It’s “time to be real.”
So says a popular social media app as it notifies users to snap and share a photo of what they’re doing at that moment.
Supposedly, this makes online communications more authentic than all those curated images or videos that social media users share in the hopes of presenting more “like”-able versions of themselves and their lives.
But snippets and snapshots, whether random or rehearsed, can never tell the full story. No matter how personal, images cannot capture and do not reveal the person.
The reality of who we are does not reside in what is external to us. What matters most does not appear in any single moment. Rather, human authenticity arises from within, when we “speak with the heart.”
That’s the title, and the thrust, of Pope Francis’s Message for the 2023 World Communications Day. Recapping previous messages, he writes that “It is the heart that spurred us to go, to see and to listen, and it is the heart that moves us toward an open and welcoming way of communicating.”
Once we have practiced listening – the kind that waits patiently and foregoes the need to assert our own viewpoint as soon as we get a chance – then, says the pope, “we can enter into the dynamic of dialogue and sharing, which is precisely that of communicating in a cordial way.”
To show what that means, the pope points to “one of the brightest and still fascinating examples” of social communications – St. Francis de Sales. “His meek attitude, humanity and willingness to dialogue patiently with everyone, especially with those who disagreed with him, make him an extraordinary witness of God’s merciful love.”
For the Holy Father, this centenary year of the proclamation of Francis de Sales as patron of Catholic journalists offers the opportunity to re-consider communications not in terms of a strategy, aided by technology, but as “a reflection of the soul.” That viewpoint comes to memorable expression in the saint’s maxim, given to a new bishop who asked for advice on how to preach: “In order to speak well, it is enough to love well.”
With sound advice of his own, the pope applies this principle to communications within the Church and the world. In the former, he points to the synodal process, where a pressing need exists “for communication that kindles hearts, that is balm on wounds and that shines light on the journey of our brothers and sisters.” About the latter, the pope recognizes that “today more than ever, speaking with the heart is essential to foster a culture of peace in places where there is war; to open paths that allow for dialogue and reconciliation in places where hatred and enmity rage.”
The papal message this year rightly acknowledges the value of cordial communications on a global scale. But, just as all politics is local, so all communication becomes “real” when we apply this Salesian virtue to our ordinary, everyday communications.
We communicate cordially when we first encounter another person. If we choose to begin with respect – an attitude that radiates from the heart – then our words are more likely to be nice than nasty.
We communicate cordially when conversations turn to heated subjects. If we choose to affirm the person more so than his/her viewpoints – an affability cultivated in the heart – then our differences are less likely to lead to discord between us.
We communicate cordially when we don’t expect or demand more from others than from ourselves. If we choose to be neighborly – acknowledging in our hearts that others are kindred spirits struggling along the road of life, just as we are – then our interactions will no longer suffer from rash judgment or harsh condemnation.
It seems a strange image, but how our heart sees leads to how our voices speak.
For this reason, St. Francis de Sales championed cordiality as a little virtue – one that often goes unnoticed but has an undeniably beneficial effect on us and on others.
For Pope Francis, that virtue also holds the potential to affect our collective future, for “from the heart come the right words to dispel the shadows of a closed and divided world and to build a civilization which is better than the one we have received.”
As we celebrate this year’s World Day of Communications (on May 20), it’s time again to “be real” – which we will be whenever we share the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) by “speaking with the heart.”
Oblate Father Thomas Dailey holds the John Cardinal Foley Chair of Homiletics and Social Communications at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
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