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Plucking a Fowl


A woman once came to St. Philip Neri, in Rome, an acknowledged that she was in the habit of gossiping. She asked him how she could rid herself of this fault. First of all the saint impressed upon her the grievous harm that she did by slandering others. But she would not admit that what she was doing really harmed others. Then the saint said: “Do this for your penance, my daughter. Go to the market and by a fowl in its feathers and carry it through the streets. As you go along, pluck out the feathers one by one and scatter them along the way. When you have done this come back to me.” The woman did as she was told and returned to St. Philip, wondering what he would say next. St. Philip praised her obedience; then he told her to go through the streets again and pick up all the feathers, which she had thrown away. She answered: “Father, that is impossible, for the wind will have carried them away in all directions.” He replied: “Just as the wind disperses feathers in all directions, so it is with your gossip. The persons who hear it go their several ways and carry it far and wide, so that it is beyond recall.” This practical illustration taught the woman the immense evil done by the backbiter and from that time on she was more cautious with her tongue.

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