Wisdom and Wings

One Sangria. Two Carlton Lights. Three Jesuits. Two books. One great speech.


Sister Margaret Beirne RSC is the immediate past Congregational Vicar of the Sisters of Charity and an Associate Professor in Biblical Studies at St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College, Sydney. This is an edited extract of her speech at the recent launch of two books by prominent Australian Jesuits.

Fr Richard Leonard SJ, ‘The Law of Love: Modern Words for Ancient Wisdom’

Fr Chris Gleeson SJ, ‘Wings for the Soul’ (25 years of Madonna editorials)

The books can be ordered online from the links at the bottom of this article.


“Three Jesuits go into a bar. The two younger ones order a Carlton Light; the older, and much wiser one, chooses a Sangria! As he hands the wise one his cocktail, the barman looks at the other two and queries: “Carlton Light – Qué? Qué?

When they’ve settled down with their drinks, the wise one asks: “So, what have you two been up to since you joined the Society of Jesus?”

“Well,” says one, “I’m a parish priest, and an expert film critic, and was occasionally invited to share my pearls of wisdom at the Gregorian University in Rome.”

The wise one gives him a warm nod of approval, then turns to the other, “And you?’

“Oh, for nearly twenty years, I was principal of two large Jesuit schools for boys, then I led some Ignatian retreats, and various roles as the Delegate for Ignatian Education.”

“Well done, both of you”, says the wise one. “In the meantime, what creative ways have you found to bring the good news of Jesus to as many people as possible?” He says this with a broad smile, as he knows perfectly well.

So, together they tell their stories – how, over many years right up till now, they have each found a fresh gift, that of sharing the good news in a language and style accessible to everyone. At this point, in case you haven’t noticed, I can reveal the two younger companions as Chris and Richard, and the wise one as none other than St Ignatius himself.

With that, the two Jesuit authors begin to describe their latest publications. As they are too modest to do this themselves, they’ve asked me to launch them this evening on their behalf.

For Chris, Wings for the Soul is what its subtitle says: ‘Madonna stories to celebrate its 125th year’, his “grateful tribute to all the Jesuit editors, full-time and part-time, and their associate editors”. The title itself he attributes to the 4th century saint, Gregory of Nazianzus.

Essentially, it is a selection of Chris’s editorials over the past twenty years. The chapter headed “The Gift of Education” brings together Chris’s two passions, education and his Ignatian heritage. But this is no dry educational theory. I, for one, learned for the first time about Jesuit Commons, the wonderful enterprise that seeks to provide higher education for those living in refugee camps, including Myanmar and East Africa. Building on the long-held dream of Michael Smith SJ, it is a joint venture of the Jesuits and ACU.

Fr Richard Leonard SJ, Sr Margaret Beirne RSC and Fr Chris Gleeson SJ. Photo: Nicole Siddique

Images and humour give much colour to Chris’s writing. For example, “the rose as a symbol of both love and the pattern of death and resurrection” (p 184) captures the lifetime of love honoured and celebrated in his eulogies. Likewise, his humorous anecdotes add a light touch that yet subtly engages the mind and heart on a deeper level.

There’s an abundance of gems in Chris’ writing, including this one: “As discerning people, as careful listeners, we pray that we might constantly dance to God’s beat” (p 241). I can’t think of a better prayer for the global Synod in which we are currently engaged.”

Let’s turn now to Richard’s latest addition to his celebrated series with deliciously catchy titles such as, Where the Hell is God?. The one we are celebrating this evening and subtitled “Modern Language for Ancient Wisdom”, is not exactly catchy. As he acknowledges right up front in the preface, bringing the two words ‘law’ and ‘love’ together can be offputting for some people. So, he sets out to show that far from being a burden, it is “a reciprocal gift-giving”, illustrating this with a refreshing study of five key passages from the Scriptures.

To set the scene, in Chapter 1, he paints broad brush strokes, entitled “Love is his Word”, where ‘Word’ has the expansive meaning of both the biblical text and the person of Jesus. Underlying all that follows is his pithy reminder that “For Christians, following the law of love does not bind us to slavishly follow a set of precepts, but sets us free to be the best persons we can be.”

Just as in his other books in what might be called a “series”, and perhaps even more so, The Law of Love is a bringing together of sound scripture interpretation and entertaining stories. He applies this pattern to the five passages, devoting a chapter to each: The Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, the Greatest Commandment, and 1 Corinthians 13.

Richard draws on Bruce Appleyard’s snappy titles for each Commandment in an article “Sinai for our Times”. He takes each of these in turn, and develops its real, practical meaning for us in the 21st century. For example, Appleyard’s term for the second commandment against worshipping idols is “Get Real”, which Richard neatly summarises in one sentence: “If we believe in God, then it follows that we must get real about the demands that living the law of love will make on us”.

In drawing a perceptive parallel between the events and characters on Mount Sinai and Mount Tabor, he injects with his trademark humour the response of a 21st century student to the word ‘transfiguration’. Having listened to Richard’s erudite lesson on the Gospel narrative of Jesus’ transfiguration, the child asked: ‘Where’s Harry Potter?’ I don’t know about you, but this was my first encounter not with Harry Potter, but with the way the famous children’s author uses the word ‘transfiguration’ to refer to a set of magical spells for changing an object from one thing into another!

To return to where I began… St Ignatius has the last word

At this point, the older Jesuit, known once as Iñigo and now St Ignatius, leaned toward Chris and Richard and with shining, kindly eyes, said: “Now I know that you are not only finding God in all things yourselves, but are opening up this liberating and inclusive motto of our Society for thousands of others who will read your books. Well done, good and faithful servants!” And with that, he finished his glass of Sangria and disappeared from their sight.

Order online: Fr Richard Leonard SJ, ‘The Law of Love: Modern Words for Ancient Wisdom’

View the catalogue of Fr Richard’s books.

Order online: Fr Chris Gleeson SJ, ‘Wings for the Soul’ (25 years of Madonna editorials)

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