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http://www.brigidine.org.nz/img/links/NZC-logo-colr.gifby PETER GRACE

OKOROIRE — A priest, author and scholar who tried to get Nicole Kidman to join him in Rome was the main presenter at the annual Hamilton priests’ gathering early in July.

Fr Gerald O’Collins, SJ, is an Australian theologian who taught at the Gregorian University in Rome for 33 years.

Australian theologian Fr Gerald O’Collins, SJ, outside the Gregorian Institute in Rome.

Fr O’Collins told NZ Catholic that in 2006 he was made a Companion of the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC). He and Nicole Kidman were the only two Australians living overseas to be honoured that way that year.

“Nicole Kidman and myself, Australians living outside the country — so there were plenty of jokes in Rome: ‘With her beauty and your brains’!” He tried to get her to come to Rome to receive the honour from the Australian ambassador there, Fr O’Collins said — and perhaps they could have an audience with the pope. “But she was getting married and had other things on her mind.”

Fr O’Collins’ field is systematic theology. He explained that that looks at the words that are useful to use. “I sometimes think of theology as watching our language. With the business of theology, use words that are more correct in the presence of God, because you can’t use sloppy language.” It’s a bit like work that goes on the lab, he said. You need quality control. The great guys are affecting the Church and the theology is more like people in the background checking that things are right.

I think theology keeps the language of the Church honest, the way you should talk about things and think about things.

Pope Francis

“We used to call other Christians heretics and schismatics, then Vatican II shifted to separated brethren, then Pope Francis talks about fellow pilgrims — just much better language,” he said.

Asked about his published statement that a key aspect of the role of the pope is to be chief witness of the Resurrection, he said he thinks Pope Francis is doing very well in that regard.

“I was always struck in Rome by what is happening on Easter Sunday,” he said. “You have got a big crowd in St Peter’s Square … and the pope would get up there and announce the Good News.” He didn’t want to deny or question other things popes do, but that is the major thing, he said, to help Catholics and other Christians together in their faith, in the Risen Jesus. “And if they really believe in the Risen Jesus, then everything else follows.”

He was also glad to hear Pope Francis say that the Lord left us very few regulations, but he left us a few invitations that are fairly difficult. “Like inviting the halt, lame and blind.

I think the basic thing about love is affirming and accepting the other. Being able to say I am glad you are there.

A lot of people define love as doing things for others, but the more basic thing is love, and love being affirmation, being glad about and accepting of the other person, “and then you might be in a position to do something for them. It’s founded on who they are. They are created on the image and likeness of God.”

Catholics and Christians

Fr O’Collins said that what he likes about Pope Francis is that he’s not banging a drum about Vatican II. “But he’s certainly inspired about it and taking it further. He’s not talking about separated brethren. He’s talking about fellow pilgrims.”

Vatican II has a lot to say about truth and kindness, said Fr O’Collins. And Pope Francis talks a lot about beauty. Many people think that if they find beauty, the battle is won. But beauty is not simply a gorgeous face and body. It’s truth and goodness. “Beauty is hardly mentioned at Vatican II.

We like to spend time with beautiful people. If we find Jesus beautiful we will spend time with him.”

What Pope Francis is doing, not just in his homilies and addresses, is bringing out the essentials of faith. “He’s trying to build people in their faith. He’s being a good bishop, in that sense. And he’s not boring, so he’s trying to bring out the faith in a way that’s enjoyable and attractive.” He also keeps it real at the more personal level.

In my own case I wrote a couple of times to John Paul II, and I have written a couple of times to Pope Francis, and in all four cases I got pretty quick answers to what I had written about. And over the years I have written four times to offices in the Roman Curia, and how many times do you think I had had an answer? None.