Right Guidance

November 10 2019 | by


IN HER disturbing story A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Catholic author Flannery O’Connor explores what can happen when one trusts the wrong counselor. A family consisting of father, mother, three children, grandmother, and the grandmother’s hidden cat is driving to Florida when the grandmother, with the insistence of the children, convinces the father to take a side road and visit a house that she remembers from childhood. As they proceed down an abandoned dirt road, the grandmother suddenly remembers that the house was in a different state. When the cat she has hidden escapes his basket, it causes an accident. The car flips and comes to rest in a gulch. The driver of a car following them, an escaped convict who calls himself the ‘Misfit’, witnesses the mishap. He and his two cronies want the family’s car to assist in their getaway. When the grandmother realizes who the men are, she tries to talk to the Misfit about Jesus.

“If you would pray,” the old lady said, “Jesus would help you.”

“That’s right,” the Misfit said.

“Well then, why don’t you pray?” she asked, trembling with delight, suddenly.

“I don’t want no help,” he said. “I’m doing all right by myself.”

Trusting in himself, the Misfit has no desire for Jesus. Likewise, he discounts human professionals. “It was a head-doctor at the penitentiary said what I had done was kill my daddy, but I known that for a lie.”

Despite evidence that the Misfit is a sociopath, his two younger cronies, Hiram and Bobby Lee, look to him for guidance.


The blind


From whom do people seek guidance? Counselors? Psychologists? Psychiatrists? Teachers? Peers? Political leaders? Experts? Internet sites? Social media? Themselves? In Anthony’s time, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, internet, and social media were nonexistent. The ordinary person had no access to teachers, political leaders, and experts. People sought guidance mainly from peers, priests, and religious. One would expect priests and religious to be faithful to the teachings of Christ. Anthony apparently knew some who weren’t.

“‘And he spoke also to them a similitude: Can the blind lead the blind? Do they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master; but everyone shall be perfect, if he be as his master’ [Lk 6.39-40]. Let us see what is meant, allegorically, by the blind, the ditch, the disciple and the master. The ‘blind’ is the wicked prelate or priest, deprived of the light of life and knowledge” (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals II, p. 92; edited and translated by Paul Spilsbury; Edizoni Messaggero Padova).

These counselors are blind because “They have all turned aside into their own way, not that of Jesus Christ; everyone after his own gain. This is their dark and slippery way [Ps 34.6], from first even to last, from the chief pig down to the smallest piglet” (Sermons II, p. 93).


Ditch and disciple


In O’Connor’s story, the grandmother’s blindness to her own fallibility led the family into the gulch (ditch). The Misfit descends purposefully. “He moved away from the car and began to come down the embankment, placing his feet carefully so that he wouldn’t slip.” His cronies join him. The remainder of the story takes place in the gulch, in the ditch, the amoral life.

Anthony likens the blind master to a bear which, according to the science of his day, shaped its young with its mouth so that the young (the disciples) turn out to be as blind and evil as their master. In O’Connor’s story, Hiram and Bobby Lee are being shaped by The Misfit whom they emulate.

“The ‘bears’ of our time… bring to birth dead lumps of flesh, carnal children whose color is white like tombs full of all filthiness [cf. Mt 23.27]. These have no eyes to contemplate God or neighbor, no shape of virtues, no beauty of morals: only blood-red sins, and claws with which to seize the goods of the poor. As the bears lick and fawn upon these lumps of flesh, they shape them little by little, according to that fashion of which it is said: The fashion of this world passeth away [1 Cor 7.31]. Warming them carefully with bad example, they draw out the animal spirit of which the Apostle says: The sensual man perceiveth not the things of God [1 Cor 2.14]. So, like beasts among beasts, like blind with blind, they fall into the ditch” (Sermons II, p.95).

The Misfit indicates that his own father, like the bear, shaped him who is now shaping Hiram and Bobby Lee. “You couldn’t put anything over on him. He never got in trouble with the Authorities though. Just had the knack of handling them.”


Right choices


A Good Man Is Hard to Find ends in horror, made even more horrific by the convicts’ nonchalance. The story drives home the point that we must watch who we trust, including ourselves.

The Misfit and the grandmother both trusted themselves. Several top internet sites advise self trust, which can lead to error. Certainly, we need to understand ourselves, but talking over our problems with a trustworthy counselor can sometimes yield another perspective.

Consider the following when selecting a counselor.

  1. Does the counselor believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?
  2. Do the counselor’s actions derive from faith?
  3. Is the counsel morally in line with Church teaching?
  4. What are the counselor’s leisure activities? Are these supportive of Church teaching?
  5. Does the counselor accept your feelings, or does he or she discount them and try to steer you away from discussing them? In other words, is the counselor a bear that tries to shape you into a certain image or is the counselor a crane that supports you in who you are? For example, suppose you are considering a vocation to a particular religious order, how does your counselor respond to your discernment inquiry? Does he or she say, “Since you feel strongly about that, how do you feel about getting more information?” Or is the response, “Oh, that’s not for you. Why not do this instead?” The latter response indicates a lack of empathy, a controlling spirit, and a certain judgmentalism.


Flying high


Of cranes, Anthony writes, “So let us be merciful, in imitation of the cranes, of which it is said that when they seek to fly to any destination, they fly high, so that from their exalted viewpoint they may find the lands they seek” (Sermons II, p. 82). This behavior opposes blindly falling into a ditch.

Anthony continues. “One, resolute in going, leads the flock; and as he goes he chides the laggards, urging on the line with his voice. If he grows hoarse, another takes over” (Sermons II, p. 82). In contrast to the Misfit, who was the undisputed leader, a true leader allows another a chance.

Unlike the convicts, who dispatched the helpless family, cranes support the helpless. “All of them come together to take care of the weary, so that if any flags, they all come together to support those who are tired, until with rest they regain their strength… Let us then be merciful like cranes, so that being set on the watch-tower of an exalted life, we may look out for ourselves and for other people. Let us show the proper way to those who do not know it. Let us chide the lazy and lukewarm with the voice of preaching. Let us take turns in our work, because he who lacks a time of rest will not stay the course. Let us carry the weak and feeble on our shoulders, so that they do not faint on the way. Let us keep watch and vigil for the Lord in prayer and contemplation” (Sermons II, p. 82).

Cultivating these traits in ourselves, let us also seek them in our counselors.

Updated on November 10 2019