Saint Catherine of Genoa: Spiritual Dialogue
Part III, Chapter V
Other effects of love. - What it accomplishes at its will. - The work is all its own. - Of works wrought through love, in love, and by love, with some explanation of them.
O love, with thy sweetness thou breakest the heart that is harder than adamant, and meltest it like wax in the fire. O love, thou makest great men to esteem themselves as the least of the earth, and the richest as the poorest. O love, thou causest wise men to appear as fools, and thou takest their knowledge from the learned and givest them an understanding surpassing all other understanding. O love, thou banishest from the heart all melancholy, hardness, and natural inclinations, and all delight in worldly things. O love, thou makest bad men good, and artful men simple. Thou dost ingeniously deprive men of their free will, so that they are contented to be guided by thee alone, because thou art our guide.
O love, thine operations are alien to this earth; and therefore thou changest man from earthly to celestial, and, depriving him of every human mode of operation, dost unfit him for all earthly occupations. O love, thou dost accomplish the whole work of our salvation, which we neither know how to do nor are able to do without thee. O love, thy name is so sweet that it imparts sweetness to all things. Sweet is the mouth that names thee, most of all when the words proceed from a heart full of thy liquid sweetness, which makes man benign, meek, gracious, joyous, bountiful, and ready, so far as may be, to serve all men. O love, when by any way thou art able to penetrate the heart of man with thy sweet and gracious darts, if it be unoccupied by any other love, however slight may be thy flame, it is powerful enough to make him abandon all things else for thee.
This love makes every affliction and contradiction appear sweet. O love, what sweet quiet, and what quiet sweetness thou bringest with thee! As thou belongest to all, the more thou art diffused among creatures, so much the more fully is thy will accomplished; the more man feels and comprehends thy gentle warmth, the more he is inflamed with desire, and he neither asks for any proof beyond his own feeling, nor knows how to give any other reason for it: but love carries with it its own reason, and the will likewise, and remains lord of the whole man, subjecting him entirely to its will according to its pleasure, and this work is wholly its own; for then its operations are effected through love, in love, and by love.
By works done through love, those works are understood which man performs through the love of God, when God gives him an instinctive desire to work for the benefit of himself or his neighbor; in this first state of love, God causes man to undertake many and various useful and necessary works, which he performs with a pious intention. The works of the second state of love are done in God; these are such as are done with no view either to the advantage of one's self or of one's neighbor, but rest in God, with no motive in him who does them. Here man perseveres in good works through the habits of virtue which he has formed, although God has deprived him of that share in them which gave him aid and pleasure. This work is more perfect than the other, for in that there were many motives which nourished both soul and body. The works done by love are more perfect than the other two, because man has no part whatever in them; love has so subdued and conquered him that he finds himself drowned in the sea of love, and knows not where he is, but is lost in himself and left without the power to act. In this case it is love itself which works in man, and its works are works of perfection, inasmuch as they are not wrought by human power, and are works of sanctifying grace, and God accepts them all.
This sweet and pure love takes possession of man, absorbs him and deprives him of himself. It keeps possession of him and continually works within him, solely for his benefit and advantage, and without any thought or care on his part.
O love, what a sweet companion and faithful guide art thou! Neither speech nor thought can do justice to thy excellence. Blessed is the heart possessed and occupied by thee. Love makes men just, simple, pure, rich, wise, and contented, and with its sweetness lessens every grief.
O love, all that is done through thee is done with ease, with gladness and goodwill; and though the toil be great, thy sweetness tempers every trial. Oh, the torment of working without love! It is beyond belief. Love gives a sweet flavor to every viand. if it is bad it makes it good, and if good it makes it better. According to the grade and the capacity of the subject, God infuses love into the heart of man.
Oh, how sweet a thing it would be to speak of this love, if fitting words were found to express the delight with which it fills the heart. But because the Soul is immortal, and capable of greater love than it can feel in this life, on account of the weakness of the body, which does not allow the Soul to support all that it desires, it remains ever craving, and in this life can never be fully satisfied.
O love, thou fillest the heart, but thou art so great that it cannot contain thee; it remains filled but not satisfied: by the road of his heart thou takest possession of the entire man and permittest none but thyself to find entrance; with a strong bond thou bindest all the facilities of soul and body. O sweet servitude of love, which gives man freedom and contentment in this life, and eternal blessedness in the other!
O love, thy bonds are so sweet and so strong that they bind angels and saints together, and so firm and close that they are never broken; men who are bound by this chain are so united that they have but one will and one aim, and all things among them are in common, both temporal and spiritual. In this union there is no difference between rich, and poor, between nation and nation; all contradiction is excluded, for by this love crooked things are made straight and difficulties reconciled.