes you to heaven” to overhear a conversation of the Blessed Trinity about lovingly sending the Word, (or Sophia) down to earth to save humankind. You are asked by Ignatius to imagine all this and subsequent visions of the Call of Christ the King and intimately participate in scenes from the 4 Gospels. So much does Ignatius exalt the imaginary powers given to us, that in his essay “Loyola” the late semiologist Roland Barthes, claimed Ignatius creates a whole school of writers. Barthes once said, “I am interested in language because It wounds or seduces me.” Also one quote I find very funny, “I have tried to be as eclectic as I possibly can with my professional life, and so far it’s been pretty fun.”
“All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (John 1:3) Everytime I say these words at Mass, in the second Eucharistic prayer, “...Jesus Christ, your Word through whom you made all things...” I remember John, and listening to the prologue in Latin as an altar boy, at Mass. This is a very good memory of the Latin Mass, but as I’ve said before, the Mass can be respectfully prayerful in any language. It’s up to the celebrant to pray so that we’re caught up in or gathered into prayer too.
As I walked through Prospect Park in my early thirties, I’d get taken away by a pond doused with algae, a brick tunnel, a flowering azalea or a stone stairway. Bachelard did not teach me to see this way, he gave me a way to write about it. I know you all have these experiences of sudden recognition. John gives us a way to see Jesus that has lasted inside souls for thousands of years. It’s his way. It’s his heart on fire. It’s filled with love. The word (Jesus )of God is not distant, “Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will Cross the sea for us and bring it to us, so that we may hear and obey it ?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may obey it...” Deuteronomy 30:11-14.
How do you obey your heart ? John calls Jesus the Word who made the Universe and Proverbs calls Sophia the one who played with God as he made the Universe. I get childlike when I imagine an animated or anime film about God, Sophia and the Spirit calling to each other, “Let’s make Neptune blue! Let’s make Uranus turquoise! Let’s make rings around Saturn and Mars bright red!”
When Led Zeppelin was honored at the Kennedy Center, “Heart” was chosen to sing Stairway to Heaven. You can still see it on you tube. It’s one of the most beloved of songs. We know and yet we don’t know, what it’s really about.
Instead of the two Wilson sisters, Ann and Nancy, alone, they gathered a huge choir of young people in bowler hats and when they began to sing it was chilling, it was magical; even Led Zeppelin were visibly taken aback and deeply moved.
“...And a new day will dawn, for those who stand long, and the forests will echo with laughter...Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, and there’s still time to change the road you’re on... And it makes me wonder...”
“Then a suggestion came from my reason, as though a friendly voice had spoken, ‘Look up to His Father in Heaven...I answered and said to Jesus, ‘No, I cannot look up for you are my Heaven...”
(Dear) Lady Julian of Norwich
“...and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.”
Fr William Hart McNichols 🕊 Lent 2023

Prospect Park Tunnel Bricks

December 26th, 2023

Prospect Park Tunnel Bricks

Prospect Park Tunnel Bricks (watercolor and gouache 1982... and, the Light at the end of the veritable tunnel )
“Have you never read this Scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected is become the head stone of the corner...’ “
Mark 12 : 10, 11
“He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a New Name which no one knows except him who receives it.”
Apocalypse 2 : 17
The tunnel bricks in Prospect Park had a real hidden beauty; terra cotta red and moss grey-green, touched by a little white. To be honest, at that time I was thinking of one of my favorite Jesuit saints, the English poet, St Robert Southwell, and of course, “Jesus the Cornerstone.”
Robert obviously influenced one of the greatest poets that ever lived, the Jesuit and impossibly eccentric Gerard Manley Hopkins. Daniel Berrigan, SJ, another great Jesuit poet, wrote a whole book of poetry honoring Hopkins.
Robert Southwell was kept and tortured in the Tower of London by the maniacal sadist, Queen Elizabeth’s Catholic hunter, Richard Topcliffe. One escaped Catholic, Richard Verstegan reported on Topcliffe, “...whose inhuman cruelty’s so great, as he will not spare to extend any torture whatsoever.” Topcliffe’s victims included the Jesuits Robert Southwell and Henry Walpole...In 1592 he assaulted Anne Bellamy and persuaded her to arrange the capture of Robert Southwell at her family’s house outside London.
I know at this time we are all thinking of these same atrocities inflicted on the women and men of Ukraine. So this is not some past horror, but devils like Topcliffe are alive roaming Ukraine. To be honest, at that Elizabethan time, both Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary murdered an almost equal number of Protestants and Catholics, around 300 for each queen.
St John’s Book of Revelation is filled with martyrs but especially poignant is the opening of the fifth seal ...
“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.”
Revelation 6: 9-11
“... Avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth...” Here in New Mexico Native girls and boys go missing often and their families cry out from under the altar too, how long ? I see there’s a new tv show “Alaska Daily” starring Hilary Swank about the missing Native girls in Alaska.
Near the beginning of my apprenticeship as an iconographer I was drawn to represent anyone who had been killed and no one was caring, or concerned about them. I remember a young man coming up to Taos to find his brother’s killer, and he and his girlfriend visited with me. His brother’s car was found near Taos Gorge Bridge, and he was in such pain, no one was looking, they had all given up. I gave him a print of
“Jesus Christ Seraphic Guardian of the Spilt Blood.” I told him that no one is unnoticed by God, since the very first murder of Abel in Genesis. God says “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.”
Genesis 4 : 10
Recently watching Steven Colbert’s fascinating interview with Steven Spielberg, I am reminded that the Gospel of John has been used for centuries to persecute Jewish people. A sad and ugly truth. Antisemitism as we all know, is on the rise, and Flannery O’Connor’s predictions in her short stories and novels, about “the church of Christ with out Christ “ has come true.
My friend Fr James Alison began his writing career on the mimetic theories of violence in Rene’ Girard, with his brilliant 1996 book “Raising Abel.”
“Raising Abel is a theological exploration of a huge change of mind: the change which the apostolic group underwent as a result of the Resurrection - and how that paradigm can transform our world today.” (From a book description on Amazon)
During these days as we walk with Jesus towards the Passion and the Cross, we cannot help but cry out with the souls in Revelation. Where is the Light ? And how many will die before the number is complete ?
I see in the early Christian Community the same shocking resilience I see in Ukraine today. There is a dispute about the end of John’s Gospel, chapter 21. Did someone add it to the Gospel?
“However, this is just not so. The style of John chapter 21 is that of the entirety of the Gospel of John and doubtless was added very shortly thereafter but before being published by John himself.
John 21 is the 21st and final chapter ...it contains an account of a post-crucifixion appearance in Galilee...during this chapter, there is the miraculous catch of 153 fish, the confirmation of Peter’s love of Jesus, Jesus’ giving to Peter the threefold commission to feed his lambs and little sheep, a foretelling of Peter’s death in old age, and a comment about the beloved disciple’s future.”
Edward D. Andrews
So, here is the Light at the end of the tunnel for me and, hopefully, for you. “Feed my little lambs.” How deeply tender and motherly is Jesus !
Each of us is given unique ways to nourish and feed others. And what greater joy is there than being used by God or “employed” by God to give our gifts to others ? I can’t think of any. We can all find renewed hope and joy in His way of feeding. And we are all blessedly called, to this vocation. This is because Jesus knew this is the source of our pilot lights being fanned into flame and the source of our own healing too.
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, Son of John, do you love me more than these ?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ “
John 21 : 15-17
Fr William Hart McNichols 🦅 Lent 2023

I John, your brother

December 26th, 2023

I John, your brother

“I John, your brother...” (color pencil, 1982)
“I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Sprit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book...”
The Apocalypse or Revelation 1: 9-11
“The last book of the Bible introduces itself as a ‘revelation’ or ‘apocalyipsis’ in Greek which suggests that it discloses things that would not otherwise be known. Although ‘revelation ‘ could simply mean the ‘uncovering’ of what is hidden, New Testament writers used the word in a more dynamic sense for a manifestation of God’s power (Rom. 2:5), for the second coming of Christ (1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:7), and for messages inspired by the Spirit...
The criterion for authentic prophecy is finally whether the prophet’s message promotes faithfulness to God or whether it leads people away from God...”
Craig Koester from “Revelation & the End of All Things” 2001
Because Christopher Pramuk and I are at work on a book of my early work (drawings, illustrations, images, paintings) I am looking back at them and remembering how much I was influenced by the commentary “The Revelation of St John the (Theologian) Divine” by George Bradford Caird. And then after meeting Craig Koester, in June of 2018, I began to read his book too. So I would like to present some of these images and paintings during this Lent. And the other obvious influence is the life and legend of St John the Apostle and Evangelist. In all this, I had to quote Craig about authentic prophecy, I mean in this case, authentic writing. My intention is always to bring you closer to God, and if my writings don’t do that, then please ignore them. Like every painter, musician and writer, I have my favorites. If they don’t work for you that’s fine with me; I’m just here to unveil what I’ve found.
Through the mysterious providence of God, I ended up at St John the Evangelist School after we moved into the Governor’s Mansion in 1962, I was just beginning 7th grade. This put me in a kind of spiritual proximity to St John. That year we had to write a short story and I wrote one in the voice of John. I was ordained at age 29, on 25 May 1979 (Padre Pio’s birthday 🙌🏼) and wanted to have my first Mass at St John’s, 27 May. Later on, they consolidated parishes and John lost his Parish. It was renamed Good Shepherd. I was so grieved I offered them a free, very large icon of John if they’d change it back; but you know how that goes...
There are so many legends about John, that he was given a cup of poison when a serpent crawled out of the cup, warning him. Also a legend that he fell asleep (died) at age 93 in Ephesus after caring for Mary (John 19:25) following a hint (John 21:22) that he would not die. Some of the Eastern Churches celebrate his assumption on 26 September. He is also commemorated on 6 May as “St John Before the Latin Gate” - a feast celebrating his escape from a pot of boiling oil - ordered by the Christian persecutor, the Emperor Domitian.
I’m most familiar with the late Johannine Scholar, Fr Raymond Brown (+8 August 1998) author of the “Anchor Bible Commentary on the Gospel of John,” “The Epistles of John,” and the disturbing (to me) account of “The Community of the Beloved Disciple.”
But I have to say I also love the commentary by John Marsh and most of all, the very original one by John A. T. Robinson.
Perhaps the most famous apparition of St John was 21 August 1879. It was at Knock, Ireland ; around 8pm, and it was totally silent. John appeared along with the Lamb of God, Mary and Joseph. I’ve been there, and because of the silence of the apparition it has always seemed like a living icon to me...
In my last post I pointed to the John-like character, Jabril, in the Netflix Series “Messiah.” If I watch Jabril, I feel like I’m getting a glimpse of what John was like. According to tradition, John died surrounded by his disciples, his last words were,
“Little children, love one another.”
“I see him at prayer...the moment he begins, he is so seized by divine love that he no longer needs to do anything else: he is taken up; the Lord accepts his offer; and his sacrifice is confirmed. He no longer needs to make an effort; he no longer needs to will anything: God’s will and his love fill him entirely... He is never so happy as when he is in this prayer, since grace enables him to share himself with everyone who is waiting for it.”
John the Apostle from “Book of All Saints” by Adrienne von Speyr, page 215
Fr William Hart McNichols 🦅 Lent 2023

I John, your brother

December 26th, 2023

I John, your brother

“I John, your brother...” (color pencil, 1982)
“I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Sprit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book...”
The Apocalypse or Revelation 1: 9-11
“The last book of the Bible introduces itself as a ‘revelation’ or ‘apocalyipsis’ in Greek which suggests that it discloses things that would not otherwise be known. Although ‘revelation ‘ could simply mean the ‘uncovering’ of what is hidden, New Testament writers used the word in a more dynamic sense for a manifestation of God’s power (Rom. 2:5), for the second coming of Christ (1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:7), and for messages inspired by the Spirit...
The criterion for authentic prophecy is finally whether the prophet’s message promotes faithfulness to God or whether it leads people away from God...”
Craig Koester from “Revelation & the End of All Things” 2001
Because Christopher Pramuk and I are at work on a book of my early work (drawings, illustrations, images, paintings) I am looking back at them and remembering how much I was influenced by the commentary “The Revelation of St John the (Theologian) Divine” by George Bradford Caird. And then after meeting Craig Koester, in June of 2018, I began to read his book too. So I would like to present some of these images and paintings during this Lent. And the other obvious influence is the life and legend of St John the Apostle and Evangelist. In all this, I had to quote Craig about authentic prophecy, I mean in this case, authentic writing. My intention is always to bring you closer to God, and if my writings don’t do that, then please ignore them. Like every painter, musician and writer, I have my favorites. If they don’t work for you that’s fine with me; I’m just here to unveil what I’ve found.
Through the mysterious providence of God, I ended up at St John the Evangelist School after we moved into the Governor’s Mansion in 1962, I was just beginning 7th grade. This put me in a kind of spiritual proximity to St John. That year we had to write a short story and I wrote one in the voice of John. I was ordained at age 29, on 25 May 1979 (Padre Pio’s birthday 🙌🏼) and wanted to have my first Mass at St John’s, 27 May. Later on, they consolidated parishes and John lost his Parish. It was renamed Good Shepherd. I was so grieved I offered them a free, very large icon of John if they’d change it back; but you know how that goes...
There are so many legends about John, that he was given a cup of poison when a serpent crawled out of the cup, warning him. Also a legend that he fell asleep (died) at age 93 in Ephesus after caring for Mary (John 19:25) following a hint (John 21:22) that he would not die. Some of the Eastern Churches celebrate his assumption on 26 September. He is also commemorated on 6 May as “St John Before the Latin Gate” - a feast celebrating his escape from a pot of boiling oil - ordered by the Christian persecutor, the Emperor Domitian.
I’m most familiar with the late Johannine Scholar, Fr Raymond Brown (+8 August 1998) author of the “Anchor Bible Commentary on the Gospel of John,” “The Epistles of John,” and the disturbing (to me) account of “The Community of the Beloved Disciple.”
But I have to say I also love the commentary by John Marsh and most of all, the very original one by John A. T. Robinson.
Perhaps the most famous apparition of St John was 21 August 1879. It was at Knock, Ireland ; around 8pm, and it was totally silent. John appeared along with the Lamb of God, Mary and Joseph. I’ve been there, and because of the silence of the apparition it has always seemed like a living icon to me...
In my last post I pointed to the John-like character, Jabril, in the Netflix Series “Messiah.” If I watch Jabril, I feel like I’m getting a glimpse of what John was like. According to tradition, John died surrounded by his disciples, his last words were,
“Little children, love one another.”
“I see him at prayer...the moment he begins, he is so seized by divine love that he no longer needs to do anything else: he is taken up; the Lord accepts his offer; and his sacrifice is confirmed. He no longer needs to make an effort; he no longer needs to will anything: God’s will and his love fill him entirely... He is never so happy as when he is in this prayer, since grace enables him to share himself with everyone who is waiting for it.”
John the Apostle from “Book of All Saints” by Adrienne von Speyr, page 215
Fr William Hart McNichols 🦅 Lent 2023

Park Slope Lamp Brooklyn

December 26th, 2023

Park Slope Lamp Brooklyn

Park Slope Lamp, Brooklyn (watercolor and gouache 1982)
“I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me will not remain in darkness...” John 9:5
I wanted to start off Lent this year with Light. Full disclosure; I can hardly look at anything without seeing a symbolic presence. This is probably part of my training by our grade school teachers, at least that’s what I got. In the Nicene Creed we say “I believe in the seen and unseen.” Though I know it has been a source of annoyance and skepticism for most of my life, I am so grateful for this way of seeing. I look for authors, musicians and artists who lead me further into a deeper understanding. Valentin Tomberg (“Meditations on the Tarot : A Journey Into Christian Hermeticism”) awakened me to the ancient tradition of Christian Hermeticism, which is a tradition of people likewise-afflicted with this longing too. In no way is this better or even necessary in our Christian pilgrimage; it’s just one other way. And in no way does it make you a mystic or saint; It’s kind of a terrible awe or curiosity.
What I really love about Catholicism is that our church is practically bursting with an almost infinite amount of possible “ways.” The saints we love are living representatives of these wildly varied ways. So someone like St Bernadette can say of herself, “Mary used me like a broom and then put me back in the closet.” Or little St Francisco Marto of Fatima, or St Jacinta his sister, are as equally great saints to me, as the brilliant Albert the Great or Hildegard of Bingen, both Doctors of the Church. I guess all that matters is that we let God mold each one of us into what he wants us to be. And we can learn from each one who calls to us. A friend once told me that our attraction to certain saints, is really our actually noticing they chose us.
This lamp was across the street from where I lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn, if I remember correctly. Because it had an eagle on the top I always associated it with St John the Evangelist, whose symbol is the eagle; the Gospel which soars the highest with great poetic, contemplative and enigmatic strength. The Servant of God Adrienne von Speyr makes the audacious claim, that John dictated 4 volumes on his Gospel to her. Many contemporary experts in scripture and theology don’t believe that St John the Apostle is the author of the 4th Gospel and have various ideas about who the beloved disciple really is? So ... you can imagine what they think of Adrienne.
Anyway, she says that of all the apostles, John is the one who understood the most about who and what Jesus was in his lifetime and could understand the most about what he was saying. So think of Jesus talking about “I and the Father are one.” John is slowly nodding some kind of interior recognition and the others are just scratching their heads.
I have come to really love the young character Jabril, in the Netflix series “Messiah.” He is the John-like character in this imagining of the second coming of Christ. Jabril is seared with a divine love and faith in Jesus. His path is filled with incredible pain and terrible obstacles but he never wavers. Jesus asks an awful lot of Jabril. His face beams with this affliction of love of God, it’s just a beautiful face and story. When I try to imagine loving Jesus unconditionally I think of Jabril’s face.
So I could have shown you my icon of John (after Giotto’s teacher, Cimabue) but I chose this Lamp, this representation of his Gospel. I will never forget a brilliant fellow novice comparing the voice in John’s Gospel to Lewis Carrol’s voice in “Alice in Wonderland.” In other words, it’s severely enigmatic. There are those who love and are challenged by this voice and others who find it like Lewis Carrol.
It’s difficult to get through John’s Prologue without stopping to pray. No one could be “farther away from each other” than St Mark, and St John (I just recently posted about St Mark). And that’s one reason why we have 4 Gospels, instead of one. I think maybe John is more attractive to those who have lived a long life and are ready to seek a life of contemplation. And the actual tradition is that John wrote his Biblical books and letters as an old man banished to the barren island of Patmos, Greece.
I think when we get older we are naturally contemplating death and the Light has a possibility at least, of being more attractive; of pulling us into it. John was no naïf. What he saw and went through personally is equal to what we see now and are going through. So I offer John to you at the beginning of this Lent, not as some kind of escape but as a heavenly friend who knows.
“And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: they need no lamp nor light of the sun for the Lord will give them light... these sayings are faithful and true...”
Revelation 22: 3-6
Fr William Hart McNichols 🦅 Ash Wednesday 202

Algae On The Lullwater Pond -Prospect Park Brooklyn

December 26th, 2023

Algae On The Lullwater Pond -Prospect Park Brooklyn

Algae On The Lullwater Pond, Prospect Park, Brooklyn
(watercolor and gouache, 1982)
“All day I’ve faced the barren waste
Without a taste of water, cool water...
The shadows sway and seem to say,
Tonight we pray for water.
And way up there
He’ll hear our prayer
And show us where there’s water,
Cool, clear water.”
Bob Nolan 1936 ( recorded together by Willie Nelson and Joni Mitchell In 1988)
“Mary delivers us from a catastrophic vision of things. No matter how low we may fall, her maternal help will never fail us. She is the woman who, in the Book of Revelation, in the midst of the turmoil and tumult of the universe, crushes the head of the serpent. God has placed her ar the forefront of human history, and she accompanies, as a most loving Mother, our chaotic journey towards the Homeland of Heaven...When despondency makes us doubt others, ourselves and the Church, the ‘little girl of hope’ evoked by Charles Peguy, who is personified by the Virgin Mary, opens a way for us...”
Bishop Dominique Rey of Frejus-Toulon, France
The alternate title for this piece was “Beautiful Wormwood Pond,” from Revelation 8:10-11.
In this chapter the avenging angel poisons our water because we have already, purposely, poisoned all of creation.
In 1982 I was preparing to have an exhibit of my paintings as a part of the graduation requirement of the Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn. We also had to write an accompanying statement of our work. Because I was living in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I was very close to Prospect Park, and used to wander around the park and take in its beauty, created by Frederick Law Olmstead , and Calvert Vaux, in 1867. Olmsted and Vaux, also created Central Park in the midst of Manhattan. Although Prospect Park was much larger than Central Park, and essentially more spacious and beautiful, at that time, it also held it’s dangers, so you wouldn’t want to go there after dark.
Being from Colorado I was born with a love and need to be in the natural world, and often my friends in New York used to chide me about this, saying, well, there’s Central Park or Prospect Park ! And I’d roll my eyes, as if, this, was a sufficient amount of nature ! At the same time I was living on the top floor of 361 11th Street and had easy access to the roof which held a glorious view of Manhattan. And I was deeply involved in trying to understand the Apocalypse with the help of my favorite Biblical commentator, George Bradford Caird. His comforting and most beautiful book “The Revelation of St John the (theologian) Divine” was my constant companion. I had studied the Apocalypse in Theology classes in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but was never able to grasp its meaning until I read Caird’s book. Suddenly he opened up the meaning for me. Much later in life, I was asked to give a power point presentation on Biblical Icons, at Georgetown University, along with Craig Koester, who happened to be the author of two brilliant books on Revelation. Craig gave talks on Revelation which presented the final book of the Bible with much more hope and positivity than I had ever imagined.
For my master’s thesis at Pratt, I painted 14 watercolor and gouache paintings. I have only been able, so far, to recover 5 of them which I asked my sister Marjory to put up on my website under the paintings category. I hope I can ultimately find the missing 8.
All of this was, I see now, a preparation for my coming vocation as a Hospice Chaplain for people dying of AIDS. These paintings are innocent snapshots and heavenly flickers of hope; prescient prophetic warnings of what was about to overtake my life.
Every catastrophe I have lived through, has contained both impossible suffering and incredible beauty. This to me, is articulated in the Book of the Apocalypse, both filled with descending plagues, brought on, as with the time of Noah, by us, and also filled with the promise of the bow in the clouds; the proverbial rainbow.
I so much wanted to share these innocent, yet partly ominous paintings with you. I knew at the time, that they were subtly infused with a meaning, I was incapable of seeing. But St John too, struggled with the understanding of giant scorpions in the sky shooting and harming “the inhabitants of the earth.” I wonder now, was he seeing helicopters and aircraft he could not have possibly understood?
My favorite words from the Apocalypse are about the Healing Tree, in chapter 22. I did one of these paintings of such a tree, without knowing. Indeed I think of nearly every tree as living, healing beings, and yet ready to defend our earth as in a Tolkien/Hildegardian battle for our Mother Earth.
Isn’t this perhaps why we love the Christmas Tree so much and decorate her with so much light and love? Isn’t this the luminous tree of life we spurned in the Garden of Eden which refuses to spurn us ? Jesus the Living Tree who will, never, ever, stop trying ?
“It flowed down the middle of the street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit for every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the Nations.”
Revelation 22:2
“In this shewing He brought forth our blessed Lady to my understanding. I saw her ghostly, in bodily likeness: a simple maid meek and young of age and little waxen above a child, in the stature that she was when she conceived. Also God shewded in part the wisdom and truth of her soul: wherein I understood the reverent beholding in which she beheld her God and Maker, marveling with great reverence that He would be born of her that was a simple creature of His making. And this wisdom and truth: knowing the greatness of her Maker and the littleness of herself...In this sight I understood soothly that she is more than all that God made beneath her in worthiness and grace; for above her nothing is made but the blessed manhood of Christ, as to my sight.”
Lady Julian of Norwich
Fr William Hart McNichols 🌲 💧 🌳 February 2023

Algae On The Lullwater Pond -Prospect Park Brooklyn

December 26th, 2023

Algae On The Lullwater Pond -Prospect Park Brooklyn

Algae On The Lullwater Pond, Prospect Park, Brooklyn
(watercolor and gouache, 1982)
“All day I’ve faced the barren waste
Without a taste of water, cool water...
The shadows sway and seem to say,
Tonight we pray for water.
And way up there
He’ll hear our prayer
And show us where there’s water,
Cool, clear water.”
Bob Nolan 1936 ( recorded together by Willie Nelson and Joni Mitchell In 1988)
“Mary delivers us from a catastrophic vision of things. No matter how low we may fall, her maternal help will never fail us. She is the woman who, in the Book of Revelation, in the midst of the turmoil and tumult of the universe, crushes the head of the serpent. God has placed her ar the forefront of human history, and she accompanies, as a most loving Mother, our chaotic journey towards the Homeland of Heaven...When despondency makes us doubt others, ourselves and the Church, the ‘little girl of hope’ evoked by Charles Peguy, who is personified by the Virgin Mary, opens a way for us...”
Bishop Dominique Rey of Frejus-Toulon, France
The alternate title for this piece was “Beautiful Wormwood Pond,” from Revelation 8:10-11.
In this chapter the avenging angel poisons our water because we have already, purposely, poisoned all of creation.
In 1982 I was preparing to have an exhibit of my paintings as a part of the graduation requirement of the Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn. We also had to write an accompanying statement of our work. Because I was living in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I was very close to Prospect Park, and used to wander around the park and take in its beauty, created by Frederick Law Olmstead , and Calvert Vaux, in 1867. Olmsted and Vaux, also created Central Park in the midst of Manhattan. Although Prospect Park was much larger than Central Park, and essentially more spacious and beautiful, at that time, it also held it’s dangers, so you wouldn’t want to go there after dark.
Being from Colorado I was born with a love and need to be in the natural world, and often my friends in New York used to chide me about this, saying, well, there’s Central Park or Prospect Park ! And I’d roll my eyes, as if, this, was a sufficient amount of nature ! At the same time I was living on the top floor of 361 11th Street and had easy access to the roof which held a glorious view of Manhattan. And I was deeply involved in trying to understand the Apocalypse with the help of my favorite Biblical commentator, George Bradford Caird. His comforting and most beautiful book “The Revelation of St John the (theologian) Divine” was my constant companion. I had studied the Apocalypse in Theology classes in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but was never able to grasp its meaning until I read Caird’s book. Suddenly he opened up the meaning for me. Much later in life, I was asked to give a power point presentation on Biblical Icons, at Georgetown University, along with Craig Koester, who happened to be the author of two brilliant books on Revelation. Craig gave talks on Revelation which presented the final book of the Bible with much more hope and positivity than I had ever imagined.
For my master’s thesis at Pratt, I painted 14 watercolor and gouache paintings. I have only been able, so far, to recover 5 of them which I asked my sister Marjory to put up on my website under the paintings category. I hope I can ultimately find the missing 8.
All of this was, I see now, a preparation for my coming vocation as a Hospice Chaplain for people dying of AIDS. These paintings are innocent snapshots and heavenly flickers of hope; prescient prophetic warnings of what was about to overtake my life.
Every catastrophe I have lived through, has contained both impossible suffering and incredible beauty. This to me, is articulated in the Book of the Apocalypse, both filled with descending plagues, brought on, as with the time of Noah, by us, and also filled with the promise of the bow in the clouds; the proverbial rainbow.
I so much wanted to share these innocent, yet partly ominous paintings with you. I knew at the time, that they were subtly infused with a meaning, I was incapable of seeing. But St John too, struggled with the understanding of giant scorpions in the sky shooting and harming “the inhabitants of the earth.” I wonder now, was he seeing helicopters and aircraft he could not have possibly understood?
My favorite words from the Apocalypse are about the Healing Tree, in chapter 22. I did one of these paintings of such a tree, without knowing. Indeed I think of nearly every tree as living, healing beings, and yet ready to defend our earth as in a Tolkien/Hildegardian battle for our Mother Earth.
Isn’t this perhaps why we love the Christmas Tree so much and decorate her with so much light and love? Isn’t this the luminous tree of life we spurned in the Garden of Eden which refuses to spurn us ? Jesus the Living Tree who will, never, ever, stop trying ?
“It flowed down the middle of the street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit for every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the Nations.”
Revelation 22:2
“In this shewing He brought forth our blessed Lady to my understanding. I saw her ghostly, in bodily likeness: a simple maid meek and young of age and little waxen above a child, in the stature that she was when she conceived. Also God shewded in part the wisdom and truth of her soul: wherein I understood the reverent beholding in which she beheld her God and Maker, marveling with great reverence that He would be born of her that was a simple creature of His making. And this wisdom and truth: knowing the greatness of her Maker and the littleness of herself...In this sight I understood soothly that she is more than all that God made beneath her in worthiness and grace; for above her nothing is made but the blessed manhood of Christ, as to my sight.”
Lady Julian of Norwich
Fr William Hart McNichols 🌲 💧 🌳 February 2023

St Mark the Evangelist

December 26th, 2023

St Mark the Evangelist

St Mark the Evangelist
“...and they all forsook him and fled. And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: and he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked. And they led Jesus away to the high priest: and with him were assembled all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes.”
Mark 14: 50-53
“Towards the end of the Gospel, when Jesus is arrested in the middle of the night, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mark suddenly tells us a seemingly irrelevant little story about a certain young man, who arrives on the scene, clad it would seem, only in a sheet. It takes a couple of verses, ‘And there followed him a certain young man having a linen cloth cast about his naked body and the young men laid hold of him and he fled from them naked.’
Well many people believe, and I agree with them, that the certain young man, was Mark himself. It’s perfectly possible that he was in Jerusalem during Jesus’ last days. And it’s perfectly possible that he heard the great multitude with swords and staves, passing by his window, and that he rushed from his bed to try and warn Jesus. This would certainly explain why the story is there and the modesty of the account is typical of the writer...
I started learning little passages to see if it would come alive, and instantly realized it was absolutely right. The style had a blunt astringent quality which suited me. And it was a Gospel of action, not teaching, one which had plenty of episodes and dwelt on none too long.”
From the one man theater presentation of The Gospel of Mark, by Alec McCowen
“Writing in The New Yorker in 2010, Adam Gopnik recalled Mr. McCowen’s Jesus as ‘a familiar human type - the Gandhi-Malcom-Martin kind of charismatic leader of an oppressed people, with a character that clicks into focus as you begin to dramatize it. He’s verbally spry and even a little shifty. He likes defiant, enigmatic paradoxes and pregnant parables that never quite close, perhaps by design.’”
I was privileged to see Alec McCowen perform The Gospel of Mark, and like all great art, it continues to affect, shock, enlighten and challenge me. Recently I bought the 1990 DVD of his dazzling performance just to be able to write this, so that I could re-experience the theatrical bolt of lightning his performance had on me in my youth. Like Pasolini’s 1964 film masterpiece, “The Gospel of St Matthew”, and the Netflix haunting portrait of the returning Jesus in “Messiah.” I keep returning to these three troubling, unconventional, re-enactments of the Gospels, to keep me electrocuted and overjoyed by the original person and message of Jesus and his good news. I think we get so used to our idea of Jesus, that at times we need to step back and hear him new - all over again.
Through the providential action of grace in my life, I have often felt the Spirit telling me inside, that I haven’t lost faith, or am experiencing a dark night of the soul, but my God has disappeared precisely because my very idea of God has become too small. So I let go, and wait for God to reveal himself anew. Even to say “he” is just too small already. And though one of my favorite artistic images is Michelangelo’s “God creating the waters” from the Sistine Chapel in Rome, nobody has to tell me that’s not a true depiction of God. I just love the massive loving movement in that fresco.
This small icon of St Mark was created as a “thank you note” to my friend Fr Mark Bosco, SJ. He is responsible for two commissions that were so challenging that they “pulled out of me” visions I could not have ever imagined before: “Viriditas: Finding God In All Things” for Loyola University in Chicago and “Our Sister Thea Bowman” for Georgetown University, in Washington DC.
Mark Bosco has been a loyal friend, an honestly true mensch, and I cannot thank him enough. As I tried to say, he has given me the opportunity to create two very large pieces with my friend Roberto Lavadie (a master woodworker). We all know when someone believes in you, you believe that you can do as much as they require and you go the extra mile to try and create something that will touch and re-touch the hearts and minds of all who take the time before your work to experience themselves, your vision. Thank you, thank you Mark Bosco.
“Though the doctrine the apostles preached was spiritual and heavenly, and directly contrary to the spirit and temper of the world; though it met with much opposition, and was wholly destitute of all worldly supports and advantages; yet in a few years the sound went forth unto the ends of the earth.”
From “The Gospel of St Mark” by Matthew Henry
Fr William Hart McNichols 🕊 February 2023

St Mark the Evangelist

December 26th, 2023

St Mark the Evangelist

St Mark the Evangelist
“...and they all forsook him and fled. And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: and he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked. And they led Jesus away to the high priest: and with him were assembled all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes.”
Mark 14: 50-53
“Towards the end of the Gospel, when Jesus is arrested in the middle of the night, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mark suddenly tells us a seemingly irrelevant little story about a certain young man, who arrives on the scene, clad it would seem, only in a sheet. It takes a couple of verses, ‘And there followed him a certain young man having a linen cloth cast about his naked body and the young men laid hold of him and he fled from them naked.’
Well many people believe, and I agree with them, that the certain young man, was Mark himself. It’s perfectly possible that he was in Jerusalem during Jesus’ last days. And it’s perfectly possible that he heard the great multitude with swords and staves, passing by his window, and that he rushed from his bed to try and warn Jesus. This would certainly explain why the story is there and the modesty of the account is typical of the writer...
I started learning little passages to see if it would come alive, and instantly realized it was absolutely right. The style had a blunt astringent quality which suited me. And it was a Gospel of action, not teaching, one which had plenty of episodes and dwelt on none too long.”
From the one man theater presentation of The Gospel of Mark, by Alec McCowen
“Writing in The New Yorker in 2010, Adam Gopnik recalled Mr. McCowen’s Jesus as ‘a familiar human type - the Gandhi-Malcom-Martin kind of charismatic leader of an oppressed people, with a character that clicks into focus as you begin to dramatize it. He’s verbally spry and even a little shifty. He likes defiant, enigmatic paradoxes and pregnant parables that never quite close, perhaps by design.’”
I was privileged to see Alec McCowen perform The Gospel of Mark, and like all great art, it continues to affect, shock, enlighten and challenge me. Recently I bought the 1990 DVD of his dazzling performance just to be able to write this, so that I could re-experience the theatrical bolt of lightning his performance had on me in my youth. Like Pasolini’s 1964 film masterpiece, “The Gospel of St Matthew”, and the Netflix haunting portrait of the returning Jesus in “Messiah.” I keep returning to these three troubling, unconventional, re-enactments of the Gospels, to keep me electrocuted and overjoyed by the original person and message of Jesus and his good news. I think we get so used to our idea of Jesus, that at times we need to step back and hear him new - all over again.
Through the providential action of grace in my life, I have often felt the Spirit telling me inside, that I haven’t lost faith, or am experiencing a dark night of the soul, but my God has disappeared precisely because my very idea of God has become too small. So I let go, and wait for God to reveal himself anew. Even to say “he” is just too small already. And though one of my favorite artistic images is Michelangelo’s “God creating the waters” from the Sistine Chapel in Rome, nobody has to tell me that’s not a true depiction of God. I just love the massive loving movement in that fresco.
This small icon of St Mark was created as a “thank you note” to my friend Fr Mark Bosco, SJ. He is responsible for two commissions that were so challenging that they “pulled out of me” visions I could not have ever imagined before: “Viriditas: Finding God In All Things” for Loyola University in Chicago and “Our Sister Thea Bowman” for Georgetown University, in Washington DC.
Mark Bosco has been a loyal friend, an honestly true mensch, and I cannot thank him enough. As I tried to say, he has given me the opportunity to create two very large pieces with my friend Roberto Lavadie (a master woodworker). We all know when someone believes in you, you believe that you can do as much as they require and you go the extra mile to try and create something that will touch and re-touch the hearts and minds of all who take the time before your work to experience themselves, your vision. Thank you, thank you Mark Bosco.
“Though the doctrine the apostles preached was spiritual and heavenly, and directly contrary to the spirit and temper of the world; though it met with much opposition, and was wholly destitute of all worldly supports and advantages; yet in a few years the sound went forth unto the ends of the earth.”
From “The Gospel of St Mark” by Matthew Henry
Fr William Hart McNichols 🕊 February 2023

St Francis Wounded Winter Light

December 26th, 2023

St Francis Wounded Winter Light

St Francis Wounded Winter Light
“First Corinthians 2: 1-5 shows us God’s power in the very act of preaching...A crucified Savior can be preached in divine power only by crucified preachers.”
Raymond Ortlund, Jr.
A few nights ago I finally got to see Wim Wenders (maker of the unforgettable 1987, “Wings of Desire”) 2018 documentary “Pope Francis : A Man of His Word.” I had heard of the film but never really realized that the word “His” meant also Jesus’ word. Perhaps because I have a very dear friend receiving Hospice Care I am in a very vulnerable condition. I found the film so moving that I had to stop it often just to digest the beauty coming from the spirit of Pope Francis. There are scenes from an old black and white film about St Francis, and Assisi itself is a character in the film. But the bulk of the film is Pope Francis ministering to the most vulnerable people all over the world. If you need a shot of hope, watch this film.
St Francis was the first saint I remember loving. And because of Bartolome’ Esteban Murillo’s classic painting, “St Francis embracing the crucified Christ,” as a five year old, I thought Francis was there at the foot of the Cross instead of St John, and in one of my first drawings, I put him there (you can see this drawing, if you like, on my website).
As a little gay boy I felt hidden and that out of fear, I should hide. Somehow I connected all these mixed feelings with the wounds St Francis received from Christ the Crucified Seraph, in September 1224. I would much later learn from Lian Hearne’s magnificent “Tales of the Otori” that the early Japanese Christians were called “The Hidden.” They had to hide because they were hated by everyone.
Pope Francis asked priests to consider their ministry in the Church to be that of ministry on/in a field hospital. True ministry is always messy, and like any parent, you always feel like you’ve never done enough, or that you’re nor good enough even to be a minister. But whenever I’ve had the chance to counsel another priest who feels that unworthiness, I always say, it’s really not about you. It’s about how much suffering you’ll be able to touch and heal because of your priesthood, and because of your own wounds/suffering, too.
In the winter of 1984 I made a solitary pilgrimage to Assisi, and in that bitter old, I imagined Francis right outside my window, in the Piazza Commune, frozen in his tracks, ecstatic over the supernatural-geometric-beauty of a single snowflake.
“Ciao Francesco wounded winter light
you are stricken with love
by God’s smallest creatures...”
(From my poem “Ciao Francesco” 1984)
Fr William Hart McNichols ❄️ Winter 2023

Holy Prophet Thomas Merto

December 26th, 2023

Holy Prophet Thomas Merto

Holy Prophet Thomas Merton : Gaudete ! Christus est natus !
“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is no room for him at all,
Christ has come uninvited.”
Thomas Merton
"Even if a unity of faith is not possible, a unity of love is."
Hans Urs von Balthasar
When I was a child in the 50's we were not allowed to go into any church that was not Catholic; let alone any synagogue, temple or mosque. Native American religion was considered paganism as were all eastern religions.
At the same time the monk and priest, Thomas Merton, was beginning to scan the entire world's religions in a Spirit led search for the similarities in our common need and common journey into God.
By the age of 24 as a teacher at St Regis High School in Denver, I was required to teach St Mark's Gospel and Houston Smith's book "World Religions."
Just a few years later in 1983, at the age of 33 in New York City, as a Hospice Chaplain for people with HIV/AIDS I was speaking to people of every faith and performing funerals for people of no faith and all faiths.
What had happened to open the Church to embrace the world instead of condemn it?
Certainly Vatican Council II and it's great theologians who influenced the Council and began to dialogue with the reformed churches and world religions ... von Balthasar with Barth, de Lubac with Buddhism, Rahner , Schillebeecxk , and even de Chardin ... with the entire cosmos.
But most of all, I believe Thomas Merton is responsible for giving us all "permission" to engage and respect people of all faiths. His writings and actual life journeys, spread far and wide into the lives of men and women theologians, and ultimately into all of our lives.
So it seems totally natural to invoke him during this week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Here is a man whose insatiable spiritual curiosity led him into dialogue with not only other Christian denominations but also with the world.
This is my second commissioned icon of Thomas Merton. When I was commissioned earlier this year, by the Thomas Merton Center, I found it extremely daunting, challenging and also a blessed opportunity to find a part of Merton, that I felt was often unrepresented; his priesthood. I don’t mean only his priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church, but his priesthood for and to the entire world.
Because Thomas died 10 December 1968, I waited until Advent to begin this icon along with commencing again, my research about the man who has become more influential as the years go by. In the many books I consulted, I was acutely aware of his lifelong immersion in one war after another. Like Jesus himself, Thomas was born “into this demented inn,” a world afflicted by violence and continual war, that followed him all through his life. An idea for the icon began to emerge.
In 1968 Gaudete Sunday was 15 December, just five days after his death. There are only two times in the liturgical year when the vestments for Mass are rose or pink colored, which is the liturgical color signifying Joy. These two sundays are Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent and Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent.
I chose to portray Thomas in the vestments of Gaudete Sunday, something he would have experienced that year, 1968, in heaven. I am definitely not a Merton expert, but I know that the Eucharist is the center of the life of most every priest I have known or know now. We don’t always talk about it, because it’s something that is so much a part of our lives, that we all hope it should be easily seen. I saw that clearly in Thomas’s life.
In this icon Thomas offers Christ to the world, a broken world in every way. The debris of violence and war clutter the background behind him. It could be the debris of any war, the tragedy of 9/11, or the present wars in Ukraine and around the world. He emerges from that broken world, from which his life and work continue to minister and contribute to the eventual arrival of the kingdom of God.
Once Daniel Berrigan, SJ, when we were in the same community in the 1980’s, told me that it took him 10 years to get over Merton’s death. So many of my friends and especially my theologian friends, feel the same way about his ongoing impact in their lives. I think, I hope, and I pray, in this icon Thomas is inviting you/us to bring Christ into our world. We are each given absolutely unique ways to do that, and God is capable of giving the gifts freely given to us, to a world so desperately in need of beauty and love...
“For nothing shall be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 January 2023

The Mother of God of Vatopedi

December 26th, 2023

The Mother of God of Vatopedi

The Mother of God of Vatopedi
Feast day of Mary Mother of God : 1 January 2023
Then Mary said 'Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word."
Luke 1: 38
This is a very early icon, Our Lady of Vatopedi, written for an Orthodox Church and a companion to "Christ All Merciful."
Several of my friends have fallen in love with this icon because of Our Mother's tenderly kissing the Child's hand.
This loving showing of tenderness is somewhat rare in these chaotic times, and this icon is not only a silent teaching but also a reminder.
As we enter 2023 I am full of hope because I see Mary's love as not only tender, but a show of true strength. We all know how strong you have to be to do "random acts of kindness," as the Buddhists say, and to continually pledge to keep an open heart.
Part of the reason I've always loved Confession (the holy Sacrament of Reconciliation) is that I get to start all over again; I get to feel my heart rebound.
My brother Steve and his wife Kathy have a tradition on New Year's Eve of writing down their hopes and wishes for the New Year and then opening last year's list and seeing almost everything that has happened. So I always think of them on 31 December. My sister Margie just posted that an old Irish tradition on New Year’s Eve is to open the door at midnight and let the old year out and the new one in .... which added an extra comical thought “I think this year deserves all the doors, windows and the garage doors too.”
I also think of the Holy New Martyr (Ukrainian) St Nestor Savchuck, who was martyred 31 December 1993. Dear Nestor, please intercede with Our Lord to end that war 🙏🏼🇺🇦
We all have a host of issues, problems, hopes, dreams, desires that we can bring to the "strongest Woman/Mother" in the world on one of her annual Feastdays. Watch her this year, as not only a tender person but as the first disciple of Jesus.
A most blessed New Year and let's begin again today to "allow God to continue" to love Us that we may all await the reign of Jesus Christ, our only King.
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 1 January 2023

The Holy Family for Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem

December 26th, 2023

The Holy Family for Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem

The Holy Family for Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem : Frame by Roberto Lavadie of Taos, New Mexico
“...He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
From the Prologue of St John’s Gospel
Perhaps the most beautiful words in the Gospels come from this incredible,
sonorous, mystical Prologue. In her commentary (she audaciously asserts, was dictated to her by St John himself) on the Gospel of John, Adrienne von Speyr comments on nearly every sentence. I have found it difficult to suggest reading Adrienne to almost anyone. But for me, I can read a few sentences and she is so profound that I have to stop. She has played a huge role in my spiritual life and understanding. I’ve read most of her books that have been translated, but there are many more, which await translation. True mystics are as rare as hen’s teeth, so I don’t use, in fact...never use, that word lightly. The suffering of a true mystic makes me shudder, and yet because they have been given this gift, for the Church, or our world, by God, I am drawn to them... “The abundant harvest of graces hidden in Adrienne’s theological mission for our times still waits to be more fully carried into the storehouses of the Church for whom she was sent.”
Jacques Servais,SJ.
And let me say also, I truly believe there have been and are, true mystics in all religious traditions.
This icon was commissioned for the Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, Israel, “Holy Family Hospital is the premier maternity hospital and neonatal care center in the Bethlehem region of the West Bank. It’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit cares for the critically-ill newborns, some weighing just over one pound.”
In all honesty, I was overwhelmed by this request. Imagine trying to create an icon of the Holy Family for Bethlehem?! I put everything I had in my heart and spirit into creating Joseph sheltering Mary and the Child. My dear friend, master woodworker, Roberto Lavadie, knows always, exactly what is needed. He instinctively carved flowers from Israel into the frame, and I had a metal plate made with the name of the icon in three languages.
It turns out we are always waiting for some war or other, to end. Holy Prophet Thomas Merton once prophetically said, “There will always be another war to end war.” Did you see President Zelensky speaking to Congress ? I can’t even fathom that there were people in Congress who would not stand, applaud or support him; but there were. People who are safe and warm in this terrible time for Ukraine. I was so ashamed of them. “And yet, and yet” as Fr Daniel Berrigan, SJ, used to say and write, we live in such shameful times, when the massacre of children, ordinary civilians, means nothing to these people. And you could cite so many other atrocities along with Ukraine.
Such is the True story of Christmas. If you don’t touch into this story, all the Santa’s, the Hallmark stories, the elves, the reindeers , lighted trees, and the white Christmases will never bring you to this very real story, happening right now. These will never bring you the Peace inside the real Christmas story. I purposely listen to these “minor chord” Carols which have substance; a sense of what His birth brought into our world.
Then what are we to do ? I remember being transfixed by the character Linda Hunt played in the film, “A Year of Living Dangerously.” He ( she played a man) asked “What then are we to do ?” His answer was the words of St John the Baptist, (Luke 3:10). The answer is simply to hear the cries and share the abundance you have been given by God. It doesn’t matter how. This means all abundance; spiritual, physical, monetary, artistic ... use your incredible imagination... in any way, share what you have been given, freely.
We are all gifted in something ; simply give . I’ve continually found this as not a source of guilt, but as an honor, a privilege, a joy of all joys. I always think of the two patrons of the Third Order of St Francis, St Louis IX and St Elizabeth of Hungary, royalty, who loved to be extravagant in their giving. They were wealthy, a king and a queen, but they listened and responded. When I hear these words from St Luke’s Gospel, I think first : happiness consists of being used by God... and then squandering what has been given, by Him to us.
Only songs like “The Coventry Carol” (my favorite version is by Alison Moyet where she literally wails) really get at the true story. Somehow out of the poverty of the Birth of Jesus we become His disciples. This night, Christmas Eve, is a birth of Christianity; Our birth...Our real life...Our happiness ... Our Hope... Our truly honest Joy ! A Blessed Christmas with love to you all !
Fr William Hart McNichols 🎄👶🏻🎄Christmas Eve 2022

The Advent of Hagia Sophia

December 26th, 2023

The Advent of Hagia Sophia

The Advent of Hagia Sophia
“What Wisdom is and how She came to be, I will now declare,
I will hide none of the secrets from you; I will trace Her right from
the beginning and set out knowledge of Her, plainly, not swerving
from the truth...She is a breath of the power of God, pure emanation
of the glory of the Almighty; hence nothing impure can find a way
into Her. She is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of
God’s active power, image of His goodness... She deploys Her strength
from one end of the earth to the other, ordering all things for good.”
Wisdom 6, 7
Many years ago I was invited to give a small retreat at Wisdom House Retreat and Conference Center, run by the Order of the Daughters of Wisdom, in Litchfield, Connecticut. This Order of women was founded in the 18th century by St Louis de Montfort and Blessed Marie Louise Trichet. The aim of the Daughters of Wisdom congregation was to seek Divine Wisdom. Meeting these women I was eventually commissioned to write an icon of one of their sisters who was martyred in Africa in the 1964 Congo massacre; “Holy New Martyr Sister Mary Antionette” (Anne Donniacu) of America. In my retreat room there was hanging right over the bathroom mirror, on a thin red cord of yarn, a brief quote by St Louis de Montfort: “Wisdom is the Cross; the Cross is Wisdom.” And another quote in a book written by one of the sisters, from the early Church Father (rehabilitated by Cardinal von Balthasar) Origen Adamantius.
I cant remember it exactly but it was close to this; “Wisdom took a body and became like every other crying child ...”
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the Logos or Word, taking a body, but I’d never heard of him before as graphically taking a body, as literal-Wisdom-incarnate . I know this is in writing in St Paul, but I never heard it so bluntly, so visually put, as with Origen. Then I began to notice how much St John’s Jesus often sounds like Wisdom speaking in the Book of Proverbs. Needless to say, this sent me on a search for years, looking first into Origen, using the book “Origen : Spirit and Fire” by Hans Urs von Balthasar, translated by my former teacher, Fr Robert Daly, SJ. Then of course, the 5 Wisdom books in Scripture and the wonderful commentary “The Wisdom Literature” by Kathleen O’Connor. This finally led me to read Christopher Pramuk’s incredibly evocative and beautiful book “Sophia: the Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton.” I can’t mention all the other places I found Wisdom, mainly in the Russian Theologians, but finally my search came out in many icons including this one: “The Advent of Hagia Sophia” - the Coming of Holy Wisdom.
I place these books before you, just in case you are interested in looking for Wisdom too. I often feel like I had much more wisdom when I was a a child and younger man, but I think the truth is, that She continually calls to us in each part of our lives, and must be found again and again.
In the icon She descends from above, visually similar to the image I painted of the Buddhist Tanka in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; of the “Amitabha Buddha Descending from the Pure Lands.” Looking at It now, years later I see a kind of Trinitarian imagery with Jesus’ hand coaxing her to alight upon us, and the table as the Father or ground of being, holding Holy Scripture, as in some ancient Orthodox icons, and the flame of course, the Holy Spirit. This was not my intention then, but Wisdom continues to surprise me and She is still my Teacher.
Chris Pramuk, a teacher, author, theologian ,husband and father too, most recently wrote a meditation on a poem by Thomas Merton about the Visitation, the meeting between Mary and her relative Elizabeth. I asked his permission to quote from the ending :
“The great temptation of our time, it seems to me, and for young people especially, is cynicism, the cold shadow-side of despair. The elder Elizabeth wonders how such miracles are not only possible for Mary but would be given to her, a longtime barren woman living under the boot of Roman occupation in the sunset chapters of her life. The whole of Luke’s Nativity story, and this scene in particular, rebels against the preeminent lie of our times that there are no new gifts to be given. Faith’s fragile ‘Yes’ makes it possible once again to find a way through this ‘eyeless dark’ with renewed hope, and to find our way together.
From Mary and Elizabeth, Joseph and Zechariah, Jesus and John, the Nativity story spirals outward to meet us where we are, two millennia later. With our Yes, the seed of Advent faith trembles in the realization that our humble lives too, no less than Jesus’s ‘could be washed in the Spirit of God.’ Oh burning joy! Blessed are we, when we believe that what was promised to us by the Lord will be fulfilled. “
Today (also Pope Francis’ 86th Birthday !) we begin the ancient “O Antiphons” beginning with “O Wisdom” ...
“O come thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in Her ways to go. Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel, shall come to thee, O Israel.”
May Hagia Sophia alight on us now, in this season of Her descending, and please please please, Dear Lord, send Her to mightily to
Russia for her sister, Ukraine 🙏🏼
Fr William Hart McNichols 🕯🇺🇦🕯 17 December 2022

Mother of God Light In All Darkness - For Gaudete Sunday

December 26th, 2023

Mother of God Light In All Darkness - For Gaudete Sunday

Mother of God Light In All Darkness : For Gaudete Sunday
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”
Philippians 4:4-5
Mother of God
Light In All Darkness,
Shelter Him our flame of hope
With your tender hands.
And in our times of
Dread and nightmares,
Let Him be our dream of comfort.
And in our times of
Physical pain and suffering,
Let Him be our healer.
And in our times of separation,
From God and one another,
Let Him be our communion.
Amen
There are two Sundays in the year when the liturgical vestments are rose or pink colored; Gaudete Sunday in Advent and Laetare Sunday in Lent. Rose is the color of Joy and the Church rejoices as Christ is coming at Christmas and Christ is Rising at Easter. Every year we go through the life of Christ; each season offers us a “view with intimacy” so that relating to him, becomes the way or pattern of our lives too. As an iconographer I am also particularly blessed to celebrate all “His Hallows” the almost infinite world of the saints. At times I get to paint images of people who are not canonized saints, but who have had a strong, positive effect on my life; such as Maura Soshin O’Halloran, Rachel Carson, Elijah McClain, Robert A. Johnson, and many more. At this time, for instance ,I am working on another commission of Thomas Merton.
When I was teaching art and theology at Regis High School in Denver, the students introduced me to the musical group Steeleye Span, who sang this robust old English hymn, “Gaudete.” If you google that hymn I think you’ll find it wild and celebratory.
This icon I’m showing you now, is the culmination of my life as a Hospice Chaplain with people dying at the time of the pandemic of AIDS. As an illustrator before I became an iconographer, I did many drawings aimed at the terrible suffering I saw and the violent prejudice we all experienced, being in any way connected to this pandemic. These drawings and one painting, can be seen on my website. So, when I began to paint/write icons, I was commissioned very soon to do an icon not about the suffering and prejudice that those who were sick experienced, but something that would comfort them. I chose to model this icon on the Russian 14th. century, Icon of the Theotokos of Pimen.
I knew from listening to those who during the 80’s were certain of dying, that they felt their greatest suffering was fear. They were inundated with the negative voices in their heads, from the culture around them, that not only were they alone, but also they could not trust anyone from any religious community, who were quite eager to damn them for eternity. At that time, this was a popular theology, and I’m sorry to say, that now we hear this all the time, not just about lgbtq people, but for anyone who dares antagonize the strident voices of the far right or far left. So much so, that I no longer have to explain what this vehement prejudice was like then; because it’s front and center now. I received a lot of help from the late theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book “Dare We Hope?” Meaning, dare we hope that everyone will go to Heaven ? In his book von B says we are all so eager to damn the “other side” to hell, but this is not Christian. We should want, and beg Heaven for our own conversion and that of everyone; even as Jesus told us, our enemies. Just now as I write this I see Trevor Noah on tv speaking of his new comedy Netflix show, about "The End of Days.” We hear this all the time now. I’m not convinced of that yet. Perhaps what I really believe is the convulsions of a new Heaven, new Earth, spoken about by the author of the Apocalypse. This final book of the Bible has been linked to the Beloved Apostle John, exiled to the island of Patmos for his love of Jesus. Tradition tells us he is the only apostle who was not murdered. And that he was given Our Blessed Mother, to care for, by Jesus, dying on the Cross (John 19:26-27). As the late scripture scholar G.B. Caird said, “The end is not an event but a Person.”
In this icon, I have the Holy Child holding a candle. The candle symbolizes the sick person. The Child is too young to have any prejudices so he holds all of us, and his Mother, Our Mother, shelters his flame with her tender hands.
I offer this icon for Gaudete Sunday because for me, this is true joy, in the midst of suffering. I wrote this prayer “thinking musically,” as the prayers I love always have that musical element, like the Irish prayer, “The Breastplate of St Patrick.” Much to my surprise someone from the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, did put this prayer to music. I have never heard it performed, but I did see the music sheet, around the time of World Youth Day in 1993. And I must mention that my dear friend Mirabai Starr, did the impossible, by writing 51 astonishingly beautiful prayers, for our book “Mother of God Similar to Fire.” It’s difficult to write one beautiful prayer, but 51 ? That’s a “Holy Spirit-given talent,” and Mirabai’s love for Mary is palpable in each prayer.
My prayer ends with one of our most beautiful words “communion.” We who receive the body and blood of Christ know this word as meaning, the simple host or bread. But this word is so powerful in its meaning of literal togetherness; something we are promised when our soul leaves our body, but something we can experience, at unexpected times, here on earth. I believe in these precious moments of communion, and
A Blessed Gaudete Sunday❗️
Fr Bill McNichols 🎄 December 2022

