Saint Catherine of Genoa: Spiritual Dialogue
Part III, Chapter IV
That he whose heart is pure knows the love of God. - How that love works secretly, subtly, and without exterior occupation. - Some of its effects. - Exclamations of the Soul upon this love. - Of its properties.
The Lord. O beloved Soul, knowest thou who it is that employs my love? He whose heart is pure and empty of every other love. When he has found it, he remains content and satisfied, although he knows not my mode of operation nor his own condition; because love works in secret and subtly, without external show.
Such a one is continually occupied, yet without occupation; he is bound, yet knows not who holds him, he is in a prison without an outlet. The Soul can avail herself of neither her understanding, her memory, nor her will, and seems like a thing insensate, dumb, and blind, because the divine love has overpowered all the sensibilities of both Soul and Body. And therefore the Soul and Spirit, finding themselves so transformed from their wonted habit of loving and acting, and secretly and strongly swayed by a higher love, are constrained to ask: "O Lord, what manner of love is this? What is this love which is ever changing man from good to better, continually bringing him nearer to his end, and yet, as he approaches it more closely, plunges him into ever profounder ignorance of his situation?"
Man in this state is kept alive by the rays of love with which God pierces his heart, and which return to heaven in ardent sighs. If he did not find this relief he would die through the vehemence of this fire. Sometimes it so restrains him that he can neither speak nor sigh, in order that its work may be more quickly done; but it does not hold him long in this condition, because he could not remain in it and live. Then the Soul, enlightened, inflamed with divine love, and filled with sweetness and delight, exclaims:
Soul. O love, the Soul that feels thee, begins even in this world to possess eternal life; but thou, Lord, dost conceal this work even from its possessor, lest he should spoil it by making it his own. O love, he who feels thee understands thee not; he who desires to comprehend thee cannot know thee. O love, our life, our blessedness, our rest! Divine love brings with it every good and banishes every evil. O heart, wounded with divine love, thou art forever incurable, and dying of this sweet wound, thou dost enter upon never-ending life. O fire of love, what doest thou in man? Thou purifiest him as gold is purified by fire, and dost conduct him with thee to that country and that end for which he was created.
Love is a divine flame: and as material fire ever burns and consumes, according to its nature, so in man the love of God is by its nature ever working toward its end, and for its part never ceases to benefit and serve him whom it holds so dear; he who does not know its power has but himself to blame, since God never tires of doing good to man while he is in this life, and has always the most tender love for him.
O love, I can no longer be silent, and yet I cannot speak as I desire of thy sweet and gentle operation, for I am filled with love which inspires me with the wish to speak but deprives me of the power. Within myself I speak with the heart and with the mind, but when I would pronounce the words, something checks me, and I find myself betrayed by this poor tongue. I would be silent but I cannot, for still the instinct for speech urges me on. If I could utter that love of which my heart is full, I think that every other heart would be inflamed, however remote from love it might be. Before I leave this life I long to speak once of this love, to speak of it as I feel it within me, of its effects in me, and of what it requires of him into whom it is infused, and whom it fills to overflowing with a sweetness above all sweetness, and with an indescribable content, so great that for it one would willingly be burned alive; for God unites a certain zeal with this love, by the power of which man disregards all contradictions how great soever.
O love, powerful and sweet, happy is he who is possessed by thee, for thou dost strengthen, defend, and preserve him from all ills of body and soul. Thou gently guidest all things to their end, and never dost abandon man. Thou art ever faithful, thou givest light against the deceite of the devil, the malice of the world, and against ourselves, who are so full of self and so perverse. This love is so illuminative and efficacious that it draws all imperfections from their secret caverns, that we may apply the remedy and purge ourselves from them.
This love, which rules and governs our will, in order that it may grow strong and firm to resist temptation, so occupies the affections and the intellect that they desire naught beside. The memory is engrossed, and the powers of the soul are satisfied, so that love remains her sole possessor and inhabitant, and she allows nothing else to enter there. Love exhales a continual sweet perfume, by which man suffers himself to be allured, and so powerful is this fragrance that however great may be the torments through which he passes to salvation, there is no martyrdom he would not suffer gladly to attain it.
O love, no words of mine can express the sweetness and delight with which thou fillest the heart; it remains enclosed within, and by speaking it is inflamed. Whoever hears or reads these words without the sentiment of love, makes little account of them, and they pass by him like the wind. But if I could express the joy, the pleasure, and the peace which it brings to the beloved heart, all men who hear or read these words would surrender without resistance. For it is so adapted to the human heart that at its first touch it opens wide its door, although man never can receive this celestial gift till he is free from every other love. If the heart receives but the smallest drop, it so earnestly desires to increase it that it rates as nothing all the goods of this world. With this love, man conquers the evil habits which are a hindrance to him, and in its strength he stands ever ready to perform great deeds.