Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 28, 2003
Remember, words can heal -- or hurt
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
Many of the groups that invite me to speak enjoy the chance, after a formal presentation, to ask questions. In some ways, the give and take of questions and my attempt to answer them are the highlight of these events because that's when I get a real sense of who and what an audience is.
Some of my speeches focus on the influence of popular media, a topic that always evokes a strong response. People have very definite opinions about the folks in print and television media and argue strongly for and against their influence.
And there's no denying the power of media and new organizations on popular culture. One study, published in a journal on religious education, suggested that the average North American family watches almost 2,000 hours of television a year. That same family, by comparison, listens to about eight hours a year of any kind of religious or moral presentation, including the homilies or sermons they hear at church, synagogue or mosque. Two thousand hours vs. eight hours: clearly media and its presentation matters.
In some talks, I'm fairly critical of the biased ways in which news is sometimes presented. My perspective, of course, is largely centred on how religious faith and moral issues are handled. And, frankly, poor presentations of the Church and her teaching come from both the left and the right, the so-called conservative and liberal news organizations.
Yet, I admit it's not difficult to lump the messenger and their message into one and become personal in criticisms. I know that sometimes I've done that.
Recently, in a gathering of several hundred women, I was asked about the media and its fairness. Following my talk, I had the chance to speak one-on-one to those who wanted to ask more specific questions.
One woman near the end of the line wanted to know what I thought of one of the leading news commentators, Bill O'Reilly. He is the host on Fox News' most popular show and his books have quickly become bestsellers.
I've been on his show a number of times and I don't always care for the way in which he talks about the pope, Catholic teachings or the institution of the Church. I've often left his program feeling that he wasn't really looking for answers, but had an agenda to promote, with nuances often lost in broad strokes and quick condemnations. These, at least, were my feelings as the woman questioned me that night.
I don't know why but, for some reason, I focused on the positive aspects of Bill O'Reilly rather than the negative. I told the woman that he was "bright, direct and probably the best of the news commentary bunch."
I admired his debating skills and knew him to be, off camera, a man who tried to live and practise his faith. And while we don't always agree on issues, I found O'Reilly to be well informed and "a good soul, all in all." The woman smiled and thanked me for my comments. "You see, Father, Bill O'Reilly is my son and I'm very proud of him." God, was I glad that on that night I celebrated the best rather than reproving the worst.
That experience was a valuable lesson. Sometimes we think that if we disagree with someone, it has to be personal. We show antipathy to people, when what we dislike are their ideas. That's a mistake to avoid.
In a world of so many divisions, we have the power to heal a few breaches. We can do that by disagreeing with the person who doesn't see the world on our terms with respect. We can remember that everyone, even those with whom we most strongly take issue, are children of the same God - and someone's son or daughter.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: email@example.com.)
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