Our Sister Thea Bowman

December 26th, 2023

Our Sister Thea Bowman

Our Sister Thea Bowman * (29 December 1937 - 30 March 1990)
“I think that children carry a message just by the way they are, and it’s a message that needs to be heard ... My approach is : teach me. I will learn. I want to learn. I want to keep learning until I die. But I also want to teach. I want to accept your gifts. Please share your treasures with me, but I also want to share my treasures with you.”
The Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman
“Behold, a sacred voice is calling you; all over the sky a sacred voice is calling.”
The Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk
“If reality speaks and God can speak in it, especially when it cries out, then listening to it is a necessary way of realizing our humanity.”
Jon Sobrino, SJ
“Vocation is a gradual revelation - of me to myself by God ... It is who we are, trying to happen.”
Evelyn and James Whitehead
I was very honored when Fr Mark Bosco, SJ commissioned me to write/paint an icon of Thea, for a chapel at Georgetown University. My next very real, kinda worried thought, was actually, why did Thea pick me? How would I place a very vibrant, warm, extremely intelligent, rowdy (her own word about herself), literally glowing woman into an iconic form ? That question of mine really gets to the very purpose for having an icon rather than a photograph or painted portrait. I could give you many examples but let me just tell you one.
In 1998 a dear friend, Mimi Meriwether took me and another one of her friends to visit the most recent purported apparition site of the Mother of God, in Medjugorje, Bosnia, Herzegovina. I think it might have been the second night we were there when the Franciscan author and chaplain to the visionaries, Fr Svetozar Krajalic, drove up to the house where we were staying and asked me to write an icon of Our Lady of Medjugorje. I had read (and later got to hear from them personally) the visionaries’ description of Mary. It was like a lovely Croatian girl, I thought, and then they said... “She is about 17. She has long, black curly hair down to her waist. She has dark blue eyes and very rosy cheeks. She wears a grey dress and white veil. She is standing on a small cloud with twelve stars around her head.” My thoughts were really, how can I fit this beautiful living girl into an iconic form ? But Fr Svet insisted, so I went ahead and did a symbolic icon of her. This is exactly how I felt when Fr Mark commissioned me to make Thea into an iconic presence. I use the word presence on purpose, because an icon is supposed to give you the opportunity to pray with Thea as she is now, in Heaven. This is because a true icon is more real than a photograph or painting. I know this is a very strong claim to make, but this is my own experience. Also it is more challenging when a prototype or original of an icon does not yet exist; when you are called upon to create the prototype. An icon takes time to sit with, to converse with to get to know; the same time it may take to get to know and love a friend.
In 1995 I painted/wrote the icon of the Ukrainian Holy New Martyr Nestor Savchuk. In 1996 an Orthodox Church in Atlanta asked to purchase Nestor because he had been martyred in 1993, and the youth in that church had a great devotion to him. It was very hard to give him up, but I did because I had his photograph and I thought I’d frame it and he’d still be with me. After taking him to be shipped to Atlanta, I came back to my room at St Mary’s Hall In Boston College and, his “presence” was gone, even though I had his photo.
This is how I learned the very real presence and need for an icon.
I started by asking a woman I know from our parish here in Albuquerque, St Joseph on the Rio Grande, to pose for me, Louise Davis. She is also a member of the African American Catholic Community. Louise gave me many symbols to work with including the acacia tree, with the word Umoja, unity, written beneath the tree. This word means, “to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves...” you see this tree near the bottom of Thea’s dress. That tree is the symbol of the African American Catholic Community. Then I chose the Nsoromma star on her headdress, meaning “child of the heavens.” The Nsoromma ne Osrane, star and moon, a symbol of faithfulness. And finally the ladder, Owuo Atwedie, “all people shall climb the ladder of death.” Around her neck are leaves and berries signifying Thea’s abundant life affirming power; while she was here on earth and now as one of our intercessors . She also wears a red necklace of the Franciscan Tau Cross. I painted that cross red to honor that the Franciscans bear the charism of the 5 wounds, the stigmata; from Francis right up until the present with Padre Pio.
Above Thea is a brown Holy Spirit, signifying God is “all races.” This brown Spirit I first saw and copied in a 19th century icon of Mary called “Mother of God Your Lap Has Become the Holy Table.” In this Icon Mary, the Child and Holy Spirit are all deep brown. Rays of the Spirit surround Thea as she opens her arms in “Marian fashion” to receive all of us.
This icon was almost a year’s prayer, work and many spiritual meetings with those African Americans whom (since I was born in 1949) I have especially admired; Dr King and Coretta Scott King... whom I actually met at his tomb in Atlanta, and I will never forget our exchange; Malcom X, James Baldwin, Elijah McClain, and of course, Thea Bowman. I spent this past year with her.
Now, let us pray together, this prayer composed for the canonization of Thea :
“Ever loving God, who by Your infinite goodness inflamed the heart of Your servant and religious, Sister Thea Bowman with ardent love for You and the people of God, a love expressed through her indomitable spirit, deep and abiding faith, dedicated teaching, and unwavering witnessing of the joy of the Gospel.
Her prophetic witness continues to inspire us to share the Good News with those whom we encounter, most especially the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. May Sister Thea’s life and legacy compel us to walk together, and to remain together as missionary disciples ushering in the New Evangelization for the Church we love.
Gracious God imbue us with the grace and perseverance that You gave Your servant, Sister Thea. For in turbulent times of racial injustice, she brought wisdom, awareness, unity, and charity. In times of pain, sickness, and suffering, she taught us how to live fully until called Home to the land of promise. If it be Your Will, O God, glorify our beloved Sister Thea, by granting the favor I now request through her intercession (mention your request), so that all may know of her goodness and holiness and may imitate her love for You and Your Church. We ask this through Your Son and Our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Amen. “
Fr William Hart McNichols 🍁 September 2022
PS) I will be at Georgetown University this coming week to celebrate the arrival and installation of this icon . On 17 November, Fr Bosco, SJ and I will be doing a public discussion about the vocation of iconography.
🍁 November 2022

The Child Mary Soon To Become The Ark of the Covenant

December 26th, 2023

The Child Mary Soon To Become The Ark of the Covenant

The Child Mary Soon To Become The Ark of the Covenant
(This original painting is available please contact us if you are interested. )
“Contemplata aliis tradere...” (to share what you have contemplated), along with “Veritas”, (Truth) Dominican mottos.
“Then God’s Temple in Heaven was opened, and the Ark of His Covenant was seen within His Temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. And a great portent appeared in Heaven, a woman clothed with the Sun, with the Moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child.”
(Revelation 11:19 - 12:2)
“Let us chant the melody which has been taught us by the inspired harp of David, and say, ‘Arise, O Lord, into thy rest; Thou, and the Ark of thy sanctuary .’ For the holy Virgin is in truth an Ark, wrought with gold both within and without, that has received the whole treasury of the sanctuary.”
St Gregory Thaumaturgis (c. 213-270)
“The Ark contained three things: the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written, a jar of manna from the desert, and Aaron’s staff that budded (Hebrews 9:4). So whereas the Ark contained the word of God inscribed on stone tablets, the bread of Heaven and the staff of the Levitical priesthood, within Our Lady’s womb was the word of God made flesh, Jesus the bread of life who is our true high priest. Until the Babylonian exile, the Ark of the Covenant marked the presence of God among His people. Now Our Lady has taken on this role and so it is very appropriate that we pray to her as Ark of the New Covenant, that she reveal to us the blessed fruit of her womb.”
Dominican Friar Robert Verrill, OP
The titles given to Mary of Nazareth are especially evocative in icons. She is, Quick to Hear, Seeker After the Lost, Similar to Fire, the Enclosed Garden, the Burning Bush, Joy of All Joys, Mother of Mercy, Life-Giving Spring ,Star of the Sea, Your Lap Has Become the Holy Table, Soothe My Sorrows, Stone Broke Loose From the Mountain, She Who Reigns, Mother of Holy Hope...and in the Litany of Loreto, Mystical Rose, Gate of Heaven, House of Gold, Seat of Wisdom, Health of the Sick, Solace of Migrants, Ark of the Covenant, Morning Star, Refuge of Sinners, Mirror of Justice, and many more. At times I would choose an icon to copy just because of the title. It was very nourishing for me to spend the time on the icon and to better understand how the ancient iconographers brought these titles so tenderly, to life.
When I began my iconographer’s apprenticeship in 1990 I had already read many of the mystical lives of Mary which all go back to the Protoevangelium of St James, the ancient story where we learn the names of Anna and Joachim, Mary’s parents. And during the Year of St Joseph, proclaimed by Pope Francis, I found a mystical life of St Joseph by Mother Maria Cecilia Baij, OSB, she said was given to her by Jesus, completed in 1766. During that year I slowly read this life and began to ponder the young Joseph and his gradual realization of his vocation. I put this contemplation into a painting I called “St Joseph Flower of Jesse.” These mystical lives of course are not Gospel, and some people consider them pious novels, but for some reason I have been really inspired by a few; not all feel authentic and at times, they can feel forced.
While reading Cardinal von Balthasar’s volume (in his 7 volume series “The Glory of the Lord”) on the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) I came across the Shekhinah; the Feminine presence of God which would lead the Israelites, wandering in the desert and hover over the Ark of the Covenant whenever they would stop for a time. Then I discovered Rabbi Leah Novick’s magnificent book, “On The Wings of the Shekhinah.” For years I had planned in my imagination to portray Mary, the Shekhinah and the Ark, all in one image. I chose to make Mary about 8 or 9 years old, as if she too (like Joseph) was coming to a gradual awareness of some extraordinary vocation she would embody. This of course was all revealed to her by the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation. Most scholars agree that Mary was around 14 or 15.
This year at the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, and into Yom Kippur, I finally felt it was the right time to bring this imaginative, symbolic, inner vision to life.
I will never forget when, through the writings of my friend Christopher Pramuk, I first saw Thomas Merton ‘s mystical drawing of “Christ Unveils the Meaning of the Old Testament,” on the cover of his book “Sophia : The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton.” I realized again, that some contemplative concepts can only be represented through visual art. Chris and I are now working on a book (to be published by Orbis Press) of some of my drawings, illustrations, paintings, and a few icons, through this book, we go deeper into this conversation- with images included.
This one of the Child Mary, I have just completed, is really something I hope will feed your prayer during this Advent which begins very early this year, 27 November. I have really loved working on this image, and my hope is that love will touch you too.
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible for God.”
Luke 1: 35-37
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 🍁 October 2022

St Francis Detail from Viriditas- Finding God In All Things

December 26th, 2023

St Francis Detail from Viriditas- Finding God In All Things

St Francis (Detail from “Viriditas: Finding God In All Things)
“Joy fall to thee father Francis,/ Drawn to the Life that died;/ With the gnarls of the nails in thee; niche of the lance;/ his Lovescape crucified/ And seal of his seraph-arrival...”
From “The Wreck of the Deutschland” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ
“...he was always occupied with Jesus: Jesus he bore in his heart, mouth, eyes, ears, and in his entire body; Jesus.”
1 Blessed Thomas Celano
“Put yourself out Brother Francis !” I used to cry. “Put yourself out before you burn up the world!”
Nikos Katzanzakis
“We warned him that the Ancients say/ drawing too close to the fiery shrub would mean death/ for human jars cannot bear liquid fire./ But he seemed to revel in the secrets found within the chambers of heat,/ and with him in our midst/ we too could burn without end./ We warned him not to cross too far to the other side,/ for we dreaded losing him/ yet he seemed at home nimbly scaling the ladder to the sky/ to the rhythm of the silent music./ Ah, but the time we hold most dear,/ the time which seemed out-of-time indeed,/ was that mid-September we found him hidden in the cleft of the rock./ His body could no longer bear the Love,/ and he broke out in Wounds.”
“The Legend of the Three Companions” by William Hart McNichols
Ever since I can remember, there has been Francis. I have loved him for so many reasons. During theology school, at the Mass on the feast of Francis, our teacher, Fr Emerich Meir, OFM, said in his homily (in reference to Rudolph Otto’s book) “Francis had an I-Thou relationship to all of creation.” And our present Pope Francis took on the seraphic wings to write his magnificent encyclical “Laudato si” on this I-Thou relationship, and the demonic threat of climate change. For who but “wicked servants” would choose greed over the fragile existence of God’s Beautiful World?
Because in his autobiography, St Ignatius recalled thinking in his dramatic convalescence at the Castle In Loyola, “What if I should do what Francis did? What if I should do what Dominic did?” I decided in 1984 to visit the tomb of Ignatius in Rome, the tomb of Dominic in Bologna and the tomb of Francis in Assisi. But it was my bus trip from Assisi to Mt. La Verna (sometimes here called Mt Alvernia, ) where Francis received the Wounds, that has burned into me ever since. And to tell the honest truth, I asked my dear friend Fr Andre’ Cirino, OFM, if I could join the SFO’s (Secular Franciscan Order) in the Bronx, because I wanted to share the Charism of the Wounds, that comes with being a Franciscan; from Francis all the way up to the 20th century and Padre Pio.
Now, we all bear wounds; whether it be wounds of emotional, physical or spiritual violence, or wounds of self-righteousness, pride, jealousy, or wounds of despair and depression. A most mysterious part of the Resurrection is that Jesus kept the wounds. So we watch him in the post-resurrection accounts speaking and acting oddly, mystically, differently... and healing with his wounds; I think that’s part of what Henri Nouwen was trying to say in his very popular book, “The Wounded Healer.” Reading the post-resurrection stories about Jesus, listen and watch him closely.
With both Francis and Padre Pio, the blood-soaked bandages were used by their contemporaries to heal (animals too w Francis) people and so, the precious blood became a miraculous salve. And when we were 10 years old being Confirmed by the Archbishop, he would lightly slap us on the cheek, with his gloved hand, to signify we’d better get ready to suffer for loving our faith. There was a costume-jewelry red jewel on each glove to signify the Wounds. It’s something symbolic, enigmatic, that has also stayed with me all these years.
This year Francis’ feast happens to fall on Yom Kippur, the Holy Day of Atonement. I wish Pope Francis would designate a Year of Francis, like he did with Joseph, so that we might be inspired by a Year of Atonement into ways of preserving Mother Earth.
In this detail from a very large painting with icons (“Viriditas: Finding God In All Things”) I did for The Environmental Sustainability Centre at Loyola University in Chicago, I began with the four figures at the bottom of the 10ft piece, Francis, Hildegard, the Child Jesus and Ignatius, all deeply rooted, grounded, nourished by the red earth of the Blood of Christ; the earth you might say, of the Sangre de Cristos. Then I worked my way up through Creation and into my poor attempt to picture the Holy Spirit bursting out of the void, (my picture of the Big Bang Theory !) to the Creator’s words “Let there be Light ...” (Genesis 1:3)
Dear Lord Jesus,
My wounds still hurt me, and sometimes others too.
I am slowly learning not to be ashamed of my wounds,
but to create with them-in-hand.
You kept the wounds even after you rose from the dead,
Why was this ?
Are we to learn to live with our wounds, no, even to
flourish with our wounds, just like you ?
Maybe this is the kairos time in the 21st Century
where we begin to see and do this.
O Dazzling Rider, Faithful and True, O Word of God,
Your radiant light though dipped in dark red, (Revelation 19:11) still causes sheer snow-blindness.
Warm our frozen hearts. Give us courage. Do not let us slip into heartlessness,
desolation and the blindness that comes from fear.
“Then we said, here we are Lord, send us! “ (Isaiah 6:7)
Amen
Fr William Hart McNichols, SFO 💮 October 2022

St Padre Pio - Mother Pelican

December 26th, 2023

St Padre Pio - Mother Pelican

St Padre Pio : Mother Pelican ( 25 May 1887 - 23 September 1968 )
“My Children, I am close to you. Closer than you can imagine. I am in contact with your mind and am directing your thoughts. I am close to your heart and am counting your heartbeats, so that with all in unison they might lift up a hymn of glory to God the Father Almighty.”
“Any mental pictures of your life that focuses on past sins is a lie and this comes from the devil. Jesus loves you and has forgiven you your sins, so there is no room for having a downcast spirit. Whatever persuades you otherwise is truly a waste of time. It is also something that offends the heart of our very tender Lover. On the other hand, if the mental picture of your life consists in what you can be or could be, then it comes from God.”
“My past, O Lord, to your mercy, my present, to your love, my future to your providence.”
“You will need the help of St Michael living in this world.”
“Invoke your Guardian Angel, who will enlighten and guide you for your protection, therefore, you should use him accordingly.”
“Don’t allow any sadness to dwell in your soul, for sadness prevents the Holy Spirit from acting freely.”
“To be tempted is a sign that the soul is very pleasing to the Lord.”
“Once I take a soul on, I take on their entire family as my spiritual children.”
“Only one thing is necessary. Lift up your spirit and love God.”
“Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”
“Let your whole life be spent in self-surrender, in prayer, in work, in humility, in giving thanks to our good God.”
“ Don’t spend your energies on things that generate worry, anxiety and anguish. One thing is necessary: Lift up your spirit and love God.”
“Abandon yourself in the hands of Mary. She will take care of you. I always pray for the sick. I say a holy Rosary for them. She will heal you.”
“Love Our Lady and make her loved. Always recite the Rosary and recite it as often as possible.”
“You must not be discouraged or let yourself become dejected if your actions have not succeeded as perfectly as you intended. What do you expect? We are made of clay and not every soil yields the fruits expected by the one who tills it. But let us always humble ourselves and acknowledge that we are nothing if we lack the Divine assistance.”
St Padre Pio of Pietrelcina
In one of her books, perhaps “The Book of All Saints” I remember The Servant of God Adrienne von Speyr saying something like, the saints are especially available around their feast days. This seems only natural, as we think of loved ones who have passed on their birthdays and the anniversaries of they’re going into God.
Besides the obvious decorations and non-stop music in stores etc., no one has to tell you it’s the Christmas season. As kairos time gets closer to the 25th of December, you can actually feel the descent of the Holy Shekhinah; or what we call “the Christmas spirit.”
Padre Pio died on 23 September, and this year I thought I’d offer some of his quotes and I’d love them to encourage “your soul into Hope”. I mean real Hope. At the moment I’m back to reading some new books about him. I’ve read so many over the years, I’ll tell you which authors I’ve appreciateted so far. This only means that I haven’t gotten to everyone yet, not that they aren’t worthy. But since it’s Padre Pio season maybe you’ll join me in celebrating his incredible life. The man who promised, “After my death, I will do more. My real mission will begin after my death.”
Here are a very few that I know of :
Renzo Allegri, Bernard Ruffin, Graziella DeNunzio Mandato, Frank Rega, Diane Allen,
Adolfo Affatato, and two utter gems by Padre Alessio Parente.
There are so many books on Padre Pio, I don’t think in all my years, I’ve ever been disappointed. And recently Padre (hopefully) permanently zapped Shia LaBeof, while he was preparing to portray Padre in a new movie, released already on 9 September, although, sadly, with poor reviews. But at least, Padre’s reach into the mainstream culture has already begun. Maybe it will lead people to find out more about Padre? If you’re skeptical about Shia’s overwhelming conversion, I’d suggest reading James Fowler’s very realistic book called “Stages of Faith.” Sometimes a new convert can go very far right or left, and in maturity they will find their way. The reformed churches refer to this as a “walk with God” that continues to mature with time and, above all, hard earned wisdom. Isn’t this the way with all of us ?
Because the late compassionate, lovely, and kind late Archbishop James Casey of Denver, could not ordain me in June, the usual month for ordinations, I was providentially ordained on Padre Pio’s birthday, 25 May 1979. This has been a continually surprising grace throughout my 43 years as a priest.
This icon pictures Padre Pio holding a medallion of Jesus the Mother Pelican. This symbol comes from a medieval legend that if her chicks were starving, the Mother Pelican would open her side and feed them with her own blood. Both St Francis and Padre Pio were referred to as mother and father during their lives, by both men and women. When I finished the icon, I was hoping Padre would approve. Watching the video cassette (this was the 90’s) of his last Mass, September 22, 1968, as he turned around to leave the outdoor altar, being heavily supported by fellow Friars, I noticed on the back of his Chasuable, was an embroidered image of the Mother Pelican.
“Henceforth, let no one trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of Jesus.”
Galatians 6:17
“Dear Lord Our God,
You renewed the marks of the sufferings of your Son in the body of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina in order to inflame and heal our hearts with the fire of your love. Teach us always to glory in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen.”
Fr William Hart McNichols ☦️ September 2022

The Mother of God Given Eagles Wings

December 26th, 2023

The Mother of God Given Eagles Wings

The Mother of God Given Eagle’s Wings (The Queenship of Mary * 22 August)
“But she was given the two wings like those of an eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.”
The Apocalypse (Revelation) 12:14
Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of The Queenship or Coronation of the Mother of God on the feast of the Maternity, or Pregnancy of Mary, 11 October 1954, in his Encyclical “Ad Caeli Reginam.” This is also the day Pope St John XXIII chose to convene, or open, Vatican Council II, in 1962; a Church pregnant with new life.
Pope Pius writes “we are instituting a feast so that all may recognize more clearly and venerate more devoutly the merciful sway of the Mother of God. We are convinced that this feast will help to preserve, strengthen and prolong that peace among nations which daily
is almost destroyed by recurring crises.
Is she not a rainbow in the clouds reaching towards God, the pledge of a
Covenant of Peace?”
I love the Apocalypse and The Book of Tobit, and I often wish someone in the film industry would make animated films of both of these books. I think it’s the only way, even the best way, you can visualize them. It now seems odd that in 1954 the Holy Father would be speaking about daily peace being destroyed by recurring crises. Or even more odd, that in the 12th century Dr St Hildegard of Bingen, would warn her followers that if you attempt to destroy Mother Earth, God will allow the immense forces of Mother Nature to “fight back.” No matter how bad things have gotten (ie... in the AIDS Pandemic years) or now with multiple pandemics, catastrophes of nature, war in Ukraine, insurrections threatening democracies round the world ... I have this small pilot light in my soul that will not allow me to despair. I know this is a precious gift and I’m not one of those people who, I guess, are forced to be in denial and want to force everyone else to turn a blind eye toward evil. But if you read the Apocalypse, the final chapters are filled with the hope of a flowering tree with healing leaves for the nations. As I write this on the feast day of The Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk, this tree of life was central to his vision. And like so many saints, he felt like a failure watching that tree wither. He thought it was his fault. St Francis felt the same grief of failure that he had not kept his followers together or reformed the Church. Adrienne von Speyr speaks this way about Jesus being brought out by Pontius Pilate, before the mob, mockingly dressed as a king with purple cloak, crown of thorns and a crude stick/scepter stuck in his bound hands. Just three years of public ministry and what seeds had he sown, what had he accomplished as Jesus Christ the King of the Universe?
Yet the tree/seed Jesus spoke of, is the tiny mustard seed growing into a very large tree. And most of his parables are about what Therese of Lisieux called “the little way” I like to call this the “little kingdom,” and the Buddhists call for any small “random act of kindness.” I mean, it’s most often the people at the gas station or the 7-11 where I get my vintage Kangaroo wine, that joke, smile and make my day. Or the relative or friend who calls out of the clear-blue, and showers love. It’s amazing how impressionable and childlike our souls can be.
Mary then is crowned Queen of exactly This World we struggle with now, and the one where our friends the saints live with all our deceased loved ones.
I must have over 100 (?) icons of Mary alone, Mary with the Child, Mary with the adult Jesus or Mary surrounded by her Holy Family. But tonite, I can only remember three of her with a crown. And tonite also I have fond memories of grade school May Crownings and us school children forming a powerful living Rosary. I think fondly too of the San Geronimo Taos Pueblo Church, where the Taos village women change Mary’s dresses seasonally. All these signs, gestures of affection, I know Our Mother sees.
I chose to show you my most troubled -Crowned -Mary from chapter 12 of the Apocalypse because contemplating her rescue and the rescue of her child, is where we live today. Mary then is crowned in the midst of her greatest danger, in this icon. Not sitting safely, in this particular icon, on a heavenly throne. I can’t help but see the immigrant women wading across the Rio Grande River carrying their children to a safer place ? Or the women of Ukraine with their children in dark, dank shelters or escaping along streets with their children dodging bullets or bombs. And if you really want to dive deeply into the suffering and triumph of women and their children pursued by the dragon, there is no better book I know of than the one my theologian friend Chris Pramuk introduced me to :
“The Female Face of God in Auschwitz : A Jewish Feminist Theology of the Holocaust” by Melissa Raphael. It’s taking me forever to read, because I stop so often in utter amazement at the incredible strength and belief in hope against hope, of the brave surviving women she interviewed. Please trust me and find a copy of this book.
“God is the divine spark that constitutes the essence of humanity and must therefore survive. And as the divine spark in us, God is more powerful than ever, because the illuminating spark of the divine compels us to resist the dehumanizing logic of destruction and affirms our courage in the reality of the Apocalypse. What emerges, therefore, is the absolute, irrevocable interdependence of God and humanity/humanness. To remain human/humane, the individual must protect the ‘God’ part in her.; to remain divine,God must be protected and guarded by the individual.”
Rachel Felday Brenner (on the theology of Etty Hillesum )
Dear Mary Queen of the Universe
Crown all the brave and courageous women
who continue to hold up the fragile Earth.
Your watching your own Son, as he grew, taking
each tiny step, gives us a
pathway to finding the radiant truth.
Your prayer, as with Joseph, was
simply, full of wonder and immense joy
..... just to watch him.
You, whose life was formed first by your intimacy
with God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and then,
God, your Son.
Dearest Mother, keep us by your side
never let us be parted from you or the
Blessed Trinity living inside each
Human/Humane being.
Amen
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💮 August 202

The Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk

December 26th, 2023

The Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk

The Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk (1 December 1863 - 19 August 1950)
“Behold, a sacred voice is calling you; all over the sky a sacred voice is calling.”
Nicholas Black Elk
“A very great vision is needed, and the man who has it must follow it as the eagle seeks the deepest blue of the sky. “
Crazy Horse
“The voice of God, that has been my wish, that has been my desire.”
from the one woman play, “Julian” by Fr J Janda
Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces, but the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave...”
1 Kings 19: 11-13
“God has prepared for you a birth so tremendous all language faints before its splendor. Trust those who know this because they have lived it, and forgive them their stammerings. Their mouths are burnt away by the blazing coal Truth has placed on their lips.”
Hadewijch of Antwerp
from “Love is Everything: A Year With Hadewijch of Antwerp” by Andrew Harvey
“I spoke and wrote these things not by the invention of my heart or that of any other person, but as by the secret mysteries of God; I heard and received them in the heavenly places. And again I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Cry out therefore, and write thus !”
St Hildegard of Bingen at age 42
Three years ago I heard that Nicholas Black Elk was being considered for canonization, and so he received the title “Servant of God.” I was so excited that I painted this image for my fortieth anniversary of Ordination to the priesthood.
At the age of 22 I made a life changing retreat at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and my director, Fr John Staudenmaier, SJ, introduced me to a book of his visions, “Black Elk Speaks.” When I had a heart collapse 27 April 2012, I was in an induced coma for 2 weeks. After that I had to go to rehab until I was strong enough to go home and await open heart surgery on 6 June. During the 5 days of rehab, every night I’d listen on audible to “Black Elk Speaks.” His words were so soothing and healing for me. I cannot recommend this book enough; it is pure visionary poetry.
I had spent some time in Taos, at the Taos Pueblo and made some friends there. They told me that they weave or combine their Indian ways, with their Catholicism. From my study of Black Elk, this is what he did. Reminiscent of St Edith Stein, combining her Judaism, Feminism, Philosophy and Theology; never renouncing any part of her. It was her vocation to find a way of putting all this together. Black Elk was 67 years old when he agreed to tell the story of his visions to John Neihardt. Hildegard was 42 and getting sickness after sickness until she agreed to share her visions.
So many men and women writers have spoken of their fears about revealing themselves or any experience of God. This always reminds me of a scene in the film, “Yentl” where Yentl as a young woman is not allowed to study Torah. She coaxes her Rabbi father into teaching her. And he tells her to drape and close all the windows, and she says something like, “Papa, why ? God doesn’t care.” And he says “It’s not God I’m afraid of, it’s the neighbors.”
When I taught high school art and theology at Regis High in Denver, I’d ask the kids where they’d experienced God. And they would come out with the most amazing stories, usually in the vast Colorado nature. Later, when I was a chaplain in Manhattan in the AIDS Hospice, I read a book called “The Radiant Child.” In it the author interviewed people who had had experiences of God only to be told by a teacher, parent, or another significant adult, that it wasn’t real. This shut them down, sometimes for years.
This follows exactly the stories of the great visionary saints, Juan Diego, Bernadette, Margaret Mary, Faustina, and a very long list of people who have to rely on tremendous inner courage to speak. We all know the power of words to encourage, create, or destroy.
Yet we desperately need these accounts of touching into God to heal our planet, Mother Earth, (as St Francis called her) as well as her inhabitants ... us. Because the Romance languages have gender, Francis could say brother sun, sister water, etc. Old English had gender too which was dropped for some reason, by the time Julian of Norwich wrote in Middle English. I’ve often wondered if that’s why we can abuse nature because, the earth and animals are “its?”
Just one contemplative example for me. I have this paperback book by Adrienne von Speyr called “The Boundless God.” Adrienne was fond of calling God the “Ever-More.” On the cover is a beautiful photograph of the ocean or sea, and light is pouring down on her. It’s so powerful for me, I took it to FedEx and had it enlarged to 11” x 17” just to gaze into. I can’t get past chapter one yet because the cover says so much.
Here I’ll end with our Holy Father Pope Francis:
“...help us to show creative solidarity in addressing the consequences of this global pandemic. Make us courageous to embrace the changes that are needed in search of the common good. Now more than ever may we feel that we are all interconnected and interdependent. Enable us to listen and respond to the cry of the poor. May the present sufferings be the birth pangs of a more fraternal and sustainable world. Under the loving gaze of Mary Help of Christians. We make this prayer through Christ Our Lord.
Amen”
Pope Francis from his encyclical inspired by St Francis, “Laudato Si’ “
Fr William Hart McNichols 🌱 💮 🌱 August 2022

St Ignatius and the Passion of the World in the 21st Century

December 26th, 2023

St Ignatius and the Passion of the World in the 21st Century

St Ignatius and the Passion of the World in the 21st Century
“Soul of Christ, sanctify me. Body of Christ, save me. Blood of Christ, inebriate me. Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me. O good Jesus, hear me. Within your wounds, hide me. Separated from you, let me never be. From the evil one, protect me. At the hour of my death, call me; bid me come to you. That with your angels and saints, I may praise you forever and ever. Amen”
St Ignatius Loyola: “The Anima Christi”
My dear friend and former provincial of the Missouri Province, Fr Dave Fleming, SJ, was holding a conference in St Louis concerning Ignatius and the Passion of Christ in the 21st. Century. He commissioned this icon around 2008, (?) for the conference.
I had to think about how to portray Ignatius and Christ. The Anima Christi has always been a favorite prayer of mine, and thousands of people.
I didn’t know at the time what was coming for our world, but I saw in my imagination, Ignatius holding up the world to Christ on the Cross, and 3 drops of blood from his right hand are about to fall into the world; “inebriate us, save us, sanctify us, wash us, strengthen us ... and your world.” As I look into this icon now, this is still my prayer today, for our world on fire.
In her “Revelations of Divine Love”, Lady Julian of Norwich was told by Jesus on the Cross, that the world was as little as a hazelnut, and that God would always protect her, Mother Earth, out of love. “...it lasts and ever shall, for God loves it... in this little thing, I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second is that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”
St Padre Pio kept telling us over and over, in his lifetime, “I repeat that the temptations of jealousy, desperation, discouragement, distrust, etc. are works of the devil.”
Ignatian discernment is all about identifying which spirit is speaking in your head? The Buddha refers to this scramble as “monkey mind” or the “Yama, Yama.” Just today (and truthfully, quite often lately) my spirit was beginning to plunge, and I immediately felt the good spirit whispering, “Just look up!” Huge cirrrus and cumulus clouds were gathering over the Sandia mountains against the brilliant New Mexican turquoise sky. My spirit gasped at the sudden beauty. I thought of the quote of Dostoevsky that Dorothy Day loved, she, who saw daily, the harshness and injustice of the world; “Beauty will save the world.” How do we nurture this pilot light within; this flame of hope and love?
Ignatius counseled his companions to be Sure and have spiritual conversations, (meaning something about God) or to read something spiritual, like Holy Scriptures, the life of a saint, music that lifts your spirit - be it Stevie Wonder, “Rain Your Love Down,” Bach’s B-Minor Mass, “Wash Me Clean” by k.d. lang, or Joni Mitchell’s rendition of 1 Corinthians 13, “Love” ... or simply, humbly, pray the powerful Rosary. All these simple attempts are actually forms of prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit (“we do not know what to pray for ...” Romans 8: 26-27) and cause that pilot light within to become enflamed.
“Pray, even if you feel nothing, see nothing. For when you are dry, empty, sick or weak, at such times is your prayer Most pleasing to God, even though you may find little joy in it. This is true of all believing prayer.”
Lady Julian
“Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficultly, persevere in it for this is the very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and Love is not tried by ease and satisfaction...the endurance of darkness is the preparation for Great Light.”
St John of the Cross
“Behold, a sacred voice is calling you. All over the sky a sacred voice is calling.”
The Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk
“Act as if everything depended on you. Trust as if everything depended on God.”
St Ignatius Loyola
Happy Feastday of Holy Father St Ignatius!
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 31 July 2022
(And, Happy Birthday Calvin Rupoli my dear niece’s brilliant son!)

The Black Madonna - Your Lap Has Become the Holy Table

July 29th, 2022

The Black Madonna - Your Lap Has Become the Holy Table

The Black Madonna : Your Lap Has Become the Holy Table
“Ave, ave, verum Corpus, natum de Maria Virgine, vere passum, immolatum in Cruce pro homine; cuius latus perforatum unda fluxit sanguine. Esto nobis praegustatum in mortis examine. O dulcis, O pie, O Jesu Fili Mariae, misererere mei. Amen “
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 1791
“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. The same continued after Mass. 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 grace that I could feel in my spirit. At the consecration she showed that her own flesh was in that of her Son, with so many intuitions that they could not be written.”
St Ignatius “Spiritual Diary,” 15 February 1544
In 1990 before I left New York City to begin my apprenticeship in Albuquerque, I went to Rizzoli Book Store in SoHo to find a book about icons. They had one; “Russian Icons” by Fr Vladimir Ivanov, 1987. From that one book I found and copied at least 7 prototypes of icons:
Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence, Our Lady of the Sandias (the Kykko Icon), the Savior of the Fiery Eye, the Virgin of the Don, the Holy Face (the Mandylion), Mother of God Similar to Fire, and this Eucharistic Icon, Your Lap Has Become the Holy Table.
This was commissioned by my first real “patron” Fr Ray Bucko, SJ for the Jesuit Villa Chapel In Cazenovia, New York. Ray was one of the first Jesuits to post on the internet and began to feature my icons. I remember living in the Jesuit Community on 98th and Broadway, later, in 1997, when one of the community members came into dinner one evening and said wryly, “Well, I delved into “Society of Jesus” on the internet and what came up was St Ignatius, Fr Pedro Arrupe, and ... you !” Everybody laughed, and me too...nervously. Ray also commissioned the triptych of the Passion, Jesus Christ Extreme Humility, Our Lady of Sorrows and St John the Apostle. I’m forever grateful to him.
In 1994 Pope St John Paul designated the Year 2000 as a Eucharistic Year, following the 3 years he dedicated to the Trinity, 1997, 98, 99 (see the Apostolic Letter, “Tertio Millenio Adveniente” 10 November 1994) . So naturally I wanted to find an icon that celebrated that Eucharistic Year. I found this 19th century Russian Icon which featured a Black Madonna, a black Child Jesus and a black-brown, Holy Spirit. It shows Mary’s womb as the Tabernacle and the Child arising from the chalice, and a brown Holy Spirit. My teacher told me the table represents the Father, as the ground of all being. Since that time I’ve seen several renditions of this icon, but none of them portrayed the Mother of God, the Child and the Holy Spirit as black or brown. This led me to two remarkable and instructive books about black Madonnas throughout history; “Longing For Darkness” by China Galland, and “The Cult of the Black Virgin” by Ean Begg. I would recommend both, especially today, because I remember Ean Begg saying that this “darkness” of the Black Madonna, is the darkness of pregnancy and not the darkness of depression or despair. I often think about this every Advent, which is the darkest time of the year. My experience is that people really need images and words of hope, now, more than ever. I'm working on an icon now of Sister Thea Bowman and feel inspired by the 19th century icon, to use the brown Holy Spirit again.
The entry from 1544, in Ignatius’ Spiritual Diary, is so profound, that I’ll try to write about it as we move closer to his coming feast day. And I’ve always loved some of the old hymns concerning the Eucharist, like Pange Lingua Gloriosi , Adoro Te Devote, and especially Mozart’s setting of Ave Verum Corpus, a motet he composed for Corpus Christi Sunday, dated 17 June 1791. I’ve quoted the Latin and will finish with the musical /prayer translation. I don’t think anyone can listen to this Mozart motet without being moved by the hushed, utterly reverent and then strong, beautiful setting:
“All hail, O true Body, of the Blessed Virgin born, which in anguish to redeem us did suffer upon the Cross; from whose side, when pierced by a spear, there came forth both water and blood. Be to us at our last hour the source of consolation. O loving, O holy, O Jesus, Son of Mary, have mercy on me. Amen “
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💮 July 2022

St Padre Pio - Mother Pelican 25 May 1887 - 23 September 1968

July 29th, 2022

St Padre Pio - Mother Pelican   25 May 1887 - 23 September 1968

St Padre Pio : Mother Pelican (25 May 1887 - 23 September 1968)
“We should not forget that the saints are, first of all, masterpieces of grace, so that at times, in addition to imitating the example they leave for us, we should admire the extraordinary plan of God in them, completely unique and unrepeatable... in 1916, San Giovanni Rotondo had absolutely nothing to recommend it. It was a very poor little town, like so many of the out of the way towns of the Italian South...It was here Padre Pio arrived on July 28, 1916, in the company of the superior, almost as if for a break of a few days, to get away from the sweltering heat of Foggia...He was happy to be there, and the friars were happy to have him. But the arrangement was not to everyone’s liking. Deep within, Padre Pio was subjected to a tremendous battle. He felt ‘exposed to the fury of Satan”, who surely did not want to see him in that place. The Padre felt assaulted by temptations against the faith that were so strong that he was prompted to write, ‘What a mystery I am to myself!’ So sure of guiding souls, he felt then, as he always did thereafter, so weak and uncertain when it came to his own person.”
Fr Gabriele Amorth ( 1 May 1925 - 16 September 2016 )
from his book, “Padre Pio : Stories and Memories of My Mentor and Friend”
We all have mentors, teachers and friends in our lives who can make a world of difference in how we see ourselves and give us the confidence to reach for the stars. I see the saints that way too. So I’m going to share a bit about one of mine, Padre Pio. Another mentor has been Adrienne von Speyr, (whose guide was St Ignatius Loyola) whom I remember clearly saying something like, “the saints are especially available around their feasts.” Now, “Padre Pio season” is not until September, but around my 73rd birthday, I felt his wanting me to come closer to him. I was actually trying to find a book for two friends about him, when I ended up buying 3 and realizing one was for me. It’s one I hadn’t read by the famous Vatican Exorcist and friend of Padre Pio, Fr Gabriele Amorth. I feel a sort of urgency to get this out so I cannot possibly go into all my Padre Pio stories, but I can clearly remember the first. When we had to move into the Governor’s Mansion, (gifted to the state of Colorado by the Boettcher Foundation built in 1908) my room was a former linen closet and had a balcony overlooking Logan street in Denver. It was to say the least, a magical mansion with 27 rooms and art from all over the world . That “house” fueled, ignited, my nascent imagination. I was eleven and turned 12 not long after. I loved looking out over Logan street, a one way street, and watching the cars at night. A few blocks away, on Broadway street, was a Catholic Book Store, called Daleidens. I could walk down there and look into the books. One day I saw a book about Padre Pio and it had pictures of him showing his wounds. This actually really scared me, as he was still alive and suffering, but those pictures were seared into my memory and imagination. I don’t know when I discovered the female image of Jesus the Mother Pelican, but found out it was a medieval legend that when the chick’s of a Mother Pelican we’re starving, she would cut open her breast and feed them with her own blood. Later as an iconographer, I would see Padre Pio as that Mother Pelican. After I was finished writing the icon (1994?) I wondered if he approved? So I got a VHS cassette of his last Mass, and on the back of his chasuble, was the Mother Pelican. And also, providentially, in 1979, I was ordained on his birthday. What a gratuitous gift!
When I finished the book by Fr Amorth, I began to listen on audible, to a great book by Renzo Allegri, “St Padre Pio : Man of Hope.” Along with the first book I ever read on him by the Lutheran author, Bernard Ruffin, I think you’ll really get deeply moved by this book. It shows all sides of Padre Pio; his serious, angry, hilariously humorous, practical, clairvoyant ,deeply compassionate, and unspeakably holy side. But just about any of the many books on him will bring his presence into your home; (I confidently warn you 😊) without a doubt. In fact, be sure if you’re reading this, that he’s on his way to you too.
After encountering Ruffin’s book I was so entranced that I depended upon him during my years as an AIDS Hospice Chaplain, and never was disappointed. I began to discover the many biographies of Padre, and read as many as possible. With each one, I felt his presence. Right now so many of us are feeling overwhelmed by the staggering list of what’s happening to us and to all on this planet today, that I offer you a sincerely loving guide, Padre Pio, a man of hope, a literal “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” who in his own words, was a “mystery to himself.”
“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 will not enter until the last of my spiritual children has entered...Once I take a soul on, I also take on his (her) entire family as my spiritual children.”
St Padre Pio
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💮 July 2022 (... around the time he moved to San Giovanni Rotondo)

The Virgin of Tenderness of Yaroslavl

July 29th, 2022

The Virgin of Tenderness of Yaroslavl

The Virgin of Tenderness of Yaroslavl
“...the Russian soul recognizes His voice and with ineffable joy throws itself at His feet. Apart from this faith and this hope, there is nothing left for us. The Russian land has been trodden by the Mother of God’s feet ... Yes, there is no need to fear for Russia, because Russia is saved by the strength of the Mother of God. And this, believe it, all of Orthodox Russia feels it clearly.”
Sergei Bulgakov 1918
This icon is a rendition of the prototype of the “Virgin of Tenderness of Yaroslavl,” which originally came out of the spiritually sensitive, simply-mystically elegant Moscow School of the second half of the fifteenth century, which also gave birth to the wholly/holy, child-like genius and “iconographer of iconographers,” St Andrei Rublev.
Every year round the time of my birthday, I try and show a specific icon I truly loved painting/writing. This year I (we) feel very much connected to the horrific conflict in Ukraine caused by one man in Russia, trying to destroy the soul of both Ukraine and Russia, and the daily violence we are so close to in our day; nearly every day. Are they related? I believe yes, they are. After you carefully look into both, I think you’ll see.
In March of 1917 the Russian Revolution overthrew the imperial government and in November the Bolsheviks took power. When I visited Magadan, Far East, Russia in 1995 and was commissioned to write the icons of Our Lady of Magadan and Our Lady of Pochaev I immersed myself myself in Russian history. You might find it helpful if you want to begin to understand what happened in Russia in to watch two films, first :
“Nicholas and Alexandra” 1971, (chronologically) followed by “Dr Zhivago” 1965. If you feel called to go deeper still, I suggest the brilliant “A Long Walk To Church” 1995, by Nathaniel Davis , an unflinching, and painfully distressing - yet loving - look into Russia after the revolution. Nathaniel Davis also wrote “The Last Years of Salvador Allende,” 1985.
From everything I learned in my reading, praying and research on Russian Orthodoxy, every city, even every tiny village, had/has an icon of the Mother of God . In other words, Russia is as Sergei Bulgakov wrote months after the revolution, “...trodden by the feet of the Mother of God.” I know this must seem impossible to believe, given the years after the revolution and right now with the violent assault on Ukraine, and the Orthodox Patriarch of Russia, submitting in obeisance to Putin. But if you doubt what I said, look at the life of Jesus, and the present happenings in Israel and Palestine. Why is their so much violence in the most holy places? For some reason, the Mother of God has claimed Russia as Her own. Look into the many images of the “not much more than a child “ (see Lady Julian of Norwich) Mary, crushing the head of the deadly serpent. Look into the apparitions in Paris of the Miraculous Medal, 1830.
The question is, how could Bulgakov write something so confidently filled with “hope against hope,” during the appalling violence he was witnessing all around him ?
There is not space here to tell you why Russia is so dear to the Mother of God. When the revolution happened, the dominant legend is that an icon appeared in a tree entitled “Mother of God, She Who Reigns.” I have also copied this prototype and the central message of this icon, is that Mary will reign until Russia returns to Her, as their truly Infinitely Loving Mother. Now, perhaps, the messages of Our Lady of Fatima, concerning Russia will begin to fall into place, “...but in the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”
About that “hope against hope,” you may also want to read into a book that continues to change my life, “Images of Hope: Imagination As Healer of the Hopeless,” by the late Fr William Lynch, SJ.
“ O Lord, my heart is not proud,
I do not set my sights too high.
I have taken no part in great affairs,
in wonders beyond me.
No, I hold myself in quiet and silence.
Like a little child in it’s mother’s arms.
Let us hope in the Lord, now and forever.
Amen “
Psalm 131
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💮 10 July 2022

St Maria Goretti - Patroness of Abused Children 1890 - 6 July 1902

July 29th, 2022

St Maria Goretti - Patroness of Abused Children   1890 - 6 July 1902

St Maria Goretti : Patroness of Abused Children (1890 - 6 July 1902)
“We are not to make of the work of Acts of the Apostles such an object of veneration that we take small account of this on going story; how God continues to write large the lives and deaths of our saints today. The great momentous acts of hope against hope, of love against hatred.”
from his book “Whereon to Stand : The Acts of the Apostles and Ourselves” 1991
Daniel Berrigan, SJ (9 May 1921 - 30 April 2016)
Alessandro Serenelli was in prison nine years for the attempted rape and murder of the 11 year old child, Maria Goretti ... before Maria came to him in a dream. She was gathering flowers and she gave him, one by one, fourteen flowers; one for each stab wound she had received. I learned this while painting/writing, her icon, and later from the film “St Maria Goretti : Fourteen Flowers of Pardon.”
When my niece Carry was going to be Confirmed in 1996, she asked me to be her sponsor. I was so touched and excited about what name (of a saint) she was going to choose. I admit to shuddering when she told me, Maria Goretti. When I asked her why Maria, she said, “Because she forgave.” I was very impressed by the depth of her understanding of Maria and decided to paint a very small ( 5” x 7”) icon for her as a gift.
In my theology years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we were allowed to take courses at three other schools beside the Jesuit Weston School of Theology. I had heard that James Fowler was teaching a course at Harvard called “stages of faith” in preparation for the book he published, by the same name, in 1981. Since we are all at different stages in our growth in faith, the course was very enlightening, and to this day, I use it to understand where I am and to understand others too. I remember James telling us that people die at all different stages, including the saints. I’d like to go deeper into his theories but I think it’s best to let you read the book for yourselves if you’re interested. Basically we have very young saints like Maria, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, and the early child martyrs like Agnes, Tarcisius, Pancratius...Emmerentiana. And then we have saints and holy people like Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Mother Teresa, Sr Dianna Ortiz, Dorothy Day, Sr Dorothy Stang, Thomas Merton, Sr Thea Bowman... all who lived longer lives. If you’re often perplexed by “us adults” who often seem to be stuck or adamantly self-righteous, I’ll just offer that today, with all the theological disagreements and outright battles, it’s helpful to know Fowler’s compassionate insights from his book.
The saints are like New Testament prophets and their “Acts” are the continuation of a book that will only close with the return of the Lord as Christ the King; a feast we celebrate, usually in late November, as the end of the Liturgical Year.
I don’t have to remind anyone of the recent deaths of children from Sandy Hook to Uvalde, just to name 2. As I mentioned in my blog on Daniel Berrigan, he was often bewailing what he called “the war on children.” By this he meant deaths from wars, starvation, the unborn, sex trafficking, and all other kinds of abuse. He was frequently accused, as all prophets are, of having something to offend everyone.
Maria Goretti surfaces over and over in the culture as a stumbling block and witness. In 1996 Kathleen Norris reopened Maria’s story for another generation in her beautiful book “The Cloister Walk.” She connects Maria to a contemporary murder where a young girl says to her killer, “...there are some things worth dying for.” I think here of the horrifically tragic film “The Lovely Bones;” a film I sometimes wish I’d never seen, but ... I’m such a big fan of Saoirse Ronan, that I decided to watch it. But honestly I don’t suggest seeing it. If you have a vivid, empathetic imagination, it’s just too traumatic.
Maria is the prematurely “old child” bearing heavy responsibilities because of the death of her father and the family’s subsequent poverty.
Maria is the “radiant child.” Her Mother, who lived to see her canonized, said she would have been a saint anyway, had she not been murdered. She carried herself with a dignity beyond her years, and radiated the light of holiness which always attracts good and evil.
Maria is the “abused child” determined to protect herself while being worn down, stalked, and continually threatened by Alessandro.
Finally Maria is the mature “Christ figure” forgiving the unforgivable from her hospital death bed; a sign and symbol of the Flowering Cross.
I’ll never forget years ago, seeing a powerfully visual symbol of the universality of the Catholic Church. I saw a photo in Maryknoll Magazine of a procession in a village church in Africa dedicated to Maria. The villagers were carrying a banner of this 11 year old white child because in heaven and on earth, she is their (our) sister too.
“Then I saw the Lamb who appeared to have been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders...and they sang a new song : You are worthy to take the scroll and open it’s seals, because You were slain, and You purchased people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Revelation chapter 5
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 in the beginning of July; the month dedicated to the Precious Blood of Jesus.

