During his weekly audience Wednesday, Pope Francis returned to one of his favorite themes: the devil. Reflecting on the importance of good manners and etiquette, Francis insisted that they aren’t enough, because even Satan knows how to put on good manners to get what he wants.
The Pope recalled the gospel scene in which the devil tests Jesus in the desert prior to his public ministry. The devil puts on an impressive show, Francis said, and arrives “sporting good manners and citing Scripture; he seems like a theologian!”
This “good form” is just a cover for malice, rather than a sincere concern for the good of others. “His style seems proper,” Francis continued, “but his intention is to distract from the truth of God’s love.”
This episode shows that without sincerity “good manners can become mask that hides the aridity of the soul and the neglect of the other,” he said.
Nonetheless, Francis said, modern society also risks forgetting the importance of etiquette, which make society more human. “Sometimes it seems to me that we are becoming a society of bad manners and unkind words, as if they were a sign of liberation,” he said.
According to Pope Francis, the future of society and the family isn’t only determined by sound laws, institutions, and government policy. Sometimes something as simple as the use of terms of courtesy in conversation can go a long way to healing wounds and strengthening family life.
“A great bishop, St. Francis de Sales, used to say that ‘good manners are half of holiness,’” Francis said.
In his address, the Pope focused on three simple polite phrases—“May I?”, “Thank you”, and “Forgive me”—to illustrate the importance of thoughtfulness in human relations. More than just a convention, Francis insisted, the use of these “simple phrases” can make or break a family.
“But when they are ignored,” he said, “their absence can cause cracks in the foundation of the family, which can lead to its collapse.”
When the use of these words is not just “a formal expression of good manners,” he asserted, but “a sign of deep love for one another,” then “they strengthen a happy family life.”
The Pope said that the polite form of request “May I?” sets a tone of respect and kindness that softens our relationships.
“Familiarity,” he said, “does not authorize us to take everything for granted. The more intimate and profound love is, the more it demands respect for the freedom of the other and the ability to wait for the other to open the door of his heart.”
So even if we think we have the right to something, he said, “when we speak to our spouse or family member with kindness we create space for a true spirit of marital and familial common life. We renew trust and respect, revealing our love for others, and we allow them to open the door of their hearts to us.”
Concerning the second expression—“Thank you”—Francis said that “our society has great need for gratitude, which makes us more sensitive to the dignity of the human person and the demands of social justice.”
Although thankfulness is often “seen as a sign of weakness,” and sometimes even arouses suspicion, “This trend should be resisted,” he said. “I once heard from a very wise elderly person that ‘gratitude is a plant that only grows in the soil of noble souls,’” he said.
Thankfulness, Francis said, is “the language of God,” to whom above all we must express our gratitude. “A Christian who does not know how to say thank you has forgotten the language of God,” he said.
Finally, though it is sometimes said that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” Francis begs to differ. Without the words “Forgive me,” he said, “hurt can develop in our relationships, and weaken our life as a family.” If we fail to apologize for our mistakes, “small cracks” can inadvertently become “deep ditches,” he said.
By asking for forgiveness, he continued, “we show our desire to restore what was lost, and respect, honesty, love, and healing among family members is made possible.”
In marriage, Francis said, fights happen and sometimes “plates fly” but his advice to couples is “never finish the day without making peace!”
Often, he said, “a small gesture” is sufficient for peace to return to the family.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome