In today's age of cyberbullying and online vitriol, be sure to take the high road and build people up rather than tear them down, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, told Catholic communicators attending the Catholic Media Conference.
"What can I say to make things better? What are the words that may impart grace to those who hear?" the bishop, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Communications, asked the group to consider June 2.
He said he knew the journalists in the room were "acutely aware of the significant decline in the tenor of public discourse" during the last few years, a fact that is readily apparent in publications' comment boxes and social media.
In such an environment, the bishop urged communicators to lift up good examples of humanity, charity and grace and if possible, "engage in some form of active ministry to others: feeding, housing, counseling, visiting or praying."
"We have to be even more careful to be reflective rather than reactive," he added saying there is already enough anger and coarseness out there. "Let's just not add to it."
Bishop Coyne also noted that the church is not immune from such negative discourse, saying: "one of the most destructive activities in the church today is the internecine fighting among people and groups who claim to be Catholic."
Echoing this message, he quoted Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, who delivered the keynote address on May 11 at the Brooklyn Diocese's observance of World Communications Day and said: "The character assassination on the internet by those claiming to be Catholic and Christian has turned it into a graveyard of corpses strewn all around."
Father Rosica, CEO of Canada's Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, also described Catholic online conversations as sometimes "more a culture of death than a culture of life," the bishop said.
Instead of responding in kind, Bishop Coyne urged the journalists and communication leaders to follow the example of St. Therese or Lisieux who saw every task as a chance to make the love of God more concrete.
With this in mind, he said every news story, video, blog post, tweet, email or response to an online comment can "become an opportunity to manifest God's love."
He also reminded the group that the world they are writing in is constantly changing and is shifting to one that is largely non-religious and secular.
"We are now missionaries," he said, which should influence writing, podcasts, videos and blog posts because these forms of communication might be bringing people the Gospel message for the first time.
"And here is something more to consider," he said. "One cannot give what one does not have." In order to help others know Jesus, he said, "We must first know him ourselves."