St Anthony and the Child

July 29th, 2022

St Anthony and the Child

St Anthony and the Child
“Who are you, my dearest God ? And who am I, but your useless servant ?”
St Francis of Assisi
Through the intercession of my dear friend Fr Andre’ Cirino, OFM in Autumn of 1984, I was accepted into the Third Order of St Francis, which held its events, retreats and ceremonies in the Bronx, inside a small building called the “Little Portion” after the famous Porziuncola in Assisi. I still belong to this order and whenever I get mail from Andre’ it’s always addressed to William Hart McNichols, SFO. This was exactly at the same time of the “height” of my illustration career. After becoming a Third Order Franciscan, I was commissioned by a Franciscan pastor to illustrate a logo for St Anthony’s Parish in New Jersey. The pastor told me, “I want Anthony holding the Bible, as with all the earliest paintings of him, and that the legend of the apparition of the Christ Child came at least a century after Anthony ‘s death in 1231.” I looked into the paintings of Anthony and he was right; no Child. So, I decided to place symbols of the three cardinal virtues, Faith, Hope and Love in the drawing as well as a fish, which was from an account of one of the many miracles of Anthony. In one Italian city, his preaching was rejected by people and so he went to a stretch by the sea and began to preach. In response, the fish swam to the surface of the water, bobbing up and down listening to Anthony.
But I was loathe to take the Child from him because the male saints who hold the child (Joseph, Cajetan, Stanislaus Kostka...) are always loved and seen as safe; as kind and fatherly, or in Stanislaus case, an older brother. So, as I began to draw the logo I imagined taking the Child from him, and, as with any infant or child who loves the person holding them He began to howl and cry. So the drawing turned out with Jesus clinging to Anthony. When I delivered the logo and told the pastor that I tried but the Child cried and held on for dear life. He shook his head with a look of slight disapproval and wry amusement, but he accepted the logo.
Because of this experience, I wrote a poem, and when I was asked to write my first icon of Anthony, I used the same drawing.
St Anthony and the Child
In the beginning
Anthony held only
the Bible,
and taught with
the other hand
uplifted.
Artists simply assumed
his proclamation
of the Gospels
was best shown
literally
with book in hand .
But somehow
the Child
envisioned another
revelation of the word
that night
He crept into
Anthony’s arms.
(1980’s New York City)
Happy Feast of St Anthony ! 👶🏻 13 June 2022

The Mother of God Overshadowed By The Holy Spirit

July 29th, 2022

The Mother of God Overshadowed By The Holy Spirit

he Mother of God Overshadowed By The Holy Spirit
“...I do not know what it is about you that closes and opens; only something in me understands / the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses / nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.”
From the poem “somewhere I have never traveled, gladly beyond” by e.e. cummings 1923
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
Romans 8:26,27
“The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit is the main aim of man (people) upon this earth, for it is through the struggle of ‘pulling down ‘ the Holy Spirit into a repentant, humble heart that man gains justification before the Face of God. Christ is our savior as long as we realize we are perishing; and the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is the actuality of being saved...”
From “The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit In Ancient Russia” by Professor Ivan Kontzevitch, 1950
“In 2018, Pope Francis decreed that the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church be inserted into the Roman Calendar on Monday after Pentecost (also known as Whit Monday) and to be celebrated every year. The decree was signed on February 11, 2018, the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes apparitions. It was issued on March 3, 2018.”
Mother of the Church, Wikipedia
This icon was commissioned by Weston School of Theology, formerly in Cambridge, Massachusetts, now part of Boston College. Because I had graduated from Weston in 1979, this commission meant a lot to me. In some ways I feel I “grew up” in New England because I had graduated from Boston College in 1973 and for so many reasons, from childhood I had been fascinated by our Puritan past. I have always loved the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his novels and short stories of New England. They teach you so much about the blind attitudes we still carry to this day. I think someday you would be deeply moved by reading his story, “The Gentle Boy,” (1839) about the Puritan persecution of the Quakers. With the publication of “The Scarlet Letter” In 1850, the Europeans all agreed, that America had finally produced a genius novelist, and a book they felt could truly be designated as great. His great-great-great grandfather William Hathorne had Quakers whipped in the streets of Salem, and his son Judge John Hathorne, sentenced 18 innocent women, and one man to death on the charge that they were witches. Nathaniel added the “w” to his name out of shame - to distance himself from the Hathorne’s and it is not just me, who believes his life’s work was an artistic attempt of repentance for his ancestors.
When I first visited Salem in the summer of 1971, there was one little museum about the horrific murders. When I returned in 1996, the town of Salem had decided to face its past, and put up a beautiful monument of stone-hewn benches with the name of each victim chiseled into the seat of each stone bench. We still believe that running from our past here in America is the best way; witness the banned books, the irrational fear of critical race theory, the denial of the genocide of Native peoples, the lust for tyranny, the insurrection’s unveiled hatred for democracy.
The Holy Spirit is so many things; notably this year, the Spirit of Truth, Advocate...Comforter. The Spirit is usually represented as a dove, sometimes a flame of fire. But in this icon he takes an angelic form. After I completed this icon I read this depiction in the account of the Annunciation by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, she saw the same form. Though we will never know exactly what form the Spirit took, it was comforting for me to read.
Mary is reading from the Hebrew Bible, the Song of Songs. The Spirit irradiates waves of light surrounding Mary, she is overshadowed also by the Light and Love of the Father, with whom she’d had an intimate relationship with since early childhood. She is the Mother of the Word of God and the Bride of the Holy Spirit. Mary is immersed in the Most Holy Trinity .
I admit to being shocked and taken aback by my own lack of faith in the Holy Spirit when Pope Benedict retired; and then Pope Francis was given to us. “For nothing will be impossible for God.” Luke 1:37
“In this shewing He brought forth our blessed Lady to my understanding, I saw her ghostly, in bodily likeness; a simple maid and a meek, young of age and little waxen above a child, in stature that she was when she conceived...she beheld her God and Maker, marveling with great reverence that He would be born of her that was a simple creature of His making...and the littleness of herself that was made - caused her to say full meekly to Gabriel: Lo me, God’s handmaid !”
From the Middle English, “Revelations of Divine Love” by Lady Julian of Norwich (1343 - +after 1416)
Fr William Hart McNichols 🔥 🎶🎶 Veni Creator Spiritus ... Deo Patri sit Gloria, et Filio qui a mortuis Surrexit, ac Paraclito, in saeculorum specula. Amen 🎶 🎶 Pentecost 2022

Holy Prophet Daniel Berrigan, SJ - 9 May 1921 - 30 April 2016

July 29th, 2022

Holy Prophet Daniel Berrigan, SJ - 9 May 1921 - 30 April 2016

Holy Prophet Daniel Berrigan, SJ (9 May 1921 - 30 April 2016)
“This Child is set for the rise and fall of many ... a sign that is spoken against a Child born to make trouble and die for it ...we say killing is disorder life and gentleness and community and unselfishness is the only order we recognize... How many indeed must die before our voices are heard?”
Fr Daniel Berrigan, SJ
“There is no keener revelation into the soul of a society than the way it treats it’s children.”
Nelson Mandela
I began writing this for Dan’s Anniversary of his death, April 30. I just couldn’t decide what to include, he did so much. So I’ve let it sit, unfinished. Then the most recent massacre of children in Uvalde, Texas, happened and I remembered Dan always talked and wrote about the looming wars on children. This affected him so deeply at times, he’d stay up in his apartment alone and grieved ... and wrote. He would not come down for dinner, and I’d often go up to make sure he was okay. Most of you remember his most famous statement about burning draft files in Catonsville, Maryland, 17 May 1968:
“Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house...For we are sick at heart, our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning Children. And for thinking of that other Child, of whom the poet Luke speaks. The Infant was taken up in the arms of an old man, whose tongue grew resonant and Vatican at the touch of that beauty.
And the old man spoke; this Child is set for the rise and fall of many in Israel, a sign that is spoken against...”
And I have quoted most, but not all, of the rest on a scroll in this icon.
One of these days I would like to write more about a concept I discovered moving from Manhattan to Alburquerque in September 1990. It’s from the book “Iron John : A Book About Men” by the late poet Robert Bly. It is the concept of “male mothering.”
It’s similar to mentoring, but not at all similar to being a demanding coach , stage mother, or to “tough love.” It is however, similar to the unconditional love of a good mother, yet performed by an older man who takes you under his wing. Because of the scandals in the church, so much of that male to male attention is now scrutinized as nefarious and highly suspicious. Which is a tragedy for young men, not to inherit the wisdom of their elders.
In my 35 years in the Society of Jesus I had so many wonderful male mothers that I had to list all of them, that I could remember, in the catalog of my exhibit in Denver 2018. The catalog is called “Light In All Darkness“ and has pictures and brief writings on all the pieces from the exhibit (it’s still available to order if you’d like to see it).
Dan was part male mother and part searing prophet to me. I used to say the prophets have a “blow torch mouth.” When they turn the explosive fire on a huge religious institution or corrupt government, it’s necessary, fearless ,right, and we all applaud them. When they turn it on you personally, it can be devastating. So I definitely got both the mothering and the blow torch fire. I remember once during the AIDS Hospice years, (1983-1990) I went up to Dan to tell him my problems. One problem was that I’d been asked to write a diary of my work with people with HIV-AIDS, and because it was all so intimate, personal and confidential, I refused the offer. The publisher had even suggested he could get Dr Mathilde Krim, to write an introduction. I waited in silence for Dan to answer. I said, what do you think ? He said, “Well, pretty classy problems.” So we had a drink and I went down to my apartment, humbled, tail between my legs.
I first heard of Dan in the Jesuit Novitiate in Florissant, Missouri. Our novice master wanted us to experience every kind and stripe of Jesuit, from scholars, to missionaries, teachers, writers, musicians, visual artists, (literally at that time, 1968-70) a professional clown with a traveling circus (think “Godspell“) doctors, lawyers, scientists, historians, actors, directors ... and prophets. This was to tell us, you can’t possibly come up with a Jesuit who hasn’t already done what you may think is original and unique. Absolutely true.
The Novice Master would mimeograph articles by or about Dan and ask us to read them. We also had to do a monthly book report on a Jesuit holy man or canonized saint; at that time I was enthralled by the English Jesuit Martyrs and by Teilhard de Chardin... especially “The Divine Milieu.” I think back on reading that book at 19 and how it still is my spirituality, especially now, his comments about aging, which are right smack in front of me. Teilhard called aging, “the divinisation of passivities.” Or as one of my favorite male mothers, the Jesuit Fr John J. Walsh quipped, “Everytime you look in the mirror, something else has dropped.”
I began, after Novitiate, in philosophy studies to read everything Dan would write, including his early award winning poetry. But it was the book “No Bars To Manhood” that shook me to my core. I must say honestly, that I had been prepared to read Dan by reading my now dear friend, Jim Douglass’ book “The Non-Violent Cross” In 1969. That book confirmed everything I intuitively knew in my heart. Both these men are truly prophets and I “bow to their podvigs” (Russian Orthodox term for bearing heavy crosses - Catholic term is usually “victim soul”) in trembling and awe. Because of Dan’s utter genius with words he put into action, (I cannot emphasize this enough) and enormously poetic, inventive vocabulary God had/has designated him a prophet. In my experience all the Biblical, and many of the later prophets have this gift of precise language that goes right into your soul. Like Mahatma Gandhi, the whole Berrigan Family, St Oscar Romero, Delores Huerta, Caesar Chavez, Sr Dorothy Stang, Dianna Ortiz, Jim Douglass, Thomas Merton, Robert Ellsberg, Dorothy Day, Christopher Pramuk, William Stringfellow, Malcom X and Dr Martin Luther King, Fr Malcom Boyd, Fr John McNeill, Fr Bob Nugent, Sr Jeanine Gramick, SL, Fr Jim Martin, SJ, (to name a few) these prophets, as the cliche’ says, “trouble the comfortable, and comfort the troubled.” I was so in awe of Dan that I thought if I ever met him I’d be seared by his fire and would be withered. But God had a different plan.
One day in Manhattan, in the AIDS pandemic years I was taking the uptown #1 train from 72nd street. The subway doors opened and there he was sitting right in front of me. Hanging on the subway pole I stammered out that I was a Jesuit and had read everything he’d ever written and was utterly grateful. He invited me to have a picnic on Staten Island and so we met, later, took the ferry over, and I told him everything. He then asked to be introduced to Sister Patrice Murphy and became one of the AIDS Hospice team. Thus began a friendship (I have a box of letters I may be able to publish someday) which was both rocky and sublime. Through Dan I met some of the greatest writers and peace workers of our time, including his extended family. I designed a poster for Dan and 3 of his book covers. When I became an apprentice iconographer, he gave me a book of icons which belonged to William Stringfellow, and encouraged me by telling me his friend Thomas Merton had loved icons, he also said hauntingly, that it took him ten years to get over Merton’s death. I never wanted “to be Dan”, but I needed to experience how he could take such continual blows and still keep going. Dan was, as Adrienne von Speyr says in her book “The Mission of the Prophets, so much“ here” - so focused on human suffering that he (they) could not be comforted; prophets are inconsolable. I’d say it’s very similar to the Bodhisattva vow.
Now a word on the icon and why the Child? The flame over his head ?
Dan’s writings are filled with references to “the war on children.” He mentions children so often and so much, that I had to place him with the Christ Child; with a prophet’s fierce, ignited flame over his head. He always wore a medallion of a Fish (Jesus) and that’s in the icon too. The Christ Child is actually Dan’s grandnephew, Seamus, his niece Frida Berrigan’s boy. And in the photo I used for this icon, Frida is actually holding her son’s back while Dan pulls him into his heart. But I couldn’t put in Frida’s hand so it looks a bit awkward! But I watched him around his nieces and nephews, and it was sheer delight.
O there is so much more to say on Daniel Berrigan, but St John reminds us at the end of his Gospel, 21:25
“But there are many other things that Jesus did; if every one was written down, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 Ascension Sunday 2022
... just an aside, the Ascension was Teilhard ‘s favorite feast

St Marina the Great Martyr- A Prayer For Marina Osvyannikova For my 43rd Anniversary of Ordination - 25 May 1979

July 29th, 2022

St Marina the Great Martyr- A Prayer For Marina Osvyannikova  For my 43rd Anniversary of Ordination - 25 May 1979

St Marina (Margaret) the Great Martyr: A Prayer For Marina Osvyannikova
(For my 43rd Anniversary of Ordination : 25 May 1979)
“Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers...he wanted to bring them - both men and women - back to Jerusalem in chains. As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from Heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul ! Why are you persecuting me?’ ‘Who are you, lord?’ Saul asked. And the voice replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must
do.‘“
The Acts of the Apostles 9: 1-3
How many saints, or heroic leaders in the world can you think of who have had a dramatic conversion or have been struck by “heavenly lightning,” with a clear mission? I can name so many, St Genisius, St Edith Stein, St Ignatius Loyola, St Francis of Assisi, but one that comes to mind, concerning St Margaret, is 19 year old St Joan of Arc whom we celebrate every May 30th. She was only 14 when St Michael the Archangel appeared to her, followed later by St Catherine of Alexandria and St Margaret of Antioch, born c.289 Antioch of Pisidia, died c.304 age 15.
“Margaret, known as Margaret of Antioch (July 20) in the West, and St Marina the Great Martyr (July 17) in the East...was reputed to have promised very powerful indulgences to those who read her life, or invoked her intercession; these no doubt helped the spread of her cultus. Margaret is one of the “Fourteen Holy Helpers, and is one of the saints Joan of Arc claimed to have spoken with.” from Wikipedia
Most people saw the news when that spiritual lightening hit Marina Osvyannikova as she dramatically held up a hand made sign on Russian television. She was a news anchor and producer spewing lies about Ukraine and finally could not live with herself any longer. Actually, she had planned to carry the sign to Red Square but her 17 year old son, grabbed her car keys and locked her in her room. So she ran onto the set of Vermya, the most watched Russian news and held up the sign : “No war, stop the war, don’t believe the propaganda, they are lying to you here.” She was interrogated and detained for 14 hours, saying later, “I’m ashamed that I allowed myself to tell lies from the television screen. Ashamed that I allowed Russians to be turned into zombies. We just silently watched this inhumane regime. The next 10 generations won’t be able to clean themselves from the shame of this fratricidal war.”
People who risk everything to tell a truth inspire us all, usually what they do only makes sense after their deaths, then it’s finally safe to applaud them... ”What sorrow awaits you ! For you build monuments for the prophets your own ancestors killed long ago.” (Luke 11:47)
I remembered seeing a beautiful 16th century icon of St Marina the Great Martyr in a book I have of Bulgarian Icons. So I brought it out of my collection of icon books. Why Marina and not a hundred other brave murdered Russians or Ukrainians ? President Zelensky (and other leaders) have openly thanked her, but I waited for a few days to be sure my impulse was “holy-inspired.” I felt deeply I needed to pray for Marina and her family’s safety as well as honoring her courage. I’m not sure why certain people hit me hard enough to want to paint something of or for them. For instance, why did I paint an image of Elijah McClain and not the obvious choice, George Floyd ? Most of the time, the reason reveals itself to me afterwards. It’s the same with the image of Matthew Shepard and the icon I painted (The Seraphic Guardian of the Spilled Blood) to honor the violent murder of Allen R. Schindler, Jr, and anyone, boy or girl, man or woman, who is innocent and whose “...Blood cries unto Me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10)
St Margaret (Marina) promised she would hear our cries, and this icon is my way of crying to her. Often I feel helpless to touch the deepest tragedies in our world. I know you will join me in this prayer for Marina, but most of all, it’s a way of praying for all of Ukraine and Russia, as the blood of Russian dissidents and thousands of Ukrainians cries to God from the ground. And the blood of the recent victims of the shooting massacre in Buffalo, New York...
“Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?”
From the play “St Joan” by George Bernard Shaw, published 28 December 1923, three years after St Joan was formally canonized.
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 25 May 2022
Rare opportunity, this original is available for sale. The icon is 12” x 16” framed for $4000. Please PM us if you are interested.

Nursing Icon of the Mother of God -for Mothers Day 2022

July 29th, 2022

Nursing Icon of the Mother of God -for Mothers Day 2022

ursing Icon of the Mother of God (for Mother’s Day 2022)
“...her who not only/ gave God’s infinity/ dwindled to infancy/ welcome in womb and breast/ birth, milk, and all the rest/ but mothers each new grace/ that does now reach our race/ Mary Immaculate/ merely woman, yet/ whose presence, power is/ great as no goddess’s/ was deemed, dreamed;who/ this one work has to do/ let all God’s glory through/ God’s glory which would go/ through her and from her flow...”
May 1883 : by Fr Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ (the poet’s poet) from his poem “The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe”
“Biblically based on the passage from St Luke’s Gospel where a woman in the crowd cries out ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you.” To which Jesus responded ‘Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.’ The icon shows the acceptance of God’s will by Mary becoming the Mother of God and metaphorically affirms the Church as Mother who nourishes her children...while a rare subject, it appears in both iconography and western religious art. The Virgin Mother through this icon patroness for nursing mothers. The icon is thought to be Greek in origin and particularly popular among Greeks, Russians, and Southern Italians.”
From a website on Eastern Icons : Holy Trinity
The feast day of this icon, is quite naturally, the day after the Nativity, 26 December.
Honoring today the Heroic Mothers of Ukraine, and all the brave suffering Mothers, in every country. Honoring dear friends who are mothers, my Mother and my sisters, Mary and Marjory, my sisters-in-law, Kathy, Jane, and also the Mothers of Taos and Taos Pueblo. For 14 years I learned so much from witnessing these women. I don’t think I’m the only one who has noticed that New Mexico is traditionally a Matriarchal Society. I think it’s part of the reason why some tourists and visitors become enamored with the mystical quality of this “Land of Enchantment,” and cannot explain why they keep returning and finally, move here. Just imagine what it might be like to live in a Matriarchal Culture ?! Not enough space to tell you all that means in church and society. There are also great women in St Joseph ‘s parish here in Albuquerque, who continue to teach me how to heroically survive, multitask, live and suffer gracefully.
I cannot help but think of Jesus the Mother Hen ( Matthew 23:37-39) , the ancient Eucharistic symbol of Jesus the Mother Pelican, Lady Julian of Norwich (feast day 8 May too...) who spoke of Our Mother Jesus ...”who takes us into his heart through his open side.” (See the warm, tender, authentic new translation from Middle English by my dear friend, Mirabai Starr).
But I would also love to write someday, about the concept of “Male Mothers” I encountered in 1990, in the book “Iron John : A Book About Men” by the late author and poet Robert Bly. And who can ever forget the cries of the Poor Clares as they saw the body of Francis of Assisi, carried beneath their window so they could say a final goodbye; crying aloud, “What will we do without our father? What will we do without our mother?”
I’ve often joked that at least for me, priesthood is being partly a glorified mother and father. I think this is what Pope Francis is trying to say to ordained priests, about “Shepherds smelling like the sheep.” He’s getting at the reality that like a father and mother, life is messy, ministry is messy, and often you feel like you can never get it right. Personally I’ve often been criticized for being too Catholic or... not Catholic enough. The book publishing company “Sounds True” was considering a book of my icons. Finally I got a letter that said something like “....we’ve considered every possible use for your work, but, ummm, they’re just too Catholic.” If I ever find the letter I promise I’ll get the quote exactly as written. Yet to quote a great New Mexico artist, Georgia O’Keefe, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
I’d only change “wanted” to “believed I should do.” And I’ll never forget when Dan Berrigan was being criticized by both sides, he told me, “Well, I must be doing something right !”
My Mother, Marjory Hart McNichols, died on 3 August 2006. I literally broke down while saying the Rosary at the funeral home. After the funeral I went back to Taos and it was the feast of the Assumption. I told everyone I couldn’t preach, and they completely understood. That Advent I was numb. I realized so many memories of Christmas were about Mom. To pull myself out of the grief I decided to paint/write, the Nursing Icon. It worked. Just touching into the infinite tenderness of this beautiful icon began to heal me. My prayer during the creation of this icon and now, it that it will be healing for you.
A most happy and blessed Mother’s Day !
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 May 2022

Retablo de San Jose Obrero - Retablo of St Joseph the Worker - May 1

July 29th, 2022

Retablo de San Jose Obrero - Retablo of St Joseph the Worker - May 1

Retablo de San Jose’ Obrero : Retablo of St Joseph the Worker : May 1
“Ite ad Joseph!” (Genesis 41:55 “Go to Joseph; whatever he says to you, do...”
According to an ancient tradition, this utterly tender prayer was found in the 50th year of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and passed down to generations of loving people and saints in the church...
“O St Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. O St Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of fathers.
O St Joseph, I never weary of contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him close in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St Joseph, patron of departing souls; pray for me .
Amen”
In the above prayer, it says “I never weary of contemplating you...” During my years as an illustrator and in the past 30 years as an iconographer, I never weary of drawing and painting St Joseph. And it seems that he gives me new ideas continually. On my website there is a section just for St Joseph and so far, there are 7 images and icons of him. I plan to do another one hopefully during the summer.
When I moved down from Taos, nine years ago, I was assigned by Archbishop John Wester to St Joseph on the Rio Grande Church. It’s a large and beautiful beautiful Church and our pastor, Msgr. Luna’s middle name is Joseph. There is a lot of wood inside so even if you didn’t know the name of the church, it feels like Joseph.
One of the many many great things about Pope Francis is his authentic love for Joseph; he gave us the year of Joseph, 2020-2021. We all have different spiritual lives, so I always try to respect people’s way of praying. If you are open to a devotional mystical life, Mother Maria Cecilia Baij, OSB “Life of St Joseph” was very helpful for me, as well as the incomparable “St Joseph Shadow of the Father” by Fr Andre’ Doze. I don’t know if Fr Doze is still alive, but it’s a wonderful history of devotion to Joseph, and his love for Joseph really comes through every beautiful chapter.
A blessed feast of St Joseph the Worker may he continue to intercede for all who pray to him, and St Joseph, please intercede for Ukraine !
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 1 May

Christ All Merciful

July 29th, 2022

Christ All Merciful

Christ All Merciful
“Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened and I will give you rest...”
Matthew 11:28-30
This year for Divine Mercy Sunday instead of the St Faustina Icon, I decided to show a very early icon, (number 22) Christ All Merciful, which resides in a small Orthodox Chapel with a companion piece, Mother of God of Vatopedi. It shows another image of Jesus’ Divine Mercy. I remember so well, painting this icon and the joy I felt especially doing His face. For some reason, with some icons, you can never get the full radiance in a print but I hope you experience His love for you, the way I did while working on it.
“Heart of My Heart, be filled with joy!” (Faustina’s Diary #1669)
“O God of fathomless mercy, who allow me to give relief and help to the dying by my unworthy prayer, be blessed as many thousands times as there are stars in the sky and drops of water in all the oceans! Let your mercy resound throughout the orb of the earth, and let it rise to the foot of your throne, giving praise to the greatest of your attributes; that is, your incomprehensible mercy...
“When you reflect upon what I tell you in the depths of your heart, you profit more than if you read many books. Oh, if souls would only listen to My voice when I am speaking in the depths of their hearts, they would reach the peak of holiness in a short time.”
(Jesus speaks in the Diary of St Faustina #584)
“Be at peace, My daughter. This work of mercy is Mine; there is nothing of you in it. It pleases Me that you are carrying out faithfully what I have commanded you to do, not adding or taking away a single word.” #1667
Faustina asked the Lord about the meaning of the rays on the painting or image of the Divine Mercy, Jesus told her in reply:
“The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender Mercy when my agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross... Oh, how much I am hurt by a soul’s distrust! Such a soul professes that I am Holy and Just, but does not believe that I am Mercy and does not trust in My goodness. Even the devils glorify My Justice but do not believe in My goodness. My Heart rejoices in this title of Mercy. Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God. All the works of My hands are crowned with mercy.” #299
According to the spirituality of St Ignatius one is advised not only to refrain from defending oneself when reproached, but to rejoice in the humiliation. As Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me...” Matthew 5:11
“You will encounter disapproval and persecution. They will look upon you as a hysteric and an eccentric, but the Lord will lavish His graces upon you. True works of God always meet with opposition and are marked by suffering. If God wants to accomplish something, sooner or later He will do so in spite of the difficulties. Your part, in the meantime, is to arm yourself with great patience.” #270
“My daughter, if you knew what great merit and reward is earned by one act of pure love for Me, you would die of joy. I am saying this that you may constantly unite yourself with Me through love, for this is the goal of the life of your soul. This act is an act of the will. Know that a pure soul is humble. When you lower and empty yourself before My majesty, I then pursue you with My graces and make use of My omnipotence to exalt you...Do not fear anything. I am with you. These matters are in My hands and I will bring them to fruition according to My mercy, for nothing can oppose My will... I am always in your heart; not only when you receive Me in Holy Communion, but always.” # 575
Because Pope Francis has written so much on the Mercy of God, (Apostolic Letter “Misericordia et Misera” 20 November 2016) and he, himself is being persecuted just like Faustina, I have been particularly devoted to the Feast of Divine Mercy.
On October 5, 1938, Sister Faustina whispered to Sister Felicia, “The Lord will take me today.”
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 Divine Mercy Sunday 2022
PS) The Nobel Peace Prize In 1976 was awarded jointly to Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams “for the courageous efforts in founding a movement to put an end to the violent conflict in Northern Ireland.” They received the prize in 1977.
After my father died in November of 1997, I was able to travel through Ireland, to Belfast in January 1998 with Fr Daniel Berrigan, SJ, Fr John Dear, and meet Mairead. She is absolutely irrepressible with her sense of non-violence within the Gospel, and a forever memorable gift to be with. Her incredible joy is contagious. One of my favorite jokes she’d often say, when things got really violent in Ireland or around the world is “Mi non-violence is being sorely tested !” Only a woman like Mairead who has lived mercy can show us the way. In these days of senseless violence and war I look to people like Mairead to teach us the virtue of hard-won Mercy.
And with everything going on , right outside now, spring is in full bloom...
“Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east...”
Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ

The Risen Christ

July 29th, 2022

The Risen Christ

The Risen Christ
“Not even for a moment
do things stand still - witness
color in the trees.”
(Seiju : 15 August 1776) December “
“In the wood of the Cross the Lord sees the tree and human work united. Men must work because they have sinned, and so they lay a curse of their own sin into their work; they hammer the Cross together in order to nail him who brings salvation to it... It is clear that Christ had to become a carpenter, for he had to cut down the tree of knowledge. Like the first Adam, he the second Adam had also to deal with a tree. The first Adam had to do with the fruit; by eating it he made the tree unfruitful. The second Adam has to cope with the dead tree. During his years of contemplation, he takes the dead material of the felled tree and makes it his life’s work ... He has to rededicate the tree desecrated by eating of the fruit so that it can become the Cross... it is Christ who has to purify Adam in soul and body and restore the tree to its place... When one sees with what tenderness he dies on the wood, one understands what its rehabilitation means. The tree of the Cross was found worthy to carry the Lord and experience its own death as a tree as part of the Lord’s death...”
from “The Passion From Within” by Adrienne von Speyr ( Doctor, convert, mystic, 1902 - 1967)
All around Albuquerque in mid-April, the lush lavender grape-like wisteria flowers are blooming. As extravagantly generous and delicate as the falling blossoms appear, it’s amazing how tough the trunks, stems and vines are; they can break wooden lattices with ease, and have to be trained onto sturdier metal frames or just allowed to spill over walls all over the city. They are usually at their peak around the feast of St Gemma Galgani, or tomorrow, on April 16, the feast of St Bernadette and St Benedict Joseph Labre. Yet this year, Holy Saturday falls on this day. I have been drawn to the mystery of Holy Saturday for a very long time. At the end of my teaching career at Regis High in Denver, when I was 26, I did a painting of Holy Saturday I named after a hypnotic song I heard sung by Joan Baez written by Miguel Hernandez Gilabert and Juan Manuel Serrat; “Llego’ Con Tres Heridas,” - “ I Come With Three Wounds.” You can see it on my website, it’s a Deposition painting of a man (fashioned after Fr Pedro Arrupe, SJ) taking Christ down from the Cross. The man staggers under the weight of the body of Jesus. Above them are the flaming spokes of an eclipsed sun. Later, in the Hospice years of the AIDS pandemic in Manhattan I was to discover that medical doctor and mystic, Adrienne von Speyr had a very well articulated and controversial theology about the descent into Hell, “burned” into the Apostles Creed; “He descended into Hell, on the third day he arose again from the dead... “ How I wondered what that meant, (!) as I was just a child of 5 when I memorized that Creed. Why did Jesus descend into Hell after he died and why is this so essential, so important? For this theology and many other things, Adrienne is a stumbling block to the right and left theological wings of the church. I can only say briefly that she taught Jesus experienced Hell in all its utterly dark hopelessness. This seemed right to me. But I do not have the requisite credentials to argue why it seems right. It just hit me in an intuitive way, that as part of the Father’s plan of salvation, it had to be so.
This icon was commissioned by the Church of the Risen Christ in Denver as a companion to The Holy Family In 1992. Jesus is wearing a lavender garment and behind him are the blue colors of the mandala of eternity. The borders are yellow-gold, and now, that’s very meaningful to me as these are colors of the flag of Ukraine.
He bears the wounds of being nailed to the tree of the Cross. Why does he keep those wounds while all the other marks of flagellation, and the other violent wounds disappear? In fact he is so healed of his many wounds that the disciples do not recognize him. That Jesus can be resurrected by the Spirit of Love, from a horrific violent death and survive a descent into Hell, is staggering to my imagination, heart and soul, this teaches me something I cannot express in words about these holy days. This image of resurrection provides a harrowing contemplative experience I feel all the more, in these times, as we witness the relentless evil of rapes, slaughters, and tortured bodies of dead people we are seeing daily in Ukraine.
Personally, any experience (especially in the church) of a purposeful , willful injustice is enough to drive one mad, and tests the soul to the very end of its tether. I don’t see any case in the Gospels where Jesus is tolerant of this kind of arrogant cruelty, and he cautions us not to seek vengeance, to let God deal with this. But when it reaches this extent it becomes an apocalyptic struggle between good and evil. “How many graves? I don’t know. Go count them,” said the caretaker of the cemetery on Severodonetsk’s southern edge, which started to grow when Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. “We’re digging new ones almost every day now.”
For many past years this terrible struggle which is the Easter story, was far distant from most of us. We celebrated a cheerful Easter without really living in the story. This year is different. Because it’s so real, we wait again with the terrified women and men disciples of the first Easter. And because of the original story we have the advantage of tremendous hope. We don’t know how God will transform this present Crucifixion but we know He will. We wait and watch for the angel to appear at the empty tomb; this barren tree to flower...
“In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruit for every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
Revelation 22:2
A most blessed Easter to you all
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 Holy Saturday 2022

Our Lady of Pochaev, Ukraine

July 29th, 2022

Our Lady of Pochaev, Ukraine

Our Lady of Pochaev (Ukraine) and photo of the icon arriving in Magadan, Russia
“... if my words don’t come together, listen to the melody, ‘cause my love is in there hiding. I love you in a place where there’s no space or time...”
Leon Russell, “ A Song For You” 1970
The other day I was driving and this song came on the radio (Karen Carpenter’s beautiful version) and the words were suddenly illumined for me. It honestly felt like Heaven had entered the car and filled it with such overflowing Love, that I had to pull over. Similarly, you can hear the word of God; words you’ve heard a hundred times, which then light up your soul and fill it with hope. As Jesus said, “ The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed grows, he himself knows not how. All by itself the soil produces grain - first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain that ripens within.” (Mark 4: 26-28)
Our Lady of Pochaev, has been in the Pochaev Lavra (monastery) since 1597. A miraculous legend has been associated with this icon. In 1198 a monk ascended Mount Pochaev to pray and was met by a Pillar of Fire which in moments, revealed the Mother of God. Almost immediately the monk shared the news with the other monks in the Pochaev Lavra, who did not believe him. So he went back to the place of the apparition
and Our Mother had left her foot print seared into a rock to convince the monks she had actually been there. This foot print always appears in the icon, as you see here.
In 1995 I was blessed to go to Magadan, Far East Russia (four hours flight from Anchorage, Alaska) to visit the former place of a horrible concentration camp, where millions died, (1938-1955) so that I could come back to Alburquerque and create a new icon, Our Lady of Magadan. This was commissioned by Archbishop Hurley of Anchorage to be given as a gift to the Orthodox Bishop of Magadan. While there, my guide, the late Mr Bill Lavin who spoke Russian fluently, took me to a new Monastery, the St Sergius of Radonezh Lavra.
So as I was talking with some of the young Orthodox monks (Bill was translating), Bill decided to tell them I was an iconographer . They perked up visibly and joyfully told him “Ah, this is wonderful ! He will do three icons for us ! St Sergius of Radonezh, St Seraphim of Sarov and Our Lady of Pochaev.” Now .... Magadan was (is?) an impoverished city, struggling so much they only had paper-print icons or small hand painted ones with no real gold leaf halos, just painted ones. I was waiting for their furrowed brows of disapproval and rejection when they found out I was Catholic. So I said “Bill, you better tell them I’m not Orthodox and in fact, a Roman Catholic priest.” He did and they all smiled, laughed, and said, “ O that doesn’t matter at all, we’re poor!” So I said, “I’d be most honored to write/paint one for you. Please pick one.” And they chose Our Lady of Pochaev.
I will never forget that moment and imagine my joy when Archbishop Hurley sent me the above photograph taken in October 1996 when the icon of Our Lady of Pochaev arrived at the Lavra. I saw in the photo, an Orthodox monk bending to kiss/venerate the icon, and I know that She is still with them today. Holy Martyr St Nestor Savchuk had been in the seminary in the Pochaev Monastery, Ukraine, and I felt that connection too. As Jesus said, these things happen, who knows how?
With all the tragedy of Ukraine and Russia, I offer this prayer I found, to the Mother of God, Our Lady of Pochaev , I quote :
“Rejoice, O Glory of the Universe.
Rejoice, O Temple of the Lord.
Rejoice, O Mountain overshadowed by the Holy Ghost.
Rejoice, O Refuge of all.
Rejoice, O Golden candelabrum.
Rejoice, O Honorable Glory of all Christians.
Rejoice, O Mary, Mother of Christ Our God.
Rejoice, O Paradise.
Rejoice, O Divine Altar.
Rejoice, O Golden Urn.
Rejoice, O Hope of All...
Mother most good, cover our Church and our Ukrainian people with your mantle. Help our brothers and sisters in Ukraine in their suffering. Give them strength in their struggle with their atheist enemies, be consoling and unfailingly firm in their harassment and shield them in their misery.
Be for them and us All-Merciful Guardian, and let them praise you openly and freely together with them, Oh Virgin, among all Virgins, and your Son, Our God, Jesus. Let there be glory, honor and adoration now, and always, and forever. Amen “
Fr William Hart McNichols 💙💛 April 2022

St Vasily the Holy Fool of Moscow - feast day 2 August

July 29th, 2022

St Vasily the Holy Fool of Moscow - feast day 2 August

St Vasily the Holy Fool of Moscow (feast day 2 August)
“If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool.”
1 Corinthians 3:18
In these days with Russia and Ukraine continually in the news, I turn to a woman like the incredibly courageous Marina Osvyannikova who was “foolish” enough to risk everything for the truth. In this way, she follows in the ancient footsteps of the men and women Holy Fools of Russia. Few people know that the gorgeous church we always see on the news in Moscow, is named for St Vasily (Basil in English) the Holy Fool.
No one could ever get away with castigating the Tsar without being murdered, except Vasily. I am presently painting/writing an Icon of St Marina (Margaret in English) as a prayer for the brave Marina Osvyannikova. I am copying an old Bulgarian icon of this ancient great Martyr, who happened to also appear to the brave young St Joan of Arc, along with St Michael the Archangel and St Catherine of Alexandria.
St Vasily, the Russian Orthodox saint, is also known as ‘yurodivy’ or holy fool for Christ.
He was born of serfs in a village near Moscow in December 1468. Legends say he was born on the portico of the local church. As a young apprentice shoemaker, he became incensed at the Russian government’s carelessness and disregard, especially towards the poor and sick. He was known for mocking the Tsar, then Ivan the Terrible, to provoke change and ran naked through Moscow’s snow filled streets, weighed down with chains.
The Tsar and high-ranking government officials tried to cajole Vasily with gifts, to silence him, but he gave everything away to those in need. He was clairvoyant and often warned people of their future tragedies, to beg them to become humble before God. Upon his death, August 2 1557, the humiliated Ivan the Terrible served as his pall bearer and then commissioned the magnificent church of St Vasily (St Basil) in Red Square. This is the Church that you see almost every night on the news, with the glorious multi-colored domes of the Holy Spirit’s tongues of fire, that we’ve learned to call “onion domes.”
I suppose that the closest thing we have to Holy Fools in the western church would be St Francis of Assisi and especially his most memorable foolish Friars, Brother Juniper and Brother John the Simple, or one of my favorite saints, St Benedict Joseph Labre.
Troparion for the feast of St Vasily the Holy Fool of Moscow:
“Your life, O Basil (Vasily) was true and your chastity undefiled/ In fasting, vigilance and exposure to heat and frost/You subdued your flesh for the sake of Christ/ Therefore your countenance shone with the brilliance of the sun./Today the faithful glorify your Holy falling-asleep./ Implore Christ to deliver us from all bondage, dissension and war./ And to grant mercy to our souls...
And dear Courageous Vasily, encourage all of us to be brave in our telling the truth; especially those like Marina and all the other Russians who risk their lives by speaking against this tragic war. In the name of Our Lord Jesus who truthfully told us “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6)
Amen
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 🗣 for April Fool’s Day 2022

The Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

July 29th, 2022

The Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

The Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
“On Friday 25 March , during the Celebration of Penance at 17.00 in St Peter’s Basilica, I will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Pray together.”
Pope Francis
“Yaroslavl the Wise, the grand prince of Kyiv, dedicated his lands to Mary in 1037 and she has been known since then as Queen of Ukraine. Pope Francis used the title in his Angelus address on March 6, saying : ‘Let us pray together, as brothers and sisters, to Our Lady, Queen of Ukraine.’
Before the revolutions of 1917 that overthrew the Russian Empire and led to the creation of the Soviet Union, Russia was colloquially known as ‘House of Mary’ because there were more shrines and churches dedicated to Our Lady than any other country at the time.
During the Fatima apparitions in 1917 ... Our Lady asked for ‘the Consecration to my Immaculate Heart ... in the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.’
In a letter to the Pope, the Ukrainian bishops wrote to him, ‘in these hours of immeasurable pain and terrible ordeal for our people...we humbly ask Your Holiness to publicly perform the act of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Ukraine and Russia, as requested by the Blessed Virgin of Fatima.”
In 1984 Pope St John Paul II performed this consecration to the satisfaction of one of the three visionaries of Fatima, the late Sister Lucia.”
From the Vatican website Angelus
Many years ago I was painting/writing an icon of one of the other Fatima visionary’s,
St Francisco Marto for my dear cousin Kathi Hart’s son, Billy. Kathi most kindly named him for me, and he asked me to be his Confirmation sponsor so I decided to give Billy Hart the Icon as a Confirmation gift. I had already created this icon of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a response to studying the apparitions for years. I read almost everything I could and came up with this image of Mary’s Heart as stronger even, than the nuclear war threatening the entire world. Now, in these days, I see so many people are writing about the possibility of a disastrous world war.
Recently I decided to watch the 1943 film “The Song of Bernadette” with my friend Kenny Greer, because he was born on 11 February, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, and the International Day of Praying For And With the Sick. I had seen the film several times and knew that Jennifer Jones won the Oscar that year for her portrayal of Bernadette.
But this time, we both noticed something in the film which thrilled us, gave us tremendous Hope. There is a scene where the Officials at Lourdes desperately want to close the grotto of the apparitions down, and make it illegal to go there and try to take home some of the healing waters. They succeeded in closing it to pilgrims and only the Emperor of France can open it, which they are positive will never happen. Then Our Lady quietly yet firmly “steps in.” The son of the Emperor gets a fever and his wife, the Empress sends his governess to collect some healing water. She is arrested, along with all the disobedient pilgrims, and ... you can guess what happens next. The Emperor orders the grotto to be opened. It’s delightful to see how God can get through any man made opposition, and this scene shows that, the Gospel way, or the simple way of Heaven can conquer anything. We can never have too much hope in God. I wait with all humanity again, to see how Heaven conquers another monstrous human made demonic disaster.
“...It is not merely a military operation, but a war which sows death, destruction, and misery...The use of atomic energy for the purposes of war is immoral, just as the possession of atomic weapons is immoral...War is like a cancer that grows, expands and feeds on itself. It is an adventure with no return, to use the prophetic words of St John Paul II...
Forgive us, if we continue like Cain to pick up the stones of our fields to kill Abel. Forgive us, if we continue to justify our cruelty with our labors, if we legitimize the brutality of our actions with our pain. Forgive us for war, O Lord. Forgive us for war, O Lord.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, we implore You! Hold fast the hand of Cain! Illumine our consciences; May our will not be done; abandon us not to our own actions! Stop us, O Lord, stop us! And when You have held back the hand of Cain, care also for him. He is our brother. O Lord, put a halt to the violence! Stop us O Lord!
Amen “
Pope Francis
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 March 2022

Sister Wendy Beckett

July 29th, 2022

Sister Wendy Beckett

Sister Wendy Beckett
“Beauty will save the world.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky (11 November 1821 - 9 February 1881)
“One day Dostoevsky threw out the enigmatic remark: ‘Beauty will save the world.’ What sort of a statement is that ? For a long time I considered it mere words. How could that be possible? When in bloodthirsty history did beauty ever save anyone from anything? Ennobled, uplifted, yes - but whom has it saved?... Dostoevsky’s remark, ‘Beauty will save the world”, was not a careless phrase but a prophecy. After all he was granted to see much, a man of fantastic illumination. And in that case art, literature might really be able to help the world today? It is the small insight which, over the years, I have succeeded in gaining into this matter that I shall lay before you here today...”
From the acceptance speech of Alexander Solzhenitsyn (11 December 1918 - 3 August 2008 ) for the Nobel Prize in 1970.
“The work with which we embark on this first volume of a series of theological studies is a word with which the philosophical person does not begin, but rather concludes. It is a word that has never possessed a permanent place or authentic voice in the concert of the exact sciences, and when it is chosen as a subject for discussion, appears to betray in him who chooses it an idle amateur among such very busy experts. It is finally, a word untimely in three different senses, and bearing it as one’s treasure will not win anyone’s favours; one rather risks finding oneself outside everyone’s camp ... Beauty is the word that shall be our first... We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past whether he admits it or not - can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.”
From “The Glory of the Lord : A Theological Aesthetics, volume 1, Seeing the Form”
By Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar (12 August 1905 - 26 June 1988)
“...There lives the dearest freshness
deep down things;
And through the last lights off the
black West went
Oh, morning, at the brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the
bent
World broods with warm breast
and with ah! bright wings.”
Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ (28 July 1844 - 8 June 1889)
Through the kindness of Robert Ellsberg, I was able to “meet” Sister Wendy Beckett by corresponding by email with her, before she passed into God. She told Robert that she wanted to do a book with me about my icons, but she became too exhausted and ill to carry out this wonderful, precious gift of an idea.
With Robert, however, she opened herself so gently, so honestly, so beautifully in a way she had never done with anyone. The result of their email conversations is the remarkable, poignant and sometimes humorous book to be published this September; “Dearest Sister Wendy” lovingly put together by Robert. It’s a book like no other and contains just some of their hundreds of emails. Robert gave me the honor to read it in full, and I learned so much from both of them. When it comes out I’ll be sure to tell you how to order one for your own spiritual nourishment...and of course, with these two people, Dostoevsky is right; “Beauty will save the world.”
To “spend time with her” and to thank Robert for allowing me to read his book, I decided to paint a “spiritual portrait” of Sister Wendy, in glowing lavender and gold leaf. She truly lived the words about God, from the sixth preface for a Sunday Mass in ordinary time ... “For in You we live and move and have our being, and while in this body we not only experience the daily effects of Your care, but even now possess the pledge of life eternal.”
Here is a short written portrait by Robert Ellsberg.
“Sister Wendy Beckett
Hermit (25 February 1930 - 26 December 2018)
Born in South Africa, Wendy Beckett always knew she wanted to be a nun, which she supposed would mean a life of prayer and silence. Yet the Sisters of Notre Dame da Namur, which she entered at 16, were a teaching order. This meant a life in the classroom. While she cheerfully accepted every assignment as the will of God, she longed for a contemplative life. After suffering a physical breakdown, she was granted her wish and allowed to leave her order. In 1970 she became a consecrated virgin and hermit, living in a caravan on the grounds of a Carmelite monastery in Norfolk, England.
Her new life was given over to prayer and solitude, but she also pursued an intense study of art. Late in life, she was discovered by a BBC producer, who persuaded her to star in a television series, ‘Sister Wendy’s Odyssey.’ The program took her to museums around the world. Suddenly this diminutive woman in a black habit became the unlikeliest of celebrities. Audiences were fascinated and charmed by her intelligence and her intensely alive and compassionate spirit. Her attention to beauty, whether in nature or the human body, defied conventional stereotypes about a supposedly otherworldly nun. Sister Wendy accepted this as a kind of ministry, a way to talk about God to a secular audience, showing that everything true, good and beautiful leads back to its source, our Creator. But she was happy when this sideline ended, and she returned without distraction to her true calling: to spend her days in praise and contemplation of God. She died on December 26, 2018.”
“Our Blessed Lord is in the work-a-day world as truly as in the depth of silent prayer, and we will never find Him completely if we only want to engage with Him on the level we have chosen. He chooses the world and so must we.”
Sister Wendy Beckett
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💙💛 March 2022

St Joseph Terror of Demons

July 29th, 2022

St Joseph Terror of Demons

St Joseph Terror of Demons
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear...”
1 John 4:18
“There were many reasons for Christ’s Incarnation. A key one was to defeat the devil...Jesus did the Father’s will. He resisted the devilish temptations in the wilderness...He lived by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God. And He went on the offensive against the devil’s darkness, practicing exorcism with the word of command. He also taught His hearers about the devil and the devil’s ways. He made the darkness visible, as it were...Jesus taught the awareness of evil in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:13): ‘And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.’ It is interesting to observe that Satan must ask God for permission to sift Peter like wheat. Satan’s power is circumscribed. Indeed Jesus’ words reveal that God is the object of a demand from Satan and a prayer request from Jesus.”
Adapted from “Against the Darkness: The Doctrine of Angels, Satan, and Demons”
By Graham A. Cole
At the beginning of the Litany of St Joseph is the appellation “Noble Offspring of David” which moved me so much last December I decided to do a painting called “St Joseph Flower of Jesse,” King David’s Father. At the very end of the Litany is a petitionary title I have been deeply considering lately; St Joseph Terror of Demons. Often the best way for me to understand a person or a theological truth is to paint an icon or image so I can spend the time needed to read, pray and beg for illumination.
So I decided to paint an image of St Joseph Terror of Demons. This title implies towering spiritual power and strength, but how did Jesus exercise that kind of power ? Did Jesus learn something from his foster father about the way you terrorize demons ? Because of watching Jesus in the Gospels, command with a word and subjugate demons with the strength of his holiness, I imagined Joseph would do the same. And so I could not represent Joseph as another St Michael with a sword or lance slicing or skewering the devil. I imagined his eyes averted, in a prayer, and the visible aura of holiness, his depth of connection to God, being all the strength he needs to send the devils fleeing.
Dear St Joseph
Flower of Jesse
Husband of Mary
Foster Father and teacher of Jesus
Model of true strength for all men.
Joseph scattering the ongoing damage of the father of lies,
Protector of Pope Francis and Holy Church.
St Joseph,
Sometimes the demons are without and sadly, sometimes within.
Lead us into your prayer, your intimate communion with God.
In this way be the Terror of Demons and at the hour of our death,
our passing into God, be there, be there, be there, and lead us to our eternal Home.
Amen
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 February 2022
“Peacemaking goes nowhere; but it must be done.”
Holy Prophet Fr Daniel Berrigan, SJ
I never thought when I began this icon, I’d see the tragedies we are seeing in Ukraine in this last week of February into March. This icon has become more urgent to me now. And in my life, I have never seen so much love and support at one time from the entire world.
We have been watching lies, the insurrection, non-stop pettiness, rampant evil; perhaps only Ukraine can continue to unite us now watching their supernatural courage and heroism. Maybe you have heard that 400 Russian soldiers were sent into Ukraine to find and murder President Zelensky . He, his wife and children desperately need our prayers.
Dear Joseph, Terror of Demons, intercede for President Zelensky and his family, also the people of Ukraine and the good people of Russia.
Amen
Fr William Hart McNichols 💜 March 2022

Holy New Martyr Nestor Savchuk 1960 - 1993

July 29th, 2022

Holy New Martyr Nestor Savchuk 1960 - 1993

Holy New Martyr Nestor Savchuk 1960 - 1993
“The news from Ukraine is very worrying. I entrust every effort for peace to the intercession of the Virgin Mary and the conscience of responsible politicians. Let us pray in silence…”
Pope Francis
“Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of the true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice out there calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice in here calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”
Holy World Evangelist -Thomas Merton
Nestor Savchuk was born in the province of Crimea, southern Russia, as Nikolai Savchuk, in 1960. As a youth he excelled in boxing, wrestling, martial arts, and painting. In his twenties he began to work as an apprentice painting religious murals in Odessa. There, the older artists told him the stories of the Russian saints. Inspired by the saints with a love for God, Nestor set out for the 13th century monastery of Pochaev to become a monk. This love grew naturally and expressed itself through his devotion and prayer with the holy icons, which one day would become the source of his martyrdom. After his ordination his spiritual father advised him to go to an isolated village in the Ukraine, by the name of Zharky. There he found a church dedicated to the Nativity of the Mother of God, which had many ancient icons and from that church he felt a deep mystical feeling and an invitation. There he also found many blocks and difficulties. The church caught fire once and also became the target of an icon stealing ring connected to the Russian mafia. He was warned by the mafia that if he continued to keep the icons from them, he would be killed. Nestor would stay up all night guarding
the church. He was then touched with a desire to ask for the grace of martyrdom. He began to pray for long hours. A friend warned him of this prayer and told him he ought to be asking for a long life of suffering for God instead. Nestor replied, “Yes, I understand that, but maybe if I will pray for martyrdom, perhaps I will be able to pray it out.” Late in the dark morning of December 31, 1993, the friend was awakened by a dream of St John the Baptist who told him to, “ Go immediately to Father Nestor.” But he did not go until that morning where he found Nestor murdered, outside his rectory in Zharky.
Adapted from a brief biography in the book
“Youth of the Apocalypse” by Monks John Marier and Andrew Wermuth
The moment I read Nestor’s life I was drawn to paint/write his icon. I felt his presence very deeply in my life. This icon ended up in the Orthodox Church of St John the Wonderworker, in Atlanta, Georgia. The youth there have a great devotion to St Nestor. In 1994 I was blessed to be asked by the late Archbishop Hurley of Anchorage, Alaska to paint an icon of Our Lady of Magadan, ( a former concentration camp from 1938-1955) which is in the Far East of Russia, four hours flight from Anchorage. When I visited there in October 1995, I went to the Lavra (monastery) of St Sergius of Radonezh. The monks there asked me to paint Our Lady of Pochaev for them. I asked if they knew of Nestor and his martyrdom. They said, “No, there are so many new martyrs in Russia.” I was stunned into silence by their answer. Months later I received a picture of Archbishop Hurley giving Our Lady of Pochaev to the monks and one was bending down to kiss the icon. That’s a picture I treasure and a great honor from the Russian Orthodox Church. We are all aware of the great suffering today in Ukraine and Russia with their need to continue to worship God freely. Our Lady of Fatima asked the three children when she appeared to in Portugal, in 1917, to pray for the conversion of Russia. This was just months before the bloody Bolshevik Revolution, which Russia celebrated in November 2017. St Padre Pio prophesied, “Yes, Russia will be converted as the Blessed Virgin said She would. However, Russia will teach the United States a lesson in conversion.” A vocation to intercede for others, to beg, to fast, to pray is incredibly powerful. I know a lot of you are doing just that right now. Thank you for saying yes to God, for fulfilling your vocation. We really need you now.
In this tense month of February, 2022, O Mother of God, Immaculate Heart of Fatima , Our Lady of Magadan … Lourdes, Pochaev, Kibeho, Akita, Medjugorje, Mother of All Nations, and Ukrainian Holy New Martyr Nestor, help us all move quickly toward the conversion and the peace you both desire for us and the entire World. We ask your powerful intercession especially for the people of Ukraine and Russia.
Amen
Fr Bill McNichols
February 2022

St Thomas a Becket -1118 - 29 December 1170

July 29th, 2022

St Thomas a Becket -1118 - 29 December 1170

St Thomas a’ Becket (1118 - 29 December 1170)
“All my life they have been coming, these feet. All my life, I have waited.”
From “Murder in the Cathedral” by T.S. Eliot
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
From Apologeticus by Quintus Septimus Tertullian , AD 197
“O Lord, my God, by day I cry out and at night I clamor in your presence...”
Psalm 88
In 1964 I saw the Hal B. Wallis film “Becket “ based on the 1959 French play “Becket or The Honor of God “ by Jean Anouilh. Peter O’Toole is cast as King Henry II and Richard Burton as Thomas Becket. O’Toole is an out of control wild force of nature and tears up the screen with his savage tantrums, and also breaks your heart with his deep, suffering love for only one person in his life, Thomas Becket. Burton is a clean shaven Becket who seems, according to Anouilh, not to be able to truly love anyone. Then Henry makes the tragic mistake of making Thomas the Archbishop of Canterbury, thinking he will have the total loyalty, obedience and control of Thomas, he desperately needs. Thomas is “struck” by God (see the unique and searingly beautiful book by the late Sr Corona Bamberg, OSB, “The Cost of Being Human” concerning being struck by God).
Thomas undergoes a severe conversion, similar to Saul becoming Paul as a result of an apparition of Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:4).
Some are innocent and holy from birth onwards. Some come to God through an intellectual conversion as they begin to examine themselves and world religions. Some, like Paul and Becket have to be suddenly struck. I think most of us move slowly but surely closer to God as we age, and as nature takes away whatever blocked the way in our youth.
I have been drawn to Becket since 1964, and when I found out my friend, Jim Martin, SJ was born on his feast I knew I’d finally have a very good reason to paint/write, his icon. Becket and Holy New Martyr Nestor (+31 December 1993) are within the Christmas Season so each year I cannot help but think of them as the hushed atmosphere of the Holy Shekhinah descends upon the earth and then softly lifts in early January. We might refer to this as the Christmas spirit, but I think you’d agree it’s palpable in the days of the O Antiphons, right before Christmas Eve.
All these years I had thought of Becket’s legend as something wonderfully medieval; like the story of Joan of Arc. And both of these saints’ lives and deaths have captivated artists for centuries. This past December I saw the film again in preparation for the Icon, and I was amazed at how relevant it is now. I think when you watch it you’ll see for yourselves. I can sum up Thomas’s longing for God, and perhaps many of us, with the English poet John Donne, born in the Elizabethan era...
“Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend...
Yet I dearly love you ...
Take me to you , imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Never chaste, except you ravish me.”
Taken from Holy Sonnet XIV by John Donne 1633
I end here, now, with a poem I wrote in the 1980’s AIDS Hospice Era. At that time I was so hungry, honestly desperate for healing, and I’d read that after Thomas’ many miracles, later in the next century, people would use the bandages from St Francis’ wounds to soak in water for healing. I’d found a 1974 Nonesuch recording of hymns and chants honoring St Thomas after his murder and one in particular worked its way into my soul and imagination written around 1295... “Thomas Gemma Cantuariae.”
“Thomas Gemma Cantuariae
Thomas ,
I saw the blood-rain today,
a video of images ...
You fell
skull cracked
sword shattered
the brittle sound of metal
on stone,
the quiet sound of your
last moan, the running
frightened feet pursued
forever by conscience;
a more relentless hunter
than ever man can be.
Then a legend grows on screen.
A peasant with wild eyes.
bold and gloriously hopeful faith,
dips his shirt into the red mud
sobbing from your head
and runs home to boil
the relic in water, Spirit’s recipe;
madness makes a healing soup
for children of belief.”
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 January 2022

