Saint Catherine of Genoa: Spiritual Dialogue
Part III, Chapter VIII
Of the condition of the loving Soul. - How God delays imparting to her the knowledge of her defects, since she could not endure it. - She has no repose so long as she suspects the existence of any fault by which her Spirit is hindered of its satisfaction.
The state of the Soul is this: she is very sensitive, so that her mind cannot endure the least suspicion of defect, because pure love cannot remain where there is even the slightest fault, and the loving Soul, unable to endure it, would be thrown into intolerable pain. In this world man cannot be wholly free from imperfections, but at times God keeps him in ignorance of them, because he could not support the sight; at other times he reveals them all; and in this way man is purified.
If a suspicion of sin falls upon this Soul, she cannot be pacified nor at rest until her mind is satisfied. The Soul which dwells in that amorous peace cannot be disturbed either by herself or by others; if any misunderstanding arises between herself and another, she is unquiet until she has done all in her power to remove it. And when souls habituated to divine love are, for any cause, permitted by God to be disturbed, for the time they are wretched at being cast out of the tranquil paradise in which they are accustomed to abide; and if God did not return them to their accustomed state it would be impossible for them to live. They live in great liberty and take little heed of earthly things. They are in a manner taken out of themselves, especially as they near the close of this life, of which they are stripped remaining immersed in that love into which the Soul has already found by long experience that God, by the operation of his gracious love, has taken both Soul and body, so that he allows them to want for nothing.
God shows the Soul also, that all the benefits bestowed on her by creatures (whether spiritual or temporal) are given because God moves them to it; and hence she learns to take no heed of creatures, what service soever they may have rendered her, for she perceives clearly that it is God who has done it by the action of his providence. By this vision the Soul is more and more inflamed, and finally abandons herself to love, casting aside all creatures, and finding in God such fulness that she can regard nothing else but him.
And although such a Soul may seem to have some affection for exterior things, do not believe it. It is impossible that any love should enter into hearts like these, except the love of God, unless God himself permits it by reason of some necessity either of the soul or the body. And should this occur, all love and care, coming from such a source, would be no impediment, and would not touch the depths of the heart; but would only be ordered of God for some necessity, because it is needful that pure love should be free from every exterior and interior concern; for, where the Spirit of God is, there is liberty.
O that we could behold this sweet correspondence, and hear those burning words with their joyous vigor, where one can distinguish neither God nor man, but the heart remains in such a state that it seems a little paradise, given by God to souls that are dear to him, as a foretaste of that true and glorious paradise, but hidden from all except those lovers who are absorbed and lost in the ocean of divine love.
O love! the heart which thou possessest becomes through peace of mind so great and so magnanimous, that it would rather suffer martyrdom to gain thee than without thee to be in possession of every other good in heaven or earth. Yet, this is beyond the comprehension of all who have not felt and tasted thee. A heart which finds itself in God sees all created things beneath itself, not through pride or conceit of self, but by reason of its union with God, which makes all that is God's appear to be its own, and beside him it sees, know, and comprehends nothing. A heart enamored of God is unconquerable, for God is its strength; hell does not affright it nor heaven allure it, for it is so disposed that it receives all that befalls as from the hand of God, remaining with him in immovable peace, and inwardly strengthened and fortified by him.
Soul. O Love! how namest thou these beloved souls?
The Lord. I have said, Ye are gods, and all children of the Most High (Psalm 81).
Soul. O Love! thou annihilatest thy lovers in themselves, and then restorest them to a true and perfect liberty, and makest them masters of themselves. They wish nothing but what God wishes and finds all things else a grave impediment to them.
O Love! I find no words to express thy benign and joyous sway, thy strong and assured freedom, thy sweet and gentle goodness: but all that thy true lover could express would be unequal to what he would desire to say. He seeks everywhere for loving words appropriate to that love, and finds them nowhere; for love and its effects are infinite, and the tongue is not only finite but very feeble, and is always dissatisfied and confused by its powerlessness to say what it desires. And although all that he says is as nothing, yet when man speaks of this love as he feels it in his heart, it relieves him that so he may not die of love. What sayest thou, my Lord, of this thy beloved Soul, who is so enamored of thee?
The Lord. That she is wholly mine. And thou, my Soul, what sayest thou of thy heart?
Soul. That I am wounded, O my God, with love, in which I live joyful and at peace.