St. Francis de Sales’ rules for Twitter

by David Mills

North Texas Catholic

1/29/2020

A statue of St. Francis de SalesA statue of St. Francis de Sales
Saint Frances de Sales (Shutterstock.com)

Doctors don’t seem to do this anymore, but when St. Francis de Sales was alive, they would judge a man’s health by the state of his tongue. So, he says, “our words are a true test of the state of our soul. Just as we put our hand quickly on the place that hurts, so too the tongue is quick to point out what we love.”

As Jesus might have said: Where your treasure is, there will be your words be also. You give away a lot about yourself by what you say. As the book of Proverbs says, “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.”

Francis says a lot about this. We observed his feast day last week on the 24th. I wasn’t going to write about him, but reading Twitter debates made me want to share his wisdom about how we should speak.

I mean, holy cow, people can write vicious stuff. We need to admit we can do that too. Sitting at the keyboard or talking with friends, we can easily let ourselves go to town on the bad guys, and feel good about it. It’s like driving a Ferrari on an empty highway. Who wouldn’t want to hit the gas?

St. Francis began his priestly work as an evangelist, trying to draw Protestants back to the Church. With some success. After he became bishop of Geneva, he became a famous spiritual guide and good friend to St. Jane de Chantal.

Francis’s Introduction to the Devout Life became a classic, because it speaks wisely and also practically. And gently though firmly, too. The book describes what we now call the universal call to holiness, which wasn’t very common back then, when too many people thought only the clergy and religious could be holy. He died in 1622, at the early age of 55.

Pope Pius XI made Francis the patron saint of writers in 1923. Partly because he wrote so much and wrote so well, but also for the way he wrote. He wrote with “strength joined always to moderation and charity.”

The world could use a lot more of that. Some Twitter conversations, it’s just hate upon hate upon hate.

Francis calls that kind of thing ridicule. God hates it, he says. “Nothing is so opposed to charity, much more to a devout spirit, as contempt for and putting down one’s neighbor.”

“Ridicule is the greatest sin we can commit in word against our neighbor,” he explains. “When we offend him in any other way, we may still respect him in our heart, but we despise those whom we ridicule.” You can call someone an idiot and still think he’s an okay guy. But to ridicule him means you think he’s beneath contempt. You dehumanize him. You break the bond between you and him.

The saint also warns against the related sin of slander, which is almost as bad. The slanderer “unjustly takes away his neighbor’s good name.” He must make reparation for the sin, because he stole the man’s good name, and “no man can enter into Heaven encumbered with stolen goods.”

Francis helpfully tells us what not to do. “I entreat you never speak evil of any, either directly or indirectly. Beware of ever unjustly imputing sins or faults to your neighbor. Do not needlessly reveal his real faults or exaggerate his obvious sins. Do not attribute wrong motives to his good actions, and do not deny the good that you know exists in him.” If you did say something untrue, even by accident, correct your mistake publicly if you can.

And don’t play games. Say what you have to say. “There is no craft half so profitable and successful as simplicity,” Francis notes.

He also tells us what to do. “Let your words be kindly, frank, sincere, straightforward, simple, and true. Avoid all artifice, duplicity, and pretense. Remember that we don’t need to say everything that may be true, but we can never oppose the truth. Make it your rule never knowingly to say what is not strictly true, either to accuse someone or to excuse him.”

“Always remember,” St. Francis says, “that God is the God of Truth.” If you love God, tell the truth: the exact truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

David Mills is finishing a book titled “When Catholics Die,” to be published by Sophia Institute Press.

Doctors don’t seem to do this anymore, but when St. Francis de Sales was alive, they would judge a man’s health by the state of his tongue. So, he says, “our words are a true test of the state of our soul. Just as we put our hand quickly on the place that hurts, so too the tongue is quick to point out what we love.”

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