The Kenosis -self-emptying- of St Bernadette of Lourdes

July 29th, 2022

The Kenosis -self-emptying- of St Bernadette of Lourdes

The Kenosis (self-emptying) of St Bernadette of Lourdes
“Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”
Barry Lopez from his fable “Crow and Weasel”
“Wastefulness is the original Christian attitude...The entire Passion occurs under the sign of this complete self-wasting of God’s love for the world.”
From “Light of the Word” by Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar
“The Virgin used me as a broom to remove dust. When the work is done, the broom is put behind the door again. “
St Bernadette
“At my third request she (the Blessed Mother) put on a serious air and appeared to humiliate herself. She joined her hands, raising them above her breast. She looked towards heaven, then she slowly separated her hands, leaned towards me and said with a trembling voice: ‘I am the Immaculate Conception.’ “
From “Bernadette: The Only Witness” by Fr John Lynch, SM
“There was a child named Bernadette
I heard the story long ago
She saw the Queen of Heaven once
And kept the vision in her soul
No one believed what she had seen
No one believed what she heard
But there were sorrows to be healed
And mercy, mercy in this world...
We’ve been around, we fall, we fly
We mostly fall, we mostly run
And every now and then we try
To mend the damage that we’ve done
Tonight, tonight I just can’t rest
I’ve got this joy here inside my breast
To think that I did not forget
That child, that song of Bernadette...”
A truly inspiring, lovely song by the great Leonard Cohen (recorded beautifully by Jennifer Warnes in 1986)
In 1943 Jennifer Jones won the Oscar for her luminous portrayal of St Bernadette, in the film “The Song of Bernadette,” based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Franz Werfel. If you watch the incredible transformation on Jennifer Jones’ face when she first sees Our Lady of Lourdes, you see why she won. Her face goes from a shock-like fear, to disbelief or clearly bewildered...then into wonder and finally, total love. Her radiant face reflects the Woman she sees. It helps us all feel how we might feel if we were privileged to see the Mother of God. This icon was commissioned by the church of the Shrine of St Bernadette, here in Albuquerque in the early 1990’s. They asked for Bernadette to be in her religious habit of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers; the order she joined in 1866. I placed a candelabra behind her with 11 candles to signify the first time she saw Mary, February 11th, 1858. She is holding a bowl of water to signify the healing waters of Lourdes. When she was diagnosed with tuberculosis she refused the offer to be taken back from Nevers to Lourdes because she knew the healing waters were not for her. She is shown pouring them out of a bowl, symbolically emptying her life. She died on April 16, 1879 at the age of thirty five. St. John Paul II designated 11 February as World Day of the Sick in May of 1992. He wrote “a special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one’s suffering for the good of the Church and of reminding us to see in our sick brothers and sisters the face of Christ...” I’ll end with a most hopeful quote from St Bernadette: “If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again. We can always start all over again. Enjoy God’s amazing opportunities bestowed on us. Have faith in Him always.”
Fr Bill McNichols 💟 11 February 2022
Today is the XXX World Day of the Sick (in honor of the first apparition of the Blessed Mother at Lourdes , to St Bernadette , 11 February 1858)
“Jesus’ invitation to be merciful like the Father has particular significance for healthcare workers. I think of all those physicians, nurses,laboratory technicians, the support staff and the caretakers of the sick, as well as the numerous volunteers who donate their precious time to assist those who suffer. People who have made their service a mission. Because your hands, which touch the suffering flesh of Christ, can be a sign of the merciful hands of the Father.”
Pope Francis

St Ignatius offers a dead stick-Cross to St Hildegard, and the Holy Child Jesus to be blessed and greened

July 29th, 2022

St Ignatius offers a dead stick-Cross to St Hildegard, and the Holy Child Jesus to be blessed and greened

St Ignatius offers a dead stick-Cross to St Hildegard, and the Holy Child Jesus to be blessed and “greened”
(detail from the bottom panel of “Viriditas: Finding God In All Things”)
“To sing is to pray twice.”
Attributed to St Ambrose or to St Augustine
“We cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a home... A musical performance softens hard hearts, leads in the humor of reconciliation, and summons the Holy Spirit.”
St Hildegard of Bingen
“He was greatly devoted to the Most Holy Trinity, and everyday he prayed to each of the Three Persons ... One day, as he was saying the Hours of Our Lady on the monastery steps, his understanding was raised on high, so as to see the Most Holy Trinity under the aspect of three musical keys on a musical instrument, and as a result he shed many tears and sobbed so strongly that he could not control himself.”
The Autobiography of St Ignatius (#28)
Everyone knows that the utter beauty of Ignatian Spirituality includes the challenge of “finding God In all things.” I say challenge because his spirituality in not a “leave the world or the world is evil,” spirituality but you are sent out as disciples to find God In All people, in all of creation. Even if you live in downtown Boston, Manhattan or get the miraculous opportunity to live in the spirit-haunted and devastatingly beautiful Taos.
Music. Music. I’ve wanted to write a bit about how much music affects me and I presume most of humankind. I could live without television, but not without music. That seems odd for an obviously visual person, but I’ve always had an allergy to tv, I feel like the Native people who used to say a photo steals their soul. I’ve felt that way about tv since childhood. It doesn’t mean I don’t watch It, but if I watch too much I feel like I’ve eaten a massive amount of not very good food. But I don’t want to get too snobby about tv because I have a friend who is chronically ill and tv helps him; it distracts him from the pain. And my housemate watches a dabl channel of British house sales in the most beautiful countrysides.
My Mother always had 78’s playing (before we moved when I was five) as she did her house chores, she loved Perry Como, Nat King Cole, Rosemary Clooney, and at Christmas time, Mario Lanza. I have a vivid memory of us picking up my brother Steve at Regis High and hearing Perry Como sing the magical “Catch A Falling Star.” My brother Steve had a swing band, full orchestra and a jazz combo when I was growing up, he played the piano and my brother Bob played trumpet. I’d sit on the basement steps and listen to them play Dave Brubeck, or Duke Ellington and other 30’s and 40’s hits like “Blue Moon” ,”Young At Heart,” or “If They Asked Me I could Write A Book.” These songs “led me right to my record player” a Christmas gift I got when I was 11. All alone I thought, (my sisters tell me they know the words to every song I played) I’d listen to the Ray Conniff Singers, Johnny Mathis, Nancy Wilson, the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary , and the incomparable Joan Baez. When I was a freshman in high school, my friend Stephanie called me and said turn on the radio right now ! It was Barbra Streisand singing “People.” That year also the British Invasion occurred and on the way home from school I made my brother Bob stop at a record store so I could get “Meet the Beatles.” I often say Barbra got me through high school as she emoted for me, sang my sorrow, on “Ma Premiere Chanson,” and let out my anger for me on “Where Am I Going ?” She was fiercely determined and early on faced a lot of negativity for her looks. I remember people saying she’s great if you don’t have to look at her, and then she turned around everyone’s concept of beauty. I’d sing with her at the top of my voice when I thought nobody was home. One day I was harmonizing with her on “Just In Time,” and when I finished, I heard clapping downstairs. Cringing and red faced I saw one of Steve’s friends standing at the foot of the stairs grinning and clapping. I don’t think any straight boys were singing with Barbra, so the cat was out of the bag, though later all my friends told me “We always knew.”
The Beatles seemed to change all the bullying high school boys just a little by singing constantly about love, and their looks softened the hard masculinity expected in the 50’s. In senior year they put out “Revolver” and there I was, driving around Denver listening to George Harrison play the sitar. I knew these Indian melodies were spiritual, and by osmosis, I learned of other authentic religions far from Colorado. At 19 in the Jesuit Novitiate in Florissant, Missouri (right near Ferguson where we’d go to sing at St Martin de Porres Church) we would sing every day for Mass and one of the Jesuit Brothers, Br.Johnny Horvath, came up to me after Mass and said “I love your voice! You could really sing country if you wanted to !” I was mortified that my Denver-twang was slipping out everywhere. Today I’m flattered! I sang at Florissant, St Louis and then in Boston where a young Jesuit friend, a young girl and I, formed a trio and would sing at Jesuit celebrations, funerals, weddings and Masses all over town. I really wanted to be a singer but since I didn’t have the powerful voice of Stevie Wonder or Cilla Black, I decided to stick to art. I’d also sing when I taught high school at Regis for graduations and other occasions. I remember singing Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” at one graduation, and Jim Croce’s “Time In A Bottle.”
When I lived in Daniel Berrigan’s community on 98th and Broadway in Manhattan, during the Hospice Years of the 80’s, my deceased friend, Fr Eddie Oakes, SJ was writing his book on Hans Urs von Balthasar and would fly to Basel to meet with his mentor. He brought me back a cassette tape of the music of St Hildegard. Hildegard wrote 77 known songs and the first opera Ordo Virtutum, in 1151. I’m still listening to her. I take a little pride for introducing my friend, Case Scaglione, a world famous conductor, to Hildegard. I’ll never forget as he was listening with head phones to a contemporary version called “Vision : the Music of Hildegard von Bingen” he shouted out happily, “Wow, this is 500 years before Bach!”
“If They Asked Me I Could Write A Book” - seriously about my life with music. Ultimately I’ll say that all of this, as Joni Mitchell says - “you keep peeling back the onion to get to the bottom of your feelings” - is about longing for God. Touching into God whether it’s Ambrosia singing “You’re the Biggest Part Of Me” or “Longer” by Dan Fogelberg or Hildegard, for me it always leads to God.
During the two years of this current pandemic I’ve developed a terrible habit of staying up Way Way too late and listening to all the music from my past, and letting the tears flow freely. I never really grieved all the deaths of people with AIDS and many other losses, like leaving the Jesuits, leaving Taos, etc. I don’t know why but Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” always makes me sob.
There’s the deep longing performed in an “achingly/controlled” way by Glenn Campbell.
One night I found a very young genius Maja Babyszka playing “Rhapsody in Blue,” and listened to it over and over and then another night I discovered “Heart “paying tribute to Led Zeppelin singing with a full choir, the gorgeous, mysterious “Stairway to Heaven.” In 2019, 2020, and 2021, I listened to all of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and now I’m working on Brahms, I love his second symphony.
I’ve only touched on several people who bring my ears and soul much joy and anyone who knows me knows I could write a whole blog on the composer, musician and painter, Joni Mitchell, or the late Laura Nyro, or Stevie Wonder.
“As a prayer practice, the music of Hildegard of Bingen draws from within me a peace that already exists and needs only to be accessed... I listen to her paean and hear the soaring emotion of encountering a maternal, earthly love for all creation, and the Love which unites all living things and flows intimately through them.”
from “The Music of Hildegard of Bingen as an Act of Prayer by Nikki Diefenbach
Fr William Hart McNichols 🎶 February 2022
(My favorite Bach :
Komm, Jesu, komm... BMW229)

St Brigid of Ireland -Kildare, c.451 - 1 February 525

July 29th, 2022

St Brigid of Ireland -Kildare, c.451 - 1 February 525

St Brigid of Ireland (Kildare, c.451 - 1 February 525)
“Remind us how to kindle the hearth, to keep it bright, to preserve the flame ... the protection of Brigid keeping us from harm, from ignorance, from heartlessness...”
“Brigid’s feast day is 1 February, which was originally a festival called Imbolc, marking the beginning of spring. From 2023 it will be a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, the first named after a woman.” Wikipedia
This icon was commissioned by my dear friend Fr Scott Brubaker for his church of St Brigid in Mesa, Arizona.
There are so many evocative and poetically beautiful legends around St Brigid I decided to just share a link to them so you can begin to discover Brigid. One of my favorites is that Brigid was “accidentally” ordained a priest or in some legends, a bishop; one of her iconographic symbols is a bishop’s crozier. Her prayers were said to still the wind and rain. The fire lit by Brigid in the fifth century, is kept burning by St Brigid’s community of religious women who live in Kildare. Look into this lovely prayer 🔥
St Brigid’s Hearth Keeper Prayer
“Brigid of the Mantle, encompass us,
Lady of the Lambs, protect us.
Beneath your mantle, gather us,
And restore us to memory.
Mothers of our mother, Foremothers strong.
Guide our hands in yours,
Remind us how to kindle the hearth.
To keep it bright, to preserve the flame.
Your hands upon ours, Our hands within yours.
To kindle the light, both day and night.
The Mantle of Brigid about us.
The Memory of Brigid within us.
The Protection of Brigid keeping us
From harm, from ignorance, from heartlessness.
This day and night,
From dawn till dark,
From dark till dawn.
Amen “
Fr William Hart McNichols ☘️ February 2022

St Henry Walpole SJ - Splashed by the Blood 1558 -7 April 1595

July 29th, 2022

St Henry Walpole SJ - Splashed by the Blood  1558 -7 April 1595

St Henry Walpole, SJ : Splashed by the Blood (1558 -7 April 1595)
“The Blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you.”
Exodus 12:13
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
from Apologeticus by Quintus Septimus Tertullian, around AD 197
“Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.”
Siddhartha Gautama Buddha 480 BCE
“This is such an anxious period of time, how do you feel about a kind of nostalgia comforting you in these times ?”
Stephen Colbert
“Henry Walpole was born in 1558 and, while in London training to become a lawyer, he witnessed the horrific execution of Father Edmund Campion, the Jesuit priest. Bespattered by Campion’s blood as his heart was torn from his body, Henry resolved to devote himself to the Catholic cause for which the priest had died. He left England and was ordained in Paris in 1588.”
Carole Tucker
Henry was just 23 at the time of Campion’s martyrdom, and at 37, he himself would be martyred in the same way. We all seem to have several eras or periods of time that we are somehow familiar with, or drawn to in some inexplicable ways. I have friends passionate about the Civil War, the Revolutionary War or World War II. Some even believe they have been reincarnated and carry those memories in their physical and spiritual bodies. Though, I once read that Our Lady of Medjugorie, was asked about reincarnation and she said kindly but firmly, that we only have one life.
From early childhood I was drawn to the children and youthful martyrs of the early Roman Church, Agnes, Sebastian, Tarcisius, Lucy, Pancratius. In fact I have a funny story from age 10 when we were about to be Confirmed. I wanted to take the name of 14 year old Pancratius (at age ten he was a mature teenager to me !). I told my teacher and she rather rolled her eyes and said, no, you take either Anthony or Dominic,so, that’s how I got the Confirmation name of Dominic. Much later, I would learn that a Dominican motto is “Contemplata aliis tradere” - meaning to “hand down to others the fruits of contemplation,” derived from the Summa Theologiae by St Thomas Aquinas. So providentially, I was being given part of my vocation as someone devoted to the artistic life, very young. The Early Church of Rome, the Medieval, and the Elizabethan eras have always seemed familiar to me.
But what does “bespattered or splashed by the blood” mean to you and me ? To me it’s both literal and symbolic. Symbolically and literally, we are all influenced by the great sacrifices and deaths of people like Gandhi, Edith Stein, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Sister Dorothy Stang, Matthew Shepard, Sister Dianna Ortiz, or most recently, Elijah McLain. These are just a few names, and we all have a person whose tragic death caused us to further convert our lives. And they don’t always have to be saints; the murder of a young girl like Gabrielle Petito can change lives forever and create a movement of immediate concern for all the missing and murdered young girls and boys.
Especially now, during this harrowing time of a pandemic, (and increasing threats to our democracy) we look to people whose lives are courageous, what Scripture, in the Book of Hebrews, calls the great “cloud of witnesses.” We also look to the survivors like Lady Julian of Norwich who lived through three outbreaks of the Black Plague in England, or a man who survived the Nazi Concentration Camps, Viktor Frankl. I look to contemporary and trusted spiritual guides, Nicholas Black Elk, Charlie Rich, Adrienne von Speyr, Sister Wendy Beckett, Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, SJ, Elizabeth McAlister, or ... we watch and pray for the now, heroic survivors of the recent fires of Colorado, to see how they will rebuild every part of their lives. Finally I want to say, I’m with you in these struggles, in no way above or beyond any of the suffering, nor do I ever want to be, but a fellow Pilgrim depending upon God in a “radical Way of St Francis- of looking to God for everything” ... every single day.
I’ll end with the beautiful prayer from the former Sacramentary for the feast of St Sebastian, 20 January.
“Dear Lord, fill us with that spirit of courage which you gave Holy Martyr St Henry Walpole strength to offer his life in faithful witness. Help us to learn from him to cherish Your law and to obey You rather than men. We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever.
Amen.”
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💮 January 2022

The Murom Icon of the Mother of God

July 29th, 2022

The Murom Icon of the Mother of God

The Murom Icon of the Mother of God
“Behold the father is his daughter’s son/The bird that built the nest is hatch’d therein/
Might feeble is and force doth faintly creep/Up, heavy hearts, with joy your joy embrace/ This life, this light, this Word, this joy repairs ...”
Holy Martyr St Robert Southwell, SJ : taken from his 16th. Century poem “The Nativity of Christ”
“To place the year under the protection of her motherhood means that we are asking her, as brothers and sisters of Jesus and therefore as Mary’s children, for an enduring understanding of lasting discipleship of Jesus...with limitless love the Mother of the Lord views us as her children and blesses us. In the New Testament this blessing cannot be separated from her Child’s blessing and from the entire triune God, so deeply is her motherhood grounded in and surrounded by divine fruitfulness. She blesses us both as personal mother of Jesus and as the epitome of the ‘immaculate’ Church (Ephesians 5:27) who is Jesus’ Bride.”
Swiss Theologian Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar (12 August 1905-26 June 1988)
For 1 January, the feast day of Mary, Mother of God
This icon was created right during and after, the horrific Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck off the northeast coast of Honshu, Japan in March of 2011. Somehow I felt the waves were unconsciously reflected in the lower folds of Mary’s maphorion (outer garment) in this Murom Icon. Any contemporary news of suffering always appears in the icons in some way or other. I know Our Mother grieves with her wounded children . Join me please, in praying to the Mother of God for all affected by recent fires and other tragic disasters all around the world.
“Hail Mary full of grace
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst
women, and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners, now and at
the hour of our death.
Amen”
A blessed New Year of 2022 ! 💮 Fr Bill McNichols

St Joseph Flower of Jesse

July 29th, 2022

St Joseph Flower of Jesse

San Jose’ Flor de Jesé 💮 (St Joseph Flower of Jesse)
“... Matthan the father of Jacob; and Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary; of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.”
Matthew 1:16 (Genealogy of Christ)
“O flower of Jesse, standing as a sign among the nations; before whom kings keep silence, for whom the nations long; come and liberate us and delay no longer.”
The third of the “O Antiphons” (December 19)
“Drop down dew, O heavens from above, and let the clouds rain the just; let earth be opened, and bud forth a savior...”
Isaiah 45
“A shoot shall sprout from the stock of Jesse and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.”
Isaiah 11
I’ve wanted to do a symbolic painting of Joseph all during “his year;” the past 8 December 2020 to this year, the same day. I think this desire came during the summer when we had months to go of the year Pope Francis dedicated to Joseph’s guidance, to Joseph’s way. I’ve already mentioned that I’ve been studying Scripture, especially a beautiful book on Isaiah by John Sawyer, and 3 books on St Joseph; by Fr Andre’ Doze, Fr Michel Gasnier, OP, and the Life of Joseph by Maria Cecilia Baij, OSB. I have often thought about Mary before she met Joseph ( I have a similar idea for a painting of her, if I ever get to do it...) and especially her relationship to God during those years. I wanted to imagine Joseph in the same way and portray his gradual awakening to what God was creating inside him.
Technically Jesus is the Flower of Jesse, through his lineage from Joseph, which goes back to Jesse, the father of King David. In my heart and mind Joseph is a bud or flower too, on the family tree of Jesse.
In my time with the people of Taos, Northern New Mexico, I learned that hollyhocks are called “Varas de San Jose’” or Staff of St Joseph. This is a reference to a legend about the choice of Joseph to be betrothed to Mary. Many young men were hoping to be the husband of Mary and they all came together to the Temple in Jerusalem. Each one was given a branch and asked to lay the branches down as a prayer, and asking God to show by a sign which young man He had chosen. The priest’s of the temple were all waiting for a clear sign. Joseph’s staff or branch flowered and that’s why he’s usually portrayed with this flowering branch in one hand . So I imagined a kind of “interior vision” given in prayer to Joseph of a hollyhock springing from water in the ground with many buds unopened, and one blood red one, just opening to Joseph, as a symbol of his life’s vocation. In the background is the mist of the Holy Shekhinah descending and ready to envelop Joseph with God’s love. The Moon too, a symbol of the Mother of God, is not full but also awakening to the fullness of the future Messiah. This past year I’ve thought of Joseph every day and have loved thinking of him always by my side. I wanted to thank him through this image and I hope that you find something here to bring him closer to you.
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 December 2021

Cristo Emmanuel

July 29th, 2022

Cristo Emmanuel

Cristo Emmanuel : Cordero de Dios (Christ Emmanuel : Lamb of God)
“The image of the Master: one glimpse and we are in love.”
15c. Zen Master Ikkyu
“The end is not an event but a person.”
G.B.Caird
“And I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. And one of the elders said to me, do not weep; behold, the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders ...stood a Lamb...”
Revelation 5:5,6
“O come, Desire of Nation bind, in one the hearts of human kind; bid Thou our sad divisions cease, and be Thyself our Prince of Peace.”
final verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel “
I’m always stunned and amazed how peaceful I finally get when I decide to go into my studio room paint. It’s similar to celebrating Mass for me. I can be in one mood when I go in, and be completely transformed by the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ.This is true, of every time, in the past 42 years. Every single Mass is different and every Mass is so holy, I wonder why God ever chose me for such an honor and profound privilege ?
In Theology school we studied the Book of Revelation. Being such an Apocalyptic book, like the Major Prophets, it was difficult to understand. After Theology and Ordination, I was Artist in Residence at St John Francis Regis University in my hometown, Denver. The next year I was an art student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. My grandfather, Robert A. Hart was born in Brooklyn so I felt I had some kind of familial relationship to that borough of New York. It was in my first year at Pratt that I discovered two books by the scripture scholar George Bradford Caird; “The Gospel of Luke” and “The Revelation of St John the Divine” ( Divine, meaning theologian). I dove into both books and would read them going to school on the subway, with my Walkman playing the music I loved; like Laura Nyro...a perfect subway companion who was absolutely unique, brilliant, and an extremely passionate musician, who truly loved New York City.
G.B. Caird opened both books for me and I finally had some sense of the beauty and mystery of Revelation. Besides the prophetic commentaries by Fr Daniel Berrigan, SJ, I don’t think I’ve ever been so affected by any other commentaries... to this day. I know we all have our favorites, so this is simply my opinion. Both books by Caird would become a preparation for what was to come, in the 1980’s, unbeknownst to me.
Today there is much talk and fear too, that we’re heading into the Apocalypse. Yet some of the Orthodox theologians that I read, once I began my apprenticeship in iconography, wrote that the Apocalypse is not one event. In fact they estimated that we’ve been living in the unfolding Apocalypse since World War 1. But no one really knows, even Jesus said, only the Father knows... “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Mark 13:32
When I began to create icons my Dad would always tease me with, “Willy, how come icons have such old babies?” I’d try to answer, but it didn’t make much sense to either of us, until I began to grasp the Orthodox Theology about the Child Jesus they always call “Christ Emmanuel.”
Next to St Andrei Rublev, and the tender, childlike Muscovite Mannerism of Dionysius, my favorite iconographer is Simon Fyodorovich Ushakov, 1626 -1686. He was heavily criticized by the conservative Russian priests, such as Archpriest Avvakum, for his “lascivious works of the devil...and fleshy saints.” Personally, I found him deeply influenced by the “sfumato” technique (delicate shading) made most famous by Leonardo da Vinci. Ushakov’s icons are uniquely beautiful and have an infinite tenderness you cannot forget. One of the wonderful thing about iconography is that you are supposed to copy other icons, and the masters. I have tried to copy three of Ushakov’s, and just trying, was an incredible education for me; perhaps like a singer, who may sing a song made famous by someone else, but still cannot help making it her own. So I looked for the most beautiful Child Jesus I could find in iconography to paint as a gift for Dad, while he was in the hospital nearing death. I didn’t finish before his death 25 November 1997, and he never got to see this Child, but I’m sure he sees Him now.
I know everyone has been moving through this Advent with many troubling catastrophes like the Kentucky tornado devastations, the stalking of a new variant, omicron, or the almost daily school shootings. These are our brothers and sisters so how can we not ache for them ? Another brilliant contemporary commentator on the Book of Revelation, Craig Koester, has told us that Revelation is a very hopeful book about the plans God has for all of us, his children. As we enter this fourth week of Advent I offer this Radiant Child Jesus (an attempted copy of Ushakov) who promised us in the last book of the Bible “... He who sat on the throne said ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’”
Revelation 21:5
“O Come Thou Wisdom from on high, who ord’rest all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in Her ways to go...”
second verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
One of the things I know for certain, is that God always hears our prayers; always. And though I don’t know who is going to read this, I promise to pray for you all during this last very Holy Week of Advent . And I know He will hear me .
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 December 2021

Cristo Emmanuel

July 29th, 2022

Cristo Emmanuel

Cristo Emmanuel : Cordero de Dios (Christ Emmanuel : Lamb of God)
“The image of the Master: one glimpse and we are in love.”
15c. Zen Master Ikkyu
“The end is not an event but a person.”
G.B.Caird
“And I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. And one of the elders said to me, do not weep; behold, the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders ...stood a Lamb...”
Revelation 5:5,6
“O come, Desire of Nation bind, in one the hearts of human kind; bid Thou our sad divisions cease, and be Thyself our Prince of Peace.”
final verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel “
I’m always stunned and amazed how peaceful I finally get when I decide to go into my studio room paint. It’s similar to celebrating Mass for me. I can be in one mood when I go in, and be completely transformed by the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ.This is true, of every time, in the past 42 years. Every single Mass is different and every Mass is so holy, I wonder why God ever chose me for such an honor and profound privilege ?
In Theology school we studied the Book of Revelation. Being such an Apocalyptic book, like the Major Prophets, it was difficult to understand. After Theology and Ordination, I was Artist in Residence at St John Francis Regis University in my hometown, Denver. The next year I was an art student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. My grandfather, Robert A. Hart was born in Brooklyn so I felt I had some kind of familial relationship to that borough of New York. It was in my first year at Pratt that I discovered two books by the scripture scholar George Bradford Caird; “The Gospel of Luke” and “The Revelation of St John the Divine” ( Divine, meaning theologian). I dove into both books and would read them going to school on the subway, with my Walkman playing the music I loved; like Laura Nyro...a perfect subway companion who was absolutely unique, brilliant, and an extremely passionate musician, who truly loved New York City.
G.B. Caird opened both books for me and I finally had some sense of the beauty and mystery of Revelation. Besides the prophetic commentaries by Fr Daniel Berrigan, SJ, I don’t think I’ve ever been so affected by any other commentaries... to this day. I know we all have our favorites, so this is simply my opinion. Both books by Caird would become a preparation for what was to come, in the 1980’s, unbeknownst to me.
Today there is much talk and fear too, that we’re heading into the Apocalypse. Yet some of the Orthodox theologians that I read, once I began my apprenticeship in iconography, wrote that the Apocalypse is not one event. In fact they estimated that we’ve been living in the unfolding Apocalypse since World War 1. But no one really knows, even Jesus said, only the Father knows... “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Mark 13:32
When I began to create icons my Dad would always tease me with, “Willy, how come icons have such old babies?” I’d try to answer, but it didn’t make much sense to either of us, until I began to grasp the Orthodox Theology about the Child Jesus they always call “Christ Emmanuel.”
Next to St Andrei Rublev, and the tender, childlike Muscovite Mannerism of Dionysius, my favorite iconographer is Simon Fyodorovich Ushakov, 1626 -1686. He was heavily criticized by the conservative Russian priests, such as Archpriest Avvakum, for his “lascivious works of the devil...and fleshy saints.” Personally, I found him deeply influenced by the “sfumato” technique (delicate shading) made most famous by Leonardo da Vinci. Ushakov’s icons are uniquely beautiful and have an infinite tenderness you cannot forget. One of the wonderful thing about iconography is that you are supposed to copy other icons, and the masters. I have tried to copy three of Ushakov’s, and just trying, was an incredible education for me; perhaps like a singer, who may sing a song made famous by someone else, but still cannot help making it her own. So I looked for the most beautiful Child Jesus I could find in iconography to paint as a gift for Dad, while he was in the hospital nearing death. I didn’t finish before his death 25 November 1997, and he never got to see this Child, but I’m sure he sees Him now.
I know everyone has been moving through this Advent with many troubling catastrophes like the Kentucky tornado devastations, the stalking of a new variant, omicron, or the almost daily school shootings. These are our brothers and sisters so how can we not ache for them ? Another brilliant contemporary commentator on the Book of Revelation, Craig Koester, has told us that Revelation is a very hopeful book about the plans God has for all of us, his children. As we enter this fourth week of Advent I offer this Radiant Child Jesus (an attempted copy of Ushakov) who promised us in the last book of the Bible “... He who sat on the throne said ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’”
Revelation 21:5
“O Come Thou Wisdom from on high, who ord’rest all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in Her ways to go...”
second verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
One of the things I know for certain, is that God always hears our prayers; always. And though I don’t know who is going to read this, I promise to pray for you all during this last very Holy Week of Advent . And I know He will hear me .
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 December 2021

Nuestra Senora de las Nieves - Our Lady of the Snows

July 29th, 2022

Nuestra Senora de las Nieves - Our Lady of the Snows

Nuestra Senora de las Nieves (Our Lady of the Snows)
“Wisdom will praise herself, and will glory in the midst of her people. In the assembly of the Most High she will open her mouth, and in the presence of His host she will glory: ‘ I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist. I dwell in high places, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud...in the waves of the sea, in the whole earth, and in every people and nation I have gotten a possession.
Then the Creator of all things gave me a commandment, and the one who created me assigned a place for my tent. And he said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance,’ From eternity, in the beginning, he created me, and for eternity I shall not cease to exist...
I am the mother of fairest love, of fear, and of holy hope; being eternal, I am therefore given to all my children, to those who are named by him. I will shine forth like the dawn, and I will make it shine afar; I will again pour out teaching like prophecy, and leave it all to future generations. Observe that I have not labored for myself alone, but for all who seek instruction.”
Ecclesiasticus 24
These words always echo the words of Jesus, Holy Wisdom, especially in the long poignant soliloquy’s in the Gospel of St John. And in the mist or clouds hovering around the Sandia Mountains I always see the Shekhinah and Holy Wisdom as she describes herself in the above passage.
A few years ago a friend of mine told me his wife was suffering from cancer and he wanted to give her an original icon for Christmas. He had saved an old black and white holy card of the Blessed Mother pregnant with adoring angels at her feet and a Cross glowing in the background. It was done in an Art Nouveau style and he wanted it transformed into an icon. I looked at the holy card for a long time and had to make a decision about the meaning of the symbols in the card.
At the beginning of my apprenticeship I read an article by the genius Russian mystic Valentin Tomberg ( author of the incomparable Christian Hermeticist “school” of “Meditations on the Tarot”) about the meaning of the word and experience of “joy” for Russians and Americans. It helped me a lot because I was always being asked why the icons of the Mother of God we’re not smiling, “not happy.” As an American I could understand the thinking but I also gradually understood and respected the deep serenity and inner joy of the ancient icons. I also experienced this kind of quiet, introverted joy with the Native Peoples of Taos Pueblo and the Hispanic Taosenos. This ancient combination of cultures provided a perfect place for me to grow into a vocation as an iconographer.
In this icon the Mother of God is pregnant and on her womb is a star to signify the holy child within. She is looking into you . Will you share with her the miracle she carries in her womb? A Seraph replaces the adoring angels; in Icons the Seraph is present whenever the Son of God is near. The softly glowing Cross is behind her, in her future, a reminder of why the Child took a human body and became flesh. Living in Manhattan especially, I always noticed how falling snow made everyone quiet and they would move carefully along the sidewalks of New York, holding umbrellas looking like they stepped out of a Japanese print by Hiroshige or Hokusai. It was really beautiful.
I tried to create the delicate silence of snow falling in this icon to quiet the viewer/pray-er, into a natural contemplation.
This year we are fast approaching Gaudete Sunday and we rejoice (Gaudete!) in the midst of all that the world throws at us, which is considerable and not to be denied, that this Incarnation is the truth and our joy. It is the way we move forward like St Joseph and live in faith and trust in the midst of whatever may come.
I pray with the beautiful prayer/motet (BWV 229) written by Paul Thymich composed by J S Bach, in 1684, “Komm, Jesu, Komm!”
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 Gaudete Sunday 2021

Retablo de San Jose Obrero

July 29th, 2022

Retablo de San Jose Obrero

Retablo de San Jose’ Obrero (Retablo of St Joseph the Worker)
“Breathless, tremblin’ wonderin ‘ what’s gonna happen next ?
Questions upon questions His little heart beatin’ on my chest.
How can I be the one? The one who Father’s the Father’s Son ?
How can I raise a king when this humble life is all I bring ? I believe in you, yes, I believe in you ...”
The Carol of Joseph
Lyrics from the album “For King & Country : A Drummer Boy Christmas”
“The fact that Joseph was preparing to say ‘no’ to a mystery which was beyond him and of which he felt unworthy, is significant. God invites him to pronounce, with his whole being, a ‘yes’ whose impact is considerable like everything that directly touches the Incarnation... Then Joseph discreetly withdraws from the context of the Gospels when his son reaches the age of thirty. This is the age when the Joseph of ancient times takes his leave from Pharaoh to begin his brilliant career as prime minster (cf Genesis 41:46). It is the age when David,the beloved forefather, becomes king (cf 2 Samuel 5:4) the age of heavy responsibilities. The reason for this silent disappearance, later imitated by Mary, is simple: henceforth, Jesus will speak of the Father as the center of his whole mission.”
From “St Joseph: Shadow of the Father” by Fr Andre’ Doze
“Devotion to St Joseph is one of the choicest graces that God can give to a soul, for it is tantamount to revealing the entire treasury of Our Lord’s graces.”
St Peter Julian Eymard
“I, John, who am also your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the isle of Patmos, for the word of God, and testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day and heard behind me a great voice...”
Revelation 1:9, 10
It’s only a few days until the Year of Joseph is officially ended; this Wednesday. I confess I’m silently grieving and not ready to let “my spiritual director” go. But I understand that the next year, 2022, will be guided by his wife, the Mother of God. I wonder if that is a clear direction for us? We go from the holiest of men, yet human and trembling in his faith, to a young woman who was born sinless, and had no admittance/entry for any doubt or evil. Mary was always connected to the Father. If you can’t understand this, just think of a time in your life when you were completely innocent and open. It’s not about an imaginary, impossible kind of perfection, but about a connection of Love that was uninterrupted. This was the same connection we believe Jesus had until the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the Father allowed Jesus to feel and be, abandoned.
All during my apprenticeship with Friar Robert Lentz, OFM, (1990-96) I would receive continual information, some authentic and some wildly crazy, from people all over the world, about prophecies, especially from the apparitions of the Mother of God. This was long before “Q etc, and the present conspiracy theories “ because there was no social media. This all came in letters, or snail mail.
Concerning St Joseph, there is prophecy (probably coming from the Life of Jesus by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich) that when the body of St Joseph is found, incorrupt, in Israel, then its a sign that Christ the King is not far away. There are prophecies now .... about the end of the Year of St Joseph, (8 December 2020-8 December 2021) that may or may not be coming from true prophets or simply misled false prophets. But they are out there now. Be deeply discerning and “proceed with caution.”
One of the many things I’ve tried to learn from St Joseph this past year is a radical trust in God, whatever may happen. To try and gather the spirituality of Joseph I have used the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke, “The Life of St Joseph” by Mother Maria Cecilia Baij, OSB , and “St Joseph : Shadow of the Father” by Fr Andre’ Doze. But mostly, I’ve been praying with him and asking for guidance. I find the “Way of St Joseph”, very similar to the Novena of Surrender by Holy Servant of God Don Dolindo Ruotolo (6 October 1882 - 19 November 1970).
I’m working now on an image of St Joseph now, I am calling “San Jose’ : Flor de Jesé,” to end his year. I’d love to show it to you now but it’s not finished yet.
Every year the season of Advent, and Christmas , is totally different. I find I am “receiving from God” new music, new expectations, new spiritual life. If I try to rerun last year, it never ever works. In the Spirit of St Joseph and St Francis we accept each day as unique and we are offered a spirituality sent by God; just for that day. Joseph is a Wisdom figure par excellence. He waits each day to be enlightened and is humble enough, to be led. There are truly massively intellectual, and incredibly savvy saints, to be sure. But I’ve always felt that some, have to be kind of stupid and dumb, in the worldly sense, to be led. Holy Servant of God, Adrienne von Speyr, says of St Bernadette, that she doesn’t even know what a mission is. Bernadette would say of herself, “Mary used me like a broom, then put me back in the closet.” She disappears like St Joseph.
This, now ,is the oldest known prayer to St Joseph:
“O St Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.
O St Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, so that having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.
O St Joseph, I never weary of contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath.
Amen”
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 Wisdom Icons, Second Week of Advent 2021

Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence

July 29th, 2022

Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence

Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence (Hagia Hesychia)
During these four weeks of Advent of 2021, I’m going to focus on icons of Wisdom. And though she is enigmatic and nearly defies our western mind’s need for a rational explanation, I’ll do my best to try and share some of what I’ve learned. My dear friend Christopher Pramuk has written two books specifically about Wisdom and that’s actually how we met; when I wrote him a gushing fan letter after reading “Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton.”
Encountering the Orthodox tradition of icons of Wisdom in 1990, really changed me forever. Wisdom is feminine in all the 5 Books of Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures, except the Book of Job. I’m still in her school, which is just wonderfully humbling and ultimately... you come to Psalm 131.
“O Lord, my heart is not proud.
I do not set my sights too high.
I have taken no part in great affairs, in
wonders beyond me.
No, I hold myself in quiet and silence.
Like a little child in its mother’s arms.
Like a little child, so I keep myself.
Let Israel hope in the Lord now
and forever.”
“When I was a youth, before I went traveling, In my prayers I asked outright for Wisdom. Outside the sanctuary I would pray for her, and to the last, I shall continue to search for her. From her blossoming to the ripening grape, my heart has taken delight in her. My foot has pursued a straight path, I have sought her ever since my youth. By bowing my ear a little, I have received her, and have found much instruction. Thanks to her I have advanced; glory be to Him who has given me Wisdom! For I was determined to put her into practice, have earnestly pursued the good, and shall not be put to shame. My soul has fought to possess her, I have been scrupulous about keeping the Law; I have stretched out my hands to Heaven and bewailed how little I knew of her; I have directed my soul towards her, and in purity I have found her; having fixed my heart on her from the outset. I shall never be deserted; my very core having yearned to discover her, I have now acquired a good possession. In reward the Lord has given me a tongue with which I shall sing His praises. Come close to me, take your place in my school. Why complain about lacking these things when your souls are so thirsty for them ? I have opened my mouth and said: ‘Buy her without money, put your necks under her yoke, let your souls receive instruction, she is near, within your reach.’ See for yourselves: how slight my efforts have been to win so much peace.”
Ecclesiasticus 51 : 13-27
It’s so clear that within these words, you hear the voice of Jesus in the Gospels . The early church father, Origen of Alexandria (much maligned until wisdom figures like Cardinals Danielou, de Lubac and von Balthasar began to rehabilitate his reputation) once said (and I paraphrase him) “God’s Sophia (Wisdom) took a body and became just like other crying infants.”
I first saw this icon in my first icon book “Russian Icons” by Fr Vladimir Ivanov, published in 1989 by Rizzoli Publishers, and the letters were so faded I asked my teacher, Friar Robert Lentz, who is this very feminine looking angelic figure ? When he answered “Jesus” I knew I was entering a whole new theological world. I confess, when I leave or go against Wisdom, I pay mightily hurting myself or others, by trying to make earthly wisdom work. This was the reason I had to copy this icon. When you copy a master, you learn so much. For example, in this icon notice how the background goes from dark green to softer green, and the wings repeat in reverse, the same subtle gradation. She is also wearing a deacon’s stole. The deacons and early church deaconess’s (see the recent article by Ariel David about the finding of a 1600 year old Byzantine basilica with graves dedicated to female ministers) responsibility was to preach. So how does holy silence preach ? Think of St Francis’ instruction to his followers, “Preach the Gospel always, and sometimes use words.”
I know in these flammable and hostile times we are all asking, like the brilliant author of Ecclesiasticus, for Wisdom. A Wisdom that gives you the inner peace and rest you are seeking. In the words of Our Lord, Matthew 11: 28-30,
“Come to me all you who are weary and overburdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 for the first week of Advent 2021

The Infant of Prague -a statue of Spanish origin brought to Prague c.1556

July 29th, 2022

The Infant of Prague -a statue of Spanish origin brought to Prague c.1556

The Infant of Prague : (a statue of Spanish origin brought to Prague c.1556)
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Matthew 6:33)
“The more you honor me, the more I will bless you.”
The Infant of Prague
“The image of the Master, one glimpse and we are in love.”
Zen Master Ikkyu (1394-1481)
“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.”
Isaiah 11:6
“This passage is a discussion of the Day of the Lord. This is the day that Christians look forward to when Jesus Christ will remove the curse of sin from our world and restore peace to all of creation. As a result of this peace, wolf, lion, lamb, cobra, calf, bear, and children will all live in harmony...Let us stop using this phrase as if the Bible tells us that children will one day lead adults...If we are going to quote Bible verses, let us quote them in context. Isaiah 11:6-9 is a wonderful passage that describes what God has in store for this fallen world that has so much violence, fear and death. It will be a world of peace.”
Tim Farley : “Theologically Speaking” (2009)
I began my formal “illustration vocation” with my first book, “The Cathedral Book” by Maureen Gallagher, published by Paulist Press in 1982. I was so excited to get my first copy that I took the bus to Paulist Press in Mahwah, New Jersey and honestly, had an ecstatic, tear filled look, on the way back to Brooklyn where I was living. It seemed next to impossible to get a book as an art student, but after getting one book, Paulist Press hired me for more. Even during the years I spent as an AIDS Hospice chaplain, I continued to illustrate children’s books, and a few for adults. I talked my dear friend Fr Jim Janda (1936-2010) into writing a trilogy of legends about the Child Jesus, that were actually parables about the kingdom of God; “The Legend of St Christopher,” “The Legend of the Holy Child of Atocha,” and (the legend of the Infant of Prague) “Appointments With The Little King.” In many ways I think illustrating children’s books during those painful years of never ending death, really kept me hope filled, young and alive.
I am aware how many people find the very idea of the Infant of Prague almost embarrassingly incredulous. But I have always been attracted to the inherent contradiction of the infant king, because of the Gospel reversal of everything we deem important in the Beatitudes of Jesus (Matthew 5, Luke 6).
Part of the tradition of the Infant statue, is that you cannot buy one for yourself. He has to be given to you or “appear.” During the late 1980’s I held Healing Masses, once a month, for people with HIV-AIDS at Our Lady Guadalupe Church on 14th street in Manhattan; walking distance from St Vincent’s Hospital. I had been working on the illustrations for “Appointments With The Little King” and the legend was very much a part of my life. In many stores around the section of little Italy in Manhattan, there were statues of the Little King in the windows and I was tempted to buy one. But one night I showed up for the healing Mass, and there he was, on a table in the sacristy. Someone had brought him to me not knowing a thing about the book I was illustrating. There are many references in the Gospel about becoming like a child (not childish but childlike) and to me it boils down to being open, capable of receiving the surprises of gratuitous grace, humble and ... always “looking up” - mouth wide open like a baby bird, waiting for God to feed you. The legend of the Spanish statue being brought to Prague is the story in the children’s book and it was a real delight to draw the pictures. My dear friend JJ, (Fr J Janda) wove another story within the legend, of the child appearing in different places round the world startling people and in some cases being outright rejected. These surprise visits JJ called, having an “appointment” with the little king.
This icon was commissioned as a wedding gift for a young married couple. It was so joyful for me to return to the Little King. I robed him in the healing color of green (Hildegard’s “viriditas”) and placed 3 Japanese style birds in flight in a yellow medallion on his breast. These are for the continual movements or (see a beautiful theology of Fr Bernard Lonergan, SJ) the “processions” of the Holy Trinity. He holds the orb of the world in one hand and blesses you with the other. One bare foot is stepping out of the Icon; he’s on his way to an appointment with you.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb down the middle of the great city. On each side of the river stood the Tree of Life,
bearing twelve crops of fruit for every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of nations...and night will be abolished they will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will be shining upon them...The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’ ... I am indeed coming soon. Amen: come, Lord Jesus.”
The Apocalypse (Revelation) chapter 22
Maranatha ‼️ Come Lord Jesus !
Fr Bill McNichols 💮Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe 2021

St Albert the Great - Patron of Scientists and Students 1206-1280

July 29th, 2022

St Albert the Great - Patron of Scientists and Students 1206-1280

St Albert the Great : Patron of Scientists and Students (1206-1280)
“The moment he is able to in the morning, he enters into his contemplation. And it is in contemplation that he then goes to Mass. He thus allows himself in his contemplation to be led by just what the Mass of the day offers to him, for example, a visit, and seeks to illuminate the situation that occurs there in contemplation. He has a great devotion to the Mother of the Lord and sees her very much as the contemplative of the Son.”
From “Book Of All Saints” by Adrienne von Speyr
“On December 16, 1941, Pope Pius XII designated St Albert the Great as patron of all who engage in scientific studies. As such, he is the special saint for researchers, technologists, and all who engage professionally in any of the sciences, as well as of those who study science...St Albert, from his heavenly eminence, can appreciate exactly the task of scientific research. He did a great deal of it himself, not only in one subject, but in the whole field of science, which today is divided into so many specialties. St Albert’s specialty was no less than ‘everything created.’ He wrote on botany, mineralogy, astronomy, physics, chemistry, anthropology, cosmography, and other subjects. No single science escaped his attention.”
From “The 35 Doctors of the Church” by Christopher Rengers, OFM, Cap.
I cannot fully explain why, but November has always been my favorite month. It may be that that one of my mentors and a dear friend, the late poet and playwright, Fr Jim Janda, taught me to see into the beautifully muted colors of late autumn. November also begins with the Feast of All Saints, then the Holy Souls. In this month we also celebrate many saints I love, ... Andrew, Martin de Porres, Charles, Martin of Tours, Elizabeth of Hungary, Hugh of Lincoln (with his pet swan), Stanislaus, Padre Miguel Pro, Catherine of Alexandria ,Catherine Laboure’, Margaret, Gertrude, Mother Cabrini, Philippine, Dorothy Day (to name a few !) and Albert, whose feast on November 15th is exactly 40 days to Christmas.
I am full of admiration for St Albert precisely because he was interested in everything God created. It’s difficult to imagine any of the saints, engaging in such widespread interests, except St Hildegard of Bingen, also a Doctor of the Church, who died about 27 years before Albert was born. Albert is also remembered for being the teacher/mentor to St Thomas Aquinas, and defending Thomas ... “In 1277 he traveled to Paris to uphold the recently condemned good name and writings of Thomas Aquinas, who had died a few years before, and to defend certain Aristotelian doctrines that both he and Thomas held to be true... His importance for medieval science essentially consists in his bringing Aristotelianism to the fore against reactionary tendencies in contemporary theology... He was the most prolific writer of his century and was the only scholar of his age to be called ‘the Great’; this title was used even before his death.” (from the Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica)
Now it almost goes without saying that at this very moment, there are wild, often irrational debates, about science due to the present pandemic. I wish I was scientific enough to defend a Jesuit high school and college graduate like Dr Anthony Fauci, who was born on Christmas Eve in 1940. I became aware of him during my life in New York, amidst the AIDS pandemic, when he began his work as Director of NIAID In 1984. I wish I had met him because at that time we all admired his dedication and compassion. Everything I know or have seen of him tells me he sees his work as a Vocation, informed by his Jesuit training (“a man for others”) and Catholicism. Like St Albert, Dr Fauci is interested in just about everything. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American College of Physicians, the Infectious Disease Society of America, the American Association of Immunologists, and author or coauthor, or editor of more than 1,300 scientific publications, including several textbooks. So this year, on St Albert’s Day, we give thanks for all contemplatives, doctors, nurses, scientists, pharmacists ... anyone in the field of medicine ... and all those giving their lives now, in often dangerous situations, so that we can continue to live.
Now here is the prayer for Day 1 of a novena to St Albert...
“God, You made St Albert great by enabling him to combine human wisdom and Divine Faith. Help us so to adhere to his teaching that we may progress in the sciences and at the same time come to a deeper understanding and love of You.
Amen”
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💮 November 2021

The Souls of the Just Are In the Hands of God

November 11th, 2021

The Souls of the Just Are In the Hands of God

The Souls of the Just Are In the Hands of God
“...Only me beside you. Still you’re not alone.
No one is alone, truly. No one is alone.
Sometimes people leave you
Halfway through the wood. Others may deceive you.
You decide what’s good. You decide alone, but
no one is alone... Someone is on your side.
Someone else is not. While you’re seeing your side,
maybe you forgot; they are not alone. No one is alone.
Hard to see the light now, just don’t let it go. Things will
come out right now. We can make it so.
Someone is on your side, no one is alone...”
From “Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim 1986
“...And sorrow, sorrow like rain.
Sorrow to go, and sorrow, sorrow returning...”
Ezra Pound
It’s impossible to overestimate the daily effects of all the deaths and catastrophes we are living with at this moment now, and have been for years. Don’t run away from this... please, but contemplate what you believe is happening and why us ? Why now ? I always tell people at Mass, we were born to live now, this is not an accident. God knows we are capable of making some difference now. Think of the people born in the eras of the Medieval devastating plagues, or just recently, WW 1 or WW 11 ? They must have wondered why us ? Why now ? On November 2 we celebrate the feast of the Holy Souls and we are watching millions of souls rising into God every day. As if every day was 9/11. As the song says....... “over and over I keep going over the world we knew...”
I remember living in Manhattan during the beginning of the AIDS pandemic and I felt my vocation was to be a “midwife to the second birth.” At that time Stephen Sondheim came out with another one of his masterpieces- always centered on the cultural kairos times- and I was blessed to see the original broadway version of “Into the Woods,” in the late 1980’s, several times. I’d go to broadway shows as gifts from/with young men who were afflicted with AIDS and I saw many shows, but none affected me more than this show. The words, “...sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood...” were too close for comfort, and would wound/afflict my heart so deeply. I never got used to these young men dying by the thousands but I accepted my vocation to accompany them right to the doorway. Often they would die before I could get back to the hospital, and when I went in to see them, and found they had gone, I’d go outside in a kind of instantaneously, violently forced trance. I would take to the streets and walk miles up and down Manhattan; to get my bearings. I was disoriented; vertiginous. It was as if some huge part of me left too, or wanted to, and I needed to be grounded. Walking was my way of pounding the earth as an assurance that I was still here . I identified with the image of the tarot card “le pendu” or “the hanged man” - halfway on earth and halfway in the realm beyond life. I have never gotten back to the way I was before that time; fully on earth. My heart collapse in 2012 exacerbated this precarious state and I have accepted it as a “supra-normal, ab-normal,” condition. I mean it’s how we all live right now; part here, part there. I imagine that anyone who had these daily experiences would feel exactly the same way. The young men who were dying would often tell me that their relatives or someone they loved who had passed, was visiting them and “coaching” them into the process of coming home, of letting go. Almost any hospice doctor or nurse will tell you exactly the same things.
I have always been attracted, since childhood, to the devotion around the Holy Souls and you can read about this in the lives of many of our saints like Catherine of Genoa, Anne Catherine Emmerich, Padre Pio, Adrienne von Speyr, or the Austrian mystic, Maria Simma. But you don’t have to go into these Catholic visionaries to understand that we ache to remember and communicate with those we have deeply loved. I have often read that the feeling on their part, is mutual . They are literally waiting to hear from us and are willing, longing, to help us out in any way they can, for our brief time on earth. For some people the accounts of these holy people visited by souls, are terribly frightening, and so, there is no need for that. The best thing you can possibly do is to have Masses offered for them and to pray for and with them yourselves.
Every year on November 2, I place a large scrapbook filled with pictures and names of people who have passed into God, beneath the Eucharist at Mass and pray for them. Because we ultimately live forever, this passing is part of our continuing lives. The wildly veeringly/creative psychologist, Carl Jung thought of death as a Wedding. Right before he died, he asked a friend to drive him around his native villages, and the car was joyfully halted by several Weddings. This delighted him.
“Hard to see the light now, just don’t let it go. Things will come out right now. We can make it so...”
I love the last Requiem Mass ever composed for the dead by Maurice Durufle’. All the ones after Durufle’ are concert pieces. It is so soft, gentle, and like a small boat floating peacefully down a stream. Not at all the grand and portentous electrifying Mozart or Verdi. Durufle’ is a premonition of Vatican II and it’s theology of death-into-life. Just listen; you’ll hear and see. White vestments instead of black. An emphasis on life everlasting. It’s just utterly beautiful, and comforting.
“May light eternal shine upon them O Lord, with your saints forever, for you are Merciful. Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord. And may perpetual light shine upon them. With your saints forever, for you are Merciful. With your saints forever, for you are Merciful.”
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💮 November 2021

