SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Disciple of a Fool

May 19, 2015 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Self-Knowledge, Spiritual Direction

CourtJesterStockholm for post on disciple of a foolSt. Bernard of Clairvaux is famous for saying that “Anyone who takes himself for his own spiritual director is the disciple of a fool.”

This simply means that in matters that matter most in life, it is dangerous and foolish to fail to habitually seek counsel from others. Why?

The simple fact is that the human person has an infinite capacity for self-delusion. To make matters worse, intelligence, drive, and good-will can all be accelerants for self-delusion. Yes, you heard that right. The desire to do good, and the desire for good, can be used by the enemy to convince us that we are on the right track. After all, it is clear that we mean well right?

Because of my executive role in Christian non-profits for decades, I have had the unfortunate, and always gut wrenching experience, of watching many good men fall. In fact, I have been the fool myself at times.

The beginning of the end emerges when a destructive pattern within a leader becomes clear to those around them.

Those who love them begin to gently work to help them back on track.

The fool’s disciple responds by conferring with his spiritual director (himself) and, after the meeting with himself, he emerges with… surprise surprise – a clean bill of health!

To make matters worse, these folks usually have followers. The next step they take then is to confer with them or lament to them. What do they get in response? Praise and affirmation!

At this point the path to hell is now set in concrete, and only a profound crash and humiliation will get these poor self-deluded souls back on track.

StainedGlassStBernardOfClairvauxMNMA_Cl3273How does this happen to good people? The answer is revealed by St. Bernard’s observation. He, too, witnessed many of the good and faithful fall.

These good folks begin down this path to destruction with a poor understanding of the effect of sin and concupiscence on the soul and the power of self-deception that emerges from these sources.

Because they don’t understand these factors, or because of their self-perceived goodness, or sometimes because of psychological trauma that causes a kind of self-protection, they never develop a habit of seeking counsel from others, especially from those who are willing to confront them and tell them the truths they most need to hear about themselves.

If we look to the wisdom of the spiritual doctors of the Church we would find them replete with warnings against self-trust. St. Teresa, in the Interior Castle, even notes that the further along one travels into the castle (a metaphor for progressive union with God) the more one needs an external voice to help them navigate the narrow path!

Of all the good men that I have seen fall, not a single one, even the religious and priests, had a spiritual director. Not a single one allowed anyone to speak hard truths to their souls.

Said another way, they were all disciples of fools.

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Art:  The Laughing Jester, anonymous, 15th century; Stained glass representing St. Bernard of Clairvaux, unknown artist, ca 1450; both PD-US copyright expired.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, the High Calling Seminary Preparation Program, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. In 2018, he launched the annual Avila Summit held at Hanceville, Alabama. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband, father of four, and grandfather of one, the President and Chief Operating Officer of EWTN News, Inc., a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer, speaker and pilgrimage director who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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