A lesson from Saint Philip Neri
One day a lady presented herself to Saint Philip Neri and confessed of being given to slander. “Do you frequently fall into this fault?” inquired the Saint. “Yes Father, very often,” replied the lady. “My child,” said the Saint “your fault is great but the mercy of God is still greater. For your penance, do as follows: Go to the nearest market and purchase a chicken just killed and still covered with feathers. Then walk on, plucking the bird as you go. When your walk is finished, return to me.”
Great was the lady’s astonishment at receiving so strange a penance. She replied, “I will obey, Father.” Accordingly, she bought the fowl and set out on her journey plucking it as she went. In a short time she returned, anxious to tell of her exactness in accomplishing her penance and desirous to receive some explanation.
“Ah,” said the Saint. “You have been very faithful to the first part of my command. Now do the second part. Retrace your steps and gather up one by one all the feathers you have scattered.”
“But Father!” exclaimed the poor woman, “That is impossible. The wind carried them in every direction, how can I now recover them?”
“Well my child,” replied the Saint. “Your words of slander are like the feathers which the wind has scattered. They have been wafted in many directions. Call them back now if you can. Go and sin no more.” History does not tell if the lady was converted but it is probable. One should be a great sinner not to profit by the Saint’s lesson.
Adapted from The Congregation of Holy Cross’s Ave Maria (Notre Dame, Ind. 1879), Vol. XV, No. 28, 20.