Saint Catherine of Genoa: Spiritual Dialogue
Part I, Chapter XIX
Of the poverty in which the Spirit compelled Humanity to live. - How she was obliged to visit the poor and sick. - Of the suffering she found among them. - Of the oppression and interior distress which she experienced.
After the Spirit had thus discoursed with Humanity, she found everything ordered for her in the following manner: In the first place, she was reduced to such poverty that she could not have lived, if God had not provided for her by alms.
When the Ladies of Mercy requested her, according to their custom, to visit the poor for various charitable purposes, she always went with them among these wretched beings, many of whom were intolerable from the filth and vermin with which they were covered, and some of them in their misery and want would break forth in fearful exclamations of despair, so that the entrance to their dwellings seemed like the entrance into a sepulchre, frightful to every human being. In spite of this she was eager to draw near and even touch them, that she might do something for their bodies and their souls.
There were some among the infirm who, beside their uncleanness and offensiveness, were always complaining of their attendants and loading them with abuse.
She visited, too, the poor of Saint Lazarus, where the greatest suffering was to be seen, as if the Spirit sent her there in search of all sorts of misery and woe. She found her task far worse than she believed, and was assailed, as it were, on both sides, namely, on the side of Humanity, which loathed these miseries, and by the Spirit, which was so lost to every external impression as to be unable to hold converse with creatures.
Humanity was so overawed by the Spirit, and thrown into such consternation by all these things, that she knew not what to do. For, on the one hand, when she was assailed by the Spirit, she would have done anything to escape its power, and when she afterwards beheld the misery of these poor creatures, she would gladly have fled from them, and yet could not. Everything was distressing to her, especially when she found that the Spirit required of her to devote herself to her work, without agitation or disgust, as she would take bread and put it into her mouth when she was hungry. And thus poor Humanity had all these difficult affairs on her hands, without a single remedy. No one could have looked upon her, in such fearful conflicts, without great compassion; but because these things were done for the attainment of liberty of spirit, everything that was required of her became easy of execution.