In his 2023 message for World Communications Day (14 May), Pope Francis focuses on speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and quotes St Francis de Sales, who says, ‘In order to speak well, it is enough to love well.’

Much has already been written about the adverse effects that media platforms and outlets can have on our wellbeing—along with their undoubted value. It’s something Pope Francis has spoken about often, as has Cardinal Tagle.

Given the potential risks that exist alongside the benefits, how might we develop a more reflective and life-giving approach to the way we consume and interact with various forms of media? And how might we begin to examine our conscience when it comes to our media habits?

Pope Francis explicitly identifies love as the foundation for good communication, and since there is perhaps no better account of what true love means than the one given in 1 Corinthians 13, St Paul’s famous ‘hymn to love’ might be a good place to start. Though poetic, it is far from sentimental, issuing a bracing challenge to live with humility and self-giving love. Read in relation to our media habits, it can help us to discern how we might consume and engage with media in healthier and more generous ways, showing us how to follow Christ faithfully, even in the digital space.

A media ‘examen’

Love is patient. The demands of a 24-hour news cycle mean that the news media are not always inclined to take their time or to withhold judgment. In the rush to tell a compelling story, sometimes good people are painted in a bad light. It is not just journalists, though, who are guilty of this. Regardless of our social, political or religious allegiances, the temptation to make snap judgments is sometimes hard to resist. How often do we rush to judgment? How often do we actually wait for the whole story to come out before making our minds up?

Love is kind. While the tendency to mock or belittle ‘the other side’ in political and civic discourse has always been with us, it is often amplified by the contemporary media. Do we find enjoyment in the ridiculing of those with whom we disagree? How often do we treat them simply as obstacles in the way of our goals, instead of people with whom we share a common home and a common future? Perhaps, when we are tempted to think of kindness as weak, we could remind ourselves that it is a mark of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23), the most powerful and transformative force at work in our world.

Love is not jealous. How often do we celebrate and preserve what is good, rather than tearing it down? How often do we truly honour people’s successes instead of resenting or coveting them?

Love is not boastful, or puffed up, or rude. What is the purpose of our media consumption? How is it affecting us? Is it nourishing and deepening our character, or is it simply puffing us up? Why do we feel the need to form and assert opinions about things that are distant from our immediate concerns? Especially on social media, do we express ourselves in a cordial, considerate way, or with arrogance and rudeness?

It does not insist on its rights. This translation can sometimes be misunderstood. St Paul is commenting here not on those who stand up to exploitation, but on selfishness. Love isn’t self-seeking; it’s other-seeking. So who do our media habits and engagement serve? Is it simply ourselves, or are we genuinely seeking the good of other people?

It does not take offence. How good are we at forgiveness? The media can exert considerable influence when it comes to ‘cancelling’ people, but what about welcoming them back? Instead of dredging up the past and holding people’s sins against them, how might the media—including our own participation in social media—become a means of facilitating forgiveness and reconciliation, and helping people to start over?

It does not plan evil. In Christian theology, ‘evil’ is traditionally understood as the absence or corruption of what is good. With this in mind, do the ways we engage with media serve to taint or corrupt what is good, be it people or institutions? Or do they enhance and serve what is good, true and beautiful?

It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. How often do we excuse or even rejoice in the bad behaviour of those in our own ‘tribe’? Wrongdoing—even when it’s perpetrated by someone on ‘our team’—is still wrong. Do we always love the truth more than our human allegiances or our own self-interest?

It puts up with everything, it believes everything, it hopes everything, endures everything. Parts of our media thrive by stoking people’s fears and anxieties, and despair and cynicism are the unfortunate outgrowths. Love does not succumb to these. In the face of bleak or sensational news, do we sometimes abandon hope? Have we allowed ourselves to be despairing or cynical?

Love never falls away. St John of the Cross said, ‘At the evening of our life, we shall be judged on our love’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1022). In an important sense, nothing else matters. How can our media habits and engagement serve the thing that matters most? How can they promote true, authentic love?