Saint Catherine of Genoa: Spiritual Dialogue
Part II, Chapter II
In what manner God keeps the Soul occupied in his love. - Of the weakness of the body and of the support it receives from creatures. - Of the extreme sufferings of Humanity, which it bemoans without complaining, being interiorly conformed to the will of God. - And how purgatory in this life is severe and sweet and full of mercy.
Sometimes this occupation of love was lightened and the Spirit allowed to take a breath, and to communicate with the Soul and the Soul with the Body, so that the senses of both were in a condition to receive some aid from created things, and were thus revived. But when God withdrew the Spirit into himself, all the rest followed it, the body remaining, as it were, dead, and so estranged from its natural state that when it again returned to it, it was entirely exhausted and could receive no help from any creature. Humanity could neither eat nor drink nor give any sign of life, so that it was led as a little child who can do nothing but weep. It could not enjoy that which nature desires, for it was deprived of taste and drawn out of its natural state.
When the Soul had remained awhile in this condition, she turned toward her Lord with bitter lamentation, and said to him:
Soul. Oh, my Lord, hitherto I have been in entire peace, contentment, and delight, for all my powers were in the enjoyment of the love bestowed on me by thee, and seemed as if they were in Paradise. Now they are driven from their home and find themselves in an unknown and strange country. Formerly the intellect, the memory, and the will, were conscious of thy love in all their operations, which they performed according to thy ordination, with great satisfaction to themselves and to all with whom they had to do: this was through thy sweet concurrence, which gave a zest to every act. Now I am naked and despoiled of all things and deprived of the power to love and to operate as I was wont to do. What then shall I do, living and yet dead, without understanding, without memory, and without will, and what is worse, without love, bereft of which I did not believe it possible to live, since man was created for love and for enjoyment, especially of God, his first object and his last end?
This operation, which I behold for the first time, deprives me of love and of joy, and I am lost in myself, not knowing what to do or say. Oh, how hard and intolerable it is to live thus, especially since I see that all my powers accord with one another, having found repose in God, their object and their end; and although they are ignorant of this work, yet in their ignorance they remain content!
But abandoned and deserted Humanity, how shall it live, parched, naked, and powerless? It has eyes and sees not; nostrils and smells not; ears and hears not; mouth and tastes not; a heart and cannot love! Every mode of life is found in that hidden love; but how is he to live to whom that love brings death, whose senses are all awake, but who cannot use them as others do?
And therefore, Humanity said, lamenting:
Me, miserable, alone in this world, what shall I do? I shall live in wretchedness, and none will have compassion on me, because this work will not be recognized as that of God, inasmuch as I must needs live, almost continually, in a different way from others, whether they be seculars or religious, and do things that will be looked upon as folly. There remains neither order nor regularity in my life, and for this reason it will rather scandalize than edify.
Alas! alas! that I should behold a work so cruel to Humanity! It is as if I were in a heated furnace, with the entrance closed, neither dead nor alive, and in dread of being reduced to ashes; yet I complain not, for interiorly I am in conformity with the will of God, who holds me in this condition according to a design neither known nor comprehended by the Soul herself; but the effect is shown in the execution of the work. It is Humanity which feels the torment, without complaining; yet if it could lament it would be refreshed.
Oh, what a sweet and cruel purgatory is this hidden one on earth! It is sweet in comparison with the purgatory of the life to come, but to us it appears cruel when we see a body on this earth suffering so intolerably. Yet what seems cruelty to us is truly a great mercy of God, although a hidden and unsuspected one. To him who is enlightened, this work is evidently done by love only the blind would endeavor to escape it, but in vain. We are all sinners, and how much better is it to be cleansed here than in the other life! For whoever suffers purgation in this life pays but a small portion of what is due, by reason of the liberty of his free-will cooperating with infused grace. God never subjects man to this discipline until he has obtained from him his free consent. For a moment it is put before him, and accepting it of his own free-will, he puts himself into the hands of God to be dealt with according to his pleasure. But this is hidden from Humanity.
The Spirit having given consent, God binds the Soul unto himself, and thereafter it remains in these bonds, which are never broken. All this is done without Humanity, which must be subject to the decree of God and the good pleasure of the Spirit. And when it finds itself in such subjection, it cries aloud like one who is suddenly wounded, and because it does not know the end, it is left to its lamentations while God continues his work, giving no heed unto its cries.