Speak from the heart. “According to truth in love” (Eph 4:15)
Dear brothers and sisters!
After reflecting in recent years on the verbs “to go and see” and “to listen” as a condition for good communication, I would like with this Message for the LVII World Communications Day to reflect on “speaking from the heart”. It is the heart that moved us to go, see and listen and it is the heart that moves us to open and welcoming communication. After having trained ourselves in listening, which requires waiting and patience, as well as the renunciation of prejudicially affirming our point of view, we can enter into the dynamic of dialogue and sharing, which is precisely that of communicating cordially. Once we have listened to the other with a pure heart, we will also be able to speak according to the truth in love (cf. Eph 4:15). We must not be afraid to proclaim the truth, even if sometimes uncomfortable, but to do so without charity, without heart. Because “the program of the Christian,” as Benedict XVI wrote, “is ‘a heart that sees.’”.1 A heart that with its beating reveals the truth of our being and that for this reason must be listened to. This leads the listener to tune in to the same wavelength, to the point of coming to feel in their heart even the throbbing of the other. Then the miracle of encounter can take place, which makes us look at one another with compassion, welcoming each other’s fragility with respect, instead of judging by hearsay and sowing discord and division.
Jesus warns us that every tree is recognized by its fruit (cf. Lk 6:44): “The good man from the good treasure of his heart brings out the good; The evil man brings out evil from his evil treasure: for his mouth expresses what overflows from the heart” (v. 45). For this reason, in order to be able to communicate according to truth in charity, it is necessary to purify one’s heart. Only by listening and speaking with a pure heart can we see beyond appearances and overcome the indistinct noise that, even in the field of information, does not help us to discern in the complexity of the world in which we live. The appeal to speak from the heart radically challenges our time, so prone to indifference and indignation, sometimes even on the basis of disinformation, which falsifies and exploits the truth.
Communicating cordially means that those who read or listen to us are led to grasp our participation in the joys and fears, hopes and sufferings of the women and men of our time. Those who speak in this way love the other because they care about him and guard their freedom, without violating it. We can see this style in the mysterious Wanderer who dialogues with the disciples on his way to Emmaus after the tragedy that took place on Golgotha. To them the risen Jesus speaks with the heart, accompanying with respect the journey of their pain, proposing himself and not imposing himself, opening their minds with love to the understanding of the deepest meaning of what happened. Indeed, they can exclaim with joy that their hearts burned in their breasts as he conversed along the way and explained the Scriptures to them (cf. Lk 24:32).
In a historical period marked by polarizations and contrasts – from which unfortunately even the ecclesial community is not immune – the commitment to communication “with open hearts and arms” does not concern information workers alone, but is the responsibility of each one. We are all called to seek and speak the truth and to do so with charity. We Christians, in particular, are continually exhorted to guard our tongues from evil (cf. Ps 34:14), because, as Scripture teaches, with it we can bless the Lord and curse men made in the likeness of God (cf. Jas 3:9). Evil words should not come out of our mouths, “but rather good words that can serve for proper edification, benefiting those who hear” (Eph 4:29).
Sometimes amiable speech opens a breach even in the most hardened hearts. We also have traces of it in the literature. I think of that memorable page of chapter XXI of The Betrothed in which Lucy speaks from the heart to the Unnamed until the latter, disarmed and tormented by a beneficial inner crisis, yields to the gentle force of love. We experience it in civic coexistence where kindness is not just a matter of “etiquette”, but a real antidote to cruelty, which unfortunately can poison hearts and intoxicate relationships. We need it in the media, so that communication does not foster a hatred that exasperates, generates anger and leads to confrontation, but helps people to reflect calmly, to decipher, with a critical and always respectful spirit, the reality in which they live.
