Saint Joseph on the Rio Grande Catholic Church, Alburquerque, New Mexico
Operating as usual
A meditation on Fr Bill’s image of Elijah McClain.
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
St. John the Forerunner also The Baptist 082 by William Hart McNichols St. John the Forerunner also The Baptist 082 Painting by William Hart McNichols
Unity Across the Americas | COVID-19 Vaccine Education Pope Francis and six Cardinals and Archbishops from the US and Latin America have come together for a message of unity in support of COVID-19 vaccines and ac...
Photos from Mercy Associates of New Mexico's post
First Friday Adoration will be this Friday, August 6 from 9:30 am until 12:00 pm.
First Friday Adoration will be this Friday, August 6 from 9:30 am until 12:00 pm.
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
Our Lady and the Holy Child Jesus Visit St Ignatius the Convalescent in Loyola by William Hart McNichols Our Lady and the Holy Child Jesus Visit St Ignatius the Convalescent in Loyola by William Hart McNichols
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 Hi**er 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
St Edith Stein Patroness of Europe 182 by William Hart McNichols St Edith Stein Patroness of Europe 182 Painting by William Hart McNichols
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