Jesus- Listen and Pray

November 11th, 2021

Jesus- Listen and Pray

Jesus, Listen and Pray
This is a very small image, 5”x7” - the first one I had the energy to paint after open heart surgery, in 2012. I had seen a card with Jesus in the lotus position praying and I knew I needed to go into it more, by painting/living with Him.
“The Jesuit Bernard Lonergan was one of the first theologians to recognize that God’s revelation is embedded in the personal narrative. The concrete stories of women and men carry within them the traces of the divine. As we come to know flesh-and-blood people in all their mystery, and all their ordinariness, we come to know more of the Creator and Redeemer and Sustaining Spirit. So it is with Monika Hellwig...As the Carmelite poet Jessica Powers noted, to live in the Spirit of God is to be a listener. Monika listened deeply and well.”
Dolores Leckey from the book “Monika Hellwig: The People’s Theologian”
I have not read all of Monika’s work but what I have has moved me to listen and pray. She has the inspired Art of writing about deep theological issues that are understandable and it seems to me, in a “clean” way, of having no agenda. I think the best Christian apologists have this grace. They assume your natural intelligence and don’t have to coerce you because their clarity is both scholarly and lovingly invitational. They trust the Holy Spirit. In these days of hourly rancor, that often explodes into some form of violence, such a person as Monika was/is a minor miracle. I’m hoping I will get the chance to paint her image too.
I’ve met many people, throughout my life who start off a conversation by putting you on the defensive. I’ve always wondered what do they have to hide ? Because this tactic actually kills any chance for a conversation. I don’t really know, maybe that’s the whole point ? Conversation assumes a vulnerability on both sides, a true listening and responding with a word or two that shows you’ve heard, an immediate rebuttal (and most of us are guilty of this) is another conversation killer. Oddly enough, I once read a very interesting take on this many years ago in ,maybe (?) chapter 5, of “The Celestine Prophecy.” I think it was about the reason people take swipes, verbal snipers. It might have answered that question, but it didn’t provide any lasting comfort.
The Gospels have several stories of Jesus going off to be alone and pray. And I was so taken with the image of Piero Pasolini’s Jesus, (The Gospel According To St Matthew) Enrique Irazoqui, that he became a living image for me from age 19, onward...of Jesus in a prayer. To talk with God, one has to be completely vulnerable and honest...
“Today, perhaps your soul can sense Jesus saying, Be unafraid to know yourself. Be fearless in your inward search. God’s care for you never wavers. No threat can silence God’s whispered call to you. No shadowy valley you walk through can extinguish the light that leads you to salvation. Hypocrites cannot damn you because God has deemed you precious. You count. So take courage. Come clean. Tell God, who never changes, everything you know about yourself, and more will be revealed. You will be counted among my disciples, one of my beloved friends.”
Rachel Srubas writing about St Teresa of Avila
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 October 2021

The Bride - The Church

November 11th, 2021

The Bride - The Church

The Bride : The Church
“You are the ones who have stood by me faithfully in my trials...”. Luke 22: 28
Today happens to be the feast of Pope St John XXIII, this is also the feast of the
Maternity of the Mother of God. And, this is the day in 1962, Pope John chose to convene the Second Vatican Council, the first one in 92 years. I was aware and alive to the symbols of the Church, but was always drawn to the ship, or Barque of St Peter. Most people imagine the Church as Michelangelo’s St Peters Basilica in Rome, or the thousands of beautiful structures of every age around the world. But only later, did I truly encounter the Bride. She is a poignant symbol in the Hebrew Bible, with the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea and Ezekiel. And in the New Testament Matthew, Mark, John, 2 Corinthians, Revelation 19 and 21, but especially in the Letter to the Ephesians 5: 22-33. My dear friend and mentor Fr Daniel Berrigan, SJ named his first published book of essays, “The Bride : Essays in the Church,” Macmillan, 1959. In 1996 we would begin collaborating on a book about my icons published by Orbis Press, four years later in 2000, and I titled it “The Bride: Images of the Church.”
In 1992, I was two years into my Apprenticeship in Iconography when the child abuse scandal broke out in New Mexico. It was so overwhelmingly devastating for the victims, and destroyed any positive connection to the church, forever. And the priests, that were innocent of any abuse, all naturally went into an isolated state of shock and grief. I had to find an image of the Church that could never be abused or even touched, in any harmful way. I read the magnificent book, “The Splendor of the Church” (written lovingly while he himself was silenced by the church) by Cardinal Henri de Lubac, SJ. I began to see the Bride as the only possible image of the Church that I could feel and ponder safely inside me.
In 2008 I was given my first exhibit of solely original icons and images, at the Millicent Rogers Museum In Taos, I named, “Silence in the Storm.” For this exhibit I painted this image of the pregnant Bride, surrounded by a protecting radiance which shielded her from any and all evil. And this is my firm belief that nothing demonic can ever come near her essence. She is pregnant with always new members, new souls. She is led by the Holy Spirit and covered by the hand of the Father. She upholds a Medallion of the Holy Child, after the beautiful work for the Ospedale degli Innocenti, in Florence, by the Renaissance master, Andrea della Robbia.
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 11 October 2021

St Francis Wounded-Winter-Light

November 11th, 2021

St Francis Wounded-Winter-Light

St Francis Wounded-Winter-Light
“He was always occupied with Jesus: Jesus he bore in his heart, mouth, eyes,ears, and in his entire body: Jesus.”
Blessed Thomas of Celano
“Put yourself out Brother Francis,” I used to cry. “Put yourself out before you burn up the world !”
Nikos Katzanzakis
This was originally a pen and ink illustration I made after returning from Assisi, which I later made into an icon commissioned by St Francis College in Brooklyn.
Francis came very early into my life as my favorite saint. My parents had traveled to his US city, San Francisco, and returned with an 8” porcelain white statue of a beardless young Francis with arms outstretched and a bird on each arm. Later I saw a holy card type version of the Esteban Murillo painting of St Francis beneath the Cross in one of my 4 “Miniature Lives of the Saints “ by Fr Daniel Lord, SJ. There was also a beautiful statue of him near the Franciscan Church of St Elizabeth of Hungary (herself, co-patron, along with St Louis the IX, of the Third Order Franciscans ) in downtown Denver.
To make a long story shorter, I would end up meeting the Third Order Franciscans in the Bronx, New York and being admitted as a member in 1984. After joining, I went on a pilgrimage to Italy to the graves of my patrons, St Ignatius, Francis and (my Confirmation name) Dominic. While Ignatius was convalescing in Loyola at his brothers estate, he had wondered, “What if I should do what St Francis did ? What if I should act like St Dominic ?” It was in March 84 and Assisi was so cold I wore my clothes in bed. For some odd reason I had expected Assisi would be much much warmer. One day I looked out my window and thought, O my God, Francis is outside in the snow barely covered p, and he’s suddenly caught in rapturous love, by the intricate artistry of the Creator, in a falling snowflake. When I was leaving Assisi I wrote this poem of my experiences, to say goodbye...
Reflections from Assisi : “Ciao Francesco”
Ciao Francesco of Assisi
whose bloody footprints in winter
(like carnelians cast upon snow)
can still disrupt Assisi….
Ciao Francesco of the Porziuncola
that blessed door too narrow
for me to enter, but led by you
I ask three things…….
Ciao Francesco of San Damiano
who led me along the same
road of renunciation
(while the silver olive trees wept)
and showed me that we
leave all our fathers…
Ciao Francesco of the Carceri
whose food was to do the
will of God, and when I
saw this—too true—I ran
all the way down Mt. Subasio…
Ciao Francesco of the Chiesa Nuova
your lively friar-son showed me
the prison where your father
tried to keep you and then
sensing my sins he let down his cape for me to walk on
--this still hurts…
Ciao Francesco who fought the devils
and guarded my own room with
Leo’s cherished blessing—while the
shutters rattled from the nightmare
howls, and the dark dreams
threatened to turn me back……
Ciao Francesco of La Verna
(my dearest home)
you climbed those rocks
to bemoan your sins and
left that mountain so transfigured,
so holy, that in that place
I could scarcely breathe…
Ciao Francesco of the Basilica
your body is the Feast of Fools,
parades, endless masses, cameras, dances
songs, candles, and those weeping
because they have put you up so high,
we can’t even touch you
for healing anymore….
Ciao Francesco wounded-winter light
you are stricken with love
by God’s smallest creatures…
Ciao Francesco of the Via Crucis
winter in Assisi is more harsh, silent
and bitter than I ever imagined,
and as I complained and nagged you
for comfort, you walked with me,
(like Jesus at Emmaus wounds aglow)
and taught me the grace of
Compassion….
Ciao Francesco of Assisi,
guide books, tapestries, and paintings
say you are dead,
but you still lead
the angels in song
at the Bronx Little Portion.
“Ciao Chiara”
Ciao Chiara of San Damiano
you led me up stone stairs
to the upper room and unbolted
the door to ancient visions,
and showed me how love
and the Holy Eucharist
put invaders to flight….
Ciao Chiara, Lady Poverty,
you are on display as some venerable mummy;
Your skeleton still observing
Stark humility and holy poverty….
Ciao Chiara who cried the Passion
every day (hope against hope)
and who bathed our father’s
wounds and kissed them when
he went Home…
Ciao Chiara de Favarone
the Spirit hovers in the mist
outside your basilica and
sits like manna on the olive trees
and the Spirit and the Bride say:
“God is enough.”

St Faustina Kowalska - Apostle of the Divine Mercy

November 11th, 2021

St Faustina Kowalska - Apostle of the Divine Mercy

St Faustina Kowalska : Apostle of the Divine Mercy (25 August 1905- 5 October 1938)
“When you reflect upon what I tell you in the depths of your heart, you profit more than if you read many books. Oh, if souls would only listen to My voice when I am speaking in the depths of their hearts, they would reach the peak of holiness in a short time.”
(Jesus speaks in the Diary of St Faustina #584)
“Be at peace, My daughter. This work of mercy is Mine; there is nothing of you in it. It pleases Me that you are carrying out faithfully what I have commanded you to do, not adding or taking away a single word.” #1667
“Heart of My Heart, be filled with joy.” #1669
Faustina asked the Lord about the meaning of the rays on the painting or image of the Divine Mercy, Jesus told her in reply:
“The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender Mercy when my agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross... Oh, how much I am hurt by a soul’s distrust! Such a soul professes that I am Holy and Just, but does not believe that I am Mercy and does not trust in My goodness. Even the devils glorify My Justice but do not believe in My goodness. My Heart rejoices in this title of Mercy. Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God. All the works of My hands are crowned with mercy.” #299
According to the spirituality of St Ignatius one is advised not only to refrain from defending oneself when reproached, but to rejoice in the humiliation. As Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me...” Matthew 5:11
“You will encounter disapproval and persecution. They will look upon you as a hysteric and an eccentric, but the Lord will lavish His graces upon you. True works of God always meet with opposition and are marked by suffering. If God wants to accomplish something, sooner or later He will do so in spite of the difficulties. Your part, in the meantime, is to arm yourself with great patience.” #270
“My daughter, if you knew what great merit and reward is earned by one act of pure love for Me, you would die of joy. I am saying this that you may constantly unite yourself with Me through love, for this is the goal of the life of your soul. This act is an act of the will. Know that a pure soul is humble. When you lower and empty yourself before My majesty, I then pursue you with My graces and make use of My omnipotence to exalt you...Do not fear anything. I am with you. These matters are in My hands and I will bring them to fruition according to My mercy, for nothing can oppose My will... I am always in your heart; not only when you receive Me in Holy Communion, but always.” # 575
This year I had so many choices for the last days of September and the first few days of October. The 3 Archangels, St Therese of Lisieux, the Holy Protection of the Mother of God, the Guardian Angels, St Francis and Faustina. Because Pope Francis has written so much on the Mercy of God, (Apostolic Letter “Misericordia et Misera” 20 November 2016) and he, himself is being persecuted just like she was, I chose Faustina.
On October 5, 1938, Sister Faustina whispered to Sister Felicia, “The Lord will take me today.”
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 28 September 2021 feast of “Good King Wenceslas 👑”

St Padre Pio- Mother Pelican

November 11th, 2021

St Padre Pio- Mother Pelican

St Padre Pio : Mother Pelican (25 May 1887-23 September 1968)
“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 their entire family as my spiritual children.”
St Pio of Pietrelcina
“O loving Pelican! O Jesus Lord! Unclean am I but cleanse me in your blood.”
St Thomas Aquinas
“Surely he has borne our infirmities, and carried our sorrows. And we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins. The chastisement of peace was upon him: and by his wounds we are healed.”
Isaiah 53
“This wounding is for healing, now the hand raises only to cherish, to bless, to praise.”
Fr James Janda from the play “Julian of Norwich”
“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 of the town, and on it were carved a hen (pucina) and a brood of chicks, hence Pretapucina.”
From “The Holy Man on the Mountain” later changed to “Padre Pio and America” by Frank Rega
I have read so so many books on Padre Pio, and I never tire of reading about him, and am always lifted and filled with spiritual joy and hope, when I read anything about his life. When I was a little boy he was still alive, and I remember looking into a book at Daleidens Catholic Church Goods Store, in downtown Denver, with pictures of his wounds which actually frightened me, but I never forgot those pictures of him. The wounds, or stigmata, have been a theme in my life and art ever since childhood. Later I would be drawn to the healing power of the wounds and the healing that has come from my (our) wounds if you accept them and fend off the bitterness and tragedy of injustice and rejection. Much later in my thirties, when I became a Third Order Franciscan in the Bronx, New York, I read and was deeply instructed, and deeply moved by the story that during the last two years of his life (1224-1226) the flabbergasted and astonished friars who changed St Francis’ bloody bandages, would dip the blood-soaked cloths in buckets of water and feed the water to sick people and animals, and all were healed by this “Mother’s Blood,” ( when he died the Poor Clare’s cried out, “What will we do without our father, without our mother, Francis?!”) I don’t think, to my limited knowledge, that any male saint has been referred to as father and mother. But Our Lord Jesus has these most tender qualities, and in his final grieving, referred to himself as a Mother Hen. (Matthew 23:37)
Let me suggest just two wonderful books:
“The Holy Souls : Viva Padre Pio!” and
“Send Me Your Guardian Angel”
Both by Padre Alessio Parente, OFM, CAP.
Padre Pio received the visible wounds of Jesus on 20 September 1916. He bore these wounds for 50 years and when he died, they disappeared and his flesh became soft as a child. Truly, just about any of the many, many books on Padre Pio will feed you. And you can never stop learning from and leaning on him for vital strength and support. He’s one of those “911 Saints” like Therese of Lisieux , who respond immediately. Because of the story of St Francis and the healing water from his wounds, I decided to portray Padre Pio holding a medallion of the ancient, pure legend, of the Mother Pelican who, when her chicks were starving, would open her side and feed them her own blood. We are actually all nourished in the womb by our Mother’s blood. But I wondered would Padre Pio approve ? Then right after I finished the Icon (early 90’s) I saw a VHS cassette of his last Mass at San Giovanni Rotondo , 22 September 1968. As the Friars helped him down from the altar, he turned his back to be led away, and on the back of his chasuble (vestment) was embroidered an image of the Mother Pelican. I felt okay then.
A most blessed feast of Padre Pio ! and why not ask him to become one of his spiritual children, all you have to do is ask. “🎶 Seek and ye shall find. Knock and the doors shall be opened. Ask and it shall be given, and the love come a’ tricklin’ down!🎶” ( “Love Come A’tricklin’ Down”) recorded by the Womenfolk 1964)
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 20 September 2021

St Hildegard of Bingen - Doctor of the Church 1098-1179

November 11th, 2021

St Hildegard of Bingen - Doctor of the Church 1098-1179

St Hildegard of Bingen : Doctor of the Church (1098-1179)
“Holy Spirit, you, quickening life, prime mover of the universe and root of all creation, cleanse your creation from impurity, heal the guilt and anoint the wounds. O radiant life, worthy of praise, awaken and reawaken the universe!”
St Hildegard
I have this little book of prayers of Hildegard with my teacher’s (Friar Robert Lentz, OFM) masterful icon on the cover, published by Franciscan Media, 1989.
They have been gathered by the former prioress for 23 years, of St Hildegard’s Abbey, in Rudesheim-Eibingen, Germany, Cecilia Bonn, OSB. I noticed that looking through them, I could have chosen just about any prayer and it would speak to us today. Such is the power of Hildegard’s connection to God. I could go into so many things about my relationship to her dating back to the first cassette of her songs I received as a gift in 1986. But let me send you to a few living experts and scholars, who will help you to find her on your own. My favorites:
“Voice of the Living Light : Hildegard of Bingen” edited by Barbara Newman, 1998
“Vision : The Life and Music of Hildegard von Bingen” 1995
By Barbara Newman and commentary on her visions by Fr Matthew Fox
“Vision : The Music of Hildegard von Bingen” CD, 1995
And once again ...
“Vision : From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen” Zeitgeist Films, 2009
Margarethe von Trotta’s beautiful film using Hildegard’s actual words for the bulk of the film and starring the unforgettable Barbara Sukowa.
I watched that film over 10 times mostly when I was recovering from my heart collapse in 2012. It became so familiar that I no longer had to look at the subtitles anymore. As I write this on the Thursday evening before Hildegard’s feast, the 17th of September, the next day, “demonstrations” are planned round the country in support of the people who stormed the United States Capitol and wounded over 100 Capitol police on January 6. I have heard the best recreation of that day, is a 40 minute film called “Inside the Capitol Riot : An Exclusive Video Investigation.” After my work in the AIDS Hospice in New York (83-90) I couldn’t watch any movies about AIDS. And I haven’t been able to watch the video investigation of the violent riot for the same reasons.
When I got this commission to paint/write Hildegard’s icon (around 2005?) I chose an image of her own painting, from her book, “Scivias,” called “The Zeal of God.” I’ll let Fr Fox, an Episcopal Priest, now tell you about the image, though I did not include the walls, just the fiery angelic head.
“...Where the two walls meet, there is a ‘zealous red head.’ Hildegard describes this head as having ‘a fiery color, shining red like a flame of fire. It had a terrifying face.’ It had three wings ‘of amazing breadth and length which were white as a shining cloud’ and these wings grew larger as they beat and beat. The head itself did not speak and did not move. Christ, however, spoke. ‘This head signifies the zeal of the Lord,’ Hildegard says. The Zeal of God is essentially justice-making; it comes about when we are aroused by injustice. ‘In mirror (that is speculative) knowledge and in human work there is a common boundary of injustice,’ Hildegard tells us. God cares so much for justice that in the past, under the Old Law of Abraham and Moses as well as in the present, under the New Law of Christ, the divine zeal always and continues to be for justice.” One of my favorite (almost impossibly rational at this time) speakers, Beau of the Fifth Column, always ends his videos with “Just a thought.”
“O Shepherd of souls,
O first Word, through which we were all created, may it truly please you, to free us of our misery and from our brokenness.”
Doctor St Hildegard
16 September 2021

Our Lady of Sorrows by Kathy Hendricks

November 11th, 2021

Our Lady of Sorrows  by Kathy Hendricks

Our Lady of Sorrows
by Kathy Hendricks
I saw them as I entered the supermarket parking lot. A family of four crouched in the shade of a small tree. Two young boys sat with their mother and waved at passing cars. The father held a sign asking for assistance. I parked the car and made a mental note to buy something for them to eat before heading back home. My good intentions slipped away, however, as I made my way up and down the aisles, searching for all of the items on my list. As I exited the store the sight of the family brought me up short. I unloaded my bags and pulled out the lunch meat and rolls I bought for lunch with a friend. After handing over my meager offerings, along with a few dollars, one of the boys looked up and smiled. “God bless you,” he said.
Of all the feasts to honor Mary, the one I love most is Our Lady of Sorrows (September 15). It recalls not only the sufferings she experienced in her life, but also the way she consoles others in the midst of theirs. Mary, a woman who praised God for the blessing bestowed upon her, was not defeated by the sorrow that pierced her heart. She gave herself over to God’s grace, allowing herself to be transformed in the process. Her pierced and wounded heart is a sign of blessing and hope. Thus we turn to her in our own need, asking for her prayers on our behalf.
Mary’s response to our cries of pain is not unlike the little boy in the parking lot. It is a reminder that God’s merciful blessing is given to all of us, particularly in times of our greatest need. It is also a call to open our hearts to others, to be people who know sorrow and allow it to make us more generous and caring. What we have to offer may seem a pittance given the vast sum of human misery across the globe. The life and witness of this humble woman, however, should remind us that no act of charity is insignificant and that each extension of kindness is one more ripple in the vast expanse of love that consoles us all.

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

Pentecost Sunday and Mary Mother of the Church - Come Holy Spirit

November 11th, 2021

Pentecost Sunday and Mary Mother of the Church - Come Holy Spirit

Pentecost Sunday and Mary Mother of the Church : Come Holy Spirit
“In Roman Catholic Mariology, Mother of the Church (Latin: Mater Ecclesiae) is a title officially given to Mary by Pope Paul VI. The title was first used in the 4th century by St Ambrose of Milan, as rediscovered by Hugo Rahner, SJ. (author of the book Our Lady and the Church) It was also used by Pope Benedict XIV in 1748 and then by Pope Leo XIII in 1885. Pope St John Paul II placed it in the Catechism of the Catholic Church ... in 2018, Pope Francis decreed that the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church be inserted into the Roman Calendar on the Monday after Pentecost (also known as Whit Monday) and to be celebrated every year.”
Wikipedia
“One interesting bit of church architecture is known as the ‘Holy Ghost Hole.’ It consists of a large opening purposely left in the ceiling. This was most commonly done in Medieval churches throughout Europe, but has been repeated in other places throughout the world. The tradition was meant to remind the faithful of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and to be a visible reminder that the Holy Spirit continues to descend upon Christian Disciples. The spiritual symbolism was further reinforced on Pentecost day, when someone would climb up onto the roof and send down various symbols of the Holy Spirit. Fr Francis Weiser explains in his book ‘Holyday Book’ that live doves or pigeons would sometimes be used, as well as burning pieces of straw...”
Philip Kosloski
Eight years ago I was assigned by Archbishop Michael Sheehan to help out at St Joseph on the Rio Grande Church. And nearly every time I’ve celebrated Mass there, while I’m sitting in the celebrant’s chair I look up into the large hole in the beautifully crafted wooden ceiling. And though I did not know about the ancient tradition of the Holy Ghost Hole until today, it is exactly what I’ve been praying for all during these past years. Pope Francis has spoken beautifully about the Church as Mother in his homily for Monday’s feast, and I know he would like to see more women and lay men involved in the decisions and hierarchy of the Church. This is one of those issues where the need is so great, and many people are angry that it’s still taking so long. I personally believe Francis is doing everything he can to make this a reality. But I am fully aware that’s my personal belief in Pope Francis . I think it comes from growing up with my Dad who was Governor of Colorado, and watching him try to make advances for so many people and being continually opposed. Yet in his obituary the Denver Post ended this way: “He combined his dedication to the underdog with his courage to stake his all on what he believed was right. Each of the other governors elected to succeed him exceeded his longevity in office; none has exceeded his accomplishments.” Right before he died in 1997 he wrote me a very personal and beautiful letter. In it he spoke about my need to listen for and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It was most unusual for Dad to write this way so it has stayed with me all these years as a kind of prophetic word. In this icon Mary is solemn with an ever so gentle upturning of her mouth, as if she is awaiting the arrival of the Spirit, as she did in the first Pentecost. As Mother of the Church she knows our problems and what is needed most of all right now to keep us all following the Gospels. She knows the Holy Spirit never goes backwards but always creating anew. Her throne is not made of gold, but Hildegardian greens and warm colors. The Flame of the Spirit hovers above her. Doctor St Hildegard of Bingen saw the Holy Spirit as the “greening agent” of the Most Holy Trinity, and she put these inspirational visions into some of her 77 songs as well. In this era of urgent need to protect Mother Earth, as St Francis of Assisi called her, I have great hopes that young people will be given some “miraculous inspirations/interventions” from the Holy Spirit and help to save our world.
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the
fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”
Amen
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 Pentecost 2021

La Sagrada Familia -The Holy Family

November 11th, 2021

La Sagrada Familia -The Holy Family

La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family)
“The spiritual life is a long strange business and you’ve got to be quiet and docile enough to go on learning.” Iris Murdoch
The month of May is always associated with the Mother of God. In 1870 Pope Pius IX declared St Joseph the Patron of the Universal Church and in 1955 Pope Pius XII established the Feast of St Joseph the Worker on May 1 as a counter-celebration to the communists’ May Day. Which means Mary’s husband ushers in her month. And since I recently showed the image I painted of St Joseph the Worker, here on Facebook, I decided to show the first icon I painted of Joseph and The Holy Family, in 1991, which is a companion to The Risen Christ, both icons reside at Risen Christ Church in Denver, Colorado. During this year dedicated to Joseph, I continue to learn from him what I call “Joseph’s way” which is a radical trust in God, made so clear and simple in the beautiful Don Dolindo Novena I’ve spoken of so often. But I have to keep at it because I have a tendency to fall back into worry more often than not ! In the mystical Life of St Joseph by Maria Cecilia Baij , OSB, she tells us that during his life, God allowed Joseph to be continually afflicted by worries concerning the care of his wife and child, but also he knew what an extraordinary privilege he was given, to see and care for them every day. Recently our administrative assistant at St Joseph on the Rio Grande Church, Mrs Dawn Wenzl surprised me with a gift of an icon she wrote/painted of St Joseph with the Holy Child . It is very tender and touching. I felt like Joseph was reminding me that he is with me and continuing to guide me in his year. This also reaffirmed for me the power of icons to bring the presence of a heavenly being into your house and life. Images, paintings and icons have been my work for the past 30 years and I always remember what a gift it is to share them with others. I think of a Dominican motto, “Contemplata aliis tradere” - to share what you have contemplated.
Here is a lovely prayer I found in a book of prayers for Fathers :
“Lord Jesus, through the life You chose to lead on earth You showed forth the resplendent value of human work - though often done in toil, all Your work was a prayer, a sacrifice pleasing to God. Grant me too, my Savior, the grace to realize the magnificent potential of work to transform me, making me more patient, diligent, generous and fruitful. And most especially, my Lord, bestow on me the grace to bring to the work of each moment an air of peacefulness and prayerfulness. Through the intercession of St Joseph, patron of workers, I ask all this through Your holy name. Amen”
A most happy feast of St Joseph‼️
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 May 2021

Litany to The Divine Mercy

April 29th, 2021

Litany to The Divine Mercy

Litany to The Divine Mercy
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of heaven, have mercy on us.
God, the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
Divine Mercy, greatest attribute of God, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, unfathomable love of the Sanctifier, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, incomprehensible mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, expression of the greatest might of God, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in creation of heavenly spirits, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in calling us forth from nothingness to existence, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, encompassing the whole universe, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, endowing us with immortal life, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, shielding us from deserved punishment, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, lifting us from the misery of sin, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, justifying us through the Person of the Incarnate Word, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, which flowed out from the wounds of Christ, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, gushing forth from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, giving us the Blessed Virgin Mary as Mother of Mercy, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in revealing the mysteries of God, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in the founding of the Holy Church, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in instituting the Holy Sacraments, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, first of all in the sacraments of Baptism and Penance, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in the Holy Eucharist and the sacrament of Holy Orders, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in calling us to the holy faith, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in the conversion of sinners, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in sanctifying the just, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, in perfecting of the pious, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, fount of help for the sick and the suffering, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, sweet relief for anguished hearts, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, only hope of despairing souls, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, accompanying us in every moment of our life, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, anticipating our needs with graces, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, repose of the dying, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, heavenly delight of the saved, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, respite and relief of the souls in Purgatory, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, crown of All Saints, we trust in You.
Divine Mercy, inexhaustible source of miracles, we trust in You.
Lamb of God, who revealed the greatest mercy in redeeming the world by dying on the cross, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who mercifully offers Yourself for our sake in every holy Mass, graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takes away our sins with inexhaustible compassion, have mercy on us.
V: The Mercy of God is above all His works.
R: Hence, we will praise The Divine Mercy forever and ever.
Let us pray:
Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, King of mercy, who with You and the Holy Spirit shows us mercy now and forever. Amen.

The Risen Christ

April 29th, 2021

The Risen Christ

The Risen Christ
During the dark winter nights I decided to listen to a long (over 20 hours) Audible book on the music and life of J S Bach; “Bach : Music in the Castle of Heaven” by John Eliot Gardiner. It opened my ears to The St John Passion, and the incredible emotional pull and power of the first word, over and over again...Lord. I was familiar with the magnificent St Matthew Passion as well as many other of Bach’s masterpieces, and Gardiner is such a great writer and natural, born teacher, who clearly loves and understands Bach. He also taught me a lot about the Lutheran Church during Bach’s time. And of course, his personal life...tragedies, triumphs and joys. I really loved this book and I think you will too.
Recently I got a request to use the Triptych of the Passion from Pastor David Hansen of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta, for the Easter Vigil. I noticed the opening prayer was very beautiful.
“Sisters and brothers in Christ, on this most holy night when our Savior Jesus Christ passed from death to life, we gather with the church throughout the world in vigil and prayer. This is the Passover of Jesus Christ. Through light and the word, through water and oil, bread and wine, we proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection, share Christ’s triumph over sin and death, and await Christ’s coming again in glory.
Eternal God, in Jesus Christ you have given the light of life to all the world. Bless this new fire at the banquet of eternal light; through the Sun of righteousness, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Christ, yesterday and today, the beginning and the ending. To Christ belongs all time and all ages; to Christ belong glory and dominion now and forever.
The light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.
Amen”
A Blessed Easter Season and may it bring you a deeper assurance of the continual loving call for intimacy with the Risen Lord !
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 Easter 2021

The Passion Triptych- Our Lady of Sorrows-Jesus Christ Extreme Humility-St John the Apostle

April 29th, 2021

The Passion Triptych- Our Lady of Sorrows-Jesus Christ Extreme Humility-St John the Apostle

The Passion Triptych (Our Lady of Sorrows, Jesus Christ Extreme Humility, St John the Apostle)
“The Lord not only takes leave of the things of this world; he begins to see them disappear one by one. His body, his whole humanity become distant to him in a completely new way...He has to part from his disciples, and he recognizes how imperfect he leaves them behind... He has to part from his mission. The mission was to bring the world back to the Father...Humanely seen, not even a fragment of the total has been achieved...Everything that unites him with the Father and the Spirit is clouded over already by the shadow of the darkness of the Cross. Everywhere he hears the sound ‘too late.’ It is rolling toward him, is approaching...Taking leave of human bonds. Of his Mother, of the Beloved Disciple, of all these touching people who were attached to him and believed in him, for whom he worked miracles, whom he loved with full human affection. The more he gave them, the more he loved them. He loved them with a childlike heart....
Taking leave of prayer. The uninterrupted communion with the Father begins to break off. Everything recedes now into the land of estrangement...All his life long the Son lived on earth in twosomeness and threesomeness with the Father and the Spirit, but now he falls into the lonesomeness of being merely human, that very loneliness from which he wanted to redeem his fellowmen. His desire was to draw all men (people) into this prayer to preserve them from being forsaken. They were to be with the Father in the Spirit. But this is now taken away from the Son...All this is waiting outside the door, and the door will open. There are many doors, but whichever he chooses, it leads to the Passion.”
From “The Passion From Within” by Adrienne von Speyr
There are so many women and men theologians, and we all have our favorites.
I’m not reading Adrienne this year because I’m trying to stick with my favorite books on St Joseph:
“The Shadow of the Father” (also published as “Discovering St Joseph”) by Fr Andre Doze and
“The Life of St Joseph” by Sister Maria Baij, OSB
But during this season of the Passion I always return to the beautiful writing and brilliant insights of Adrienne. And I turn to the two Passions (John and Matthew) composed by J.S.Bach. Adrienne said something in one of her books which was so poignant, heartbreaking...that I never forgot it and use it in homilies all the time. But I couldn’t find the quote so I’ll have to tell it to you as I remember it. (So I’m obviously paraphrasing!) She said (hold onto your seats) that in Heaven, before the third person of the Blessed Trinity was sent to earth to take a body, “he” was so excited and anxiously awaiting the daily opportunity to tell humans about ,and literally show them the love of the Father. But once he got here, he was shocked at how far we are from God. And how little we wanted to know about God, as is evidenced in the Gospels. He is outright blocked, viewed with insidious jealousy, ridiculed, argued with continually and even called a demon. Any of us who want to bring the love of the Father know this anguished frustration. Part of it is we are broken vessels and easy to write off as so. But the other parts are that people can lack any semblance of humility and refuse to budge from their positions be they the right or left wings of the Church; if you are rigid or absolutist, there’s just no opening. I’m so fond of quoting G.B. Caird in his commentary on Luke, where he says something like “The only requirement for entrance into the kingdom is an emptiness only God can fill.”
I often joke that I was a lot smarter when I was young. Youth can be arrogant with the little knowledge they gain. But I’ve come to appreciate this time of my age where I find myself turning to God with so many unanswered questions and more than willing to wait. I think of St Francis at sunset on 3 October 1226, as he lay dying on the ground, naked, he covered his wound in his side and told those with him, “I have done what was mine to do. May God teach you what you are to do.” All this coming week we watch this innocent man we all love so deeply, go towards his Passion. This past year so many have lived through their own passions physically and spiritually. I know that this week will be like no other because of the many circumstances of this past year. And I am convinced that Graces will flow in some surprising and unexpected ways, because the outpouring of love of the Father never ceases.
Dear Jesus,
Watching you again move toward Calvary and in most ways I feel terribly helpless in the face of the enormous pain and suffering of these days in our world. I can stand beneath the Cross, but I can’t take away the pain or get you or us... down off the Cross. But... I can stand and I won’t leave. And that, as a young man dying of AIDS once told me, is enough and truly comforting. I know there are new graces of life and hope you want to give us this year, just as you did in Advent and the Christmas season. Keep me open to receiving them, and may you continue to teach me what I am to do for you, my dear Lord.
Amen
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 28 March 2021

Retablo de San Jose Obrero

April 29th, 2021

Retablo de San Jose Obrero

Retablo de San Jose’ Obrero
“Go to Joseph...” (Genesis 41:55)
This beautiful phrase (loved by one of St Joseph’s greatest promoters, the healer and miracle worker of Montreal, St Andre’ Bessette) from the book of Genesis refers to Joseph, whose father Jacob had given Joseph a lovely coat... “Now Jacob loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colors.” (Genesis 37:3) Incidentally, in the genealogy of Jesus, “the second Joseph’s” father was also named Jacob... “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ.” (Matthew 1:16) I love the way there are no accidents with God, even the names of the fathers of the two Josephs who were chosen to nourish Israel both physically and spiritually.
This particular image of St Joseph was a gift to our pastor Msgr Lambert Luna, from the parish of St Joseph on the Rio Grande, for his 40th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood. Joseph has two major feastdays one traditionally commemorates his death, March 19th, the other is May 1, St Joseph the Worker and patron of the Universal Church. When Pope Francis designated this year as the year of Joseph (from December 8, 2020 to December 8, 2021) I’m certain he was aware that Joseph is also the patron of a “peaceful, happy death.”
This is because he was attended by his wife Mary, Mother of God, and Jesus Christ. With the thousands of deaths this past year, we are all feeling the losses and are calling on St Joseph to attend to the dying.
This most ancient Novena (9 days) prayer to St Joseph has never been known to fail and tradition claims it dates back to the year 50...
Novena To St Joseph
O St Joseph....
Amen
A blessed feast of St Joseph to you all ‼️
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 19 March 2021
NOVENA TO ST. JOSEPH
O Saint Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.
O Saint Joseph, assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your heavenly powerful life , I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.
O Saint Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. Amen

Holy Living Martyr Dianna Ortiz

April 29th, 2021

Holy Living Martyr Dianna Ortiz

Holy Living Martyr Dianna Ortíz
“Close your physical eye, so that you may see your picture first with the spiritual eye. Then bring what you saw in the dark into the light, so that it may have an effect on others, shining inwards from outside.”
From the incredible deeply spiritual German Artist, Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)
When Robert Ellsberg, editor of Orbis Press, published the book “The Blindfold’s Eyes : My Journey From Torture to Truth” by Dianna and Patricia Davis, in 2004, he sent me a copy, I was living in Taos at that time. I sat up reading for hours. I was going to read the whole thing in one sitting. I had the profound impression I was reading the life of a Martyr who had lived to tell her story. I was so deeply affected by the book that while I was reading that night, my friend and author of a book on my icons and images, (“Image to Insight” published by University of New Mexico Press, 2018) John Dadosky called me, and from everything I was experiencing, including sheer grief, terror, horror, as well as Dianna’s radiant holiness, counseled me to finish the book later. I have never read anything like it before or since. I so wish I could have met Dianna, but never did. There have been numerous articles on her life in many newspapers and online, so you can find so much information now. I can think of so many things she can be called upon to intercede for us now. But especially those who suffer daily from PTSD and they desperately need a patron. I don’t think there’s anything she will not understand if you pray to her. Also there are those who feel like they can never be forgiven and who stay outside the Church because of something inside torturing them. Dianna is here for those people too. I’m not quite sure if this is an icon or an image (like Elijah McClain, Matthew Shephard or Rachel Carson) but I’ll let God decide that. I wanted to portray the blood, (red background) the passion she endured (purple Lenten colors) and the turquoise always associated with New Mexico because she grew up here. I also wanted to portray her Radiant Light which grows brighter each day since her passing into God on this past February 19th. One of the articles I read by the priest who anointed her, said the presence of God was palpable in her room as she was dying. I have felt very close to her since her death and pray to her everyday.
(The prayer I chose is an adaptation of the prayer for the feast of St Sebastian from the old Sacramentary. Sebastian lived through the first attempt to kill him by shooting him with arrows. St Irene found him and nursed him back to life. He then confronted Emperor Diocletian, who thought he was dead, and was finally beheaded, 20 January 288.)
“Dear Lord,
Fill us with that spirit of courage which gave Holy Living Martyr Dianna strength to offer her life in faithful witness. Help us to learn from her to cherish Your law and to obey You rather than men or women. We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever.
Amen”
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 March 2021

Cross of New Life-The Flowering Cross

April 29th, 2021

Cross of New Life-The Flowering Cross

“Cross of New Life:The Flowering Cross” ☦️ (13’6” x 7’9”)
The largest icon of my career is now completed and prepared for its new home. It has been my honor to write the “Cross of New Life: The Flowering Cross”

The ancient Catholic Church has given us the tradition of flowering and jeweled crosses, which are on display in mosaics (specifically in Ravenna, Italy) and paintings throughout the world. This particular Cross is modeled on one by Giotto di Bondone (1226-1337) ... and my additions based on years of looking into painted crosses.
The popular Old English Christmas Carol, inspired the colors of the icon. “The Holly and the Ivy” which dates back before Henry VIII, tells of the lovely green holly producing red berries…
“The holly bears a berry,
As red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good…”
There are several versions of this Carol, it has become significant for me not only at Christmas time as we wrap the world in red and green, but also watching closely in springtime as trees produce red buds right from the “wounds” in the bark, which become flowers, fruit, or green leaves .
So the Flowering Cross is also, of course, always a sign of the Resurrection to come.
Our Lady of Sorrows, dressed in red, watches over her Son in the round panel at the top. On either side of his body are purple-passion-like panels, 12” x 44”, each bearing 30 bright magenta Japanese stencil flowers which seem to lay nicely next to Jesus’ body, where Giotto uses a very beautiful complex design in his side panels. The cross expertly cut by master woodworker Roberto Lavadie. Our Lady of Sorrows, and the side panels were done in the autumn-winter months 2019. Finally I began the Corpus in January, 2020 and finished April 20, 2020. Marcia Vargas did the gold leafing on the edges of the entire Cross and then Roberto put all the parts together.
This “Cross of New Life: The Flowering Cross” is offered for sale. Price available upon request. Please contact Debra de la Torre at [email protected]
(Professional photograph of the Cross and a photo simulation of the Cross in a church are shown below.)
Only blessings,
Fr William Hart McNichols

The Chair of St Peter

April 29th, 2021

The Chair of St Peter

The Chair of St Peter
“I assure you and most solemnly say to you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and walked wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and your arms, and someone else will dress you, and carry you where you do not wish to go.” John 21:18
“Today’s feast, attested as early as the mid-fourth century may have its roots as a Christian substitute for the pagan commemoration of dead relatives and friends celebrated in Rome between 13-22 February. At this commemoration, a chair (cathedra) was left empty for particular deceased persons. Since the actual date of Peter’s death was unknown, it came to be commemorated on 22 February, eventually celebrating his taking pastoral responsibility of the Church of Rome.” From the Ordo, The General Instruction of the Roman Missal.
When I was commissioned to paint/write an icon of The Chair of St Peter I could only contemplate the chair that any Pope would eventually hold, which is the Cross. The legend around the death of St Peter tells us he did not feel worthy to be crucified upright as his Lord Jesus and asked to be crucified upside down. No matter how good or how holy, or how diligently each Pope has ministered to us, they always face incessant criticism and spiritual or actual crucifixion. I have witnessed this in my own brief lifetime from Pope Pius XII to our present day with Pope Francis. This is a very special feastday to honor and pray especially for our blessed Pope Francis.
“...feed the flock of God which is among you, taking care of it, not by constraint, but willingly, according to God, not for filthy lucre’s sake, but voluntarily: neither as lording it over the clergy, but being made a pattern of the flock from the heart. And when the prince of pastors shall appear, you shall receive a never fading crown of glory.” First Letter of St Peter 5:2-4.
“Grant, we pray, almighty God, that no tempests may disturb us, for you have set us fast on the rock of the Apostle Peter’s confession of faith.”
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 February 2021

The Revelations of Julian of Norwich

April 29th, 2021

The Revelations of Julian of Norwich

The Revelations of Julian of Norwich
“Pray, even if you feel nothing, see nothing. For when you are dry, empty, sick or weak, at such a time is your prayer most pleasing to God, even though you may find little joy in it. This is true of all believing prayer.”
Lady Julian of Norwich
In 1974 I moved from Boston, where I’d been attending Boston University for art classes and Boston College for philosophy classes, to my hometown of Denver to begin the Art Department at Regis High School. I was 25 and not that much older than my students, and yet, I tried as best as I could to bring something to them. One elder teacher gave me wise advice : “They may not remember a thing you said, but they will remember that you loved them.” And I did - hoping they remember that now. A few Jesuits did not want to live in the large high school so a house was rented and five of us moved in. The house was very close - walking distance- to the school, and it was on Julian street...so it became Julian House. That same year one of my loving mentors Fr John Walsh sent me a British hard back copy of a book on Julian of Norwich, telling me in his note inside the book, “Dear Billy, you will love Julian. She is the most positive and joyful mystic of all, love, Fr Walsh.” Later I sent that book to another mentor and friend Fr James Janda. He was a magnificently gifted poet and had been very impressed by seeing Julie Harris in a one woman play about Emily Dickinson called, “The Belle of Amherst.” So he spent years researching Julian’s life, finding out she was a contemporary of Chaucer and the first known woman to write in Middle English and that she had survived 3 outbreaks of the Black Plague in England. He decided to write a one woman play about her and I was blessed to do the illustrations. The play “Julian” was published by Seabury Press in 1984. Just this past December my dear friend Mirabai Starr and my new friend Fr Matthew Fox did a series of inspiring talks and classes for Shift Network on Lady Julian. I joined them to discuss her on a “first bonus session” and that’s how I finally met Fr Matt. I believe the first available contemporary English translation was printed by Paulist Press in 1977. Mirabai has a beautiful translation “The Showings of Julian of Norwich,” 2013, Hampton Roads Press.
And Matthew just published “Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic and Beyond,” i Universe Press, 2020. I myself had illustrated the play I mentioned showing Julian as a middle aged woman, but I always wanted to show her as the young, bedridden woman just 30 years old. I finally got a commission to paint/write her icon. Since I make my living on this work - I go from commission to commission and can rarely take off to paint someone just because I love them... but I do sometimes anyway ! At 30 Julian had what we now call a NDE - near death experience. It lasted 3 days and when she emerged she began to write her short versions of the Revelations given to her by the Crucified Jesus. Later in her life as an Anchoress (female hermit) she expanded her work into a much longer version. Since that first edition of 1977 there are now numerous translations and luckily, many many books on Lady Julian.
Both TS Eliot and Thomas Merton were astonished by her theological depth and also her “seemingly effortless” ability to convey complex dogmatic - tightrope walks - to the ordinary reader as well as the theologian. She has been a part of my life since I was 25 and I have returned to her often. I could write pages on just how many ways she has influenced my paintings and images before I began my iconographic apprenticeship. But she seems especially available to us now as we live in our own “Anchorholds” during the continuing pandemic; none of us know when it will lift for good. If you want to know her yourself I’d suggest Mirabai’s translation which I mentioned above. I’ll end now with Julian’s final words in the play:
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.”
Kind friends,
I pray God grant you
all your good wishes,
desires, and dreams -
it is all in the choosing,
it is all in the asking.
From the play “Julian” by
Fr J. Janda (1936-2010)
Dear Lady Julian
Please help us now to live through these days when we’re not used to this endless seclusion. It makes us often frightened, irritable, tight, inflexible and then ... we become distant from ourselves and God. You chose relative solitude to listen for the voice of God.
And our patron this year, St Joseph, was given a hidden, secluded life to protect Mother and Child; and he was also schooled during his life to listen for the voice of God. Help us, calm us, teach us to wait and trust that God longs to love us evermore deeply and longs to speak with us in our hearts and souls, until our time on earth is completed and we are within God forever.
Amen
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 February 2021

Mother of Sacred Activism

January 22nd, 2021

Mother of Sacred Activism

Mother of Sacred Activism (with Eichenberg’s Christ of the Breadline)
“My book called ‘A Life of Jesus’ may cause surprise for American readers when they discover an interpretation of Jesus somewhat at odds with the image they now possess. Jesus as I depict him is a person who lived for love and still more love; and yet was put to death, for he chose to live without violent resistance. 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 - just as it was when people accepted Buddhism - responsive to one who ‘suffers with us’ and who ‘allows for our weakness,’ 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” by Shusaku Endo 1973
A few years ago the great British author of many books on universal mysticism, Andrew Harvey, decided to found an Institute of Sacred Activism, and he asked me to create an icon of a Black Madonna. When I’m not copying an existing icon, such as Our Lady of Yaroslavl, Vladimir or Mother of God Similar to Fire, I must imagine how to portray Our Mother. I saw this as a kind of Pentecost icon with Fritz Eichenberg’s powerful drawing he did for Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker, “Christ of the Breadline.” This image of Christ follows Shusako Endo’s Jesus who, as he said, “suffers with us.” The Black Madonna is surrounded by the blue flames of the Holy Spirit, and she brings the Church into a new era as we, today, begin a long and beautiful healing process. I wanted to show this icon for Dr Martin Luther King Day because he epitomizes the very concept of Sacred Activism. In fact he is the very definition of those words.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others ?’
...Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that . Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that...The time is always right to do what is right...Every man lives in two realms: the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live... We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 January 2021

Jesus - Listen and Pray

January 22nd, 2021

Jesus - Listen and Pray

Jesus : Listen and Pray
“Keep watch with prayer, so that you may not be put to the test: the spirit is ready but the flesh is feeble.”
Matthew 26:41 (Basic English Bible)
“He remained for some months in this state of tribulation, and bore it all with great courage, and with the firm hope that God would eventually console him in this grievous trial ... Though God permitted the devil to torment Joseph at this stage with various temptations, especially with that of mistrust, the Saint, nevertheless, remained steadfast, and always relied more upon God’s goodness. After he bore this desolation with patience and resignation and courageously resisted all the attacks and temptations of the evil one, the more did it please God to relieve him and reward him for his faithfulness.
As he was praying one night in his distress, Joseph perceived the Divine Voice itself, telling him of His love for him, and asserting that He had never forsaken him, but had always been at his side, assisting him by means of His grace. The voice was permeated with a remarkable sweetness, and in the fullness of his consolation Joseph gave way to tears. His mind was very much enlightened during this manifestation, and he gave praise and thanksgiving to God for consoling him in such a sublime manner, and for restoring him to his original state of peace.”
Maria Cecilia Baij, OSB (1743-1766)
The Life of St Joseph, page 38
After my heart collapse on 27 April 2012, I had open heart surgery on the feast of St Norbert, June 6. As a 19 year old Novice, I requested to see a therapist at St Louis U and it turned out he was a Behaviorist following the controversial work of BF Skinner. He asked me if I wanted to try shock therapy (now called “conversion therapy”) to change my sexuality. I thought to myself if God wanted to change me I could submit to Him and in 1968, this was my limited wisdom, and therapy was completely new to me. Luckily, the doctor placed the electrodes on my ankles, not my head. During one of many sessions, I received over 70 shocks, 110 volts. To make a long story short it didn’t work. An older kind Jesuit Father and mentor told me to stop; that God had made me this way, and I’d learn later, that he was trying to say, I’d have to wait to see all the gifts that would come from just being myself; accepting who God made me to be. The doctor told me I had the strongest resistance to pain he’d ever seen. I think that’s enough about that for now...
I remember telling the brilliant heart Doctor that morning in June 2012, that I had a very strong resistance to pain and I’d be okay. He gave me a look I’ll never forget, as if to say, you have no idea what you’re saying. He was right. But a week later I was back in my studio in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico (17 miles north of Taos) and some weeks after, in July I was longing to paint Jesus. I did this small 5”x7” image, based on a beautiful illustration I’d seen on a greeting card, I added three stars for the Trinity. It was such a joyful experience to be back to painting. I knew I had to keep it simple and I knew the scripture (watch and pray) was connected to the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, so I changed the title to Listen and Pray because, once again, I was longing to hear from God - “Why did I come back ? What hadn’t I finished ?” What kept coming to me was that I hadn’t gotten the images and icons into the world yet, they were still sitting on a website, most, unseen. I kept asking, listening, and it was always the same answer. So (thankfully) my sister Marjory McNichols Wilson, a professional artist, took two months and put all 300+ on Fine Art America. I’ve taken some “close” criticism, that I’m pushing myself, but the message I heard was that the images and icons do not belong to me. God gave them to me to give to whoever needs them, or whoever wants to receive them.
Then many things came my way without me doing a thing. My friend Christopher Summa wanted to make a film about the icons and images, and my friend John Dadosky wanted to write a book for UNM Press, Kathy Hendricks my childhood friend and I collaborated on a book called “Heavenly Friends.” All this happened and many more gifts have come my way ... right now my friend Christopher Pramuk and I are working on a book about the drawings and images, with a few icons too. All of this is about now...I mean this time in life. Inside the continuing pandemic of Covid and inside the continuing pandemic of an attempted insurrection, by sadly misled and some vulnerable people, and when I watched them, I thought I “know” some of these people, they’re not really monsters. I also saw some fatally proud people who’d rather see bloody mayhem than admit they made a wrong choice; following a cult of lies. I actually painted an icon of Jesus around this theme called “Jesus Christ Holy Forgiveness.” It’s so simple to say you’re sorry and have made a mistake, but I know some people are incapable of that simplicity. And while I was living in Manhattan, a wise Franciscan told me in Confession, that you must forgive everyone but if someone is continually abusive, you don’t have to let them back into your life. In fact if you do, you are contributing to their sin, against you. Almost all accounts of Near Death Experiences contain a story of a “life review” of every single moment of your life, including every far reaching good effect of your actions and every far reaching effect of your negative actions. They say, in these accounts, Jesus is with you and yet, you judge yourself . I’ve always loved the quote from Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see, in the world ...” but I like all of us, I am capable of self-deception . During this time I’ve been going through this life review, on purpose, to try and look at both. The point is not to wallow in your past faults or sins, but to see them honestly as well as your gifts and ability to love; and keep trying to love. Now at 71, I clearly see we are here for such a brief time. I see this year of St Joseph as a healing balm. The “hidden years” or hidden life of Jesus, is part of the good we are being given now. I am so grateful to Pope Francis that to honor and invoke St Joseph, he didn’t make it just a week or month but a year. I’d like to close with another poem from the Hospice years...
Of the Tao/ Of Jesus
Of the Tao
it is always said:
“Those who speak
do not know;
those who know
do not speak.”
One marvels at
the cleanliness of
this crisp seed,
this secret chamber
of transformation.
One feels a reverence
for the mystery and
anxiety over the
discipline of initiation.
Of Jesus
there is no end
to the speaking.
His name is cast about
today as currency ...
Indeed for some evangelists
He is only profit.
But for children
of the kingdom
there are no words
to describe
being near Him.
He is comfort
He is safety
He is solitude
He is communion.
There are no words
to describe
being near Him.
His discipline is light -
followed from crib to cross.
This intimacy with God
awakens transfiguration.
(1986)
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 January 2021

San Jose Sombra del Padre

January 22nd, 2021

San Jose Sombra del Padre

San Jose’ Sombra del Padre (A blessed New Year of St Joseph !)
“If earthly princes consider it a matter of so much importance to select carefully a tutor fit for their children, think you that the Eternal God would not, in his almighty power and wisdom, choose from out of his creation the most perfect man living (St Joseph) to be the guardian of his divine and most glorious Son, the Prince of heaven and earth?”
... And more “Joseph-like” wisdom from the deeply holy Bishop of Geneva, (21 August 1567- 28 December 1622), who was given an abundance of Holy Wisdom during his life, by the Holy Spirit, extremely relevant for us now ...
“Never be in a hurry; do everything in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset...Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength... Have patience with all things, but, first of all with yourself...Do not wish to be anything but who you are, and try to be that perfectly.”
St Francis de Sales ⚜️ (Bishop of Geneva feastday 24 January)
Looking for words about St Joseph, I came across these quotes from the brilliant Francis de Sales. This icon (with the Spanish title for St Joseph Shadow of the Father) was one of 4 icons commissioned by the late Fr Paul Locatelli, SJ, for the University of Santa Clara. Paul had a great devotion to St Joseph rooted in his Italian heritage, and I’m sure he’s with him now; both interceding for us during this very difficult time. But along with all the many heartbreaks and challenges, we have also been given by Pope Francis, a year of St Joseph as our teacher, guide, protector, patron of a happy death(s) and as St Teresa of Avila called him - the great teacher of contemplative prayer. The symbolism within this icon is that God the Father (dressed in salmon and green) is holding a cloak of night to protect Joseph (green garment) and the Holy Child, who is wearing a salmon color to indicate that he is God, Incarnate. I often place the Moon in an icon, which is a symbol in Catholicism of Our Mother Mary; being the reflected light of her Son. The Child sleeps safely, calmly, in his father’s arms, assured of his powerful love. I think I’m saying at this time, through this icon, that your soul is now in Joseph’s Year, like the Child, echoing Psalm 131 but instead of a child safely in his mother’s arms, as in the Psalm, this time its the father, Joseph. Back in time, during the AIDS pandemic I was continually blessed with prayer/poems that helped me understand and cope with all the tragic young deaths. I was 33-40 during those years. I’d like to share one of these poems that express the hidden life of the Holy Family in Nazareth as a school. It’s called ...
“The Pearl Sutra”
When I think of
the Child at home,
my heart and soul
wax eloquent.
And so the words
“hidden life”
represent not just
a portion or phase
of the Savior’s work,
but call up in me
a command
to be taken
as urgently
as the public life
which follows.
This call to
School in Nazareth
is such mitigating balm
to cover vengeful
vainglory,
to shatter those
delusions
all in the Way of the Tao
or Therese’s “little way”
or Francis’s street theater.
But most of all
it is the teaching of
the Child ...
the way of
the little kingdom
spoken of as the
pearl
still being born
in the shell.
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 1985 ... and more about Joseph all of this year 💮
“Our Lord would have us understand that as He was subject to St Joseph on earth - so now in Heaven Our Lord grants all his petitions.”
St Teresa of Avila

