Monday, November 23, 2009


I had the opportunity to again view the excellent movie DOUBT starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour-Hoffman last night. What struck me this time was a sermon that Hoffman's Father Flynn gives during Mass around the middle of the film:

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?’

(Irish Brogue)
‘Yes!’ Father O’Rourke answered her. ‘Yes, you ignorant, badly brought-up female! You have borne 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.

‘Yes, Father.’

‘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!’

This made me think hard about the power of words and the damage they can do to someone's feelings and/or reputation. In the context of the film, it also highlights the inability to take back certain words after they leave your the sermon indicates, they are feathers on the wind. You don't know where or to whom they will be carried next, the countless directions they can fly. Once out, there simply is no way to contain them.

I need to remember about this when I "tell my tales of blarney" as Irishmen are wont to do. Would I want the person I'm telling tales about to be right behind me in the telling? Would I want anyone telling tales of ME, true or untrue, and let MY feathers take to the wind and fall where and with whom they may?

I've let loose many a collection of feathers in my day. I wonder how many collections of my own feathers still fly...


Memorial of Blessed Miguel Augustin Pro
Daily Mass Readings
Daniel 1:1-6,8-20
Daniel 3:52-56
Luke 21:1-4