PHOTO: Father Richard Leonard
By Lance Polu
“The best of theology and spirituality always has an application to our daily life.”
APIA, SAMOA – TUESDAY 21 MAY 2019: Finding God in times of deep grief, pain and suffering could be difficult even for the most faithful. But it was such a time when a dedicated Catholic mother, asked the philosophical question, Where the Hell is God?
A car accident had just reduced her 28 year old daughter to a quadriplegic. It became the title of a book by Jesuit priest, Father Richard Leonard – described as one of the best writers, best preachers and best explainers in the Catholic Church.
The weekend after this past Easter, Father Richard Leonard conducted his first ever seminar for parishioners in Samoa. He had previously visited Samoa twice to conduct training for local priests and church ministers from various denominations under the World Association of Christianity (WAC).
This time, the weekend retreat was for the Saint Anthony of Padua parishioners, held at the Saint Therese Retreat Centre, Leauva’a where Father Richard explored through real life stories and biblical references, practical theology in everyday living.
“The worst of spirituality is one that is divorced from your day to day living,” he said.
“The best of theology and spirituality always has an application to our daily life,”
“In discernment, when we are following the Lord, it comes down to how we choose in daily life. To go with Faith, Hope and Love. How do I make good decisions in the light of my faith in Christ?”
He told the story of a homeless and alcoholic man who was once the instrument of amazing grace in saving the life of a young drug addict and prostitute who had lost her child. Father Richard was part of this story when he was posted at the Kings Cross parish, Sydney, Australia when he was starting out as a priest.
He then explored the question of how we find God in pain and suffering. Why there is so much suffering in the world and natural disasters?
“It’s alright when the going is good. What about when the going gets tough?”
He told the personal story of his sister, a nun who worked with Mother Theresa in Calcutta then returned to work with the Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory in Australia.
While driving them home one night, the car rolled several times and smashed against a tree and the sister was crushed and reduced to a quadriplegic at age 28.
While waiting at the hospital for news, Father Richard and his mother were told by the doctor that she survived but will be a quadriplegic for the rest of her life.
Pacing the hospital ward floor, the mother started to ask questions. One of which was “Where the hell is God?” – a statement in great pain and grief which became the title of Father Richard’s book.
“It made me think – How do we say a word of hope for people in terrible situations? Who are in pain and suffering?”
The mother looked after her daughter until she passed away in 2017 aged 56. Despite the accident and 28 years tending to her crippled daughter, the mother continued to go to daily Mass and held to her Catholic faith.
Father Richard believes that God has permitted evil in the world “maybe for our freedom and Creation for what it has to do.”
“If the world was perfect then we would be in Heaven, but it would somewhat be imperfect for it to be the world” – Father Richard.
CHANGING THE WORLD
“If we live in Obedience, Gratitude, Compassion, Forgiveness and Love and in care of the Earth, we would change the world,” said Father Richard and with the numbers, we can change the world.
“All 2.2 billion Christians, all 1.2 billion Catholics, so that’s the challenge. Not just to come to church, as good as that is, not just singing our hymns, reading our bibles, receiving Sacrament….they’re all good things. I wanna know what are we doing beyond those doors.”
“In changing the world into the Kingdom of God that we were sent to do and sent to live and proclaim. And we should do it with a spring in our step and a smile on our face because it is one of the greatest invitations we could ever receive.”
BIODATA: Father Richard Leonard
Fr. Richard Leonard is a Jesuit priest. He has degrees in Arts and Education as well as a Masters degree in Theology. Fr. Richard did graduate studies at the London Film School and has a PhD from the University of Melbourne. He directs the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting, is an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Catholic University; has been a visiting scholar within the School of Theatre, Film & Television at ULCA and a Visiting Professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Fr. Richard has served on juries at the Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Warsaw, Hong Kong, Montreal, Brisbane and Melbourne International Film Festivals and has lectured in faith and culture all over the world. He has been published in America Magazine, Eureka Street, US Catholics, is a regular columnist with the London Tablet and a regular guest on ABC Radio.
He is the author of ten books, among the titles are:
- Preaching to the Converted: On Sundays and Feast Days throughout the Year (2007)
- Where the Hell is God? (2010)
- Why Bother Praying (2013)
- What Are We Waiting For? Finding Meaning in Advent & Christmas (2014)
- What Are we Doing on Earth for Christ’s Sake? (2015)
- What Are We Hoping For? Reflections On Lent and Easter (2016)
- What Does it All Mean? A Guide to Being More Faithful, Hopeful and Loving (2017)
- Hatch, Match & Dispatch: A Catholic Guide to Sacraments (2019)
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