Down In Yon Forest

January 22nd, 2021

Down In Yon Forest

“Down In Yon Forest” (Repos de Jesus) Illustration, 1987
When Joan Baez put out her Christmas album “Noel”
in 1966, I heard the song “Down In Yon Forest.” There is
also a most solemn version of the song on Bruce Cockburn’s album,
“Christmas” released in 1993. But “Noel” had a hauntingly lovely
refrain “...and I love my Lord Jesus above anything.” This line runs
through the song creating a beautiful, prayerful mantra.
When I moved to Brooklyn in 1980 to attend Pratt Institute for Art,
I saw this joyful Infant Crib in the Metropolitan Museum
of Art in Manhattan. I used to visit it all the time and I knew
A Most Holy, Hopeful and Blessed Christmas
I had the perfect image for a Christmas card I illustrated and printed in 1987. The Little Bed of the Infant Jesus, entitled “Repos de Jesus”
is from Brabant, in the South of the Netherlands. It was carved and painted, so obviously out of love, in the 15th century around
the same time they think the song was first written.
.
Fr William Hart McNichols
Down In Yon Forest
Down in yon forest there stands a hall
The bells of paradise I hear them ring,
It’s covered all over with purple and pall,
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.
In that hall there stands a bed
The bells of paradise I hear them ring,
It’s covered all over with scarlet so red,
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything
At the bedside there lies a stone
The bells of paradise I hear them ring,
Which sweet Virgin Mary knelt upon,
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.
At the bed’s foot there grows a thorn
The bells of paradise I hear them ring,
Which ever blows blossom since He was born,
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.
Over the bed the moon shines bright
The bells of paradise I hear them ring,
Denoting Our Saviour was born this night,
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.
Traditional English carol c. 1500

Our Lady of the New Advent - The Burning Bush

January 22nd, 2021

Our Lady of the New Advent - The Burning Bush

Our Lady of the New Advent : The Burning Bush
“I beg you, dear children,
beginning today,
start to love,
with a burning love,
the love with which I love you.”
Message of Medjugorje, May 29, 1986
“O resplendent Virgin, here on the miraculous mountain
cleft everywhere by dazzling wonders,
and which all the faithful climb;
behold them with your merciful eye of love...”
“On this mountain, the Lord of
hosts will prepare a
banquet of rich food. On this
mountain the
mourning veil covering all peoples,
and the shroud enwrapping all nations,
He will destroy death forever.
The Lord will wipe away tears
from every cheek, He will take away
His people’s shame everywhere on earth,
for the Lord has said so ...”
Isaiah 25:6-8
“Now Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, the priest of Midian,
and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb,
the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of
fire from within a Bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight - why the bush does not burn up.’”
Exodus 3:1-4
Some of the most beautiful icons of the Mother of God entitled “The Burning Bush” are referring to this miraculous apparition in Exodus. Mary is literally filled with God and does not burn up. I think this is also a unique way to look at one of my favorite icons called, “Mother of God Similar to Fire.” I was extraordinarily blessed by Archbishop (now Cardinal) Stafford to create two icons of Our Lady of the New Advent; the first for the Archdiocese of Denver, and the second one you’re seeing now, for St John Paul II, which I was asked to give him at World Youth Day, 14 August 1993. The first is in Denver and this one is part of the Vatican Museum. The day I gave it to St John Paul, eventually began changes and understandings that are still, after all these years, unfolding for me. But the most precious honor bestowed on these icons is that Archbishop Stafford asked St John Paul for a Feastday of Our Lady of the New Advent and was given the day before the ancient “O Antiphons” begin, 16 December. Thanks to Pope Francis, creating a year of Joseph, I feel like we’ve got St Joseph as a guide, every day now. And I fully expect personal as well as world changes because of this consecrated year. I invite you to let St Joseph be your companion too. I can’t tell you exactly how to do this, except to simply say yes and ask him. St Teresa of Avila in a chapter on St Joseph in her autobiography will fill you in on all that Joseph will bring you . Just ask. This probably would never have happened without Pope Francis love of Joseph. He has made famous and available, at Church Goods Stores everywhere, a statue of the Sleeping Joseph (or you can order this statue online). He says before he goes to sleep, he puts all the pains and troubles of our pilgrim church under the statue, and lets Joseph take over. You can do this too, with any of your worries and troubles. Pope Francis’ Birthday happens to be 17 December which is also the feastdays of St Lazarus of Bethany and Holy New Martyr Nestor Savchuk. I have also been blessed to paint/write icons of both of these saints.
St John Paul II called the last years of the twentieth century, the New Advent, and he prayed the coming of the third millennium of Christianity would bring a New Evangelization, a new springtime of faith. After meeting him in 1993, I felt like my work should strive to be part of the New Evangelization, whether it be images or icons. As St Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel always, and sometimes use words.”
Happy Feastday of Our Lady of the New Advent and abundant blessings (and surprises, even in the midst of painful times) of this year of St Joseph !
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 16 December 2020

St Joseph Shadow of the Father

January 22nd, 2021

St Joseph Shadow of the Father

St Joseph Shadow of the Father
“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven...”
Matthew 18:18
“With the Apostolic Letter ‘Patris corde’ (With a Father’s Heart), Pope Francis recalls the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. To mark the occasion, the Holy Father has proclaimed a ‘Year of St Joseph’ from today, 8 December 2020, to 8 December 2021.”
Vatican News
“When we are introduced to the mystery of Joseph we also quickly understand a point. We realize that Mary has a most important role to play in the discovery of Joseph. She sets Jesus himself directly on the new road when she tells him: ‘Your father and I have been searching for you.’ (Luke 2:48). Indeed, one must make a journey in the very footsteps of Jesus: the effect of these words is that Jesus accepts to make a disconcerting descent. This descent strikes me very much personally and I would like others to share the remarkable impression it makes on me. I am deeply convinced that Mary is saying to each one of us these few words we have often read or heard without attention: ‘Your father and I have been searching for you ...’ What do they mean? Jesus himself does not appear to have accepted them straightaway! As a result of these words, his whole person will, as it were, keel over, from a high point of splendor to an apparently lowly, pitiable one where his Father is waiting for him, where his Father wants him to be for so many years. If Mary is speaking to me also in those same terms, as I cannot help but believe, what does she wish to tell me ?
What must I do?”
From the book “St Joseph Shadow of the Father “ by Fr Andre’ Doze 1992.
I could quote just about any page from Fr Doze’s book and you’d be led into a prayer. I haven’t read it since I painted/wrote, this icon in 1992. So today I went back to it and was bowled over again, by its depth and availability. I wish I could send one to everyone who is reading this, but it’s hard to get now. Maybe used copies are available, or hopefully the publishers will give it to us again in honor of this consecrated year.
Sometimes there are announcements that hit you hard immediately, but they are more often frightening like the first mention of GRID (AIDS) in the New York Times, in July of 1981; or the first mention of Covid 19, and the tragic catastrophe of 9/11. We feel something similar instantaneously. When I heard that starting today, this year will be dedicated to Joseph I was hit hard in a very hopeful and exhilarating way. I felt the same thing when St John Paul II wrote his Apostolic Letter, “Tertio Millennio Adveniente” 10 November 1994. He dedicated the last three years of the 20th century to the Holy Trinity; 97 to Jesus, 98 to the Holy Spirit and 99 to the Father. The year 2000 would be a Eucharistic Year to start the coming millennium.
Recently, I was told by my cousin Kathi that I might like the Netflix film “Messiah” which was supposed to be a series but was cut to only 10 episodes. If she hadn’t told me I’d have never seen it. Although Piero Pasolini’s Jesus, Enrique Irazoqui, will always be my favorite Jesus on film, the portrayal of Jesus returning today by Medhi Dehbi illuminated the Gospels for me more than any film about Jesus. If your not familiar with the Gospels you can miss just about everything. But if you are, it’s a brilliant, subtle retelling that had me watching 7 episodes one night and 3 the next. Although there may be troubling parts of the script for some, I found even the troubling parts set me wondering; what is faith ? I bring this up because it’s about the Divine coming literally to earth again and what happens ? What or who changes ? What is rejected ? What lasts forever...? What will then, happen when a year is dedicated to St Joseph ? What difference does it make ? All these questions are explored too, in the Messiah. Especially, again, what is faith ? And how does it affect people who have watched for centuries the horrors brought on by christians? Rabbi Heschel’s daughter Susannah Heschel, has written a tragically brilliant book about these effects, “The Aryan Jesus : Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany.” There are always individuals who keep faith, are trusting in what they experienced, and then manage to awaken others from the nightmare of isolation. It’s similar in a way to now, with all the deaths throughout the world from Covid 19 people while dying, barely able to speak, can say how can I be dying from a hoax? To return to this icon, people often ask why Joseph and the Child are dressed in red and why the dove on the Child’s hand ? Is this a symbol of the earthly Trinity ? The answer is at that time, I was reading about the 13th of October Apparition at Fatima in 1917. I learned that before that day, Our Lady of Fatima had promised Joseph would come and bring peace. He did come and he and the Child were wearing red. Joseph always brings a sense of inner peace, even though, or because, his own life was a daily walk in faith. Pope Francis has summoned Joseph again for a year long stay with us. What will he bring this time, along with Mother and Child ? Adrienne von Speyr’s portrait of Joseph in her “Book of All Saints,” taught me something invaluable about Joseph’s prayer, that we can adapt to our own prayer. For Joseph, just to watch Mary and the Child was prayer. To watch her bathe, feed or simply hold Him. I then wrote this prayer for the icon:
St Joseph
In the night
you teach a
hidden way of
retreat in silence,
in obedience
to your dreams.
But by day,
you lead us
in a prayer,
which is simply
to watch
Mother with
Child
Amen
8 December 2020 💮 the Year with St Joseph

Hagia Sophia Crowning the Youthful Christ

January 22nd, 2021

Hagia Sophia Crowning the Youthful Christ

Hagia Sophia Crowning the Youthful Christ
“Wisdom will honor you if you embrace Her. She will place on your head a fair garland; She will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”
Proverbs 4:8-9
“When I was still a youth, before I went traveling, in my prayers I asked outright for Wisdom. Outside the sanctuary I would pray for Her, and to the last I shall continue to seek Her...by bowing my ear a little, I have received Her, and have found much instruction. Thanks to her I have advanced; glory be to Him who has given me Wisdom...Come close to me, take your place in my school. Why complain about lacking these things when your souls are so thirsty for them?
...My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes. Cling to Him and do not leave Him, so that you may be honored at the end of your days... Look at the generations of old and see: who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? Or who ever called on Him, was forsaken? Or who ever called on Him and was ignored? For the Lord is compassionate and merciful, He forgives sins and saves in the time of distress...”
Ecclesiasticus (from chapters 51 and 2)
It is the Eve of the Second Advent, 2020. I say Second Advent because we’ve been in this Advent since the Ascension of Christ. Before his birth was the First Advent. I’m going to concentrate on icons of (Sophianic) Wisdom during these (always too short for me !) 4 weeks leading up to the Birth of Jesus. I’ve already introduced one, “The Advent of Hagia Sophia.” Because of our more trained-logical nature and schooling in the West, we are not comfortable with concepts like Holy Sophia or Holy Shekhinah (see Rabbi Leah’s beautiful introduction “On the Wings of Shekhinah, 2008). We want exact definitions that we can understand. Yet this also evades us when we try to understand the Holy Spirit or the Holy Trinity. So it’s frustrating for us to be told, you just have to wait patiently, while contemplating these mysteries and allow God to reveal something to you. And just know, it’s been the same journey for me since I first encountered Sophia in 1990 when I began my iconographic apprenticeship. Why Sophia for this year which has been so awfully distressful with so many violent divisions, sicknesses, deaths and for so many, extreme loneliness?
I hope these images I’m going to offer you may begin to answer that question.
Now I’m going to let my dear friend and author, Christopher Pramuk introduce you to this icon for the first week of Advent, 2020.
One day in early 1959, Thomas Merton was visiting with his friends, the Viennese-born artist and printmaker Victor Hammer and his wife Carolyn, at their home in Lexington, Kentucky. As the three sat together at lunch, Merton noticed a triptych that Victor had painted, its central panel depicting the boy Christ being crowned by a dark-haired woman. As the artist would later recall, Merton, while looking at the image, “asked quite abruptly, ‘And who is the woman behind Christ?’” Victor replied, “I do not know yet.” Without further question, “Merton gave his own answer. ‘She is Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom, who crowns Christ.’ And this she was—and is.” Some days later Victor wrote to Merton, asking him to expand on his response. Merton obliges in a letter of May 14, 1959:
The first thing to be said, of course, is that Hagia Sophia is God Himself. God is not only a Father but a Mother. He is both at the same time. . . . To ignore this distinction is to lose touch with the fullness of God. This is a very ancient intuition of reality which goes back to the oldest Oriental thought. . . . For the “masculine-feminine” relationship is basic in all reality—simply because all reality mirrors the reality of God.
As the letter continues, Merton’s thoughts seem to spill onto the page as if by stream of consciousness. His friend’s inquiry seems to have unlocked a kind of floodgate in him.
Hagia Sophia, Merton explains, is “the dark, nameless Ousia [Being]” of God, not one of the Three Divine Persons, but each “at the same time, are Sophia and manifest her.” She is “the Tao, the nameless pivot of all being and nature. . . , that which is the smallest and poorest and most humble in all.” She is “the ‘feminine child’ playing before God the Creator in His universe, ‘playing before Him at all times, playing in the world’ (Proverbs 8.” Above all, Sophia is the Love and Mercy of God coming to birth in us. “In the sense that God is Love, is Mercy, is Humility, is Hiddenness,” writes Merton, “He shows Himself to us within ourselves as our own poverty . . . and if we receive the humility of God into our hearts, we become able to . . . love this very poverty, which is Himself and His Sophia.” And then Merton speaks more directly to Victor, who had shared details with him about the genesis of the painting. “The story you tell of its growth is very interesting and revealing and I am sure Hagia Sophia herself was guiding you in the process, for it is she who guides all true artists, and without her they are nothing.”
As he concludes the letter, Merton seems to realize that their conversation has given birth to something significant. He asks his friend, who had printed a number of first editions of Merton’s poetry on his hand press, “Maybe we could make a little broadsheet on Sophia, with the material begun here???” This is precisely what would happen. In January 1962, the prose poem Hagia Sophia came to print in a stunning limited edition on Victor Hammer’s press, with the artist’s icon illustrating the text. The poem would finally become the centerpiece of the collection Emblems of a Season of Fury, published in the same year.
Why place “Hagia Sophia,” an enigmatic poem evoking the feminine divine, at the very center of a collection that includes devastating poems on racism (“And the Children of Birmingham”), genocide (“Chant to Be Used in Processions around a Site with Furnaces”), and political oppression (“A Picture of Lee Ying”)? Why is faith in Sophia, as Merton suggests, “the great stabilizer for peace” in an era of unspeakable suffering and violence, not least violence against the earth? In a word: why Sophia? And I think the answer has to do with hope, that is to say, faith’s affirmation of divine and human possibilities even, if not especially, in those places and moments that seem by all rational accounts God-forsaken, devoid of hope, void of life, of goodness, of humanity. She is the Child who is prisoner in all the people, and who says nothing. . . She smiles, for though they have bound her, she cannot be a prisoner.
The constellation of influences and events over the course of many years by which the poem Hagia Sophia would gestate and finally come to birth in Merton can teach us something beautiful, it seems to me, about how God works in each of us: by invitation and by stealth, if you will, never by coercion, drawing us with mercy and patience toward the way of peace, truth, and nonviolence. Indeed, given Merton’s artistic sensibilities, it is not surprising that a significant “flash point” or pivotal realization of Sophia into his consciousness would come as he gazed on a work of sacred art. “It is she who guides all true artists,” as Merton tells his friend, “and without her they are nothing.” But with her, as Merton implies, the artist comes alive in each of us.
“There lives the dearest freshness deep down things,” writes the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. In other words, grace builds on nature. Human beings—through “God’s Art and Incarnation” coming to birth in each of us—must learn to labor with God in and through “found materials,” in the ordinary and utterly unique stuff of our own lives. Not least, we are called to work in creative harmony with the beautiful, suffering Earth and all of her creatures. Like Merton, we must learn to read the signs of the times with penetration.
And with Her, learning to hear and trust in Her voice, we can begin again to respond to the crises of our times with receptivity and creativity, generosity and hope.
Deep is the ocean, boundless sweetness, kindness, humility, silence of wisdom that is not abstract, disconnected, fleshless. Awakening us gently when we have exhausted ourselves to night and to sleep. O Dawn of Wisdom!
~ journal, July 2, 1960
Faith in Sophia, natura naturans, the great stabilizer today—for peace.
The basic hope that people have that man will somehow not be completely destroyed is hope in natura naturans.
—The dark face, the “night face” of Sophia—pain, trouble, pestilence.
~ journal entry, January 1961
His rebellion is the rebellion of life against inertia, of mercy and love against tyranny, of humanity against cruelty and arbitrary violence. And he calls upon the feminine, the wordless, the timelessly moving elements to witness his sufferings. Earth hears him.
~ “Prometheus: A Meditation,” 1960

La Gloriosa Venida de Cristo Rey

January 22nd, 2021

La Gloriosa Venida de Cristo Rey

La Gloriosa Venida de Cristo Rey (The Glorious Coming of Christ the King)
“For as lightning flashes and lights go up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in His day.”
Luke 17:24
“...Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to our leaders. But my kingdom is not of this world.’ “
John 18:36
All through my life as an iconographer, I have wanted to portray the second coming or return, of Christ the King. Through the vision and insight of the late Fr Paul Locatelli, SJ the former president of the University of Santa Clara de Asis, and the Jesuit community at the University, I was given the blessed opportunity. That’s why I set this scene, this return, in Santa Clara, California.
St. John Paul II’s inspiration to call the time of his papacy “the New Advent,” appeared at the very beginning of his first encyclical, “Redemptor Hominis,” In 1979. Two years before in 1977, the prophetic theologian William Stringfellow had published two articles (still available) of great power, wisdom, and Biblical insight about how Christians are to live in the Second Advent of the Lord. Stringfellow wrote, concerning the two Advents, “The manger scene itself is a political portrait of the whole of creation restored in the dominion of Jesus Christ in which every creature, every tongue and tribe, every rule and authority, every nation and principality is reconciled in a homage to the Word of God incarnate.” From “A Keeper of the Word : Selected Writings of William Stringfellow “ edited by Bill Wylie Kellerman, see also “William Stringfellow: Essential Writings (Modern Spiritual Masters) Orbis Press.
Apparitions of the Mother of God in Fatima, Amsterdam, Akita, Japan, Bosnia, Medjugorje, Rwanda, Africa all point to a prayer for peace and for a longing (equal to the first Advent) for the Returning Christ the King. Probably the most dramatic, loving and radiant of these revelations in our own time have been to St Faustina Kowalska asking for a deep trust and devotion to His Divine Mercy. Jesus calls all of us to stay awake with our lamps lit awaiting Him, Our Lord and Bridegroom. In the sacrament of Baptism we are all anointed as kings and queens of a kingdom that, as we say in the Nicene Creed, will never end. This is not just a kind endearing fairy tale fantasy but literally the truth.
“High above, he set his tabernacle for the sun, who comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber.” Psalm 19
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse ! He who sat on it is called Faithful and True...He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name He is called is The Word of God...on His robe and on His thigh He has a name inscribed, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.” Revelation 19: 11, 13,16
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8
Advent begins in just one week, November 29 !
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 22 November 2020
“Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!”
Revelation 22:20

St Elizabeth of Hungary

January 22nd, 2021

St Elizabeth of Hungary

St Elizabeth of Hungary 💮 (7 July 1207 - 17 November 1231)
“We must give God what we have, gladly and with joy.” St Elizabeth
“What is sanctity but the mystery of beauty?” Nesta de Robeck (1886-1983)
“She was known
for
mismanagement
and
giving away
food and clothes
to the poor
who
bloomed as
extravagantly
as
meadow flowers
both of which
sustained
her but Louis
needed roses
red
and white
to
confirm whom
his
wife found
Christ
suffering
and reigning
and
hiding in all”
By Fr Jim Janda (30 March 1936 - 7 August 2010)
I think it was a year or so before she died that Elizabeth found a boy suffering with scurvy and she nursed him back to health. That boy is shown with her in this illustration I did for my dear friend, Fr Jim Janda and his delicately inviting and loving poem.
I have been a great fan of Nesta de Robeck’s lives of Franciscan saints, (Francis, Clare and Elizabeth) and her book on the The Christmas Crib - which tells the true story of how the crib came into being. St Francis did not invent the crib, but “downsized” it. I know there are lots of books on these 3 saints but Nesta’s biographies are so appealing to me, especially her 1953 book of St Elizabeth, “Saint Elizabeth of Hungary: A Story of Twenty-four Years.” Here is a description of Elizabeth’s brief life by another great writer on saints, Robert Ellsberg from his wonderful book “Blessed Among Us : Day by Day With Saintly Witnesses.”
“St Elizabeth, the daughter of Hungarian royalty, was betrothed as a child of four to Ludwig, the nine year old prince of Thuringia in southern Germany. Despite this arrangement, the two children established a close friendship that eventually blossomed into a loving marriage. Elizabeth bore three children. But Ludwig’s family disapproved of her piety (she had become a Franciscan tertiary) and especially her ‘excessive’ charity toward the poor and sick. Ignoring their wishes she opened the royal granaries during a time of famine. This won her the people’s devotion, though such generosity made her an object of scorn among the elite members of the court.
In 1227 Ludwig embarked on a Crusade and died on his journey. In a paroxysm of grief, Elizabeth cried, ‘The world is dead to me, and all that was joyous in the world.’ Without her husband’s protection, she was forced to leave the palace on a winter night, carrying nothing but her newborn child. She accepted shelter in a pig shed.
Eventually to avoid scandal, she was provided with a simple cottage, where she supported herself by spinning and fishing. Otherwise, she visited the sick in their homes or in the hospices she had endowed. Over time, her reputation for holiness spread, and she earned the grudging respect of those who had persecuted her. She died on November 17, 1231, at the age of twenty-four. She was canonized less than four years later.”
Very few married couples are both canonized, and Blessed Louis, or Ludwig is commemorated on 11 September. There are many tales and miracles around the story of Elizabeth. One legend I always like to remember is that Francis was still alive when Elizabeth became a Third Order Franciscan. She asked some traveling Franciscan Friars to bring her something from Francis. He sent his shawl which she wrapped round her while she prayed, and claimed that God always answered her wrapped in Francis’ garment. We have a wonderful group of women at our church of St Joseph on the Rio Grande, who knit shawls for anyone who is sick. So, because of Elizabeth’s story I asked them for a green one, so when I pray I still use it. I should also tell you there is a beautiful oratorio by Franz Liszt called The Legend of St Elizabeth, here’s a review:
“Mahler admired this piece very much, but it has not received anything like the attention it deserves. This is,in fact, it’s only recording, and thank heaven, it’s such a fine one. St Elizabeth of Hungary, is one of the patron saints of the poor and downtrodden. A woman of uncompromising goodness and strength, she suffers a series of misfortunes (she loses her husband in a war, gets thrown out of her home by her mother-in-law, has her children taken away) but retains her faith until her death in utter poverty. Liszt had a strong social conscience, he cared about the poor, and he lavished an enormous amount of care on this moving tribute to their divine protector. It may be something of a curiosity, but it’s a worthy one.”
David Hurwitz
Dearest St Elizabeth,
You suffered so much deeply personal loss and abuse during your brief life.
And yet, you could find the holy motivation and strength to care for the sick; like the little boy you sheltered and healed with your attending love.
Be with us now as we are suffering with this pandemic.
Help us do whatever we can to heal one another.
Amen
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 for the “new/changed feast” of St Elizabeth, 19 November

The Advent of Hagia Sophia

January 22nd, 2021

The Advent of Hagia Sophia

The Advent of Hagia Sophia
“Into this happy night
In secret, seen of none,
Nor saw I aught,
Without other light or guide,
Save that which in my heart did burn..”
San Juan de la Cruz (John of the Cross)
“She it was I loved and have searched for from my youth;
I resolved to have her as my bride,
I fell in love with her beauty.
Her closeness to God lends lustre to her noble birth,
since the Lord of All has loved her.
Yes she is an initiate in the mysteries of God’s knowledge,
making choice of the works He is to do.
If in this life wealth be a desirable possession,
what is more wealthy than Wisdom whose work is everywhere ?
...I am your servant, child of your serving maid,
a feeble man with little time to live...
Despatch Her from the holy heavens, send
Her forth from your throne of glory to help me
and toil with me and teach me what is
pleasing to you, since
She knows and understands everything.
She will guide me prudently in my undertakings
and protect me by Her glory.
That all I do will be acceptable...
As for your intention, who could have learned it, had you
not granted Wisdom and sent your
Holy Spirit from above ? Thus have the paths of those
on earth been straitened and people have been taught
what pleases you, and saved,
by Wisdom.”
From The Book of Wisdom, chapters 8,9 (Jerusalem Bible)
“I recommend to you the virtues of courage, which defends science
in a world marked by doubt, alienated from truth, and in need of meaning;
and humility, through which we recognize the finiteness of reason before
Truth which transcends it. These are the virtues of Albert the great.”
St John Paul II
“One of the myriad natural subjects to interest St Albert was that of individual differences. What makes each one of us unique?”
From St Albert the Great by Kevin Vost
The feast of St Albert the Great, a Doctor of the Church, November 15, marks 40 days until Christmas. We always get 40 days of Lent before Easter, but it seems never enough time to really prepare spiritually for Jesus’ birth. So for years, I have begun this preparation on St Albert’s day. Because he was a scientist, dedicated to Biblical Wisdom, he is a very important intercessor this year, when the world has been asked by the scientific community to listen and follow their advice about protection against Covid 19.
“St Albert from his heavenly eminence, can appreciate exactly the task of scientific research. He did a great deal of it himself, not only in one subject, but in the whole field of science, which today is divided into so many specialties. St Albert’s specialty was no less than ‘everything created.’ He wrote on botany, mineralogy, astronomy, physics, chemistry, anthropology, cosmography, and other subjects. No single science escaped his attention... On December 16, 1941, Pope Pius XII designated St Albert the Great as patron of all who engage in scientific studies. As such, he is the special Saint for researchers, technologists, and all who engage professionally in any of the sciences, as well as those who study science.”
From “The 35 Doctors of the Church” by Christopher Rengers, OFM, Cap.
To quote Mr Vost again on St Albert, “What makes each of us unique ?”
One of the things is our relationship with God. Because each of us is unique, God treats us in an absolutely unique way. And God comes to each of us in such a loving and beautifully touching way, as well. How will you spiritually prepare for Advent and Christmas this year ? There are nearly infinite ways and you get to imagine and find your own unique way. Maybe read the above mentioned book on St Albert the Great ? Or pray a Rosary every day, in the car for all the Holy Souls passing into God stricken by this pandemic. Or maybe pray in your own way, especially for all the doctors, nurses, and those on the frontlines who are beyond exhausted as we face a massive surge of infections. Or find ways to physically help some one who is carrying a heavy burden.
I have heard so many people say that during this time of quarantine they have become aware of past cruelties they have endured or caused. We can write them down and go to Confession, ( I have always loved Confession, but I know it’s not that way for everyone...find an understanding Confessor if possible ) or find another way to stop carrying these heavy burdens in this time when we are overwhelmed by so much already. As Our Lord said “Come to me, all you who are weary and overburdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
The Holy Spirit who never goes backwards, and is capable of inspiring infinite possibilities will, I promise you, guide you in your imaginative, creative or simple choice of how to live this Advent of 2020. Every year calls for a new way to return God’s love. I remember so fondly, the organization founded during the AIDS pandemic in New York City, who delivered food to those who could not get out, they are still at work and call themselves: “God’s Love - We Deliver !”
Finally a quote from our New Advent Heavenly Friend and Pope Pius XII :
“You should make your heart like your neighbor’s heart, so that when he is happy you are happy, and you grieve with him when he is grieving.”
St Albert the Great
“May St Albert, who in his own very difficult times proved by his wonderful work that science and faith can flourish harmoniously in people, through his powerful intercession with God, arouse the hearts and minds of those who devote themselves to the sciences, to a peaceful and orderly use of the natural forces, the laws of which, divinely established, they investigate and seek after.”
Pope Pius XII
Dearest Friend St Albert,
how much we love you and seek after your holy wisdom and infinite curiosity about our blessed world, St Francis called, Mother Earth. Help us lay down our heavy burdens so that we can live through our own “very difficult time” of this pandemic. And, dear friend, also continue to inspire us with new hope, new joy and most of all, new love for God and one another.
Amen
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 November 2020

The Proskynesis of St Stanislaus Kostka

January 22nd, 2021

The Proskynesis of St Stanislaus Kostka

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

The Souls of the Just Are In The Hands of God

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”
“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.”
Wisdom 3:1-9
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

St Martin de Porres

January 22nd, 2021

St Martin de Porres

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.”
Wikipedia
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.”
Giuliana Cavallini
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

Our Lady of Silence

January 22nd, 2021

Our Lady of Silence

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.
Amen.”
Fr Bill McNichols 💮 October 2020

Seraphic Father Francis

January 22nd, 2021

Seraphic Father Francis

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
Perfect charity.
Lord give me insight and wisdom
So I might always discern your
Holy and true will.”
Amen
St Francis from the cd Troubadour of the Great King
Fr William Hart McNichols for the Season of St Francis 💮 2020

St Padre Pio - Mother Pelican

January 22nd, 2021

St Padre Pio - Mother Pelican

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

Environmental Prophet Rachel Carson- after the artist Hiroshige

January 22nd, 2021

Environmental Prophet Rachel Carson- after the artist Hiroshige

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. “
Rachel Carson
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

Our Lady of Sorrows and The Triumph of the Cross

January 22nd, 2021

Our Lady of Sorrows and The Triumph of the Cross

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.

She Who Hears the Cries of the World - Birthday of Mary the Mother of God

January 22nd, 2021

She Who Hears the Cries of the World - Birthday of Mary the Mother of God

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...”
Luke 1:35
“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...”
Romans 8:26
Happy Birthday Blessed Mother ! May the Spirit teach us how to love you and all your children, our brothers and sisters.
Amen

Princess Diana- The Queen of Hearts

January 22nd, 2021

Princess Diana- The Queen of Hearts

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.”
Princess Diana
Fr Bill McNichols
August 2017

Santa Rosa of Lima - Patroness of the Americas

January 22nd, 2021

Santa Rosa of Lima - Patroness of the Americas

Santa Rosa of Lima, Patroness of the Americas
Rosa of Lima (1586–1617) is often called the patroness of America because she was the first saint to be canonized in the Americas (1671). Her feast day is August 23. Rose is a beloved saint among Spanish- speaking people, especially in New Mexico. The city of Santa Rosa is located a couple hours drive east of Albuquerque .
As a young woman, upon discovering the life of Catherine of Siena (1347–1380), Rose sought to emulate her. As a result, she became a lay Dominican. She was known for her rigorous practices of asceticism and penance, much to the dismay of her family and loved ones. Even today the reality of her religious practices make people uncomfortable. Such concern prompted the famous theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar to ask the mystic Adrienne Von Speyr about her practices. Drawing on the authority of her mystical experience, Von Speyr informed him that Rosa’s practices were fine because her intentions were out of love for God.
We must keep a couple of things in mind with respect to her austere practices. First, Rosa would use her penances for the sake of others who were suffering. Those people that Rosa would intercede for— the ones she would literally suffer for— would often be healed. In this way she was similar to a bodhisattva or shamanic healer. Second, there is a sense in which great saints are often extreme in some aspects of their lives. This does not necessarily mean that others should literally emulate the kinds of practices they carry out. Shortly after the death of St. Francis, for example, the pope forbade the Franciscans to subscribe to the saint’s rigorous interpretation and practice of poverty.
Bill had conceived this image of Santa Rosa for several years before actually completing it. A labor of love, when he finally completed the piece he was not sure what to do with it. Tragically, the events of Sandy Hook Elementary School and the brutal murder of the twenty children and six teachers and staff in Newtown, Connecticut, occurred on December 14, 2012. This would provide an opportunity. On this point, I would like to share a personal anecdote. Shortly after the murders in Newtown, I had a dream that there was a statue of St. Rosa in my living room. The front of the statue was covered with green vomit, as if St. Rosa had puked on the front of her habit. I interpreted this as a visceral response to the ugly violence that had occurred in Newtown. I relayed this dream to Bill because of his devotion to St. Rosa and because I knew he was deeply upset by the murders as well. Unbeknown to Bill or myself at the time, the Catholic parish in Newtown was named St. Rose Parish. Upon learning this fact, Bill immediately sent the icon of St. Rosa to the parish in Connecticut in the hopes that it might assist as a healing image for the members of the community.
In the image St. Rosa stands on the earth in her Dominican habit with her feet on the northern part of the Americas, though she is the patroness of both continents. Given that this icon was completed prior to the events in Newtown, it is perhaps prophetic that her left foot is close to that region of New England. The rose stems and petals of her intercession fall gently upon the planet. The light of the moon, an image of the Mother of God, is near. The soft hue of rose permeates the picture, providing a healing and contrasting image to the red blood of violence.
Why is she situated in the cosmos? Perhaps this offers a more expansive view, lifting the people up and giving a larger view of life. Is there life on other planets? If so, do those beings face the brutality of violence, or are they perhaps living in harmony? When we are in grief and pain it is always helpful try to take on a larger view. In his anguish of losing everything Job complained to God, and God responded by asking if he was there when the stars were made (Job 39:3). In the wake of the murders in Newtown we are faced with deeply disturbing realities. Often such anguishing questions, like Job’s anguish, remain unanswered. The intercession of Rosa of Lima and the image she provides offer the hope of healing and transformation for our world.
John Dadosky
Image to Insight

Santa Rosa of Lima - Patroness of the Americas

January 22nd, 2021

Santa Rosa of Lima - Patroness of the Americas

Santa Rosa of Lima, Patroness of the Americas
Rosa of Lima (1586–1617) is often called the patroness of America because she was the first saint to be canonized in the Americas (1671). Her feast day is August 23. Rose is a beloved saint among Spanish- speaking people, especially in New Mexico. The city of Santa Rosa is located a couple hours drive east of Albuquerque .
As a young woman, upon discovering the life of Catherine of Siena (1347–1380), Rose sought to emulate her. As a result, she became a lay Dominican. She was known for her rigorous practices of asceticism and penance, much to the dismay of her family and loved ones. Even today the reality of her religious practices make people uncomfortable. Such concern prompted the famous theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar to ask the mystic Adrienne Von Speyr about her practices. Drawing on the authority of her mystical experience, Von Speyr informed him that Rosa’s practices were fine because her intentions were out of love for God.
We must keep a couple of things in mind with respect to her austere practices. First, Rosa would use her penances for the sake of others who were suffering. Those people that Rosa would intercede for— the ones she would literally suffer for— would often be healed. In this way she was similar to a bodhisattva or shamanic healer. Second, there is a sense in which great saints are often extreme in some aspects of their lives. This does not necessarily mean that others should literally emulate the kinds of practices they carry out. Shortly after the death of St. Francis, for example, the pope forbade the Franciscans to subscribe to the saint’s rigorous interpretation and practice of poverty.
Bill had conceived this image of Santa Rosa for several years before actually completing it. A labor of love, when he finally completed the piece he was not sure what to do with it. Tragically, the events of Sandy Hook Elementary School and the brutal murder of the twenty children and six teachers and staff in Newtown, Connecticut, occurred on December 14, 2012. This would provide an opportunity. On this point, I would like to share a personal anecdote. Shortly after the murders in Newtown, I had a dream that there was a statue of St. Rosa in my living room. The front of the statue was covered with green vomit, as if St. Rosa had puked on the front of her habit. I interpreted this as a visceral response to the ugly violence that had occurred in Newtown. I relayed this dream to Bill because of his devotion to St. Rosa and because I knew he was deeply upset by the murders as well. Unbeknown to Bill or myself at the time, the Catholic parish in Newtown was named St. Rose Parish. Upon learning this fact, Bill immediately sent the icon of St. Rosa to the parish in Connecticut in the hopes that it might assist as a healing image for the members of the community.
In the image St. Rosa stands on the earth in her Dominican habit with her feet on the northern part of the Americas, though she is the patroness of both continents. Given that this icon was completed prior to the events in Newtown, it is perhaps prophetic that her left foot is close to that region of New England. The rose stems and petals of her intercession fall gently upon the planet. The light of the moon, an image of the Mother of God, is near. The soft hue of rose permeates the picture, providing a healing and contrasting image to the red blood of violence.
Why is she situated in the cosmos? Perhaps this offers a more expansive view, lifting the people up and giving a larger view of life. Is there life on other planets? If so, do those beings face the brutality of violence, or are they perhaps living in harmony? When we are in grief and pain it is always helpful try to take on a larger view. In his anguish of losing everything Job complained to God, and God responded by asking if he was there when the stars were made (Job 39:3). In the wake of the murders in Newtown we are faced with deeply disturbing realities. Often such anguishing questions, like Job’s anguish, remain unanswered. The intercession of Rosa of Lima and the image she provides offer the hope of healing and transformation for our world.
John Dadosky
Image to Insight

Happy Anniversary of your entrance into Heaven - Nicholas Black Elk

January 22nd, 2021

Happy Anniversary of your entrance into Heaven - Nicholas Black Elk

Happy Anniversary of your entrance into Heaven - Nicholas Black Elk + 19 August 1950 🌿🌿🌿
There is only Christ : He is everything and He is in everything.” Colossians 3 : 11
In commemoration of my 40th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ , 25 May 1979, I am offering a prayer for the Canonization of Nicholas Black Elk. I believe that Nicholas Black Elk and St Hildegard of Bingen are The Two Visionaries who offer in their lives and writings a most blessed theology of continued care for God’s Creation, and Our Mother Earth. Separated by over 800 years, each was given visions which are essential and crucial for all of us today.
Fr William Hart McNichols 25 May 2019
Prayer for the Canonization of Nicholas Black Elk
by Mitakuye Oyasin
“ Grandfather! Great Spirit!
Behold us, who stand
before you, singing our
song of thanksgiving, for
your servant, Nicholas Black Elk.
Faithfully he walked the
Sacred Red Road
and generously witnessed the
Good News of Our Lord,
Jesus Christ among
Native people.
Grandfather, we humbly ask
you to hear the prayers
we plead through his intercession.
We ask Holy Mother Church
to recognize his sanctity, by
acknowledging his presence
among the company of the
saints and as one to
imitate in his zeal for the
Gospel.
Open our hearts to also
recognize the Risen Christ
in other cultures and people’s,
to the glory and honor of
God the Father.
Amen”

The Dormition of the Mother of God

January 22nd, 2021

The Dormition of the Mother of God

The Dormition of the Mother of God
“She is a breath of the power of God, pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; hence nothing impure can find a way into her. She is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God’s active power, image of his goodness... She is indeed more splendid than the sun, she outshines all the constellations; compared with light, she takes first place, for light must yield to night, but over Wisdom evil can never triumph.”
Wisdom 7: 25-26, 29-30 (Jerusalem Bible)
Today is August 14, and I am remembering, contemplating, meeting St John Paul II, on this day in 1993, World Youth Day in Denver. Some people you can touch into, or step into their spiritual light and it changes you forever.
True holiness has that power of re-creation. Many times we are unaware of these people in everyday life, but sometimes their deep suffering illuminates their holiness. Today we are all aware of the true holiness of every caregiver and all those on the frontlines of this most recent pandemic.
When I met John Paul carrying the icon of Mary I was commissioned to do for him, (Our Lady of the New Advent: the Burning Bush) I felt completely known and loved by him, almost instantly. I honestly don’t know how that happens, because I felt very dim inside his light, and still do. In every picture taken that afternoon, he has his hand on my shoulder or he is touching my hand. In some ways I compare it to an apparition which does forever change you. I heard friends and relatives say, that even in that giant arena, they could see the mutual love from a distance. So, today, 27 years later, I still feel bathed in that love. Mary, the Blessed Mother, “surrounds” John Paul and I had a religious Sister, who died not long after, tell me that Mary arranged our meeting for reasons I would not understand until much later.
In virtually every single icon of the Mother of God, even those of her alone, you sense her son’s presence. She cradles him or pleads, appears,prays, cries,grieves and shines with his presence. To look at her is to see her love for him. The essence of the icon of the Dormition for me, is the love of the Son for his Mother. This is also an icon of the joyful promise of Christian death. Here Christ’s love gives life to the body of the one who loved him so well as Mother and true disciple. Here he becomes mother as he carefully cradles her infant-like soul and carries her home. The change of the feast of the Coronation of the Mother of God, from May 31 to August 22, is liturgically more meaningful. It now comes just a week after the Assumption/Dormition. I tried to express in the poem below, just what Mary’s Queenship means according to the Gospels.
In this version of the Dormition, John the elderly Beloved Disciple, weeps and hovers over the body of the Mother given to him with the Lord’s halting, broken words from the Cross. He does not yet see Christ in the radiant mandorla of light. The Archangel Gabriel bows low in loving recognition, once again, of the one who became Mother of the Incarnate Word and Mother of all Christ’s offspring; whom, the Book of Revelation says, will be pursued by the devil (Revelation 12:17) until Christ returns as Christ the King. And then we will (hopefully) all reign with him for eternity.
This icon was commissioned in the early 90’s by the Jesuit Magazine, America. I wrote this prayer/ poem at the same time.
She sleeps who
knew no rest here.
Promised early on
a knife in her soul...
watching relatives, neighbors,
multitudes, dividing,deciding and
finally calling for the blood of the
Word clothed in her own flesh.
Stabat Mater Dolorosa,
all through the grisly passion
a helpless harmony,
tears that would not stop,
convulsive grief...
then all life leaving
from her eyes
from his wounds.
Now he returns to take
her soul and body.
She of the abused and powerless,
She of the stifled and wordless,
She of the empty and outcast.
She is crowned forever
Queen of All Heaven
in the kingdom of reversals.
And we her children
are assured such an ending,
after dust, we too shall be
carried Home in the mandorla
of the Rising Son.
Fr Bill McNichols ⚜️14 August 2020

St Clares Apparition of the Holy Child

January 22nd, 2021

St Clares Apparition of the Holy Child

St Clare’s Apparition of the Holy Child ( “Chiara Offreduccio” - 16 July 1194 - 11 August 1253)
“Then the dying saint communed with her own soul, saying softly:
‘Go forth in peace, go forth without fear to Him who created you and has sanctified you and protected you and has always loved you and cared for you.’ Then speaking with her Lord, she said: ‘Blessed be you, O Lord, you have created me and have redeemed me with Your Precious Blood, to give me eternal life in your presence.’
The sister who was nearest to her, said weeping: ‘What are you saying, my Mother? To whom are you speaking?’ She answered: ‘I am talking to my own soul.’”
“The Life of St Clare of Assisi” by the Servant of God Tommaso da Celano (1185-1260)
“Learning to pray in a Franciscan way required of her a great renunciation: it cost her a lot to distance herself from her drive to activity and success in action and to become a contemplative. Work for it’s own sake was much more demanded of her than of Francis, because she had to renounce what was the primary feature of her character: her reasonableness, which she possessed and rightly possessed, and the facility for helping and serving. It is more difficult to renounce something that is good and beneficial than something problematic...However, she allows herself to be fashioned into what God wants to make of her.”
“Book of All Saints” by Adrienne von Speyr
“Humility is the guardian and the ornament of all virtues...”
Second Life of St Francis by Tommaso da Celano, #140
St Clare was given 3 apparitions of the Christ Child. She prayed the Office of the Passion of Jesus every day. I wondered then, why it was not the adult Christ but the Child who came to her?
I decided to explore this question as I painted (wrote) my first of three, icons of her.
My life in Brooklyn and Manhattan, from 1980-1990 brought me so many incredible graces and was filled with people I loved deeply and, some are still alive. One of those is Fr Andre’ Cirino, OFM who taught me more by word and by deed than I can ever adequately express and ultimately accepted me into the Third Order of St Francis on 3 October 1984, up in the Bronx house of the Third Order, the Little Portion, (Porziuncola meaning in Italian, “small portion of land”) the place in Assisi where the Franciscan movement began. During my Hospice years in Manhattan, I also discovered the most beautiful book of an ancient Chinese text of mystical union, entitled, “The Secret of the Golden Flower.” In the Convento of San Damiano, the place where Clare and her sisters lived, there is always a rose on the table where Clare was seated during her life. The one time I visited Assisi and San Damiano, in March 1984, the rose was yellow. I later wrote this poem:
The Secret of the Golden Flower
Chiara
a play of light
golden as the
rising sun
over Assisi,
played out
over fifty years
of agonizing sickness
after sickness
and vicious onslaughts
of the evil one.
She taught her
dearly loved sisters,
in O, a thousand ways,
the adoration and praises
of the Most High,
the passionate cultivation
of the Enclosed Garden...
Jesus,
and a swift attention
to the tremulous stirring
of the Spirit’s wings.
Once while listening
to a sermon of
Brother Philip,
she was seen
clear and bright
as day,
holding the Holy Child
enfolded in the
Secret of the Golden Flower.
Fr William Hart McNichols, SFO
10 August 2020 Eve of the feast of St Clare
PS) I have two, of many, wonderful grandnieces; one named Claire and another grandniece Ginger who is now attending the University of Santa Clara. This feastday reflection is for them, with love.

St Ignatius At Prayer In Rome

August 11th, 2020

St Ignatius At Prayer In Rome

St Ignatius At Prayer In Rome (illustration from 1991)
“I will ask for what I want: here I ask for interior knowledge of the Lord ... Take,
Lord receive all my liberty, my memory, my intellect, and all my will - all that I have and possess. You gave it all to me; to you Lord I give it all back. All is yours, dispose of it entirely according to your will. Give me the grace to love you, for that is enough for me.”
St Ignatius Loyola - from his
Spiritual Exercises: Contemplation for attaining love
“...finding
God
in agony
first but then
in
stars by night
and
later at day
in
a blade of grass
an orange leaf
he began his
mornings with
‘What shall we
do
for God today ?’
letting the Spirit
blow
through his soul
as
wind through
a
field of poppies...”
Fr James Janda
In the year 1991, the Society of Jesus and the world celebrated the 600th anniversary of the birth in 1491 of the Basque saint, Inigo de Loyola. Archbishop (now Cardinal) Stafford of the Archdiocese of Denver, wanted to make a holy card to give to all the people of the Archdiocese. He had seen this drawing I did of Ignatius praying in Rome and asked me if he could use it. During my first two years as a Jesuit, 1968-70, I heard the often repeated Jesuit “in joke” about an older Jesuit on his death bed struggling mightily with anxiety and terror. A fellow Jesuit nearby, attending the dying man, assured him that God was all forgiving and he had nothing to fear. Then the old man says, “It’s not God I’m afraid of, it’s St Ignatius !” That joke hit me hard in my heart, and oddly, very personally, as if my own father was being terribly misunderstood . I swore then, as a 20 year old boy, that I would try to do everything possible to show the many sides of Ignatius. Throughout the years I began to draw him in my career as an illustrator, and then as an iconographer. Tonight on the eve of his feast, I stepped outside and looked into the beautiful glowing moon and felt his love and spoke my love back to him. I have felt like he’s my “second Dad” since I began to know him more intimately in 1968. So many Jesuits during the 35 years I was an official member, taught me about him through their writings, retreats and most of all their genuine guidance and faithful love. And they still do. One thing I’ve learned from Ignatius’ daily Examen, or examination of conscience, is that you can always, always, begin again. The great mystic Adrienne von Speyr said of her heavenly mentor, “No one points to God with such shrewd intelligence, as St Ignatius.” I am constantly amazed and thankful that he is still with me. He continually challenges me to “find God in all things and people.” My favorite writings are his Spiritual Diaries. There, his love for God flows out along with his inability to stop the tears of love he felt, most of all before, during and after celebrating the Holy Eucharist.
Holy Father Ignatius,
Please keep leading me to that knowledge of God
that animated every moment of your life.
Teach me daily, to say with you,
“What shall we do for God today ?”
Then let me use every gift from God to
answer that question.
Help us all to navigate these awfully
anxious, seemingly endless times of this present pandemic.
Dear Holy Father Ignatius,
I love you.
Amen
Fr Bill McNichols

Elijah McClain

August 11th, 2020

Elijah McClain

Elijah McClain ? 25 February 1996 - 30 August 2019
"But the righteous man, though he die early, will be at rest. For old age is not honored for length of time, nor measured by number of years ... There was one who pleased God and was loved by him, and while living with sinners he was taken up lest evil change his understanding or guile deceive his soul...Being perfected in a short time, he fulfilled long years; for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took him quickly from the midst of wickedness. Yet the people saw and did not understand, nor take such a thing to heart, that God's grace and mercy are with his elect, and he watches over his holy ones."
~ Wisdom 4
I recently painted this image of the very gifted, talented and beautiful soul, Elijah McClain. I used his photograph but added light around his head and golden colored shirt to echo scripture's prophetic words about the chosen ones of God. The red buttons signify his terrible death - red being the color of the Martyrs. I asked my dear friend and theologian, Christopher Pramuk, author of many truly unique and brilliant books, including Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton, Hope Sings So Beautiful: Graced Encounters Across the Color Line, and The Artist Alive: Explorations in Music, Art and Theology, to write a reflection on Elijah McClain.
~ William Hart (Fr. Bill) McNichols
If a sacrament can be described as something that attaches itself to one's heart, and in doing so, becomes an instrument of communion and grace, then Fr. Bill's new painting of Elijah McClain has become for me a most powerful sacrament.
At first, I resisted, I didn't want it to be so. Like grace itself, attachments of the heart can be both beautiful and dangerous. They demand vulnerability, commitment, risk. When Fr. Bill shared Elijah's image with me, I didn't want to let it in. I didn't want to allow him, those penetrating eyes, to gaze into my eyes, afraid of what he might uncover there. I resisted because Elijah's story, and Fr. Bill's image, struck too close to my father's tender heart.
My wife Lauri and I have two children from Haiti, adopted in 2010, just after the earthquake. Sophia, 17, is now on the verge of young adulthood; Henry, though just 11, could pass as 17, when seen from a distance. While Sophia is small in stature, Henry, with his broad face, huge hands, and legs twice as thick as mine, is a gentle giant. Except when he isn't.
Henry suffers from crippling mental illness, rooted in trauma and neglect during his first year of life. One afternoon a few years ago, I was called urgently to come to his school. For the third time in as many weeks, Henry had gotten upset and had bolted out the building's front door before staff could restrain him. I arrived to find my son sitting in a vacant lot near the school, surrounded by five police cars, lights flashing.
Flight - or what the therapists call "elopement" - is Henry's first and last means of escape when big feelings overwhelm him. Lauri and I know that flight for Henry is self-protection, literal survival. Our neighbors, strangers at the grocery, police officers, don't know this. To the police, flight is often, and sometimes fatally, mistaken as fight, defiance, disrespect. Especially when the prey, now backed into a corner, is a young black man.
When I first saw Fr. Bill's painting, the heartrending outlines of Elijah McClain's story were familiar to me, as they have become intimately familiar to so many here in Colorado, and now, around the world. He was 23, a massage therapist much loved by his clients, killed by an encounter with police that involved a carotid choke hold and a disabling dose of ketamine that left him in a coma for six days.
"It doesn't make sense," said one of his clients, calling the police response "brutal." "He was the sweetest, purest person I have ever met. He was definitely a light in a whole lot of darkness." Pictures of Elijah playing the violin to the animals in a local shelter during his lunch break have circulated all over the internet.
When police officers bore down on Elijah - he was wearing a face mask and waving his arms around, probably singing, his friends say, as he walked home from a convenience store - the young man repeatedly begged the officers to forgive him.
"I can't breathe. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain. That's my house. I was just going home. I'm an introvert. I'm just different. That's all. I'm so sorry. I have no gun. I don't do that stuff. I don't do any fighting. Why are you attacking me?" He also told the officers, "You are all phenomenal. You are beautiful. And I love you."
"He had a child-like spirit," another long-time client says. "Elijah McClain was not conditioned to the norms of America...He lived in his own little world. He was never into, like, fitting in. He just was who he was."
Years ago, I was reading an article by the eminent Black Catholic theologian M. Shawn Copeland, when I came to a line that stopped me cold. In a deeply racist US society, people of color, she wrote, are "overdetermined in the flesh." I did not, perhaps could not, understand such a statement until I became the father of two black children. Whether I am with them at the mall, walking through our neighborhood, or behind the wheel of a car, I am chronically aware that the warm glow of white privilege that now surrounds and protects my kids will not be there forever. I cannot look at a photograph of Sandra Bland without also seeing my daughter Sophia, herself full of fierce, feminine strength, lying face-down in the grass with a police officer's knee on her neck.
Elijah McClain, thanks be to God, "was not conditioned to the norms of America." Neither was Sandra Bland. In Fr. Bill's painting, the glimmer in Elijah's eyes returns my gaze with love. The hints of blue in Elijah's face remind me that we never walk alone in the valley of the shadow of death. Like a mother's cloak, the Spirit of the Living God gently surrounds each of us, and flashes like the sun from within. She is the divine Child who plays "hide and seek" within all the people, daring us not to conform to the dictates of a rapacious and violent society. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, She says, "I love you," and "I'm just different," and "Why are you attacking me?" in the face of the world's power.
"Elijah McClain, pray for us. Pray for our children, especially all young men and women of color. Give strength to every anxious parent's heart. Help us reclaim the light of God within, which endures even in the face of physical death. Teach us to remember and cherish the animals, as you did with your gift of music. Dear Elijah, may you dwell now in deep peace, and feel the infinitely accepting love that we so often fail to give."
And Fr. Bill, thank you for once again enkindling the flame of faith, hope, and love in a sea of gathering darkness. Your art, your attunement to the divine mystery written in human flesh, is a tremendous gift to the world.
July 25, 2020
Christopher Pramuk

