“The Fowl of Slander” by Saint Philip Neri

The Consequences of Slander

Dear children of God, please take heed of this warning given through Saint Philip Neri.

It has come to my notice again that souls who claim to love God go around attacking other souls through gossip, destroying the good name of a person. Jesus said: “Do not JUDGE … for the way you have judged so you will be …”

William Costellia


Saint Philip Neri

He who robs another of his good name can never repair the terrible injury he has caused.

A woman once came to St. Philip Neri, (1515-1595) confessing that she had a terrible weakness for gossiping. She asked the Saint to advise her how to conquer this fault. First, St. Philip tried to convince the woman of the grievous wrong that she did by spreading slander. But she would not believe that she did much harm by it. St. Philip then told her, “Do this for your penance, my daughter. Go to the market and buy a dead chicken that still has its feathers, and carry it through the streets. As you go along, pluck out the feathers one by one and scatter them on the way. When you have done this, come back to me.”

The woman fulfilled her strange penance, and returned to him. Naturally, she was very curious as to what he would say next. The Saint praised her obedience in following his first command. But now he told her to go again through the streets, and gather all the feathers she had plucked out! She was surprised by this command, and answered him, “Father, that is impossible. For the wind will have carried them away in all directions.”

And so, St. Philip Neri told her: “Just as the wind disperses feathers in all directions, so it is with calumny. The persons who hear it go their several ways and carry it far and wide, so that it is beyond reach or correction.”

This practical illustration taught the woman not the mere wrong, but the immense evil done by one who spreads evil tales about others. She had never thought about it seriously. But now she could see that the bad things she said spread so quickly among so many people that it was impossible to undo the damage. Because there was no way of knowing where to find all those people who, by a short time, would be hearing and spreading the slander. Therefore, there was no way to gather the multitude of badly informed gossipers, to speak to them and repair the reputation of their victim.

The lesson was well learned and, with Heaven’s help, the woman was more cautious in her speech from that time forward.

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