Saint Catherine of Genoa: Spiritual Dialogue
Part I, Chapter VI
How the Soul discourses further with Self-Love, proposing a new mode of action. - Of the nature of Self-Love. - Of the little required to satisfy the desires of the Body. - How the Soul falls into misery and despair.
Soul. O Self-Love! do you not see how we molest each other, and how ill-fed we are? You have made me yield to your appetites, and now I am wretched indeed. I no longer pasture in heaven, and you starve me to death on earth: how is it with you?
Self-Love. I see that you are both dissatisfied, and thus far, not without reason. Let us go on, however, and perhaps we shall, by and by, find upon the road some good that may suit us all. I see plainly that this Body can consume but little, so that I, too, am not supplied with all the nourishment I am capable of taking. In one instant I devour what would satisfy the Body for a year, and how must it be then with you, whose capacity so far exceeds mine? This we will go: let us go in search of food better suited to us than we have hitherto found, give the Body as much of it as it requires (which is a trifle when compared to our needs), and then let it complain as much as it likes.
Soul. On what do you nourish yourself, and what can we find that will satisfy us both, and yet sustain the Body?
Self-Love. I have a great appetite; I feed both on earthly and on spiritual food; but do not take me to that place where you went the first week, but rather to any other spot. When I travel with any one and find enough to live upon, I seldom abandon my company; I collect such supplies that my followers are never in want, and I make them all rich.
Soul. I know that there is not on earth food suited to us both, from the fact that there is not enough to satisfy us. We have wandered so far from heaven (where there is food in plenty) that I know and can find no way that will lead us thither again; and I see that God closed the door of this grace at the moment when we deliberated whether we should feed according to the tastes of his world, and has left us to gratify our appetites. Now that we are perplexed and discouraged about our pasturage, we wish to return to him for our own benefit, and not through true and pure charity, which the Lord requires from us, and by which he always works in us. When I think of all I have done for you, and of all that I have justly lost, I see that I deserve to be abhorred by God, by you, by the world, and by hell. I am almost in despair through shame at finding myself led by you into the midst of earthly things, in which I believed I could find a supply for our joint necessities, while we remained together in this world. But, after trying everything, I find that not one of us could be contented or satisfied even if we had all we asked on earth. I have witnessed and proved all your appetites, and I have found that your way of quieting them greatly inflamed them; and yet, that they are so quickly satiated that after even a little gratification they were disordered, although there had been such an intense craving for that little. Yet, though blunted, they were never appeased. They were always finding themselves in the same condition. When they seemed satisfied I was famishing; and when I wished to return to my own country, to gratify my instincts, I found no cooperation as at first, for I had withdrawn from my first path, which was straight, clear, and open for all spiritual operations. Having consented to this, by reason of certain disorders of the Body, under the plea of supposed necessity, at once superfluity followed in the train of necessity, and shortly I was buried in sin; and in this snare I lost grace, became blind and dull; and from spiritual, wholly earthly. Now, alas! I am in such a condition that I can only move earthward, whereby I am drawn into every evil, like one who has wandered from his home. I leave myself to be led by you, O Body and Self-Love, wherever it pleases you, and you have carried me so far that I cannot even resist your appetites.
You have, by degrees, so changed me, or I might rather say, perverted me, that I feed on the same food as yourselves; and we are so united and agree so well, that I blindly fall in with all your desires, and have, thus, from a spiritual soul become almost an earthly body. And you, Self-Love, are so closely bound to us, and keep us so closely bound to each other, that I, poor creature, am like one chained and stifled, and, as it were, dead to spiritual things. As if deprived of interior light and taste, I go on, gazing at and tasting things earthly and corporeal, and there is no good thing remaining to me, except a certain secret remorse which leaves me but little rest. Yet I continue neglecting myself, and enjoying, as I may, these earthly things which I feed upon, and wasting my time, while daily I bring myself into greater slavery; and the farther I withdraw from God, the more dissatisfied am I with my estrangement from my natural good, which is God himself.
Thus did this unhappy Soul often bewail her wretchedness, while yet she was ignorant of its cause. This was the divine instinct which she naturally possessed; for the all-merciful God never abandons one of his creatures while it remains in this life, but often visits it with some inspiration, by which man finds himself aided when he listens to it, although, if he resists it, he often becomes worse, by reason of his ungrateful neglect of preventing grace.
This unhappy Soul soon became so burdened with sins and ingratitude, with no visible remedy, that she lost all hope of being delivered from them, and went so far as not only to take pleasure in sin, but even to boast of it. The greater were the graces she had received, so much the greater was her blindness of heart and her despair of doing right; so that it was impossible that, by any human means, she should ever obtain relief. Nothing remained but that God should rescue her by his infinite grace and goodness; for she had now fallen so low that all her desires, affections, interests, and delights, were fixed upon earthly objects. Everything else she hated and never mentioned, for she was so perverted that what once seemed sweet to her, now appeared very bitter, through the change of her taste from heavenly to earthly.