A woman was gossiping with a friend about a man she hardly knew – I know none of you have ever done this – that night she had a dream. A great hand appeared over her and pointed down at her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt. The next day she went to confession. She got the old parish priest, Father O’Rourke, and she told him the whole thing.
‘Is gossiping a sin?’ she asked the old man. ‘Was that the hand of God Almighty pointing a finger at me? Should I be asking your absolution? Father, tell me, have I done something wrong?’
‘Yes!’ Father O’Rourke answered her. ‘Yes, you ignorant, badly brought up female! You have born false witness against your neighbor, you have played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed!’
So the woman said she was sorry and asked for forgiveness.
‘Not so fast!’ says O’Rourke. ‘I want you to go home, take a pillow up on your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me!’
So the woman went home, took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to the roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed.
‘Did you gut the pillow with the knife?’ he says.
‘And what was the result?’
‘Feathers,’ she said.
‘Feathers?’ he repeated.
‘Feathers everywhere, Father!’
‘Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out on the wind!’
‘Well,’ she said, ‘it can’t be done. I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.’
‘And that,’ said Father O’Rourke, ‘is GOSSIP!’
I love the below description of the harm of gossip:
In order to gossip, we “must harden our heart towards the ‘out’ person. We draw a line between ourselves and them; define them as being outside the rules of Christian charity… We create a gap between ourselves and God’s Love. As we harden our heart towards more people and groups, this negativity and feeling of separateness will grow and permeate our world, and we’ll find it more difficult to access God’s love in any aspect of our lives.”
Phil Fox Rose, “Gossip: Why we do it and the harm it does”, Busted Halo. Accessed August 10, 2010.