Holy Quaker Martyr Mary Dyer

August 11th, 2020

Holy Quaker Martyr Mary Dyer

Holy Quaker Martyr Mary Dyer
Mary Dyer (ca. 1611–1660) was a Puritan
convert to Quakerism who became one of
the four people known as the Quaker martyrs of
Boston. She was publically executed by the Puritans
in Boston on June 1, 1660.
A major theological strand of Puritanism in
the Boston colony had reduced Christian religious
beliefs to moralism, and the fruits were
often a rigid judgmentalism. Violators could be
singled out and ostracized by the community.
Mary, along with her mentor, Anne Hutchinson,
had resisted this strand of Puritanism, favoring an
alternative to strict Puritan theology that emphasized
more of God’s grace and mercy. Mary’s
support for Hutchinson, when the latter was
exiled from the Boston colony, singled her out for
persecution as well. During this theological controversy
in the community, Mary also had a still
birth of a deformed baby, and she had it buried
in secret. This fact eventually came to light, and
the circumstances were used to discredit her in
order to discourage the followers of Hutchinson.
Later, Hutchinson had a miscarriage as well and
was subjected to the same scrutiny. The distorted
theologies prompted their adversaries to construe
these events as God’s punishment upon the two.
Eventually Mary and her family would convert to
Quakerism and relocate to Rhode Island. It was
her return trips to her former home at the Boston
colony that got her into trouble. The Puritans
were threatened by the growing Quaker religion.
The story of these women corroborates the theory
of scapegoating put forth by René Girard, who
argues that these women are singled out because
they threaten the established order, demonized for
their miscarriages, and blamed for bringing chaos
into the community. It also highlights the feminist
critiques of patriarchy, which emphasize how
women have been cast into rigid roles and punished
when they venture outside of them. Patriarchy
includes a preoccupation with women’s bodies.
New England had a significant influence on Bill
in his earlier years of priestly formation and ministry.
Bill copied an illustration as a model for this
icon. He wanted to bring attention to the effect of
New England Puritanism, especially as depicted
in Nathanial Hawthorne’s classic American novel
The Scarlet Letter. The red cross Mary Dyer holds
near her chest in the image recalls Hawthorne’s
image of the scarlet letter A. The light descending
from the cloud refers to the inner light, which is
a central and distinctive aspect of Quaker spirituality—
God’s light dwells within. This means
that everyone is equal, and so the Quaker idea of
church is very simple in its structure. There are no
leaders, and the official name they give themselves
is the Society of Friends.
There is a certain double meaning in the phrase
used by one of Dyer’s accusers when he described
her execution. He stated, “She did hang like a
flag for others to take example by.”However,
her example, rather than acting as a deterrent,
promoted the cause that eventually moved the
Puritan community beyond its persecution of
the Quakers. Her witness was one of genuine
imitation of Christ. Mary Dyer represents someone
who challenges deviated transcendence and
distorted religious practices, especially those who
co-opt genuine religious values and distort them
into vehicles of violence. She represents integrity,
peace, and the compassion of the Gospel; someone who is faithful to her inner light within.
From Book by John D. Dadosky
Image to Insight: The Art of William Hart McNichols

Second Self-Portrait With Symbols 2014

August 11th, 2020

Second Self-Portrait With Symbols 2014

Second Self-Portrait With Symbols 2014
“I’m gonna exchange my things for precious wings and fly, over the valley of the kings and queens where the sleeping
cities lie. One bright night I’m gonna fly right out my window.
Gonna fly so high in the night sky, that the people below won’t see me go by...”
“A Famous Myth” by Harry Nilsson 1969
Some songs are so hypnotic that they call to you even when you don’t know exactly what they mean. They express a deep longing or wish that’s unconscious. This might be called the language of Art . To express what cannot be said literally, through enigmatic songs, poetry, images, icons, drawings and paintings...giving form to inner visions. I would imagine music is comforting round the world right now as we all attempt to walk through this dangerous landscape, stalked by an invisible insidious vapor. We mask up outside, our sense of hope that climbing this way, into Noah’s Ark, we have at least taken the warning seriously. And we collectively grieve for those who mock and ignore the warning. My 71st birthday is coming on Friday, July 10th. I remember when I lived in Taos, reading an autobiography by Jane Fonda where she says age 1-30 is act 1. Age 30-60, is act 2, and age 60 to death is act 3. Mary Oliver’s most famous poetic quote comes to mind, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life ?” Or another quote from Georgia O’Keefe, which is really comforting, because her legendary image, persona, is that of an extremely stoic artist; “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” And then you have St Paul forever steeped in his vision of the Risen Lord, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus .” Philippians 4:6-7. To supplement St Paul, I have been dependent upon the Don Dolindo Novena for at least three years now; it’s bound to sink in if I keep at it.
I laugh when I remember that for my Confirmation name I wanted at age 10, to take the name of an older teenage Martyr of the early Church, the 14 year old St Pancratius. Sister thought that was too eccentric and told me to take either Anthony or Dominic. So I took Dominic not knowing then, that along with Veritas, (Truth) the other Dominican motto is “Contemplata aliis tradere” - to share what you have contemplated. This sums up my life and artistic attempts at images and icons. This second self portrait is surrounded by some of the help I found from the age of 27 ( my first self-portrait with symbols) until I decided I needed to do a second one after my heart collapse April 27, 2012. The images in boxes, inspired by one of my favorite children’s book illustrators, the Russian Ivan Bilibin, honor some of this encouragement and help I was given or found. The first, is symbolic of myself and enduring friends, the Kintsugi cracked bowl, with the cracks filled with gold.
As Ernest Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” The second box symbolizes a life of being inspired and blessed by music, in this symbol its a green flame which is in particular the music of St Hildegard of Bingen. The third is from the mystical life of St Joseph given by Our Lord in 1736 to the Italian Benedictine Mystic, Sister Maria Cecilia Baij. She was told at the birth of St Joseph three stars appeared above his house symbolizing that the Earthly Trinity had now begun. The next box is just an arrow flying into the Cloud of Unknowing, an anonymous spiritual book on prayer that deeply affected me, in the “first act” at age 21. Then there’s the radiant broken heart, showing the collapse in 2012, and subsequent mending through the Love I was given. Below the heart is my “second Dad” or Holy Father Ignatius Loyola, who truly gave me another birth and life that continues on through “act three.” Dear Holy Father Ignatius who invites all of us to “find God in all things.” Below Ignatius is the image of the Tarot card “Le Pendu” or man hanging upside down. This explanation of my life I found in the extraordinary masterpiece “Meditations on the Tarot : A Journey into Christian Hermeticism” by Anonymous published in English in 1986. Below the hanging man, who is suspended between heaven and earth, is the miracle of the raising of Lazarus, for obvious reasons. Next is the largest image (besides the self portrait) of, in my opinion, the most beautiful church in the world! San Francisco de Asis in Ranchos de Taos. I was invited in 1999 by my dear friend Fr Tim Martinez, to paint a large image of St Francis receiving the stigmata, inside, above the main doorway. I ended up staying for 14 years. The raised stigmatized-wounded hand of Jesus symbolizes the 7 years I worked as a Chaplain in the AIDS pandemic in Manhattan and surrounding areas. Above that living wounded hand is Our Lady of the New Advent, which really began my vocation as an iconographer during “act two” from 1990 into “act three.” The Archer is above Our Lady, shooting his arrow into the Cloud, and a symbol for me of a vocation too. I’ll close with a poem I wrote around my birthday in 1993, one month before meeting St John Paul II in Denver at World Youth Day.
Epithalamium
O I am an Archer.
This is the vocation that
I can stand under, that
holds onto me too.
I have run along with hunted
Jonah, year after year,
following him safely into the
Heart of the Sea Creature,
his vast water tomb where
I can rest, long enough to
find a way to serve You,
My Lord.
Now here I am in the Zone at last.
I aim these images and the few words
I have left, into the
Heart of the Church : the Bride.
So this is chapter 8 of my Song of Songs,
my Epithalamium.
One more arrow to let fly.
It says with pure speed
and perfect precision:
“Love is stronger than death, and
many waters cannot quench this
Burning Love.”
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols
July 1993

Trees for Rivera Funeral Home in Taos, New Mexico

August 11th, 2020

Trees for Rivera Funeral Home in Taos, New Mexico

Trees for Rivera Funeral Home in Taos, New Mexico
In 2014 I was asked by my dear friend Tim Rivera, to do something for the room in the Rivera Funeral Home , in Taos, New Mexico, which might bring Hope and Comfort to families of All Faiths...as they sit in the main room, mourning, grieving, during a service for their deceased loved ones. Now in this particular summer, where souls all over the world are leaving our earthly home, it seems urgent to show this triptych once more for your contemplation. I think all this grief and experience of tragic deaths, began for me in 1983 when I began to work as a Chaplain in the AIDS Pandemic. To date, over 32 million people have died from the AIDS pandemic. Michael O’Loughlin has made a 6 part series on podcast, for America Magazine, about the Catholic response during the 1980’s. The narrative was/is that there was very little help. Michael corrected that narrative through his interviews last winter, right before covid 19 ravaged the world. He recently won an award from the LGBTQ community for his incredible work. I believe he was guided by the Holy Spirit, who offered a kind of premonition, and comfort, in the stories of those still living who lost so many people, and the frontline caregivers of that time.
In 2014, I thought of 3 images of Trees (in art called a triptych) that would convey different seasons, and also the never ending life of the soul.
1) Trees of Winter Life
These trees portray what seems to be simply cold death,
to us who see them.
And yet trees underneath the most bitter
and cold snow are not really dead.
A candle burns beneath them symbolizing that they are destined to come back to life. The body dies but the soul is eternal , and the Full Moon is our night light. In the symbolism of the ancient Catholic Church, Mary is always the Moon; as the reflected light of her Son...sun. I often add a Moon to my images and icons to bring Our Mother’s presence into the picture.
2)Tree of Life
A single pine tree grows out of a sepia-green color.
As it rises, it gains full green and life; St Hildegard of Bingen calls all green life Viriditas. The tree is surrounded by a Sun, (Son) nurturing the climbing growth.
The Rose tops the tree as it's Crown. The Fiery Rose is a famous symbol in T.S Eliot's mystical masterpiece of poetry, The Four Quartets. In the last poem
after quoting Lady Julian of Norwich, in her “Showings (Revelations) of Divine Love,” he ends with:
"When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.”
3) Tree of Souls
At Mass we say to God concerning the dead,
who have now transformed into eternal souls,
"Welcome them into the light of your face."
How to picture souls rising into a Light which speaks of hope and a beautiful Star guiding them home?
Listening to a book on CDs, in 2014, as I was painting this final tree for the triptych, “The Fault In Our Stars”
by John Green, I heard a longing for an After Life in the two teenagers who are the center of the novel.
In my imagination I saw this Tree. Each and every dot in this heavenly tree painting is a Soul rising ... into the Light of God’s presence. During my years as a hospice chaplain, I found the transcendent, heavenly inspired music of Gabriel Faure’ and Maurice Durufle’s Requiems particularly comforting to my body and soul. Maybe these two exquisite musicians will touch you now as well.
“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed through the Mercy of God, rest in peace.”
Amen
Fr William Hart McNichols
Summer of 2020
Tree Triptych for Rivera Funeral Home 220 by William Hart McNichols

Jerusalem Icon of the Mother of God

August 11th, 2020

Jerusalem Icon of the Mother of God

Jerusalem Icon of the Mother of God
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her children beneath her wings, and you were not willing.”
Luke 13:34
This passage is especially poignant for me as Jesus speaks, not as a spurned general or ruler, but as a Mother, to this incredibly powerful, and magnificent city.
There are several images of God as Mother in Scripture. Also notably in the “Showings of Lady Julian of Norwich.” For me, the power of Art has always been at times, almost overwhelming. So I began as a child to draw and color the ancient images, symbols, such as the Spirit dove and tongues of Fire, the Lamb, the Star of David, the different symbols of the Sacraments, I saw in the windows and statues in my hometown of Denver. They were of Jesus and Mary , as well as saints of the Church who all had their own symbols. I learned them all just by looking. I slowly became aware one of my vocations was to give them back, through art, so they wouldn’t get lost because they are so powerful and draw you into a prayer. There are two images of Jesus as Mother which in my “illustration life,” before I became an iconographer, I really loved to illustrate. One is the mosaic of Jesus as the Mother Hen, surrounded by her chicks, which is in the Dominus Flevit Church, and the other is the ancient legend of Jesus Mother Pelican, which I’ve used at least three times in Icons. The first in Padre Pio, then Francisco Xavier, and finally (after Beato Fra Angelico) at the top of The Holy Cross of the New Advent .
Through the kindness of Mr Rob Lively, I was able to go on one of my dear friend Fr Jim Martin, SJ’s pilgrimages to the Holy Land. I left Alburquerque on Ash Wednesday, February 26, and returned on St Aloysius’s birthday, March 9.
As one of 100 pilgrims, there is so much to say. Each one of us found different places to be alive with inspiration. I’d like to write about each one but this piece is about an icon we saw everywhere in Jerusalem . As we walked through the city streets, there were vendors selling all kinds of things, and in almost every store was a poster, plaque, refrigerator magnet, or actual reproduction of Our Lady of Jerusalem. There are actually two different icons of Her and the Holy Child. I chose the one we saw most often, and was commissioned by Doctor Michael Lucey and his wife, Doctor Patricia Lucey while we were on the pilgrimage. The actual prototype (original) is covered with a silver colored metal riza (Russian for robe) or an oklad (Russian for covering).
When a riza is on an icon, it’s covering everything except the faces and hands. It’s meant to protect the painting from the smoke of the hanging oil lamps, lampadas , or candles which are often seen all around very revered icons. How was I going to turn metal into paint ? I chose to use a gray-blue for the under painting rather than simply gray. I loved the tenderness and love in Mary’s face and the bright light of the Holy Child holding, as Christ the little king, the orb of the world. This icon I painted (wrote) almost right after I got home. I actually had to finish a 7ft Corpus of Jesus for a 13ft Cross, I’ve named “The Cross of 2020” before I could begin Our Lady of Jerusalem. I hope the pilgrims see this as my gift to each one. And it was a natural way to pray through this time of illness, bravery, quarantine .... and awful awareness of racism, I call again, the Cross of 2020.
My use of Blessed Mother comes from my Mom who always called Mary by this name only...
Dear Blessed Mother Our Lady of Jerusalem,
You the joy of Israel,
You the glory of Jerusalem,
You, the great honor of your people,
You are Seeker After the Lost,
You are Mother of God Similar to Fire,
You are Mother of God Quick to Hear,
You are Our Lady of Perpetual Help...Mystical Rose, Enclosed Garden...
You are the Lady of Kazan, Vladimir, Guadalupe, Montserrat, Lourdes, Mt Carmel, Fatima, Knock, Palestine, Akita, Kibeho In Rwanda, Medjugorje, and a thousand other places.
You come as the people need to see you, in every race, in every country.
However we see you, it is you , Mary the Mother of God we love and trust.
O most compassionate Blessed Mother,
Continue to bring us closer to your Son Jesus, Holy Wisdom.
Intercede for us, especially now, and at the hour of our death.
Amen
Fr William Hart McNichols * June 2020

St Anthony Heals the Sick

August 11th, 2020

St Anthony Heals the Sick

St Anthony Heals the Sick (1195-1231)
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father...” John 14:12
“He prays with a lot of love, and he takes other people into his prayer with him. He expects a fruit from his prayer that he can bring back to the people. He does not want to hold onto a single thing for himself. All the words that he brings to people, all his sermons, consolations, and encouragements, he draws from his prayer. He allows himself to be led completely by his prayer, allows everything to ripen in it that he has to carry out apostolically. His love for God is childlike, simple, without reservation; he does not want to hide anything, and whenever he realizes that he did not correspond in a certain point or did not hand everything over to the very end, then he is incredibly ardent in presenting everything to God and apologizing to God for having hesitated for so long and asking God to make him so that God can use him to bring to completion everything he has at his disposal...If he does something that does not absolutely please God, then he feels it immediately. He lives in perfect harmony with God.”
Book of All Saints by Adrienne von Speyr
This icon was a commission from St Anthony’s Hospital in Denver. I felt so blessed and honored to do something for a hospital,because I had worked as a hospice chaplain for those 7 years in Manhattan during the beginning of the world wide AIDS pandemic. I saw firsthand what nurses and doctors do, and it was during that time I began to read books by doctors, telling intimate stories about their work, including some disastrous mistakes, which they are never allowed to make. Can you imagine a vocation where you must achieve perfection day in day out ? It’s impossible. These books helped me so much to see my own vocation, and mothers and fathers too. The last one I read was up in Taos, about a Navajo woman surgeon who wrote a book called, “The Scalpel and the Silver Bear.” She was following in the footsteps of the first Native American doctor, Susan La Fleshe, (see the book) “A Warrior of the People” by Joe Starita. Right now is a time when everyone, world wide is seeing and honoring all professional medical workers and anyone on the front lines, including grocery store workers and Fed X drivers, on and on, we suddenly see what they risk. So as well as being a time of quarantine, it’s also a time of great, great, mystery and possibility. “It’s definitely more than a virus’: Author Arundhati Roy reads from ‘The Pandemic is a Portal’ in a short you tube video. At this distance from my Hospice years, I see how it completely changed me and the way I see the world. It would take a book to adequately examine the emotional scars it left on me, but also, the incredible privilege to be allowed into so many people’s lives. The beautiful, blessed vocation of being a “midwife to/for the second birth.”That enormous loving intimacy I experienced in my thirties, is why I chose Adrienne to speak about St Anthony. When I’m dry and can’t feel love inside me, or when we all feel the fear of the present pandemic, conflict of centuries of racism and wrenching divisions, all without any compassionate or even human leadership at the top, then, I, we, have to go into a prayer to have the small pilot light of love, left inside, become a flame of love again. I remember reading in 1982 the same practice in a life of Dorothy Day, by William Miller. Every morning she would go into a room to pray, and come out lit up like a 150 watt light. By bedtime she was down to about 25 watts... and so it goes for most of us. We find our love in God and then give it away.
Dear “San Antonio” the world’s favorite saint !
Teach us your childlike love of God, and willingness to give people everything we find in prayer, just like you dear Anthony; “not keeping a single thing for himself.” You’ve always been the saint we ask to find lost things. Help us find the love we’ve lost for one another, or never had. Don’t let the present divisions, lies, and hate enter our hearts. And when they do get in, let the Holy Spirit burn them away in prayer, so that we can move back again, into the circle of the Most Holy Trinity’s Love.
Amen
Fr Bill McNichols * June 2020

Gerard Manley Hopkins Amidst the Fire-folk

August 11th, 2020

Gerard Manley Hopkins Amidst the Fire-folk

“Gerard Manley Hopkins Amidst the Fire-folk” (28 July 1844 - 8 June 1889)
“Look at the stars ! look, look up at the skies !
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air !”
GM Hopkins from his poem “The Starlight Night.”
This is my second icon of this extraordinary man. The first one shows him amidst the industrial revolution with an apparition of a Kingfisher bird coming to enlighten him, as if its a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
There are a few teachers who open worlds to you, pull things out of you that you almost didn’t know you had, and change your life forever. They widen your world, immensely, rather than constrict or make your world smaller, frightening, or xenophobic. Some of the greatest saints are this way too. My freshman year at St John Francis Regis High School in North Denver, I had a teacher like that, his name was Ron Miller. He was a Jesuit scholastic at that time, in 1963-64, who later left, and had very loving, significant relationships. He also was deeply involved with Jewish-Christian dialogue, so so many other things, and he was always a brilliant teacher, in school and out of school. His love of people and life was happily, fortunately contagious. He taught us 14 year olds to love and understand both poetry of all different kinds and Shakespeare’s play, “Twelfth Night.” Quite an accomplishment for very young minds ! Ron loved Hopkins and we were taught to memorize Hopkins’ poem “Pied Beauty.” I heard that he died a few years ago.
Hopkins has been called the “father of modern poetry” and countless poets claim his lasting influence on them, including the Irish poet, Seamus Heaney. Cardinal von Balthasar wrote a magnificent essay on him in his book “Lay Styles” where he states that Hopkins truly lamented the industrial revolution’s scars on nature and Hopkins grieved the loss of “the wild.” There is no poet like him and once you encounter his genius (although in his lifetime he only had one poem published) you never forget his poems or prose which contain some journal and notebook entries and selected letters. Like all of our great artists, he connects you quite naturally, and in his case, with a unique musicality, to the Transcendent.
Hopkins died at the Jesuit residence in Dublin, his room overlooking St Stephen’s Green, on June 8, 1889. He was 44. I painted a kind of ode to his eccentric genius, in the large image with icons, called “Viriditas: Finding God in All Things.” Apparently a Jesuit brother once found him standing in the rain looking down at the beauty of the rain soaked pebbles and rocks, and thought he was very odd. But he truly could find God in all things. I added the glistening stones to the Viriditas Image just for him.
He speaks of our fragile mortality in such a knowing, haunting way in one of his brilliant poems:
“....Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.
Christ minds: Christ’s interest, what to avow or amend.
There, eyes them, heart wants, care haunts, foot follows kind,
Their ransom, their rescue, first, fast, last friend.”
Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ
from the poem “The Lantern Out of Doors.”
Fr Bill McNichols June 2020

Dr Martin Luther King - unfinished drawing 1983

August 11th, 2020

Dr Martin Luther King - unfinished drawing 1983

Dr Martin Luther King : unfinished drawing 1983
“Drum Major Instinct"
Event
February 4, 1968
On 4 February 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., preached “The Drum Major Instinct” from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church. Ironically, two months before his assassination on 4 April 1968, he told his congregation what he would like said at his funeral: “I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody” (King, “The Drum Major,” 185). Excerpts were played at King’s nationally televised funeral service, held at Ebenezer on 9 April 1968.
King’s sermon was an adaptation of the 1952 homily “Drum-Major Instincts” by J. Wallace Hamilton, a well-known, liberal, white Methodist preacher. Both men tell the biblical story of James and John, who ask Jesus for the most prominent seats in heaven. At the core of their desire was a “drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade” (King, “The Drum Major,” 170–171). King warns his congregation that this desire for importance can lead to “snobbish exclusivism” and “tragic race prejudice”: “Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct? A need that some people have to feel superior … and to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first” (King, “The Drum Major,” 176; 178). Conversely, King preached that when Jesus responded to the request by James and John, he did not rebuke them for their ambition, but taught that greatness comes from humble servitude. As King put it, Jesus “reordered priorities,” and told his disciples to “Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love” (King, “The Drum Major,” 181; 182).
King used Jesus’ own life as an example of how the priority of love could provide greatness. In his biographical sketch of Jesus, King preached that Jesus owned nothing, and when public opinion turned against him he was called a “rabblerouser” and a “troublemaker” for “[practicing] civil disobedience” (King, “The Drum Major,” 183). King notes that, although by worldly standards Jesus was a failure, no one else has “affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one solitary life” (King, “The Drum Major,” 184).
King concluded the February 1968 sermon by imagining his own funeral. Urging the congregation not to dwell on his life’s achievements, including his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, King asked to be remembered as one who “tried to give his life serving others” (King, “The Drum Major,” 185). He implored his congregation to remember his attempts to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort prisoners. “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice,” King intoned. “Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter” (King, “The Drum Major,” 185–186).
Footnotes
Branch, At Canaan’s Edge, 2006.
Hamilton, “Drum-Major Instincts,” in Ride the Wild Horses!, 1952.
King, “The Drum Major Instinct,” Sermon Delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church, in A Knock at Midnight, ed. Carson and Holloran, 1998.

The Holy Feast of Pentecost - Kathi In A Prayer

August 11th, 2020

The Holy Feast of Pentecost - Kathi In A Prayer

The Holy Feast of Pentecost : Kathi In A Prayer
“In my most childlike hour, my heart has not deceived me. I will not break faith with my childlike heart.”
James Finley
Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I know you always hear me...”
John 11:41,42
“The acquisition of the Holy Spirit is the main aim of man (people) upon this earth, for it is through this ascetic struggle of ‘pulling down’ the Holy Spirit into a repentant, humble heart that man (people) gains justification before the face of God.”
Abbot Herman, editor of :
The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia
By I.M. Kontzevitch 1952
When I first began my iconographer’s apprenticeship in September 1990, I was also aware I was, by a deep sense of responsibility and respect, called to learn as much as I could about Orthodox Spirituality and Theology. I began by reading Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar’s essay on Vladimir Soloviev, in his book “Lay Styles” and then many books on Russian saints, and spiritual writers. I did not do much reading in Greek Orthodox Theology, because my teacher, was the Russian American Master Iconographer, Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. Much later I was introduced to (now my dear friend) Christopher Pramuk’s masterpiece, including a very beautiful introduction into Russian Spirituality; his book, “Sophia : The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton.” The first quote is by James Finley who is also like Chris Pramuk, (in fact it seems like all my friends named Chris sense a calling from God) a very holy man, spiritual writer, but also, a former novice of Thomas Merton. If you want to read just one thing of Russian Spirituality, I would suggest the story of St Seraphim of Sarov’s meeting with N.A. Motovilov in a winter snow laden forest, where St Seraphim is illuminated, almost like Jesus in the Transfiguration, and thus shows Motovilov what “being inhabited” by the Holy Spirit can do to a person. There are many icons of this luminous transcendent meeting. As we approach the Season of Pentecost I wanted to talk about just a couple of things the Holy Spirit will do for you. One) the Holy Spirit calls you into prayer, or conversation with God. Two) the Holy Spirit can make you weep, (this is just a part of the ancient sequence, or exquisite poem, used on Pentecost Sunday).
“Cleanse our souls from sinful stain, Lave our dryness with Your rain, Heal our wounds and mend our way.
Bend the stubborn heart and will, Melt the frozen, warm the chill, Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful who in You, Trust with childlike piety, Deign Your sevenfold gift to send...”
I painted this image of my dear cousin Kathi as a “spiritual portrait” of her being called into a prayer by the Holy Spirit. I have written about my cousin already, in a blog about St Francisco Marto of Fatima. By suffice it to say now, that because my Mother, Marjory Hart gave me her maiden name as my middle name I became a close friend with Kathi Hart, my cousin around age nine, and much to our parents dismay, we talked on the phone at least once a day, sometimes more, until we were 18. I had no idea that actually, we were learning to process our feelings about just about everything, during those wonderful talks. And it saved my life, in a real way, during a difficult childhood because I was a frightened, bewildered gay boy. One of Kathi’s greatest gift was always making me laugh,
“Lave my dryness...melt the frozen, warm the chill.” I can now see the Holy Spirit which “visits” many of my icons, as the One who suddenly causes you to cry or weep with the palpable sense of the presence of God inside you.
I know now, everyone can experience this sensation, and as another quote says above, “The acquisition of the Holy Spirit is the main aim of (all of us) on this earth...”
I am not going to pretend and tell you that I have reached this level of acquisition, even as I approach age 71, but I can promise you my friends, that I will never give up trying. And that trying brings me new hope and joy for the moments when I am in a prayer, every day. But especially now, when we have been called by quarantine into “the upper room” to wait for the Coming of the Spirit .
“Come Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the Fire of Your Love. Send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”
For the Season of Pentecost 2020
Fr William Hart McNichols

St. Padre Pio - Mother Pelican

August 11th, 2020

St. Padre Pio - Mother Pelican

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
So many medieval and early Renaissance artists such as Beato Fra Angelico, painted the symbol of Christ as Mother Pelican nested above Crosses or on tabernacle doors. I once saw a giant floor mosaic in a Brooklyn church ( I think it was St Peter’s Church ?) of Her on the sanctuary floor which really moved me. There exists an early legend that if the Mother Pelican had no food for her chicks she would tear open her own side to feed them. This naturally became a symbol of Christ, and for me, a symbol of all the holy women and men who were given the stigmata; they became Christ figures. These saints healed, performed miracles from God, and spiritually fed us with their blood or wounds ... and continue to do so from Heaven. So I decided to put the painted disc of the Mother Pelican in Padre Pio’s hand, and I wondered if he would approve ? Just before I finished the icon I watched a video cassette (early 90’s!) of his last Mass on 22 September 1968. At the end of the Mass he was so weak that he had to have assistance in walking. And, as he turned to leave, I saw the Mother Pelican on the back of his chasuble.
St. John Paul II once made a visit to San Giovanni Rotondo, Foggia, Italy, and Padre Pio prophesied that one day he would be Pope. He was canonized by Pope John Paul on 16 June 2002. I have read so many books about him, and there are luckily so many to read, and my favorite is by C. Bernard Ruffin, a Lutheran Pastor, who died just last May 4th in Virginia. It’s called “Padre Pio : The True Story,” 1991, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Company, they now publish a revised, expanded 3rd addition. When you read almost anything about Padre Pio, you cannot feel any distance from him. It’s as though he comes to you immediately. I continue to beg him for help with the most extreme sufferings of friends and anyone who asks me for prayers. His presence in your home is often accompanied by a strong aroma of flowers and other pleasing scents. If you need him, all you have to do, is ask him to be one of his spiritual children, and he never refuses anyone. Now for a couple of his quotes:
“Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear our prayers... I will ask the Lord to 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 (her) entire family as my spiritual children.”
St Padre Pio
For 25 May 2020 ... the 41st Anniversary of my ordination in 1979 at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Denver, Colorado.
Dearest friend and father, Padre Pio, who bore the wounds of Jesus Christ for 50 years. Pray, for us, dear Padre, especially now in this time of the world wide pandemic !
Amen
Fr Bill McNichols

Holy Martyr St Dymphna of Ireland

August 11th, 2020

Holy Martyr St Dymphna of Ireland

Holy Martyr St Dymphna of Ireland, for her feast day May 15
Written by my friend, Kathy Hendricks, a mother, grandmother, and author of several books on catechesis, spirituality, and family including "Heavenly Friends – An Introduction to the Beauty of Icons". http://www.twentythirdpublications.com/hefrneintobe.html
Saint Dymphna
When my mother first showed me her medal of Saint Dymphna and told me about this patron of mental illness, I had no idea what a consolation it was to her. Decades later, as a general understanding and recognition of the vast complexity of mental illness have taken place, I’ve come to a better appreciation of why this was so. Although my mother never mentioned the specific causes of two of her sisters’ mental torments – one who committed suicide and another who became submerged in alcohol addiction – I have a better understanding of the devastating impact of clinical depression.
Dymphna’s story is not an easy one to hear. The daughter of a pagan king and Christian mother, she secretly became a Christian at young age. Her mother’s death threw her father into a state of severe grief. After searching in vain for a woman to replace his wife in beauty and temperament, he set his sights on marrying his daughter in whom he saw the resemblance he so missed in his dead wife. In order to escape such a horrifying prospect, fifteen-year-old Dymphna fled her native Ireland with her trusted confessor, a priest named Gerebran. They made their way to Belgium where Dymphna, as part of her passionate love for and commitment to her faith, built a hospital to serve the sick and the poor. Her father soon tracked her down and ordered the murder of Gerebran. After failing to convince Dymphna to return to Ireland and become his wife, he flew into a rage and beheaded her with a stroke of his sword. After he left, the residents collected the remains of both Dymphna and Gerebran and buried them in a nearby cave. The gravesite, upon which a church was eventually built, became a place of healing for those suffering from nervous, mental, and spiritual afflictions. While she herself did not suffer from a form of mental illness, her father certainly did. The experience of attempted incest and brutal murder by her father caused Dymphna to be named the patron of those suffering from mental illness. One might say she is also patron of those affected by those with mental illness.
As the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic continues to play out across the world, the United Nations is predicting a global mental health crisis due to “isolation, fear, uncertainty, and economic turmoil.” This is being felt among health care providers and other essential workers as they cope with stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and grief. The rising number of deaths as well as the resultant aftereffects of the virus are taking a toll on those who have fallen ill as well as those caring for them. Domestic violence is on the rise as well as substance abuse. It’s a grim picture.
My mother mostly shielded us from the anguish she no doubt felt as she watched her sisters suffering from depression and the self-destructive behavior that altered both of their lives. I can imagine, however, that she often turned to Saint Dymphna for prayers on their behalf. Mental illness has many forms and takes its tolls in varying degrees on those tormented by depression, obsessions, and deep-seated grief. It also affects their loved ones who stand helpless in the face of such suffering. One can only imagine the anguish Dymphna felt as she watched her father deteriorate into a state of unhinged obsession and violence. It is an extreme example of mental illness, to be sure, but one that points to the consolation found by turning in prayer to one who suffered at the hand of her own father. As we all weather this current storm, perhaps we can be a source of strength and support for those in need of mental and spiritual healing as well as those who care for and about them.
Prayer for Those Suffering Mental Illness
Loving God,
You alone know the depth of suffering among those with mental or spiritual illness.
Bring them comfort, consolation, and peace as they struggle with inner demons that torment the mind and heart.
Be with those who care for them. Give them strength, courage, and hope, especially when they feel most helpless and forlorn.
May the prayers of Saint Dymphna on behalf of all who suffer bring forth a compassionate and intensified response to the problem of mental illness in our world.
With all faith in your merciful grace, we pray.
Amen.

Mother of Holy Hope

August 11th, 2020

Mother of Holy Hope

Mother of Holy Hope :
“Be thou then, O thou dear Mother, my atmosphere...”
“...A mother came to mould
Those limbs like ours which are
What must be our daystar
Much dearer to mankind;
Whose glory bare would blind
Or less would win man’s mind.
Through her we may see him
Made sweeter, not made dim,
And her hand leaves his light
Sifted to suit our sight.
Be thou then, O thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere...”
Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ (28 July 1844 - 8 June 1889) from his poem
“The Blessed Virgin compared to the air we breathe”
And once again...!
“There was a child named Bernadette
I heard the story long ago
She saw the Queen of Heaven once
And kept the vision in her soul
No one believed what she had seen
No one believed what she heard
But there were sorrows to be healed
And mercy, mercy in this world...”
Leonard Cohen
(21 September 1934 - 7 November 2016)
“Be that as it may, meetings with the Blessed Virgin are so numerous and so well-attested that one must certainly at least admit their objective reality. I say at least, because this does not satisfy the demands of my conscience. In fact, I would not be entirely honest or frank with you, dear Unknown Friend, if I were not to say what is an absolutely sure result (in the inner forum of my consciousness) of more than forty years of endeavour and experience. It is the following:
One meets the Blessed Virgin when one attains a certain intensity of spiritual aspiration, when this aspiration is authentic and pure...just as the experience of having a mother belongs naturally to human family life on earth. It is therefore as natural for the spiritual domain as the fact of having a mother is natural in the domain of one’s terrestrial family. The difference is that on earth one can certainly be motherless, whilst in the realm of the spiritual this can never happen. Therefore, the thesis that I am advancing with one hundred percent conviction is that every Christian Hermeticist who truly seeks authentic spiritual reality will sooner or later meet the Blessed Virgin.”
from the book “Meditations On The Tarot : A Journey into Christian Hermeticism” by Anonymous (translated from the French Edition by Robert Powell 1985)
I have yet to write about this book which was truly a life-changing school for me personally, (sometime I might try) at the same time, unlike the Holy Scriptures, it is not for everyone, and not necessary to read. It’s just one of the almost infinite variety of spiritual schools the Catholic Church offers to people. The late Cistercian, Fr Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O said this,
“It is without doubt the most extraordinary work I have ever read. It has tremendous spiritual depth and insight.”
With that said, Mary seems most often, to pick the most uncomplicated and truly innocent souls to come to. But I have to say, also, at times in our history, some formidably intellectual souls too. In other words, just about everyone !
I read somewhere, maybe it was St Louis de Montfort, that true devotion to Mary began with Jesus. My relationship with Mary began just by watching my Mom set up a May altar with a statue of Mary. Mom did not preach about Mary or try to convince us about this love; just watching the two Mothers together was enough to convince me. You all know the accusations about Catholics worshipping saints etc. I don’t think you can convince or force anyone to see or love Mary, so I don’t try. I just share or offer my love through these words, quotes, and my illustrations and icons. It’s really very simple to me. God is our Father, Jesus is our brother and Saviour, the Holy Spirit is infinitely creative and whispers to you “the secrets of the kingdom, among other things too many to list here, Mary is the Mother of God and our mother, the saints are our sisters and brothers. The beautiful poetic titles given to Mary in the ancient Litany of Loreto are like the titles of Mary in Icons; rich reminders of her many aspects. Let me finish by giving you another favorite quote about Our Mother in her aspect as “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” (feastday 27 June)
“...Mary has such faith in his ultimate belief and faith in his ultimate redemption that she can calmly hold and reassure her son. If God himself can go to Mary for refuge, then anyone should be able to approach her. Her ultimate belief and faith extends to every one of us, no matter how harshly we may judge ourselves. Our Lady of Perpetual help is said to never refuse a request for help, great or trivial. Despite their reticence to invoke her aid, many have reported hearing Mary’s calm voice saying,
‘Why don’t you just ask ?’ “
A most blessed and happy Mother’s Day to all our Mothers - living or those who have passed into God.
May 2020 * Fr Bill McNichols
Mother of Holy Hope 263 by William Hart McNichols

Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations

August 11th, 2020

Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations

Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations
“...Laudato si, mi Signore, per sora nostra
Matre Terra, laquale ne sustenta et gouerna,
et produce diuersi fructi con coloriti
flori et herba.
Laudato si mi Signore, per quelli ke perdonano
per lo Tuo Amore
et sostengono infirmitate et tribulatione...”
(“ Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister
Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us
and who produces varied fruits
with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praised be You, my Lord, through those
who give pardon for Your Love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation...”)
Canticle of the Sun by St Francis of Assisi
The Canticle of the Sun is first mentioned by Thomas of Celano in the first biography of Francis, written in 1228 just two years after his death. (This is personally my favorite biography of Francis !)
St Francis is thought to have composed most of this timeless song, written in an Umbrian dialect of Italian, in late 1224, near San Damiano. This was after receiving the 5 Wounds of Jesus Crucified (the Stigmata), around the feast of the Holy Cross on Mt La Verna , September 14, 1224. And while he was recovering in a small branch-like covering built by St Clare and the Poor Ladies of her convent, he dictated his final poem, song.
“Though physically blind, he was able to see more clearly than ever with the inner eye of his mind. With unparalleled clarity he perceived the basic unity of all creation and his own place as a Friar in the midst of God’s creatures. His unqualified love of all creatures, great and small, had grown into unity in his own heart. He was so open to reality that it found a place to be at home everywhere anywhere. He was a centre of communion with all creatures.”
From the British Friar, Fr Eric Doyle, OFM (1938-1984)
“ Pope Francis is calling on Catholics to participate in ‘Laudato si Week’ in May 2020 to encourage care for our common home.”
“I renew my urgent call to respond to the ecological crisis. The cry of the earth and the cry of the poor cannot wait anywhere...the urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together, for we know that things can change.”
Reported by Courtney Mares, Catholic News Agency
It seems odd but I feel as we get sicker and home bound, nature is getting better, and since we’re not attacking or fracking Mother Earth (I hope and pray) as much as usual, during just one month, she seems to be truly alive and joyful.
This icon was written/painted in Manhattan in 1997. I was going to paint the background deep midnight blue with stars, but one day while I was just beginning the icon, I stepped outside the former Jesuit Community upper west side apartments, on 98th and Broadway at sunset, and between the streets I could see the sun setting over the Hudson River. All the colors were magnificent and I knew I had to try and capture them. Our Mother is cradling our Mother Earth, as St Francis called her, and in a flash, in my imagination I saw 12 flames of the Holy Spirit circle the holy globe. I knew that the message I was given to portray was hope .
Mary stands on a red hot globe, some have seen as the core of the earth which turns rocks into diamonds ! I know I painted it, but am still not sure what the hot red globe is ? Having worked and lived through the AIDS pandemic in the 1980’s I witnessed hundreds of deaths, among the thousands, and yet I believe it ultimately made the lgbtq community stronger, wiser, more compassionate.
In May we wait for God’s Spirit to once again green Mother Earth, inside out.
And we beg Our Mother Mary’s intercession, in her month of May, to help the scientists and doctors to find a way to end this present pandemic.
“ Remember O most gracious Virgin Mary
That never, was it known, that
Anyone who fled to thy protection was left
Unaided. Inspired by this confidence,
I fly unto thee, O Virgin of Virgins,
My Mother;
To thee do I come, before thee I stand,
Sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
Despise not my petitions but in
Thy clemency
Hear and answer me !
Amen”
“The Memorare” thought to have been composed by St Bernard of Clairvaux
Fr Bill McNichols 2020

Holy Theologian Adamantius Origen

August 11th, 2020

Holy Theologian Adamantius Origen

Holy Theologian Adamantius Origen: Spirit And Fire (185-254)
“Jeremiah, while the people are captive in Babylon, makes his lamentations over the city, the country, and the people because of what happened. He makes these laments in individual stanzas beginning with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet...if we see the soul - which is contemplative by nature, able to survey and attend to things that exist...altogether subject to hostile powers, we shall somehow understand both the captivity and the one taking captive. But taking refuge in Christ, who proclaimed, according to the prophet Isaiah, ‘release to the captives’ (see Lk. 4:18; Isa. 61:1), we shall be liberated from captivity...for Jesus came to ‘lead those in bondage out of their bonds and those sitting in darkness from the house of custody.’ “
Origen’s “Commentary on Lamentations”
When Origen was 16 years old his father, St Leonides, (feastday 22 April) was martyred. His mother hid his clothes so that the young boy could not run out and follow his father. This murder left an indelible mark, wound, impression on Origen’s soul. Ever after he would seek ways to give his life in the most extreme and radical ways. He endured theological and physical persecution, torture and finally died at the age of 70 having been broken by his imprisonments and torture. It is only in the recent past, that he has been “rehabilitated’ and given a place of honor as a Holy Theologian and Faithful Son of the very early Church, by Cardinals Danielou, de Lubac, and von Balthasar. I became fascinated with Origen as a young seminarian, hearing extreme and shocking stories about him. Who was this man really ? It so happened that my great teacher and friend, Fr Robert Daly, SJ had translated von Balthasar’s book from the German, called “Origen : Spirit and Fire.” Which I will quote from below. This icon, I felt compelled to write/paint, is of the incredible scholar, teacher, and theologian, shown in Alexandria, holding a chalice with the martyred Christ pouring his blood into the cup; Origen’s cup too. Origen also holds a scroll of Holy Scripture which he loved, contemplated and taught. The flame or fire of the Holy Spirit hovers over his mind.
“ It is all but impossible to overestimate Origen and his importance for the history of Christian thought. To rank him beside Augustine and Thomas simply accords him his rightful place in this history. Anyone who has given long hours to studying the Fathers will have had the same experience as a mountain climber:the slow, steady, receding of the seemingly still-threatening peaks all around him, until, beyond them, the hitherto-hidden dominant central massif rises majestically before him. None of the great Fathers, from the Cappadocians to Augustine, and on up to Dionysius, Maximos, Scotus Eriugena and Eckhart, could escape an almost magical fascination of the ‘man of steel ‘, as they called him. Some were completely swept away. Jerome, when commenting on Scripture, continues to copy straight from Origen’s pages, even after outwardly breaking in anger the chains and fiercely denying the bond that linked him to the master. Basil and Gregory of Nazianzen, in their enthusiastic admiration, make a collection of the most fascinating passages from the inexhaustible works of the one to whom they continually returned when their day to day struggles allowed them a moment of peace. Gregory of Nyssa was even more thoroughly captivated. The Cappadocians transmit him practically intact to Ambrose, who also knew and copied him firsthand. Infact, many of the breviary readings of Ambrose (as well as of Jerome and Bede) are practically word for word Origen. Thus, flowing simultaneously from several directions, the heritage of Origen, already becomes the common possession of the Church, poured over Augustine and through him into the Middle Ages. But in the East he is subject of wave upon wave of enthusiasm...For there is no thinker in the Church who is so invisibly all-present as Origen.”
By Hans Urs von Balthasar, 1938, “Origen: Spirit and Fire.”
Continued Prayers and Blessings of this painful, yet luminous Easter season !
Fr Bill McNichols April 2020

Jesus Christ Divine Mercy And His Apostle St Faustina Kowalska

April 21st, 2020

Jesus Christ Divine Mercy And His Apostle St Faustina Kowalska

Jesus Christ Divine Mercy And His Apostle St Faustina Kowalska
“...so many hearts I find, broke like yours and mine
torn by what we’ve done and can’t undo ...
but there were sorrows to be healed and mercy, mercy in this world...”
Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)
from his “Song of Bernadette”
“My Jesus, grant that I may have love, compassion and mercy for every soul without exception. O my Jesus, each of your saints reflects one of your virtues; I desire to reflect your compassionate heart, full of mercy; I want to glorify it. Let your mercy, O Jesus, be impressed upon my heart and soul like a seal, and this will be my badge in this and the future life. Glorifying your mercy is the exclusive task of my soul.” (Diary 1242)
“Jesus, make my heart like unto yours, or rather transform it into your own heart that I may sense the needs of other hearts, especially those who are sad and suffering. May the rays of mercy rest in my heart.” (Diary 514)
In many ways, Faustina’s personality reminds me of Bernadette. Both so humble and open to transmit, without any embellishment, the vision and message they were given. I’d like to end with a quote from one of my favorite scripture scholars. I carried, and read on the subway in Manhattan in 1981, then copied down so many passages from his commentary on Revelation and the Gospel of Luke. This is my favorite quote:
“The only requirement for entrance into the kingdom of God is an emptiness only God can fill.”
From his commentary on the Gospel of Luke by GB Caird (1917-1984)
A most blessed and needed Divine Mercy Sunday !
Fr Bill McNichols 19 April 2020
St Faustina Kowalska Apostle Of Divine Mercy 094 by William Hart McNichols

Holy Theologian Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar

April 21st, 2020

Holy Theologian Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar

Holy Theologian Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905 - 1988)
“Even if a unity of faith is not possible, a unity of love is.” (And)
“Wastefulness is the original Christian attitude... The entire Passion occurs under the sign of this complete self-wasting of God’s love for the world.” von Balthasar
Literally right before he died von Balthasar was summoned to Rome by St John Paul II, to receive the Cardinals cap. He had refused it twice, joking but also seriously saying to John Paul that he didn’t need a red hat. He had already written about, and told John Paul, that he felt Cardinals were not necessary. John Paul’s answer was to summon him to Rome and receive this honor; von B ( I use this abbreviation affectionately) died just before he was supposed to fly to Rome. He was loved and respected by John Paul and at von B’s urgings, he apologized to the world about 100 terrible things the church has done over the centuries. von B told him, (and it was later formally requested by Cardinal Ratzinger) the church cannot go into the 21st century without this lengthy apology. His final apology was to women. And even though things are not moving fast enough for many people, if you had told me in grade school, in the pre-Vatican II Church, that one day we’d have women lector’s, communion ministers, altar girls, and maybe one day deacons again, I would not have believed you. One of my theologian friends once told me if we could combine von B with Gustavo Gutierrez, Dorothee Solle and Elizabeth Johnson, Thomas Merton, Ilia Delio, Elizabeth Fiorenza, J. Baptist Metz, or the Berrigan brothers, we would have a “near perfect” theology. Other names of prominent women and men could be added of course; living and dead. I think also of my theologian friends John Dadosky, James Martin, SJ, Megan McKenna, James Alison and Christopher Pramuk, and of course Dr St Hildegard . What I’m trying to say is better said by St John Cardinal Newman in a quote that my teacher, Franciscan Brother Robert Lentz placed in the hand of his Icon of St John Cardinal Newman: “The voice of the whole Church will in time make itself heard.” We were introduced to von B by our Novice Master, Fr Vince O’Flaherty, SJ In 1968. He instructed us to read the book “Prayer.” Since that time I personally, have been fed by his writings and during my Hospice years in New York and then in my iconographer’s apprenticeship, I read all 7 volumes of his “Glory of the Lord” series. It was in New York that my deceased friend Eddie Oakes, (Fr Edward Oakes, SJ) who wrote the brilliant book on von B, “Pattern of Redemption ” introduced me to Adrienne von Speyr. Balthasar states that she was so influential in his theology that the two of them must be taught and read together. He speaks about their mission together in his book “Our Task.” I have written about her, and shown the icon I wrote of her, in one of my Facebook blogs. I am introducing you to von B now because I’d like to write about my icon of Holy Theologian Adamantius Origen in a blog around the feast of his father, (April 22) Holy Martyr St Leonides of Alexandria. And I must use von B’s dramatic and scholarly rehabilitation of Origen, to write about him.
During this time of the pandemic, we are all quarantined and I’m trying to see it (as I tried during the many years of the AIDS pandemic) as a possible contemplative opportunity to go deeper into God and point ( as always with images and icons) to the guides who also had to endure many different kinds of suffering and still held onto the Hope that is in God’s eternal love for us.
The first volume of the 7 in “The Glory of the Lord” series is about beauty, and it’s called “Seeing the Form.” Here is a part of the opening of the book.
“The word with which we embark on in this first volume of a series of theological studies is a word with which the philosophical person does not begin, but rather concludes. It is a word that has never possessed a permanent place or an authentic voice in the concert of the exact sciences,and, when it is chosen as a subject for discussion, appears to betray in him who chooses it an idle amateur among such very busy experts. It is, finally, a word untimely in three different senses, and bearing it as one’s treasure will not win one anyone’s favours; one rather risks finding oneself outside everyone’s camp...
Beauty is the word that shall be our first... We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past whether he admits it or not - can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.”
To me just thinking that this was first published in English in 1982, before there was much talk about the possible devastation of the earth, I think in this area alone, of global warming and infection in every way ... was/is prophetic. And like all prophets contains a warning and a hope.
A blessed Easter season, stay safe during this painful ,crucial, and yet Holy Kairos Time.
Fr Bill McNichols April 2020

The Risen Christ

April 21st, 2020

The Risen Christ

The Risen Christ
“The valley is dark...
you walk through the shadows
uncertain and surely hurting ...
and though you trust the light
towards which you wend your way
sometimes it feels all that you wanted
has been taken away...
You will walk
You will walk
You will walk in good company.
I love the best in you
you love the best in me
though it’s not always easy
lovely, lonely.
We will walk
We will walk
We will walk in good company,
The shepherd upright and flowing,
You see.”
“The Valley” by Jane Siberry sung by kd lang on “Hymns of the 49th Parallel”
“This is the Risen Lord, standing as Lord for all time, in all places. He stands bearing the wounds of his passion and death, his devotion and obedience and love. And he stands greeting us with open arms amid the blue mandala of eternity. This is the One that the just man Job cried out to in belief: ‘For I know that my Redeemer lives and that he, at the last, will take his stand on earth.’(Job 19:25)... This is the cornerstone and heart of our religion and faith...St Antony of Egypt tried to say it this way: ‘By the word of His power He gathered us out of all lands, from one end of the earth to the other end of the world, and made resurrection of our minds, and remission of our sins, and taught us that we are members one of another.’ This mystery of the Word rising in our hearts will one day raise our bodies to glory. We stand, we kneel, we sit at the table of the Risen Lord, and our minds are opened to the Scriptures and our heats are stirred to fire and hope again, always. Amen “
From “Christ All Merciful: Icons by William Hart McNichols” by Megan McKenna
Orbis Press 2002
“...God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning, and crying and pain will be no more...See I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:3-5)
Fr Bill McNichols - Easter 2020
💢Holy Week Meditation💢
“We will not find Christ in our Churches this year because He is out in the streets.
Christ rushes to our side with the first responders.
He is with the medical workers risking their own lives to save others.
He shares the fear and loneliness of the hospital patients fighting for their lives.
He feels the hunger and anxiety of the poor.
He is in all those who leave their families at risk in order to protect our fellow citizens and loved ones.
He is with the pastors who pray humbly with their flocks via social media.
He labors with the truck drivers bringing food to our tables and the pharmacists and shop keepers providing for our needs.
He trembles with those who have seen more suffering than they can bear and mourns with those who lost dear loved ones.”
Archbishop Castillo
Lima, Peru

Holy Week and Our Lady of Magadan

April 21st, 2020

Holy Week and Our Lady of Magadan

Holy Week and Our Lady of Magadan
I believe it was during this same time, Holy Week in 1994 that I completed this commission for (now deceased) Archbishop Hurley of Anchorage, Alaska to give to the Orthodox Bishop of Magadan, Far East, Russia. Magadan is so distant it's not called Siberia , but Far East it's actually "above" Japan and only 4 hours flight from Anchorage, in the Bay of the Sea of Ohotsk.
Archbishop Hurley wanted to open a Catholic parish in Magadan and he longed to give a gift of an appropriate icon.
Magadan was a concentration camp of the former Soviet Union from 1938 under Stalin until it closed in 1955 under Krushchev. No one knows how many thousands of people died in the prison camps and are buried there. I traveled there in October 1995, and could write many pages on my short but indelible visit; most of all I remember the incredible generosity of the Pastor Fr Michael Shields and the Russian people. And I also visited the Lavra (monastery) of St Sergius of Radonezh, where the Orthodox monks commissioned another icon, Our Lady of Pochaev, which is now in their monastery church. An honor I will never forget.
When designing the icon for Magadan, with its tragic history, I could only imagine a Pieta. I added the pastel or Easter colors to give a sense of what the grieving Mother would soon experience through her Risen Son.
I dedicate this icon and the prayers it hopefully inspires to a world of all God’s children afflicted and suffering from the covid 19 virus.
Fr Bill McNichols
Holy Week 2020

Hagia Hesychia - Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence

April 6th, 2020

Hagia Hesychia - Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence

Hagia Hesychia : Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence (Holy Wisdom)
“And when I breathed, my breath was like lightening...I cured with the power that came through me...” Nicholas Black Elk (1 December 1863 - 19 August 1950)
A Mass was celebrated by Bishop Robert Guss of Rapid City, South Dakota on 21 October 2017 to formally open the cause for Canonization of the Holy Medicine Man (Wicasa Wakan) Nicholas Black Elk. Around the age of 60, in the 1930’s, Black Elk finally told his formative vision (Hanbelachia) and life story to
John C. Neihardt and it gradually became a world wide bestseller called “Black Elk Speaks.” This incredibly beautiful book is sheer poetry and can be read or listened to on Audible books. I read it after making a life-changing retreat at Holy Rosary Mission, South Dakota in 1971. And while I was recovering from my heart collapse in April-May of 2012 I listened to it on Audible. I was semi-delirious from an induced coma, with nine drugs still swimming inside me. I was in that coma from April 27 until I was “miraculously” awakened on May 11. I too was in need of a “Hanbelachia” (vision quest) and Black Elk’s words washed over me in the most holy and profoundly,deeply comforting way.
“This famous book, however, leaves out the vast majority of how Nicholas Black Elk, (baptized on December 6, St Nicholas Feast) embraced the Catholic faith in 1904, recounted his life to Neihardt in the 1930’s . Black Elk became an energetic Catholic Catechist, retaining Lakota practices that harmonized with his Catholic Faith ... Jesuit Father Michael Steltenkamp, author of “Nicholas Black Elk: Medicine Man,Missionary and Mystic” And “Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala, interviewed numerous Jesuit contemporaries of Nicholas Black Elk, gaining a vastly more complete portrait of Black Elk’s path of holiness...
‘ Whatever vision he had as a youth, it was so influenced over the years by his life as a Catechist, that the vision and his Catholic life became one life-inspiration,’ Father Steltenkamp said...Black Elk predicted that God would give them a sign at his death. They testified that on the nights between his death and funeral, the sky seemed as bright as day, filled with spectacular displays of falling lights - like a water fountain with lights splashing ...even contemporary journals across North America noted the event, calling it a very unusual aurora borealis...”
From the National Catholic Register by Peter Jesserer Smith October 2017
One of the most beautiful declarations of Vatican Council II, is that the Holy Spirit is in, and speaks through all people’s. Personally I have to say that in my reading of Native American Wisdom, I think they got everything right, including almost all tribes (pre-Freudian) designation of gay people as Two Spirit Ones.
Recently my brilliant artist sister Marjory McNichols Wilson sent me this recent message from a visionary Hopi woman named White Eagle she shared on 16 March 2020. I chose this icon of a Holy Wisdom (Sophia) figure called Holy Silence to illustrate this blog, and I also painted an image of Black Elk you can look into on my website, which I have already written about. So now, here is the holy wisdom of White Eagle.
Message from White Eagle, Hopi indigenous on 03/16/2020:
VISION QUEST 🔥👁️
“This moment humanity is going through can now be seen as a portal and as a hole.
The decision to fall into the hole or go through the portal is up to you.
If you repent of the problem and consume the news 24 hours a day, with little energy, nervous all the time, with pessimism, you will fall into the hole. But if you take this opportunity to look at yourself, rethink life and death, take care of yourself and others, you will cross the portal.
Take care of your homes, take care of your body. Connect with your spiritual House.
When you are taking care of yourselves, you are taking care of everything else. Do not lose the spiritual dimension of this crisis, have the eagle aspect, that from above, and see the whole; see more broadly.
There is a social demand in this crisis, but there is also a spiritual demand. The two go hand in hand. Without the social dimension, we fall into fanaticism. But without the spiritual dimension, we fall into pessimism and lack of meaning.
You were prepared to go through this crisis. Take your toolbox and use all the tools available to you.
Learn about resistance of the indigenous and African peoples: we have always been and continue to be exterminated. But we still haven't stopped singing, dancing, lighting a fire and having fun. Don't feel guilty about being happy during this difficult time.
You do not help at all being sad and without energy. You help if good things emanate from the Universe now. It is through joy that one resists. Also, when the storm passes, each of you will be very important in the reconstruction of this new world.
You need to be well and strong. And, for that, there is no other way than to maintain a beautiful, happy and bright vibration. This has nothing to do with alienation.
This is a resistance strategy. In shamanism, there is a rite of passage called the quest for vision. You spend a few days alone in the forest, without water, without food, without protection. When you cross this portal, you get a new vision of the world, because you have faced your fears, your difficulties ...
This is what is asked of you:
Allo yourself to take advantage of this time to perform your vision seeking rituals. What world do you want to build for you? For now, this is what you can do: serenity in the storm. Calm down, pray every day. Establish a routine to meet the sacred every day.
Good things emanate; what you emanate now is the most important thing. And sing, dance, resist through art, joy, faith and love.
Resist - Be reborn”

Go to Joseph what he says to you do

April 6th, 2020

Go to Joseph  what he says to you  do

“Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do.”
Genesis 41:55
"....it was permitted by God that Joseph have this anxious feeling constantly present within his heart. Joseph accepted it with resignation and never appeared outwardly to be restless or disturbed. "
Page 202
The Life of St Joseph
by Maria Baij, OSB
1743-1766
“I only beg, for the love of God, that anyone who does not believe me will put what I say to the test, and he will see by experience what great advantages come from his commending himself to this glorious patriarch and having devotion to him. Those who practice prayer should have a special affection for him always. I do not know how anyone can think of the Queen of Angels, during the time that she suffered so much with the Child Jesus, without giving thanks to Saint Joseph for the way he helped them. If anyone cannot find a master to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious saint as his master and he will not go astray.”
Autobiography of St Teresa of Avila, chapter 6
I asked my dear childhood friend Kathy Hendricks, the popular speaker, retreat leader and author of many truly inspiring books, including our book together,
“Heavenly Friends: An Introduction to the Beauty of Icons” http://www.twentythirdpublications.com/hefrneintobe.html to write a prayer to St Joseph for his feastday (traditionally honoring the day he died with Mary and Jesus by his side) March 19th. Here is her beautiful prayer:
Prayer to St. Joseph during Times of Fear and Anxiety
Dearest Saint Joseph,
You protected Mary and Jesus when violence overtook
the land.
Pray for all of those most at risk during this pandemic –
the elderly, those with underlying health issues,
the poor, the homeless, and those with no one to care for or about them.
May your example of courage and strength inspire us
to be more cognizant of the common good
and generous in our outreach to others.
You attended to the needs of your family
and remained steadfast in your faith.
Pray for all of those who are responding so generously
in providing for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs
of the local, national, and international community.
May your model of fidelity fill us with the desire
to spread kindness,
consideration,
hope,
and compassion
during this challenging time.
We ask your intercession
so that we might draw together as a human family,
ever aware of and grateful for
the unending love and mercy of God.
Amen.

