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What Does It All Mean?

Author: Richard Leonard SJ
Publisher: Paulist Press

What Does It All Mean? by Australian Jesuit, Richard Leonard SJ, brings together into one volume three previous works on belief and its challenges: Where the Hell Is God?, Why Bother Praying?, and What Are We Doing on Earth for Christ’s Sake? The book revises, restructures, edits, augments, and develops the early works into a single coherent case for belief. It does not shy away from the biggest challenges to faith inside and outside of the Church, but outlines a contemporary and accessible response to the issues that confront and sometimes confound believers today. It has an index for easy and quick reference (Paulist Press).

“So these pages,” says Fr Leonard, “are for all the doubters and searchers I know; those who—like me—ask hard questions of Christianity and are often impatient for answers. We are fellow travellers on the adventurous journey of faith.”

Regarding Science and Religion, Richard draws on arguments for and against God. On the one hand, he looks to Richard Dawkins view on “nothing but blind, pitiless indifference” of the universe’s design and Sir David Attenborough’s reflection of a parasitic worm in a child’s eye as a reason for not believing in an all-merciful God. On the other hand, Richard says: “Other scientists argue for God on the basis of the extraordinary amount of biological information encoded into every organism on the earth, and not just in its detail and complexity, but in that so many elements had to combine in synchronicity for the created order that we now know to emerge.”

The Australian Jesuit paints an interesting picture on the life of St. Teresa of Calcutta. While she did heroic work for the poor of Calcutta, he comments: “Her ministry held no consolation for her. Except for her spiritual advisers, no one knew this. Everyone assumed the opposite to be true. In this context, what is extraordinary is that she just kept going, doing her work for the poor in the hope that it was pleasing to God.”

Referring to The God of Love and the Problem of Evil, Fr Leonard draws on hard lessons learned from St. Ignatius Loyola, referring to him as “an obsessive, compulsive, neurotic nut” in his earlier days. Then as he “emerged from the darkness” of the cave at Manresa, Fr Leonard says: “Ignatius went from being a vain, violent, but aimless egotist to knowing that the desire to be a faithful, hopeful, and loving follower of Christ was the best way to live.” Richard presents a contemporary spin on Ignatius’s Rules for the Discernment of Spirits about how to minimise evil in our lives and world by the choices we make. From finding God in our ordinary life to training ourselves to read the signs of the good and bad spirit to getting our heads and hearts in sync, it is easy to see these rules as “arguably his [Ignatius’s] greatest gift to the Church”.

Moreover, the Jesuit treats his readers with lifetime lessons on prayer. In his chapter on Mary and the Saints, he lays out a number of reflections on Mary’s role in the life of Jesus in order to become “a flesh and blood woman, mother, sister, saint, prophet, and friend”. He describes his own experience of saying the rosary with his uncle Maurice and Aunty Claire. “Haile Mare mingum, blest la jim/Whole may may mem,” they said. “Of course, Claire and Maurice rightly understood that the rosary was a mantra prayer.” Richard goes on to promote a very healthy devotion to Mary as “the preeminent disciple of the Kingdom”.

Fr Leonard makes a stellar effort to help build the foundations of our Christian faith. He wants us to stand tall with knowledge, insight, and truth. He wants us to stand strong with conviction, a firm gaze, and skill. He wants us to expand our hearts beyond our selves, and to reach out with faith, hope, and love.