Saint Catherine of Genoa: Spiritual Dialogue
Part III, Chapter III
The Soul discovers that what she had been doing, as if for God, proceeded truly from Self-Love. - She is filled with astonishment at the sight of pure love, and inquires concerning its nature. - Our Lord answers her that she could not understand it, and that he himself, being love, can be comprehended only in his effects.
Soul. Thou hast shown me, O Lord, another light in which I have seen that it is Self-Love which has hitherto moved me, and that all which has had the semblance of being wrought so lovingly for thee and in thee was self-defiled and of my own doing, and secretly appropriated to myself. It was hidden in me, my God, beneath thy shadow, under which I rested. But now that I behold thy simple, pure, and ardent love, with its operations, I am lost and bewildered, and all other loves seem to me worse than selfish. O divine love, where shall I find words to speak of thee? I am conquered and subdued by thee; I am dying of love and I do not feel love; I am annihilated in love and I do not know love; I feel love acting within me, and its action I do not understand; I feel my heart burning with love, and yet I do not see the flame of love.
O my God, I cannot cease to search for tokens of thy care; and although I am wholly overpowered by the new light which thou hast shown me, I do not yet despair of knowing more fully this love which, containing within itself everything that is desirable in heaven and on earth, satisfies man without satiating him, and even constantly increases the appetite which feeds upon it. It is so sweet and gentle, this pure and simple love, and so adapted to the heart of man, that he who has once enjoyed it, though but a little, would never cease to seek it, though the search should cost him a thousand lives. What is this love which conquers all things? Thou, Lord, hast told me many things concerning it, but they all seem to me to fall short; and since thou hast given me the burning desire to penetrate it more deeply, I will not believe that it can be in vain. Thou hast promised me a fuller satisfaction than I have attained. Thou hast shown me a spark of thy pure and simple love, and it has kindled in my heart a flame that devours me. Nowhere on earth can I find repose, nor can I feel or see aught beside. I am lost and beside myself; I am led captive and wounded nigh unto death, and wait only on thy providence, which will satisfy every one of my desires, which is in the order of salvation.
The Lord. O Soul, my beloved, thou art seeking to know what thou canst not comprehend. Thy instinct and thy desire, so far as the natural man is concerned, are supernatural; but as concerning the spiritual, and the end for which thou wert created, they are natural, because love is thy beginning, thy middle, and ought to be thy end. Thou canst not live without love, for it is thy life, both in this world and in the other. It is for this reason that the desire consumed thee to know what love may be, but thou canst not comprehend it with the intellect, nor with the Spirit, nor with all the love thou mayest possess; even those who are in heaven, their home, know it only according to the measure of grace and charity they have had in this life.
For love is God himself, who cannot be comprehended, except by the wonderful effects of the great love which he is ever manifesting, and which can neither be estimated nor imagined. And when I reveal to the Soul but one spark of my pure love, she is constrained to return me that love, whose power compels her to do her all for me, even, if need were, to suffer torture and a thousand deaths. How much love may be infused into the hearts of men, can be learned from what men have done for love of me. But I see, my beloved, that thou seekest not this operative love in its effects, but those gentle drops that I pour into the hearts of my elect, and which melt the Soul, the Spirit, and even the bodily powers, so that they act no longer. By these drops the Soul remains immersed in the sweetness of that love, and is incapable of performing any action: she is lost in herself and alienated from every creature: serene in the depths of her heart, at peace with all, and passive, she is absorbed with that love, which satisfies her, without nourishment; hence she exclaims in her ardor:
Soul. O food without taste, O taste without flavor, O flavor without food, O food of love on which angels, saints, and men are nourished! O beatific food, he who tastes thee knows not what thou art! O real food, satisfying the appetite, thou dost destroy every other desire! He who enjoys this food esteems himself already blessed even in this life, where God communicates it but in the smallest measure: if he should bestow only a little more, man would die of that subtle, penetrating love, for the Spirit would be so inflamed that the weak body would perish. O celestial love! O divine love! thou hast sealed my lips: I know not how to speak, nor will I seek what never can be found. I am conquered and overpowered.