Beato Fra Angelico

February 28th, 2020

Beato Fra Angelico

Beato Fra Angelico (1400-1455) - Patron of Artists - feastday 18 February
“Freely you were given, freely give.” St Matthew 10:8
“On June 23, 1983, Pope St. John Paul II granted official cultus to Fra Angelico, who is now Blessed with an office, a Mass and obligatory memory as Patron of Artists. Fra Angelico, baptized Guido di Pietro, was born around 1400 in Vicchio, a Tuscan town near Florence. At the age of twenty, he entered the Dominican Order at the Priory of San Domenico in Fiesole . He took the religious name of John whence the appellation Fra Giovanni de Fiesole. He died in Rome on February 18, 1455, and is buried in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva where his tomb remains an object of veneration...was this remarkable priest a painter of the Middle Ages or the Renaissance? The answer varies with the preconceptions of the critics, many of whom consider him a painter of transition.”
John Rubba, OP, “Fra Angelico”
“Fra Angelico’s life, by evidence, ran its course without a question, without a doubt, in uninterrupted service to God in the exercise of a God-given talent...Fra Angelico managed, as if without trying, to simplify the sometimes rather fussy pageantry of late-medieval painting without thinning it -he weeded it and gave it room to grow-and to unite heavenly sweetness with earthly truth as if any question as to their identity were ridiculous...Because of his gentleness, Fra Angelico is often underestimated as an artist even by his admirers, who tend to settle for his sweetness without recognizing his strength...Fra Angelico reconciled revolution and tradition by reconciling Massaccio’s realism-the projection of figures in light and space on a monumental scale-with the essentially miniature technique of the late-medievalists such as his probable teacher, Lorenzo Monaco.”
John Canaday, “The Lives of the Painters”
The Dominican motto, along with “Veritas,” is “Contemplata aliis tradrere,” (which is to share what you have seen or contemplated), reaches its zenith in Beato Angelico. Our great contemporary Swiss medical doctor and mystic, Adrienne von Speyr (20 September 1902-17 September 1967) sees Fra Angelico, while she is in an ecstatic state under obedience to her spiritual director, Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar, who was also her companion in a Mission, in fact he once said, you cannot separate my theology from hers. She said of Fra Angelico, “I see him (Adrienne smiles). He loves the Way that leads to God and is held in a continual contemplation of this Way. And if he paints, then he paints this Way. The saints he paints, the angels he presents, are all for him the expression of this Way. And in everything he experiences - even theological, philosophical, even if it is something extreme that remains incomprehensible to him -he can only concur if it can be brought into harmony with this Way. As soon as he comes to the Way, everything is clear to him, and he would be very capable of drawing very subtle distinctions. It is as if God had designated him to represent this Way to Him. So everything is also related that is given to him in contemplation, everything that he experiences in prayer and in daily life, everything is referred to this Way leading to God. It is the Way of being like a child, of childlikeness, of the childhood of God. It is the Way of holiness, the Way of renunciation in love of neighbor, which is so far developed that always the Lord and His holiness are seen in the neighbor. Art is given to him. He has not exactly chosen it. It is so much his talent and corresponds to him so much that it chose him more than he chose it. But for him it is one with religion, with love for God...he is one of his smiling saints.”
Adrienne von Speyr, “The Book of All Saints”
A blessed feast of Beato Fra Angelico to everyone especially - all who devote their lives to the vocation and work of Art. And a special thank you to my artist sister, Marjory McNichols Wilson who posts these blogs and helps me in every way!
Fr Bill McNichols - February 2020

The Kenosis of St Bernadette of Lourdes

February 28th, 2020

The Kenosis of St Bernadette of Lourdes

The Kenosis (self-emptying) of St Bernadette of Lourdes
“Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”
Barry Lopez from his fable “Crow and Weasel”
“Wastefulness is the original Christian attitude...The entire Passion occurs under the sign of this complete self-wasting of God’s love for the world.”
From “Light of the Word” by Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar
“The Virgin used me as a broom to remove dust. When the work is done, the broom is put behind the door again. “
St Bernadette
“At my third request she (the Blessed Mother) put on a serious air and appeared to humiliate herself. She joined her hands, raising them above her breast. She looked towards heaven, then she slowly separated her hands, leaned towards me and said with a trembling voice: ‘I am the Immaculate Conception.’ “
From “Bernadette: The Only Witness” by Fr John Lynch, SM
“There was a child named Bernadette
I heard the story long ago
She saw the Queen of Heaven once
And kept the vision in her soul
No one believed what she had seen
No one believed what she heard
But there were sorrows to be healed
And mercy, mercy in this world...
We’ve been around, we fall, we fly
We mostly fall, we mostly run
And every now and then we try
To mend the damage that we’ve done
Tonight, tonight I just can’t rest
I’ve got this joy here inside my breast
To think that I did not forget
That child, that song of Bernadette...”
A truly inspiring, lovely song by the great Leonard Cohen (recorded beautifully by Jennifer Warnes in 1986)
In 1943 Jennifer Jones won the Oscar for her luminous portrayal of St Bernadette, in the film “The Song of Bernadette,” based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Franz Werfel. If you watch the incredible transformation on Jennifer Jones’ face when she first sees Our Lady of Lourdes, you see why she won. Her face goes from a shock-like fear, to disbelief or clearly bewildered...then into wonder and finally, total love. Her radiant face reflects the Woman she sees. It helps us all feel how we might feel if we were privileged to see the Mother of God. This icon was commissioned by the church of the Shrine of St Bernadette, here in Albuquerque in the early 1990’s. They asked for Bernadette to be in her religious habit of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers; the order she joined in 1866. I placed a candelabra behind her with 11 candles to signify the first time she saw Mary, February 11th, 1858. She is holding a bowl of water to signify the healing waters of Lourdes. When she was diagnosed with tuberculosis she refused the offer to be taken back from Nevers to Lourdes because she knew the healing waters were not for her. She is shown pouring them out of a bowl, symbolically emptying her life. She died on April 16, 1879 at the age of thirty five. St. John Paul II designated 11 February as World Day of the Sick in May of 1992. He wrote “a special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one’s suffering for the good of the Church and of reminding us to see in our sick brothers and sisters the face of Christ...” I’ll end with a most hopeful quote from St Bernadette: “If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again. We can always start all over again. Enjoy God’s amazing opportunities bestowed on us. Have faith in Him always.”
Fr Bill McNichols 💟 February 2020

The Silence of St Thomas Aquinas

February 28th, 2020

The Silence of St Thomas Aquinas

The Silence of St Thomas Aquinas (feast day January 28)
“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”
St Thomas Aquinas
My Father, Stephen McNichols, was born on the old feast of St Thomas Aquinas, March 7, and so from my earliest childhood, I felt a connection between this saint and my Dad. He used to tell me stories about a dinner Thomas was invited to with St Louis IX and St Bonaventure. At dinner Thomas was so caught up with solving a problem, that suddenly, when he found the answer he burst out loud with it and everyone was embarrassed for him. But Good King St Louis had a scribe rush over to where Thomas was seated to be sure his thought was taken down in writing. There is another great story that in Thomas’ youth his classmates called him the dumb ox, because his silence was thought to be stupidity.
His holy teacher, the Dominican and scientist, St Albert the Great, (feastday November 15) told the students that one day they would hear a great roar from this dumb ox. As we all know, the world continues to learn from the genius of St Thomas, but who was quite controversial in his own lifetime. It was near the end of his life, on the feast of St Nicholas, December 6, while saying Mass that he had an experience of God so profound, that he gave up writing and said “All that I have written is straw...” (in comparison to his mystical vision or experience). And so Thomas “went into silence.” Another thing I hope we’ve all experienced is a teacher who can change your life. A woman or man who “sees you” and can bring out your God-given gifts. Just recently, a couple of you tubes popped up on my phone. It was two short videos of The Book of Revelation by two young men who call themselves “The Bible Project.” Because they were short I thought, I’ll give them a try and was amazed at the brilliance, masterful teaching, delightful graphics, and the depth they manage to achieve in just a few minutes. Since then I’ve listened to and watched Isaiah, Haggai, Habakkuk, Esther, Job, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs (the Protestant Bible only contains 3 of the Wisdom Books) .... Matthew, Psalms, Mark and many more, like the ones on just a Hebrew word, or concept, such as “holiness.” I can’t say enough about these wonderful teachers who open books of the Bible for you and then you can meditate on them with reverence “in a prayer.”
In my six year apprenticeship with master Iconographer, Friar Robert Lentz, OFM, I began to experience the importance of the silent mystery in so many enigmatic icons, such as “Mother of God Similar to Fire,” “Mother of God Your Lap Has Become the Holy Table,” or “Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence.” I think in the West we are uncomfortable with mystery and silence. We want an immediate explanation of what we are looking at in a work of art, but that kind of impatience will only frustrate the viewer of icons.
This icon of Thomas Aquinas deferring to an apparition of Holy Wisdom, is the result of reading two books on the Angelic Doctor:
“Aquinas Search For Wisdom” by Vernon Bourke and “The Silence of St Thomas” by Josef Pieper.
(we ) “...man, in his philosophical inquiry, is faced again and again with the experience that reality is unfathomable and Being is mystery- an experience, it is true, which urges him not so much to communicate as to silence. But it would not be the silence of resignation, and still less the silence of despair. It would be the silence of reverence."
J. Pieper
Happy Feast Day Angelic Doctor St Thomas Aquinas!
Fr Bill McNichols 2020

St Agnes of Rome

February 28th, 2020

St Agnes of Rome

St Agnes of Rome
(b 291-martyred January 21, 304 AD)
“The end is not an event but a person.” GB Caird
When I was around age 5 I received a set of 4 small books called “Little Lives of the Saints” by Fr Daniel Lord, SJ. One of the first things I did when I entered theJesuit Novitiate in Florissant, Missouri on September 1st 1968, was to find Fr Lord’s grave and pray over it, thanking him for leading me to the saints. There is another indelible book, a novel, by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, called “Fabiola” originally published in 1854. It reimagined the lives of the early young martyrs including Agnes, Emerentiana , Sebastian, Tarcisius, and Pancratius.
When you’re 7 or 8, a twelve or thirteen year old is a teenager, when you’re that young they seem very mature and impressive! Now when I think of them they seem very young and vulnerable. Just days ago, a thirteen year old girl was kidnapped in Springfield, Massachusetts and luckily a couple paid attention to the amber alert and followed the car, going a hundred miles an hour, all the while calling the police.
Thank God, because of that couple she was released unharmed after 6 hours.
We hear of these stories way too often. Sadly, tragically, rarely do they have a happy ending. The child martyrs like Agnes and Pancratius inspired me during a rough childhood of bullying. I can’t imagine what it must be like now for kids who are bullied through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, cell phones etc. I wonder if I’d have made it. So, in my childhood, I identified with the early martyrs and they were like my “imaginary friends” (see also the scholarly, very readable and brilliant book “The Cult of the Saints” by Peter Brown) who kept me alive and hoping. They taught me naturally, to pray by learning to talk with Jesus and His Mother, and our brothers and sisters, the saints. In this icon a young Agnes (whose name comes from the Latin, Agnus, which means lamb) is standing on a shining mandala. Inside is the martyred Lamb of God, standing on the Book of the Apocalypse (Revelation) with its seven seals, and the Lamb carries a green Cross of Victory. I love to speak in homilies, especially at funerals, comparing the vision of a powerful, frightening God in Isaiah 6, with the final scriptural vision of God in Revelation which is a Lamb. GB Caird taught me so much about the Lamb in his genius commentary “The Revelation of St John the (theologian) Divine” which I read with so much joy and interest when I was in my thirties as an art student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Today you hear of a possible Apocalypse all the time. I would suggest Caird’s book, but also Craig Koester’s book “Revelation and the End of All Things.” But if you want, you can look at two brilliant very short videos on you tube by two young masterful teachers, who make short videos on every book of the Bible. They call themselves “the Bible Project.” I can’t say enough good about them. Agnes is patron of young girls, and there are so many centuries of beautiful paintings, statues or sculptures of her. She remains much beloved, through almost every century of Christianity; a sign of the Lamb of the Apocalypse, who conquers not by physical power but with the miraculous power of the Cross and this way of Love.
A blessed St Agnes Day !
Fr Bill McNichols - January 21, 2020

Dedication of the year 2020 to the Most Holy Trinity

February 28th, 2020

Dedication of the year 2020 to the Most Holy Trinity

Dedication of the year 2020 to the Most Holy Trinity
“The arms of God be around my shoulders,
the touch of the Holy Spirit upon my head,
the sign of Christ’s Cross upon my forehead,
the sound of the Holy Spirit in my ears,
the fragrance of the Holy Spirit in my nostrils,
the vision of Heaven’s company on my lips,
the work of God’s church in my hands,
the service of God and the neighbor in my feet,
a home for God in my heart,
and to God, the Father of all, my entire being,
Amen
Ancient Celtic Prayer
The Apparition of the Most Holy Trinity in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico
“There exists a legend here in the village as to why the parish is named La Santisima Trinidad. The original settlement was not in the area of the current plaza. It was much higher up, toward the foot of the mountain called El Salto de las Aguas, where the five waterfalls stream down from the mountain.
Two families from Abiquiu were the original settlers in this part of the Taos Valley, which was dangerous because of the tribes who attacked the Taos Indian Pueblo and Spanish settlements. The families lived in a large fortified complex at the foot of El Salto. The remains of three torreones can still be seen. The parents would leave the fortified compound during the day to clear the lower fields for cultivation with firm parental instruction to their children to stay within the safety of the walled hacienda and not go wandering off. The children, being children, left the protection of their home and wandered down the Rio Lucero (Arroyo Seco Creek) where one day they encountered two strange men. Surprised to see men who appeared to be Spanish settlers, the children asked where the men lived, for they thought they were the only Spanish settlers in this part of the valley. The men responded that they lived further on down the river. When the children asked if the men got frightened, living so exposed in the open of the lower valley, they responded that they were not frightened. And besides, the men said, a white dove lived in the tall trees near them and made loud cooing noises whenever anyone approached, thereby serving as a warning of approaching danger.
Departing, the children returned home and told their parents of their encounter with the two neighbors. The parents, knowing they were the only Spanish settlers in this part of the valley, decided to investigate for themselves. The two families walked downriver. Soon, the children spotted the white dove in a treetop. They immediately recognized the bird the two men had told them about. As the bird flew from tree to tree the two families followed it. At last the bird landed in an open area on a large rock and then flew off. The people noticed the rock was somehow different-luminescent. They turned the rock over and discovered an ancient bulto, or wood carving , of La Santisima Trinidad. When the children spotted the bulto they immediately cried out, ‘Those are the two men we saw!’ The families recognized that it was the actual Trinity, God the Father, Son and Spirit(the dove ) who had appeared to the children. The current church is built over the site of the rock. The Arroyo Seco Plaza was built around the church, and the ancient bulto is enshrined in a side altar.”
This legend is narrated by Fr Vincent Paul Chavez former pastor of Most Holy Trinity Parish.
I am personally dedicating this year of 2020 to the Holy Trinity in hopes of a recreation and renewal of our endangered planet, also praying for all peoples who are looking for a safe home, and all of us that we can learn to listen, have patience and begin again each day to love one another.
A Blessed New Year !
Fr Bill McNichols

The Incarnation - illustration from 1997

December 23rd, 2019

The Incarnation - illustration from 1997

The Incarnation : illustration from 1997
“There it was - the true Light coming into the world, the genuine, perfect, steadfast Light that illumines every person...” The Gospel of St. John 1:9 (from the Amplified Bible)
I can’t remember now if it was a poem or an article I was asked by America Magazine to illustrate in November 1997. But I do remember that my Father, Stephen McNichols (7 March 1914 - 25 November 1997) was slowly fading into the Light, inside a hospital in Denver at that time. I had flown in from NYC the 24th and was sitting by his bedside, talking with him about everything, while doing this illustration because I had a deadline. He was very peaceful and it did not seem to me at all, that he would die in the early hours of the 25th. So Dad will always be connected to this illustration of The Incarnation. In it I imagined the hand of God the Father lighting a candle of The Light of the World and the Child being the Light coming down from Heaven inside the flame. Sometimes you do things in a way that people call “being in the zone” or almost completely directed by the unconscious imagination. But I like to believe the Holy Spirit who sees all things, including the exact situation you are in at that moment, guides your heart and hand to produce an image that mysteriously ministers to you, and also goes out into the world as something that is a contemplation for others to feel inside their souls too. For me this has become an image of the beginning of a life that would dramatically change all history, all of creation, and point to the night of the end of life on earth, and into the life of Eternity. This is how it is with all of us. We have this brief life here but we will live forever. I have felt both my Father and Mother’s hands still lighting my life, with the beautiful examples of their lives, and their steadfast love. But most of all, I think we all remember our parents,siblings, friends, large or small extended families, with great love, and if need be, the lovely generosity of forgiveness during this Holy Season of Advent and Christmas.
Fr Bill McNichols:the fourth week of Advent 2019

The Feminine Name of God - Shekhinah

December 23rd, 2019

The Feminine Name of God - Shekhinah

The Feminine Name of God : Shekhinah
“....here is the deepest secret nobody knows...and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)”
e e cummings 1952
“We may well prefer the dark secret of our own existence to the whole range of this purely economic glory of God, i.e. to the unknown quantity, the inscrutable being who is concealed by it. But in the end it would be deadly for faith if God were not the God of Glory...In His manifestations God presents Himself as one who dwells, one who descends, one who comes and goes and finally, as a fellow-traveler...YHWH descends in the form of fire...the pillar of cloud...at the consecration of the tabernacle, the glory descends definitively to abide (shakan, whence shekina) within the camp (Exodus 33,35,40).”
from “The Glory of the Lord: Volume 6” by
Holy Theologian Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
Here we go. This blog may seem like a list of a whole lot of books, but I don’t know how to introduce you to Shekhinah in any other way, except to invite you on a prayerful, loving pilgrimage. Also, there is another clearly written explanation of this Hebrew calligraphy by Professor John Dadosky, in the book, “Image to Insight.”
In the early 90’s while I was just beginning my six year apprenticeship of iconography with the Russian American Master Iconographer, Friar Robert Lentz, OFM, I slowly read through all the volumes of “The Glory of the Lord.” I had been introduced to von Balthasar at age 19 by our Novice Master, Fr Vincent O’Flaherty, who had us read the book “Prayer” by the great theologian, and later reintroduced to him, and the mystic Adrienne von Speyr, by my deceased friend, Fr Eddie Oakes, who happened to be writing his truly amazing and holy book on von Balthasar, in the late 80’s, called “Pattern of Redemption” while I was living with him at the 98th Street Jesuit Community in New York City.
But it was later, in Albuquerque , in Volume 6 that I first came across the word, shekina. This led to a journey I’m still on, or a ‘condition’ of sitting inside this mystery, and feeling, or sensing something almost indescribable. Then, when I met Rabbi Leah Novick, after reading her scholarly, beautiful book, “On the Wings of Shekhinah : Rediscovering Judaism’s Divine Feminine” I think I gradually gained more and more understanding. But like the feminine concept of Hagia Sophia or Holy Wisdom, throughout the five Wisdom Books In Scripture (see Kathleen O’Connor’s book, “The Wisdom Literature” and the brilliant “Sophia : the Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton” by Christopher Pramuk) I understood there are somethings that simply cannot be apprehended by the mind, but must be sought in the heart of loving prayer, and often ask, like Icons, for a kind of distance or respectful patience, and as with the Most Blessed Trinity, always remain a holy mystery. As much as I try to describe this pilgrimage to seek and find Shekhinah, it’s like trying to see or explain the Holy Spirit. Yet, I do feel the presence of Shekhinah descend in a palpable way, in late November and during Advent, and reach “Her zenith” on Christmas Eve. As Marcellus says in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” that “Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes, wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated, this bird of dawning singeth all night long; and then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad, the nights are so wholesome,then no planets strike, no fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, so hallow’d and so gracious is the time.” I think we used to refer to this sensation as the “Christmas Spirit,” but as I got a better sense of Shekhinah I believe it is this mystery of the Feminine presence of God. I also believe you can feel this presence too if you become aware of the existence of this beautiful mystery, of one more way, as von Balthasar says, of the manifestations of God, “who descends definitively to abide,” as God with us.
“O Come, O Come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer, our spirits by Thine Advent here. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight. Rejoice, Rejoice! O Israel, to thee shall come Emmanuel.”
Fr Bill McNichols for the first week of Advent 2019

La Gloriosa Venida de Cristo Rey- The Glorious Coming of Christ the King

December 23rd, 2019

La Gloriosa Venida de Cristo Rey- The Glorious Coming of Christ the King

La Gloriosa Venida de Cristo Rey (The Glorious Coming of Christ the King)
“For as lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to another, so will the Son of Man be in His day.” Luke 17:24
St John Paul II’s inspiration to call the “kairos time” of his papacy “the New Advent”, appeared at the beginning of his first encyclical “Redemptor Hominis,” 2 March 1979. Two years earlier, in 1977 Holy Theologian William Stringfellow had written two articles of great power, wisdom, and Biblical insight about how we are to live as Christians in this time of the Second Advent of the Lord. Apparitions of the Mother of God since the time of the ones given to St Catherine Laboure’ of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, in Paris 1830, all seem to be calling to us with basically the same heavenly care and message. These include (in our time) Fatima, Portugal, Amsterdam, Holland, Akita, Japan, Medjugorje, Bosnia, and Kibeho, Rwanda; begging for peace among all people, and they all seem to point to the Second Coming of Christ the King. Probably the most dramatic, loving and radiant of these come from Poland, also in our time, to St Faustina Kowalska. The Lord Himself came to Faustina asking for deep trust and devotion to His Divine Mercy; which He said is as “uncountable” as the grains of sand on the beaches near the oceans.
Jesus calls us to be awake with our lights ( the love inside) lit, awaiting Him, who is Our Lord and Bridegroom. All through this time I had wanted to portray the return of Christ the King, and the Jesuits of Santa Clara University gave me this opportunity in 2004. November 24, 2019 is the last Sunday of the Church’s Liturgical Year, and the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. If you feel an emptiness or deep deep longing in your heart, during Advent especially, it is probably this ancient prayer of begging for the coming of the Messiah that many holy women and men, like St Simeon and St Anna felt, in the first Advent, portrayed in chapter 2:25-36, in St.Luke’s Gospel.
“Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!” Revelation 22:20
“Jesus, make my heart like unto Yours, or rather transform it into Your own heart that I may sense the needs of other hearts, especially those who are sad and suffering. May the Rays of Divine Mercy rest in my heart.”
From the Diary of St Faustina Kowalska
Fr Bill McNichols November 2019

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich 1774-1824

December 23rd, 2019

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich 1774-1824

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich 1774-1824
“... Ismeria remained barren for some eighteen years. When she again became pregnant by God’s blessing, I saw that Ismeria was given a revelation at night. She saw an angel beside her bed writing a letter on the wall. It seems to me that it was again that letter M. Ismeria told her husband of it; he also had seen it in his sleep, but now, while awake, they both saw the sign on the wall. After three months Ismeria gave birth to St Anne, who came into the world with that sign on her body.
In her fifth year Anna was, like Our Lady, taken to the school of the Temple, where she remained twelve years. She was brought home again in her seventeenth year...”
Page 18
The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary by
Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich
“Anne Catherine Emmerich was told by Our Lord that her gift of seeing the past, present, and future in mystic vision was greater than that possessed by anyone else in history. Born at Flamschen, Westphalia, Germany, on September 8, 1774, she became a nun of the Augustinian Order at Dulmen... From 1802 until her death, she bore the wounds of the Crown of Thorns, and from 1812, the full stigmata of Our Lord, including a cross over her heart and the wound from the lance... Clemens Brentano, a poet, a man of extensive learning and experience, and the literary darling of Europe at that time, went to see Anne Catherine Emmerich on a challenge and never left; rather he returned to the faith and spent the rest of his life transcribing her revelations and preparing them for publication...”
From The Life and Revelations of
Anne Catherine Emmerich
By Carl Schmoger, CSSR
We were always told, actually warned, in school and the seminary, about private revelations. Warned that some “spiritually immature” people would place them above the 4 Gospels and Scripture in general. But also told that we could read them as you would any spiritual writing, life of a saint, theological work, or novel of the Life of Christ etc... as long as you knew these were not the same as Scripture. Some very holy people like the “father of modern poetry,” Gerard Manley Hopkins, have found the revelations of Anne Catherine Emmerich to be a most rewarding source for prayer. As we get closer to Advent I offer this icon of a holy woman to you; an image of her being instructed by the Holy Child Jesus, symbolic of the narratives she was given about the first Advent and the Infancy of “... this child destined for the fall and rising of many...” Luke 2:34. Blessed Anne died at age 49 on 9 February 1824 in Dulmen, Germany.
She was beatified 3 October 2004
by St John Paul II
Dear Blessed Anne
Help us to see into the life of Our Savior
not so much with the gifts you were given, but
with the devotion and love for His Life; a gift available to us all. Then help us take this Light, this beautiful Infant, into a world that daily, expresses its sorrow, tragedies, fear, depression and darkness.
We were all born purposely at this time, for this time, to be Lights. So dear friend, intercede for us to have the zeal and courage to bring all our gifts into the world, especially during this coming season of Advent 2019.
Fr Bill McNichols
18 November, feast of Philippine Duchesne

Holy Bishop St Martin of Tours

December 23rd, 2019

Holy Bishop St Martin of Tours

Holy Bishop St Martin of Tours
“We must obey God, rather than men.” Acts of the Apostles 5:29
“Martin (d.397 CE), named for the Roman god of war, grew up strong and handsome, earning himself a position in the elite Praetorian Guard. But at age 20, he carved up his uniform in order to clothe a freezing beggar. That night, he had a vision of Christ, who proclaimed before the heavenly host; ‘Here is Martin, not even baptized, who has clothed me.’ The very next day, Martin was baptized into the newly legalized Christian religion. He persevered in his reluctant service until it came into conflict with his faith. At the Battle of Worms in 356, he found himself on the eve of war. As Caesar Julian came down the line, he thought of Jesus’ disarming of Peter in Gethsemane. As the most powerful man in the known world stood before him, Martin declared loudly; ‘ I have served as your soldier long enough, let me now serve God; I am a soldier of Christ, it is not lawful for me to fight.’ Christian’s do not pray for victory, but for hostilities to cease. Martin did so behind bars,as a prisoner of conscience, after Caesar jailed him for refusing to fight. However, the enemy negotiated for peace and Martin was discharged from the military; the first soldier saint to escape martyrdom...”
Written by the veteran Logan Mehl-Laituri
“...he brings all his concerns before God with the awareness that God will hear them. And God constantly hears him...He cannot turn down a single request of his. His prayer is good and full of love, and he does not have to lead himself into prayer or be led; his entire life is a prayer...Even his work for the Church is a labor of love, of love for God and for his neighbor. He occasionally suffers because of the Church...And he always imagines that the Lord suffers much more...(And what is his death like?) I see anxieties regarding death. And afterward, in the midst of dying, perfect surrender...”
Adrienne von Speyr page 226
The Book of All Saints
Every year I have a desire to begin Advent earlier, and I usually pick St Albert’s day which is 40 days to Christmas, November 15. But I always feel Martin sounds the joyful bell on his feast; that Christ is coming to be born inside us again and again. I have a special love for St Martin, which goes back to childhood seeing paintings of him clothing the beggar, and now buying the candles of him at the grocery store where he is called “San Martin Caballero.”
I bought some today to give as gifts. Each saint has a gift for you if you simply look into their lives. Many even teach us with their faults as well as their virtues.
Dear St Martin,
Teach us, like our friend, St Philippine Duchesne, to live in a prayer. So that our requests out of love for anyone we pray for, like St Martin, will be heard by You, dear Lord. That our simple love for You can ease the terrible suffering we see every day around us. And also, please, dear Lord, prepare an empty place within us, as St Therese of Lisieux once said, a manger, in our souls where the Infant King can be born-again.
Fr Bill McNichols
11 November 2019

Qua-kah-ka-num-ad- Woman Who Prays Always -St Rose Philippine Duchesne

December 23rd, 2019

Qua-kah-ka-num-ad- Woman Who Prays Always -St Rose Philippine Duchesne

“Qua-kah-ka-num-ad”:Woman Who Prays Always
St Rose Philippine Duchesne : 29 August 1769 + 18 November 1852
I don’t remember where I found the book “The Way of a Pilgrim.” Most probably in the once tiny, magical bookstore, The Tattered Cover, when it was housed in an almost fairytale-like house in Denver. I was just 24 and teaching high school art and theology at Regis high School. At that small bookstore I also found books on some of the greatest illustrators, like Edmund Dulac, Jesse Wilcox Smith, Arthur Rackham, and a Russian illustrator who would affect my two self-portraits, the masterful genius, Ivan Bilibin. Later, I would learn that Bilibin’s style of putting beautiful objects in little boxes around an illustration was taken directly from “talking icons” - that is icons with a saint in the center surrounded by little pictures of his or her life. This was actually the beginning of children’s books.
At that time in my life I dreamed of one day becoming an illustrator, and I too, like the young man in “The Way of a Pilgrim” was aching for a contemplative life that did not exclude loving others (or isolation), and enabled other artistic gifts of God to flourish (1 Corinthians 13). “The Way of a Pilgrim,” is described in one of its many editions as “This enduring work of Russian Spirituality first published in 1884, has charmed countless people with its tale of a nineteenth century peasant’s quest for the secret of prayer. Readers follow this anonymous Pilgrim as he treks across the Steppes of Russia in search of the answer to one compelling question. How does one pray constantly?” On the 18th of November we celebrate a woman who found a way.
Many years ago I was in St Louis for a meeting and I was invited by my now deceased classmate, Brother Tom Naughton, SJ to celebrate Mass for his community that evening, it was November 18. Because we were out all day I got to the community house right before Mass and went into the sacristy to become vested for Mass and to look at the Ordo of Prayer and Celebration of the Eucharist, sure there was not a major feastday. I was shocked that here was a woman who was a saint and the only one who’d ever lived in the area. I was humiliated that I knew nothing about her, though I had heard her name often from older Missouri Province Jesuits. This is what I found in the Ordo, literally minutes before I was to celebrate Mass:
“18 November, Rose Philippine Duchesne, + 1852 at age 83 at St Charles, Missouri; from Grenoble, France; founded the first American house of the religious of the Sacred Heart; opened the first American free school west of the Mississippi; known for her courage and desire to serve native Americans, especially the Potawatomi who called her Qua-kah-ka-num-ad, the ‘woman who prays always.’”
It was this designation that became a lifetime quest or deep desire, for me at that moment. The story goes that some Native Potawatomi men saw Philippine kneeling in prayer so they put an oak leaf on the back of her dress, and came back hours later, and it was still, unmoved on the back of her (habit) dress. The next day I asked Tom to drive us to her shrine so I could ask of her, to intercede for me, that one day, I would be granted her gift of praying always. For me I cannot think of any better gift, and I’m still praying for that gift to Philippine. To be in a prayer always, means for me,to live in love of God. To be in conversation with God, as much as possible and I have met many people who feel a longing or call to this way of living. They are all different, some married, some single... the call from God doesn’t seem to discriminate in any way. November has always been my favorite month, because I love the bone dry muted colors of all of nature, and right near the middle of this beautiful month of thanksgiving, we have this incredible woman to celebrate. A blessed coming November!
“And I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places,that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, Who calls you by your name.” Isaiah 45:3
Fr William Hart McNichols

Our Lady of the Rosary - 7 October 2019

December 23rd, 2019

Our Lady of the Rosary - 7 October 2019

Our Lady of the Rosary : 7 October 2019
I remember very clearly a story our novice master told us seminarians in 1968, about his Mother and the Rosary. He admitted to us that he was critical of his Mother because she only used the Rosary for prayer. He wanted to teach her meditation with the scriptures and she politely submitted to her son just to make him happy. It was not going well, she missed her former way of praying and when he saw how deep into meditation, the Rosary took her, he was awed and also ashamed that he never really listened to her or watched her pray. There are so many, almost infinite ways to pray, especially for Catholics. Some pray only with the scriptures, some play their own music, or listen to others music or audio books in the car. Some make use of artistic contemplative creations like icons, paintings or statues. Also some find that nature brings them immediately into God’s presence, I remember my students in Denver telling me that, and I remember my students in Boston telling me they prayed on the subway with a book, or just noticing the suffering of others. Many read spiritual books like the life of a saint, and once again, there are an endless variety of saints to choose from. And...some pray with the Rosary. My kindergarten teacher, a Precious Blood Sister from Dayton, Ohio, taught us the Rosary in its most simple form. Then my Mother helped me learn what Sister had taught us, so I too, naturally associate the Rosary with Mom. I try to begin my prayer every day with the Rosary, then move into some scripture. Lately, I’ve been reading Isaiah using a great book to supplement my reading called “The Fifth Gospel: Isaiah in the History of Christianity” by John Sawyer. Before that I was deeply immersed in the Book of Job, for obvious reasons in our challenging times. I found a heartbreaking comparison with Psalm 139, where the psalmist finds God everywhere, with chapter 23 in Job, where he cannot find God anywhere. Job’s cruel yet theologically sophisticated “friends” taunt him with their dead speeches, and inability to actually minister to his or anyone’s suffering. I think we have all found people like this when we reach out while suffering. I love Job’s humble statement of faith to his wife, “Shall we accept only the good things from the hand of God and never anything bad ? So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.” (Job 2:10) But the two sides to anyone’s spiritual life are going to be going back and forth with darkness, nothingness, times of desolation and also times of illumination and feeling engulfed in God’s love. I think it was St. John of the Cross who said a good spiritual director is one in a thousand , then it was St Francis de Sales, who later added, no, one in ten thousand. These exaggerations make a sad point; that it’s rare to find someone to accompany you through darkness without blaming you, like the “friends” of Job, for it. It’s during all times, light or dark that I find the Rosary a most beautiful, and comforting way to pray. I pray at night to go to sleep, I pray often, while sleeping, and I wake up with the Rosary. In my humble opinion and experience, I simply offer it to you, whatever you may be going through. A most blessed feast of Our Lady of the Rosary!
Fr Bill McNichols
7 October 2019

The Name of God Adam Kadmon- Rosh Hashanah 2019

December 23rd, 2019

The Name of God Adam Kadmon- Rosh Hashanah 2019

The Name of God Adam Kadmon : Rosh Hashanah 2019
(There is a beautiful explanation of this holy fiery calligraphy of the Name of God, in John Dadosky’s book “Image to Insight : The Art of William Hart McNichols” from UNM Press 2018 available from Amazon)
“God will take us back in love
God will cover up our iniquities
You (God) will hurl all our sins
Into the depths of the sea.”
Micah 7:19
Around this time of year there are so many saints, Sts Therese ,Jerome, Francis, the three Archangels, the Guardian Angels... but I chose to focus on Rosh Hashanah. Since I first learned about this feast in New York in 1980, I have felt the High Holy Days (including Yom Kippur) are very shimmering and anointed days; just an aside, St Edith Stein was born on Yom Kippur, October 12, 1891. This year Rosh Hashanah begins at sunset September 29, and Yom Kippur begins at sunset October 8. I love the idea of beginning a new year in Autumn, and also the added notion that we look back on the year 2019 and become honestly aware of our failings (very similar to the idea of the St Ignatius’ daily Examen) and “ throw into the depths of the sea” all our faults and sins. As Holy Prophet Micah prophesied “God will take us back in love and cover all our iniquities.” I have asked my sister Marjory McNichols Wilson ( oh, and please look at her gorgeous paintings on her website !) to post this, as she always does, and a link to the meaning of Rosh Hashanah.
A blessed and holy new year “ in God in whom we live and move and have our very being !” (From Sunday preface number 6)
Fr Bill McNichols
Rosh Hashanah 2019

The Birthday of Mary Mother of God

December 23rd, 2019

The Birthday of Mary Mother of God

The Birthday of Mary Mother of God
(The Hortus Conclusus : The Enclosed Garden)
“She is a garden enclosed, my sister, my promised bride, a garden enclosed, a sealed fountain...Fountain of the garden, well of living water, streams flowing down from Lebanon!
Beloved: awake, north wind, come, wind of the south! Breathe over my garden, to spread its sweet smell around. Let my love come into his garden,let him taste it’s most exquisite fruits.
Lover: I come into my garden, my sister my promised Bride...
Beloved: I sleep, but my heart is awake...”
Song of Songs taken from chapters 4 and 5
“O lovely sprout full of greening power
from the stem of Jesse,
what a great event is this:
As the eagle lifts its eyes
to the sun,
so the divine glance
fell on the most beautiful of women
When the Father from heaven,
O Virgin,
looked into your purity
and his Word became
flesh in you.
Your virginal heart was enlightened
in mystical ways by God’s mystery
and wondrous bloomed from you,
O Virgin, a bright flower.
Praise be to God the Father,
the Son and the Holy Spirit!
St Hildegard of Bingen Doctor of the Bride : The Church
“Behold the Father is his daughter’s son;
The bird that built the nest is
hatched therein.
Might feeble is and force
doth faintly creep...”
Holy Martyr St Robert Southwell
Happy Birthday dear Mary Mother of God and our Mother !
Fr Bill McNichols 8 September 2019

Feast of the Queenship of Mary Mother of God

December 23rd, 2019

Feast of the Queenship of Mary Mother of God

Feast of the Queenship of Mary Mother of God
“I choose the little ones and the weak...” these are words spoken to Estelle Faguette, during the apparitions of Pellevoisin, in November 1876 by the Mother of God.
For me they echo her Son, in the Gospel of St Luke, and the whole living concept and reality of the kingdom of God. The kingdom is mentioned 4 times in Matthew, 14 times in Mark, 32 times in Luke and 2 times in John . During my early 30’s I was very interested in the depth and meaning of the kingdom. What is the kingdom to Jesus and who is allowed in to be a part of it ? GB Caird said words in his book on Luke I will never forget... the only requirement for admission into the kingdom is an emptiness only God can fill.
When I was an art student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn from 1980-83, I found the most beautiful and scholarly commentary on Luke by the late, GB Caird. I would read it on the subway, not knowing that this commentary, as well as Caird’s commentary on Revelation, would form my spiritual life then and all through the 80’s when I began my ministry of working, and to use Pope Francis’ beautiful words, “accompanying people” with HIV-AIDS. There are some books, like The Revelations of Julian of Norwich, and Caird’s book on Luke that are so beautifully written, and so hope-filled that I find myself returning to them over and over.
“The reign or kingdom of God still has for Luke a future aspect for which men must continue to pray. But the fact that matters, the fact that constitutes the good news of the gospel, is that the kingdom has already arrived...Indeed, his entire Gospel is a commentary on this theme. All his tenderness of heart and mastery of description are called into play as he presents to us a cavalcade of witnesses who can testify to the presence of the kingdom because they have discovered in Jesus the friend and champion of the sick, the poor, the penitent, the outcast, of women, Samaritans, and Gentiles.”
St Luke by G.B. Caird
“The rescue of the outcast” pages 36,37
O Mary, Queen of the kingdom of God and Queen of the Universe,
Teach us the way through the “narrow gate” mentioned by St Luke in his story of your Son. A way of love, and finally forgiveness, of ourselves and others as we live this brief life longing to be with you and your Son forever in the kingdom of God. And which because of your Son, we feel, we know, has already begun and broken through all this present darkness, especially today, on your feast.
“Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life our sweetness, and our hope...despise not our petitions, but in thy clemency, hear and answer us.”
Amen
22 August 2019
Fr Bill McNichols
Amen

The Dormition of the Mother of God

December 23rd, 2019

The Dormition of the Mother of God

The Dormition of the Mother of God
She sleeps who
knew no rest here.
Promised early on a
knife in her soul
watching relatives, friends,
multitudes... dividing, deciding,
and finally calling for the blood
of the Word clothed in
her very own flesh.
Stabat Mater Dolorosa,
all through the grisly passion
a helpless harmony,
the tears that would not stop,
the convulsive grief,
then all life leaving,
from her eyes...
from his wounds.
Now he returns to take
her soul and body
Home.
She of the abused and powerless.
She of the stifled and wordless.
She of the empty and outcast.
She is crowned forever
Queen of all heaven and earth
In the kingdom of the
Beatitude reversals.
And we her waiting children
are assured such an ending.
After dust, we too shall be
carried Home
In the radiant mandorla
of the rising Son.
Fr Bill McNichols 1994
(For August 15 2019)

Ave Maris Stella Hail Star Of The Sea

August 9th, 2019

Ave Maris Stella Hail Star Of The Sea

AVE MARIS STELLA
Hail Star of the Sea!
Hail Lady Mary,
our gentle candle
in the darkness!
Send us the light
when we are
falling into sorrow
when we are
cast about by waves
of fear and anger
when we are
drowning in despair.
O Mother of Holy Hope
renew us with the
child-like trust and joy
of your son Jesus.
Amen
Fr Bill McNichols
4 August 2019

St Ignatius Amidst Alaska

August 9th, 2019

St Ignatius Amidst Alaska

St Ignatius Amidst Alaska
“...at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth...”
Philippians 2:10 (King James Bible)
Of all the many icons and numerous drawings I’ve done of St Ignatius, this is my personal favorite. When I was a Jesuit novice in 1968, there was a joke often told , that went something like this. An old Jesuit was dying and he was showing considerable fear. A fellow Jesuit near him, could not understand and reminded him that he was a good man and had nothing to fear from God. The old man responded, it’s not God I’m afraid of, it’s St Ignatius !
The first time I heard that joke I didn’t laugh, but felt very sad that many Jesuits felt that way, and most of the the portrait art, of a chilly, austere, and severe man, had something to do with it. That was one of the turning points for me in terms of St Ignatius. There are two others I feel I can talk about. Another was an encounter with two comments made by Adrienne von Speyr . The first comment was that “No one points to God with such shrewd intelligence as St Ignatius.” The other was “St Ignatius has gotten to know St John the Evangelist in Heaven, and if he could start his order (the Society of Jesus) over again, he would wish it to be more Johannine.” So one incident in the late 60’s and another in the mid-90’s, set flame to a lingering desire to do my best to make Ignatius not just more approachable, but loved.
During the 1990’s I used to go to Holy Spirit Jesuit Retreat house in Anchorage, Alaska to give retreats on certain themes. During those times a friend of mine, Maureen Cowles talked the retreat house staff into ordering an icon (my first Mary Magdalen) of “St. Mary Magdalen Apostle to the Apostles.”
(http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/…/st-mary-magdalen-…) After that icon, more came, one very large icon of “the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life” (http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/…/the-holy-spirit-t…) another of “The Woman Given Eagle’s Wings”and a companion piece, to the hunted Woman of the Apocalypse or Revelation, “St Ignatius Amidst Alaska.” I’d very much like to discuss the Woman from the Apocalypse sometime - because the icon is so relevant today, and when I was speaking at Georgetown, I had the privilege to work with Craig R. Koester the author of two books on the Book of Revelation. His love and scholarship, changed my mind and heart about the meaning of a book which has always been thought of as a tragic and violent end. That blog is coming sometime soon, perhaps in another Marian month (like May) ...in August which, like December, has three Marian feasts. The Assumption, The Queenship, and Our Lady of Knock, Ireland. My question at the time of the commission, is how to connect the two icons ? If you put them together they are companions. But what connects them ?
The image of the Woman being hunted, because she is pregnant with the Word is given Eagle’s Wings to escape the devouring dragon. Ignatius is in adoration of the face of Christ , portrayed in the Orthodox way of the icon of the Mandylion or Face of Christ , because the Orthodox Church were the first to bring Christianity into Alaska.
In this icon I “felt” Ignatius adoration and immense love of Jesus. At times in his personal diary, he records the fact that, at times, during Mass, he would have to stop because he was weeping , overcome with emotion.
“The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them.”
Mark Rothko
As a final aside, the only time I’ve wept in an exhibit, was in New York walking into a room full of Rothko’s...
PS) just look into Rothko’s painting, “Saffron, 1957.”
For 31 July 2019
Fr Bill McNichols

St John the Theologian

August 9th, 2019

St John the Theologian

St John the Theologian
“It is true that those we meet can change us, sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards, even unto our names.”
Yann Martel, “Life of Pi”
“Who’s gonna pay attention
To your dreams ?”
The Cars
The words from the strangely enigmatic novel by Yann Martel, are quoted at the beginning of Robert Ellsberg’s newest book, “A Living Gospel : Reading God’s Story in Holy Lives.” I loved the book, “Life of Pi,” and I confess I watched Ang Lee’s adaptation on film every single night for two weeks, before I left Taos to move to Albuquerque in 2013. I have not watched it since that time, but it was a healing transition story, and as real art does, it got me through the wrenching move.
Visually, it’s one of the most beautiful movies ever made, but for me, all of Ang Lee’s movies are near perfect, without being so tight that they squeeze the life out of anything or anyone in the films. I think for instance, of that opening of “Brokeback Mountain.” You see the lights in the early morning darkness (signaling the spiritual desolation of isolated western lands) a large truck driving alone, dwarfed against an enormous mountain landscape, and you hear one note of a guitar, so poignant and lonely, it sets the mood for the entire needless tragedy which follows. Then you see obvious stark silhouette Crosses of telephone poles that prophesy innocent and brutal death to come.
For my 70th birthday, Robert gave me his book with a cover of a beautiful old icon, in the style of Simon Ushakov, similar to my icon of St John the Theologian. I was very blessed in so many ways, to visit Robert and Monica Ellsberg for my birthday, one I’ll never forget, because of their flowing, freely given hospitality, kindness and joy. So I decided to tell you a little about this wonderful book, and save my reflections on St John for another time. I love John and have so much I’d like to share of my growing understanding of him. In my 40’s I was able to read Adrienne von Speyr’s four volumes on John’s Gospel, which she claims were dictated by St. John himself. Those books are so rich with inspired insight, one paragraph is enough for a day.
I read almost all of Robert’s book on the plane ride home from New York, through Atlanta, and then home to Albuquerque. Most of the time in my life, (although like all of us I’ve had some pretty harrowing flights and lengthy bouts of purgatory in impossibly noisy airports) plane rides are natural spiritual experiences for me. They can be almost “brief retreats” where I’m literally lifted up and my attitude or heart, reaches for the Transcendent.
Although the book is only 157 pages, and written in a warm, personal and seemingly effortless way, anyone who struggles to live the vocation of an writer/artist and activist knows that this book took all of 64 years (Roberts age now) to write. It’s a book you want to read to someone you love, out loud, just like when someone read to you as a child. And in my opinion, someday another artist, will be writing such a book about Robert and Monica too. Robert has written at least 6 books about hundreds of saints and not yet canonized holy women and men, and edited at least 14. He is also editor of Orbis Books. I don’t know of any more fluent and gifted living hagiographer. He is capable of lengthy portraits and those in brilliant “Haiku-like -briefness” he writes for the daily Catholic missalette , published every month, “Give Us This Day.” Finally let me quote from Robert’s introduction and the very end of the book :
“It is a mistake to think that only officially canonized saints can open our hearts to the sacred, or inspire us to love our neighbors or stand up for a just cause. The power of great minds and souls is not restricted to those who pass the rigorous test of canonization. I find encouragement from no less a source than Pope Francis, who organized his talk before Congress in 2015 around ‘four great Americans’: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day herself - only two of them Catholics, only one of them an actual candidate for canonization. Such figures,he said, offer ‘a new way of seeing and interpreting reality.’ In those words, I dare say the pope has offered a new way of seeing and interpreting the function of saints.
But that wide perspective extends far beyond Pope Francis or Dorothy Day. We might trace it back to the gospels and see how often Jesus looked past the good religious people of his day to exalt those on the margins - whether outsiders, foreigners, or ‘sinners’ - as models of faith and charity. We should also recall how Jesus described the criteria of our salvation: ‘I was hungry and you fed me ... I was a stranger and you welcomed me... I have spent a large portion of my life reflecting on the saints, drawn not just by their heroic virtue and noble achievements but by the story that God tells us through their lives. By reading those stories,we may become more adept at discerning the presence of God in our own story...as Jean Pierre de Causadde wrote ,
‘Our lives become a parchment; our suffering and our actions are the ink. The workings of the Holy Spirit are the pen, and with it God writes a Living Gospel.’”
Robert Ellsberg - A Living Gospel
Fr Bill McNichols 17 July 2019 St Alexis Day

Robert A Johnson in the Golden World

August 9th, 2019

Robert A Johnson in the Golden World

“Robert A Johnson in the Golden World” (26 May 1921 - 12 September 2018)
“You are precious in my eyes.”
Isaiah 43:4
“Teach us the shortness of our lives that we may gain wisdom of heart.”
Psalm 90:12
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God...”
Ephesians 2:8
In a few days,I will turn 70.
Through the magic of the internet I found out I was born on Sunday, July 10th 1949, and that night the Moon was full. I was also born in St Joseph’s Hospital, in Denver, Colorado. St Teresa of Avila advises in her autobiography, that to “find” the contemplative life, you can have no better guide than St Joseph. For the past 7 years I have been helping out at St Joseph’s Church and each time I drive up to that church, I’m aware it’s St Joseph’s. I imagine we all have similar experiences (slender threads) that teach us who we are.
There was a popular children’s rhyme, similar to the song Simon and Garfunkel sang, “April, Come She Will,” that gave a personality trait to a child born on each day of the week; “Sunday’s child belongs to God.” My Mother told me later that both my Grandmothers had predictions for me. My Grandmother McNichols said “He will be your tallest boy, even taller than his father.” My Grandmother Hart said “Don’t get too close to this one, he belongs to God.” Seventy years later I’m still wondering, praying, hoping that “just being open to God and who He designed me to be “ as the cliche goes, is hopefully beginning to fulfill that prediction of my Grandmother Hart. I admit when I heard it from my Mom, it frightened me and “