I Will Hold Out My Hand and My Heart Will Be In It -1979
William Hart McNichols
Painting - Acrylic On Wood
St 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
October 5th, 2023
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