Saint Catherine of Genoa: Spiritual Dialogue
Part III, Chapter I
The Soul inquires of God the reason of his great love for man, who is so opposed to him; and also what is man, for whom he cares so much.
Soul. O, Lord, when I see thee so enamored of man, I long to know the cause of this great love, especially as in his manner of life, man is so opposed to thy will, estranged from thy love, averse to thy operations, contrary to thee in all things, full of this world, blind, deaf, dumb, and stupid, without the power and without the means of acting according to thy will. I confess, O Lord, that I know not what is this man of whom thou art so mindful; I know not whether thou art his master or his servant; it seems to me as if love had so blinded thee that thou seest not the depth of his miseries. I pray thee, O my Lord, to satisfy me fully in this matter.
The Lord. You demand a thing beyond your comprehension; yet, in order to satisfy your understanding, which in these matters is weak and uninformed, I will show you a scintillation of this love which if you should behold clearly you could not live if I did not sustain you by my grace.
Know then, in the first place, that I am God, with whom there is no change; and know too that I loved man before I created him. I loved him with a love which is infinite, pure, simple, and sincere, and without any cause; it is impossible that I should not love those whom I have created and designed for my glory, each in his own degree. I have also provided him amply with all needful means of attaining his end, both with natural gifts and supernatural graces, and on my part these never fail him. I am ever surrounding him with my infinite love, now in one way and now in another, that I may bring him under my care. I find in him nothing which is contrary to me but the free-will which I have given him, and this I am always combating through love, until he yields it to me, and when I have accepted it I reform it little by little by my secret operations and loving care, and never abandon him until I have conducted him to his appointed end.
To your other question, as to why I love man, who is opposed to me and laden with sins that are so hateful in the sight of heaven, I answer, that by reason of the infinite bounty and pure love with which I love him, I can neither see his defects nor fail to accomplish my work, which is purely to benefit him; I cast such a light on his defects that perforce he sees them, and doing so he bewails them, and bewailing them he purges himself from them. He offends me only when he puts hindrances in the way by which I am endeavoring to lead him to his end; that is, when he hinders me, by mortal sin, from accomplishing my loving designs according to his necessities. But that love which you desire to know is beyond your comprehension, for it has neither form nor limit; neither can you know it through the intellect, for it is not intelligible; it is in part made known by its effects, which are small or great in proportion to the measure of love which is brought into action.
If one who had not lost faith should desire to see the effects of this work which is accomplished in man by that spark of love which infuses into his heart, be assured that he would be so inflamed by love that he could not live, for so great would be its power that he would melt away and be no more. Though men are for the most part forever in ignorance of it, yet, for this hidden love, you see those who abandon the world, leave their possessions, friends, and kindred, and hold in abhorrence all other loves and joys. For this love men have sold themselves as slaves, and remained in bondage to others until death; and its force increases so continually that they would suffer martyrdom for it a thousand times, as they have often done and will ever continue to do.
You see this love transforms beasts into men, men into angels, and angels becoming God, as it were, by participation. You see men changed from earthly into heavenly, and devoting themselves with both soul and body to the practice of spiritual things. Their whole life and manner of speech are altered, and they do and say the contrary of what was formerly their custom. All are surprised at this, and yet it seems good to all, and men are almost envious of it.
But unless by experience, no one comprehends how this has been brought about. That deep sweet, and penetrating love which man feels in his heart is unknown, and can neither be described nor understood except by the light of the affections in whose exercise he feels himself occupied, bound, transformed, in peace and harmony with the bodily sensations, and without any contradiction, so that he has nothing, wills nothing, and desires nothing. He remains quiet and satisfied in his inmost heart, knowing this love and knowing it alone. He is kept closely bound by a very subtle thread, held secretly by the hand of God, who leaves him to struggle and combat with the world, the devils, and himself, while fainting weak, and helpless, he fears ruin on every side but God does not let him fall.
The true love which you are striving, O Soul, to comprehend, is not this, but is seen only when I have consumed the imperfections of man by every mode of human misery, both exterior and interior. As for that which cannot be seen, this is my mode of action. I let down into the heart of man the slender, golden thread of my hidden love, to which is attached a hook which enters the heart, and man feels himself wounded, but knows not by whom he is bound and taken. He neither moves nor wishes to move, because his heart is drawn by me, its object and its end, although he does not comprehend it; but it is I who hold the thread in my hand, and draw it even closer with a love so penetrating and so subtle, that man is conquered and subdued and entirely taken out of himself.
As the feet of one who has been hanged do not touch the earth, but his body remains attached to the cord by which he received his death, so the Spirit remains suspended by the slender thread of love whereby all the subtle and hidden imperfections of man receive their death: all that he now loves he loves by virtue of the tie by which he is bound. All his actions are done by means of that love and through sanctifying grace, because it is now God who works alone, by his pure love and without man's assistance. And God, having thus taken man into his own keeping, and drawn him entirely to himself, so enriches him with his favors that when he comes to die he finds himself drawn unconsciously by that thread of love into the divine abyss. And although man in this state appears a lifeless, lost, and abject thing, yet his life is hidden in God amid the treasures of eternal life; nor can it be told or imagined what God has prepared for this beloved Soul.
The Soul, hearing all this, is so inflamed by ardent love that she breaks forth into exclamations: