Francis: Communicate Mercifully . . . Even on the Internet!

Internet 2Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

In his message for the 50th World Day of Social Communications, Pope Francis is urging the faithful to reflect on how they are communicating with one another – in the home, the office, the public square – and in the digital realm.

In his message, entitled “Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter,” Francis counsels Christians to remember that “What we say and how we say it, our every word and gesture, ought to express God’s compassion, tenderness and forgiveness for all.”

Love is, by its nature, communication, he says, and it should lead to openness and sharing.

“Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society. How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony. Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world.”

Especially in this age of rampant political rancor and partisanship, the pope is urging us to let our political and diplomatic language be inspired by mercy.

“I ask those with institutional and political responsibility, and those charged with forming public opinion, to remain especially attentive to the way they speak of those who think or act differently or those who may have made mistakes. It is easy to yield to the temptation to exploit such situations to stoke the flames of mistrust, fear and hatred. Instead, courage is needed to guide people towards processes of reconciliation. It is precisely such positive and creative boldness which offers real solutions to ancient conflicts and the opportunity to build lasting peace. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Mt 5:7-9).”

As for cyberspace, he reminds us that emails, text messages, social networks and chats can be fully human forms of communication because it’s not the technology which determines whether a communication is authentic but rather the human heart.

“Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups. The digital world is a public square, a meeting-place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks.”

The internet can help us to be better citizens, he says, but we must be mindful of the fact that access to digital networks entails a responsibility toward neighbors that we don’t see the same way we must be charitable toward those we do see. If used correctly, the internet can be used wisely to build a society which is healthy and open to sharing, he said.

But in order for us to become more merciful and effective communicators, we must first learn how to listen.

“Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands listening and acceptance. Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good.”

Imagine how much healthier and productive our culture would be if we took this advice!

But Francis knows our weaknesses, and rightly points out that listening is never easy.

“Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says. It involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice, as we try to imitate Moses before the burning bush: we have to remove our sandals when standing on the ‘holy ground’ of our encounter with the one who speaks to me (cf. Ex 3:5). Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.”

He concludes: “In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.”

Click here to read the full message.

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