Communication from heart to heart: “It is enough to love well to say good”
One of the most luminous and still fascinating examples of “speaking from the heart” is represented by St Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church, to whom I recently dedicated the Apostolic Letter Totum Amoris Est, 400 years after his death. Alongside this important anniversary, I would like to recall on that occasion another that occurs in 2023: the centenary of his proclamation as patron of Catholic journalists by Pius XI with the Encyclical Rerum omnium perturbationem. Brilliant intellect, fruitful writer, theologian of great depth, Francis de Sales was bishop of Geneva at the beginning of the seventeenth century, in difficult years, marked by heated disputes with the Calvinists. His meek attitude, his humanity, his willingness to dialogue patiently with everyone and especially with those who opposed him made him an extraordinary witness of God’s merciful love. It could be said of him that “a loving mouth multiplies friends, an affable tongue good relations” (Sir 6:5). Moreover, one of his most famous affirmations, “the heart speaks to the heart”, has inspired generations of the faithful, including Saint John Henry Newman who chose it as his motto, Cor ad cor loquitur. “It is enough to love well to say good,” was one of his convictions. It shows how for him communication should never be reduced to an artifice, to – we would say today – a marketing strategy, but was the reflection of the soul, the visible surface of a core of love invisible to the eye. For St. Francis de Sales it is precisely “in the heart and through the heart that that subtle and intense process of unity takes place by virtue of which man recognizes God”.2 “Loving well” St. Francis managed to communicate with the deaf-mute Martino, becoming his friend; Therefore he is also remembered as a protector of people with communicative disabilities.
It is on the basis of this “criterion of love” that, through his writings and his witness of life, the holy Bishop of Geneva reminds us that “we are what we communicate”. A lesson today against the tide in a time in which, as we experience in particular in social networks, communication is often exploited so that the world sees us as we would like to be and not for what we are. St. Francis de Sales disseminated numerous copies of his writings in the Geneva community. This “journalistic” intuition earned him a reputation that quickly went beyond the perimeter of his diocese and still endures to this day. His writings, St. Paul VI observed, elicit a “supremely pleasant, instructive, stimulating” reading.3 If we look at the communication landscape today, aren’t these the characteristics that an article, a report, a radio and television service or a post on social mediashould satisfy? May communications workers feel inspired by this saint of tenderness, seeking and telling the truth with courage and freedom, but rejecting the temptation to use striking and aggressive expressions.
Speaking from the heart in the synodal process
As I had the opportunity to emphasize, “in the Church too there is so much need to listen and to listen to one another. It is the most precious and generative gift we can offer to one another.”4 From listening without prejudice, attentive and available, a speaking according to God’s style is born, nourished by closeness, compassion and tenderness. We urgently need in the Church a communication that ignites hearts, balms wounds and sheds light on the journey of brothers and sisters. I dream of an ecclesial communication that knows how to let itself be guided by the Holy Spirit, gentle and at the same time prophetic, that knows how to find new forms and modalities for the wonderful proclamation that it is called to bring into the third millennium. A communication that focuses on the relationship with God and with one’s neighbour, especially the most needy, and that knows how to light the fire of faith rather than preserving the ashes of a self-referential identity. A communication whose foundations are humility in listening and parrhesia in speaking, which never separates truth from charity.
Disarming souls by promoting a language of peace
“A sweet tongue breaks the bones” says the Book of Proverbs (25:15). Speaking from the heart is today more necessary than ever to promote a culture of peace where there is war; to open paths that allow dialogue and reconciliation where hatred and enmity rage. In the dramatic context of global conflict that we are experiencing, it is urgent to affirm a non-hostile communication. It is necessary to overcome “the habit of quickly discrediting the adversary, attributing humiliating epithets to him, instead of facing an open and respectful dialogue”.5 We need communicators who are ready for dialogue, involved in promoting integral disarmament and committed to dismantling the war psychosis that lurks in our hearts, as Saint John XXIII prophetically exhorted in the Encyclical Pacem in Terris: “True peace can only be built in mutual trust” (n. 61). A trust that needs communicators who are not entrenched, but bold and creative, ready to take risks to find common ground where to meet. As 60 years ago, even now we live a dark hour in which humanity fears an escalation of war that must be curbed as soon as possible also at the level of communication. One is appalled to hear how easily words are uttered calling for the destruction of peoples and territories. Words that unfortunately often turn into acts of war of brutal violence. This is why all bellicose rhetoric must be rejected, as well as any form of propaganda that manipulates the truth, disfiguring it for ideological purposes. On the contrary, communication should be promoted at all levels to help create the conditions for resolving disputes between peoples.
As Christians, we know that it is precisely thanks to conversion of heart that the destiny of peace is decided, since the virus of war comes from within the human heart. From the heart flow the right words to dispel the shadows of a closed and divided world and build a better civilization than the one we have received. It is an effort required of each one of us, but it recalls in particular the sense of responsibility of communications workers, so that they may carry out their profession as a mission.
May the Lord Jesus, the pure Word that flows from the heart of the Father, help us to make our communication free, clean and cordial.
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, Word of truth and love, help us to speak the truth in charity, to feel that we are guardians of one another.
Saint John Lateran, 24 January 2023, Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales