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  • Sarah Raad

Gossip

“O my silent Jesus, have mercy on us!” (Saint Faustina, Diary 119).

Saint Philip Neri and the Virgin Mary (Tiepolo)

Saint Philip Neri was a 16th century Italian priest. There is a famous story that is told about Saint Philip Neri that I have been thinking about today…


Once when Saint Philip was administering the sacrament of Reconciliation, a penitent confessed that he had been gossiping. For his penance, Saint Philip asked him to kill a chicken and bring it back to the monastery for their dinner that night. He told the penitent to pluck the chicken’s feathers on the walk over to the monastery. The man accepted that penance, and after killing the chicken, began walking back to Saint Philip, happily plucking feathers along the way. When he reached the monastery, Saint Philip thanked him for the chicken, and then asked him to “Now go, if you please, and collect all the feathers, and bring them to me, as well.” The man replied, “But Father, the feathers are strewn all about Rome by now, and beyond! Who knows where the wind has blown them; I could never recapture every feather.” Saint Philip replied, “Yes, just so with gossip.”


And I have been reflecting on this very graphic description of the implications of gossip over the last few days, because gossip is really just a form of judgement. And we are told… “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5).

Upon reflecting on this part of scripture, Saint Augustine wrote, “Try to acquire the virtues you believe lacking in your brothers, then you will no longer see their defects, for you will no longer have them yourself.”

For in trying to acquire the virtues that I believe lacking in those around me, I shall be fully consumed and unable to judge their defects or gossip about them either. And that in itself is a marvellous thing! After all, it would allow me to follow the advice of Saint Josemaría, who said, “When you talk about someone, do it as if he could be hearing you and be always grateful for your words.”


There is such power wielded in a person’s tongue. Saint Faustina wrote in her Diary 119… “I tremble to think that I have to give an account of my tongue. There is life, but there is also death in the tongue. Sometimes we kill with the tongue: we commit real murders. And we are still to regard that as a small thing? I truly do not understand such consciences. I have known a person who, when she learned from someone that a certain thing was being said about her, fell seriously ill. She lost a good deal of blood and shed many tears, and the outcome was very sad. It was not the sword that did all this, but the tongue. O my silent Jesus, have mercy on us!”


And bearing this in mind, as I consider all the feathers that I have yet to collect, the only prayer that I dare utter to pray is the prayer of Saint Faustina, “O my silent Jesus, have mercy on us!” (Diary 119).


For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.

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