Fr Tony Percy: A mellifluous melody

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Pope Francis greets a boy as he arrives to lead his general audience in the San Damaso courtyard at the Vatican on 9 September 2020. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

Pope Francis, in his third major teaching document on Social Friendship (Fratelli Tutti) cites St Irenaeus (130-202):

One who seeks the truth should not concentrate on the differences between one note and another, thinking as if each was created separately and apart from the others; instead, he should realise that one and the same person composed the entire melody.

We tend to be rather different. And that’s the gift.

The musical metaphor works well.

Under God’s gracious providence we, the musical notes, form the mellifluous melody that delights the hearer – or at least that is what a community of believers is supposed to be.

The pope has written 43,000 words, comprised of 287 paragraphs and 288 footnotes. It is long.

If you’re time poor, then let me recommend the following.

Look at his application of the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) to modern life (paragraphs 56-86):

Let us admit that, for all the progress we have made, we are still “illiterate” when it comes to accompanying, caring for and supporting the most frail and vulnerable members of our developed societies.

If you like a challenge, then try Fratelli Tutti on the Illusion of Communication (paragraphs 42-50). The pope has recalibrated St James for the 21st Century:

No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison (James 3).

Free copies of L’Osservatore Romano reporting Pope Francis’s latest encyclical are distributed by volunteers at the end of the Angelus in Rome.PHOTO: CNS/IPA/SIPA USA,REUTERS
Free copies of L’Osservatore Romano reporting Pope Francis’s latest encyclical are distributed by volunteers at the end of the Angelus in Rome.PHOTO: CNS/IPA/SIPA USA,REUTERS

The pope speaks of ‘shameless aggression,’ and ‘information without wisdom’:

People can choose a form of constant and febrile bonding that encourages remarkable hostility, insults, abuse, defamation and verbal violence destructive of others, and this with a lack of restraint that could not exist in physical contact without tearing us all apart.

Social aggression has found unparalleled room for expansion through computers and mobile devices (paragraph 44).

Contrast this sort of attitude with another famous figure in the tradition. St Augustine (354-430) wrote beautifully on friendship and its power to unite:

All kinds of things rejoiced my soul in their company.

To talk and laugh, and to do each other kindnesses. To read pleasant books together.

To pass from lightest jesting to talk of the deepest things and back again.

To differ without rancour, as a man might differ with himself, and when, most rarely, dissension arose, to find our normal agreement all the sweeter for it.

To be impatient for the return of the absent, and to welcome them with joy on their homecoming.

These, and such-like things, proceeding from our hearts as we gave affection and received it back, and shown by face, by voice, by the eyes, and by a thousand other pleasing ways, kindled a flame which fused our very souls together, and, of many, made us one (Confessions IV, X, 13).

So, yes, a major teaching document on friendship is a welcome friend. Amen.