Our country is in the midst of many crises, from the coronavirus pandemic, to one of racial justice, to the economy.
But one crisis not making regular headlines is that of our society’s inability to effectively communicate. No, this crisis manifests itself in the dark corners of comment boxes, and on Facebook, and in Twitter feeds — that social realm in which a mob can whip itself into a fury faster than one can finish a cup of morning coffee.
Catholics, we know, are not exempt from this sad reality. In late June, Bishop Robert Barron found himself the subject of significant social media backlash after writing a post communicating the Vatican II teaching regarding the rights and responsibilities of the laity.
Bishop Barron responded July 7 calling for an end to such behavior. “The kind of attack that I endured last week and many other people endure … is just a moral outrage. The technical and traditional word for it is calumny, which is to say the meanspirited and unjust accusation of another person. Precisely because it’s a violation of both charity and justice, calumny is properly categorized as a mortal sin.”
And he made a critical point that speaks directly to what we Catholics hold as our most essential mission: evangelization.
“I can’t imagine a more effective evangelical countersign to the wider world than the kind of mob action that I witnessed last week,” he said. “Can you imagine a non-Catholic, a non-Christian, a religious seeker, a nonbeliever coming on to one of my social media sites out of genuine curiosity and seeing how Catholics were responding to a bishop who had made an argument? Who could possibly [blame] them for thinking: ‘I don’t want any part of that group.'”
We have lost the ability to communicate, even with one another.
It is fitting, then, that on the day the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada, of which Our Sunday Visitor is a proud member, convened for its first virtual Catholic Media Conference, Pope Francis sent a message to participants extolling the virtue of good communication. The universal principles he encouraged in the June 30 message apply not only to members of Catholic media, but to individuals hoping to be effective communicators of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here are three takeaways.
1. In service to the common good, Catholics must work to bring forth unity amid diversity in their communication. “How urgently is this needed today, in an age marked by conflicts and polarization from which the Catholic community itself is not immune,” Pope Francis wrote. “We need media capable of building bridges, defending life and breaking down the walls, visible and invisible, that prevent sincere dialogue and truthful communication between individuals and communities.” By remembering the dignity of the individual we are addressing, each of us can live out this principle in everyday communication.
2. Catholics must distinguish truth from falsehood and communicate only the former. “We need media that can help people, especially the young, to distinguish good from evil, to develop sound judgments based on a clear and unbiased presentation of the facts, and to understand the importance of working for justice, social concord and respect for our common home,” Pope Francis wrote. “We need men and women of conviction who protect communication from all that would distort it or bend it to other purposes.” Catholics need to be well formed and well informed, and we have the responsibility to use our knowledge to advance truth over selfish agendas.
3. The most effective communicators, or evangelizers, are those who live what they preach. “A true communicator dedicates himself or herself completely to the welfare of the others, at every level, from the life of each individual to the life of the entire human family,” Pope Francis wrote. “We cannot truly communicate unless we become personally involved, unless we can personally attest to the truth of the message we convey.” If we communicate by example, especially through the practice of the virtue of charity, our ways cannot help but be attractive to others.
We are grateful for Pope Francis’ words of wisdom, and we seek to follow his words of wisdom. We invite you, too, as readers and supporters of Our Sunday Visitor, to join us in our mission to speak the truth through charity in a way that unites, thereby facilitating healthy communication and, most of all, effective evangelization.
Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young