Saint Catherine of Genoa: Spiritual Dialogue
Part II, Chapter I
Of a new love which God poured into her heart, by which he drew her Spirit to himself. - The Soul follows it, so that her powers are absorbed and lost in this love, and the Body, being subject to the Soul, becomes bewildered and changed from its natural condition.
After this creature had been despoiled of the world, of the flesh, of her possessions, habits, affections, and, in short, of everything but God, it was his will to deprive her of herself also, and to separate the Soul from the Spirit by a suffering so acute that it is difficult to describe it or to make it understood by one who has not experienced it. God infused into that heart a new love, so ardent and so powerful that it absorbed into itself the Soul, with all her powers, so that she was raised above her natural condition and so constantly occupied within herself that she could no more take delight in anything nor look toward heaven or earth.
This Soul was unable to correspond with the body, which being thrown out of its natural condition, stood bewildered, not knowing where it was, nor what to do or say. By this new method, unknown, and as yet not understood by any creature, strange and new operations were then effected. It was as if a chain were extended, by which God, who is Spirit, draws to himself the spirit of man, and holds it absorbed in him. The soul, which cannot exist without her spirit, follows, and is also thus absorbed. There she remains, unable to do otherwise, so long as God binds the spirit to himself. The body, being subject to the soul, is deprived of its natural ailment, which without her aid she cannot receive, and is thrown out of its natural state. The spirit, meanwhile, is in the fit condition for that end for which it was created by God; and, stripped of all things, it rests in him as long as it is his good pleasure, provided that the body can endure it and live.
The soul and the body then return to their natural action, and having been refreshed by the repose of the spirit, God again elevates it to its former state, and in this manner the animal imperfections are by degrees destroyed, and the soul, thus cleansed, remains pure spirit, and the body, purged from its evil habits and inclinations, is also pure and fitted to unite itself, without hindrance to the Spirit in due season. This work God effects by love alone, which is so great that it is incessantly seeking the profit and advantage of this Soul, his beloved.
But the special work of which I speak, God performs without the aid of the Soul, and in the following manner: he fills her with a secret love, which deprives her of her natural life, so that the work carried on in her is wholly supernatural. She remains meanwhile in that sea of secret love which is so great that all who are drawn within it sink overwhelmed, for it overpowers the memory, the understanding, and the will: and to these powers, thus submerged in the divine love, all things else which approached them would be their hell, for they have been deprived of the natural life for which she Soul was created.
Such a soul, while yet in this life, shares, in some degree, the happiness of the blessed; but this is hidden even from herself, for it is so great and high that she is unable to comprehend it, exceeding as it does the capacity of her powers, which look to nothing beyond, but rest satisfied and submerged in this sea of love. When created things are spoken of, her facilities, like fools, are powerless and lifeless, not knowing where they are; so hidden is this work in God. The further it advances, the more contented and strong to bear all that God pleases to accomplish in it, does the spirit become; but it comprehends no more on the account, for the soul, as if dead, knows nothing of this work nor takes any part therein.
But the body, which must needs live on this earth while God is bringing the soul by its means to her destined perfection, how can it exist, alienated in all things from its natural condition? It can no longer use the understanding, the memory, or the will, for earthly purposes, nor does it take pleasure in spiritual things. It will live, then, in this way, in great torments: but God, whose works this is, is not willing that any but himself shall take part in it, and we shall now explain the means he uses.