Richard Leonard SJ is an Australian Jesuit and friend of the Irish Jesuit Province. He is also the author of the best-selling book Where the Hell is God, in which he explores the false theologies of suffering that have been current down the ages and explores what a true theology of suffering should be. The catalyst for the book was a tragic accident that left his sister Tracey a quadriplegic at the age of 28.
In this interview above with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, Richard Leonard talks about the Covid-19 crisis in Australia and how he and his fellow-Jesuits are responding to it.
He also deconstructs some of the theological theories in circulation regarding the coronavirus, In particular, he rejects the view that Coviid-19 is a punishment from God or a ‘wake-up call’ to an atheistic or secularist world that has lost its moral compass. His opening remarks address the question of where Christians get this idea of a violent and vengeful God.
Richard believes that we can only explore the mystery of suffering in a religious context, by looking at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He says that many Christians jump too quickly from the agony in the garden and the crucifixion to Easter Sunday. But Good Friday and Holy Saturday are important symbolic times in the passion narrative which can yield some important insights regarding a theology of suffering.
Tracey Leonard, Richard’s sister, spent exactly half of her life able-bodied (working for a time with Mother Theresa in Calcutta) and half of her life disabled from the neck down. Richard says he found his understanding of what ‘resurrection’ might concretely mean by watching his sister come to terms with her freak accident. After a time of deep depression, she was able to turn her attention away from herself, and engage with concern and care for others. She even wrote her own book, The Full Catastrophe, which Richard says has touched the hearts of many people around the world.