If you’ve never heard of World Communications Day, you’re not alone. Each Sunday before Pentecost (May 21 in 2023), the church celebrates social communications media as God’s gift to humanity, with great potential for evangelization. World Communications Day reminds the church to embrace media technologies for the proclamation of the Gospel and the spread of goodness, and serves to educate her sons and daughters to be critical thinkers when engaging media messages.
In this year’s message, Pope Francis addresses “Speaking with the heart.” Jesus once warned the Pharisees that what makes one unclean comes from the heart. “For from the heart come wicked thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness and blasphemy” (Mt 15:19). Of course, if our hearts are filled with joy, compassion, love, gratitude and forgiveness, then those very qualities will overflow into our lives and communications with one another. To paraphrase Luke 6:44, every tree is known by its fruits.
To be better communicators of God’s love, both in our words and in our lives, Pope Francis presents a few challenges for us within this digital age.
Purify one’s heart. If we are to speak the truth with charity, we must purify our hearts. Our hearts will never be totally pure due to sin, but we strive to grow in virtue each day. The Holy Father states, “Only by listening and speaking with a pure heart can we see beyond appearances and overcome the vague din which, also in the field of information, does not help us discern in the complicated world in which we live.”
Ask: What in my heart needs to be purified so my communication uplifts others?
Communicate cordially. This seems like a no-brainer, but I recently saw a news segment about an airline passenger who was unreasonably and loudly complaining about a crying baby on the plane. His shenanigans caused the flight to be diverted and he was arrested. His communication was far from cordial. Pope Francis refers to the risen Jesus who speaks to the distraught disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). Jesus speaks to them from his heart, respects their suffering and doesn’t impose himself on them. What he does is lovingly open their minds to the profound meaning of what has happened. Jesus’ cordial communication made it possible for their hearts to burn within them.
Ask: Is my communication cordial, exuding inspiration and compassion?
Be authentic. The Holy Father presents St. Francis de Sales as a model of communication that comes from love. St. Francis was convinced that “in order to speak well, it is enough to love well.” This 17th-century saint believed that “we are what we communicate.” Authentic communication has suffered in a culture marked by outrageous behavior. Many people present what they wish they were on social media rather than their true selves. “Speaking from the heart” means being real in our communications.
Ask: Am I being authentic in my communications, especially online?
Speak according to “God’s style.” This challenge touches on the synodal process. Francis says, “We have a pressing need in the church for communication that kindles hearts, that is balm on wounds and that shines light on the journey of our brothers and sisters.” This kind of communication first listens to the other without prejudice and then speaks,” nurtured by closeness, compassion and tenderness. If we can model this kind of communication in a polarized world, what a gift it would be to our culture.
Ask: Do I model listening in my communication, or am I too busy trying to be heard?
With these challenges, Pope Francis calls all people to grow in a way of communication that speaks the truth from the heart, “which is essential to foster a culture of peace.” Only when we speak from the heart can the “miracle of encounter,” as the pope calls it, take place.
The pontiff closes his message with a prayer which we can offer for ourselves and our world:
“May the Lord Jesus, the pure Word poured out from the heart of the Father, help us to make our communication clear, open, and heartfelt.
“May the Lord Jesus, the Word made flesh, help us to listen to the beating of hearts, to rediscover ourselves as brothers and sisters, and to disarm the hostility that divides.
“May the Lord Jesus, the Word of truth and love, help us to speak the truth in charity, so that we may feel like protectors of one another.”
Amen to that.
Sister Hosea Rupprecht is a workshop presenter and film critic for the Pauline Center for Media Studies.