Saint Catherine of Genoa: Spiritual Dialogue
Part III, Chapter XIII
That love cannot be comprehended, and that the heart filled with it lives content. - Of the great mercy which God shows man in this life. - That his justice becomes apparent at the moment when the Soul leaves the body and passes to its destined place. - That the Soul can find repose in God only.
O my heart, what sayest thou of this love? What kindest thou? I say: My words are an interior jubilee, but they have no appropriate utterance. Neither by exterior signs, nor yet by sufferings (although endured for the love of God), can this love be made comprehensible; he only who has felt it can somewhat understand it. All that can be said of love is nothing, for the further one advances, the less he knows; but the heart, filled and satisfied, seeks and desires naught else but what it feels. All his words are heartfelt, glowing, and delightful, and so penetrating and in such subtle harmony with that which inspires them, that they can be comprehended only by those whose hearts are also united with God. God only comprehends them fully; the heart feels but understands not, and the work is that of God alone, while the benefit belongs to man. But the intimate, amorous relation which God sustains with the heart of man is a secret between him and the heart.
The Lord. O Soul, what hast thou to say touching this operation?
Soul. I find my will so strong and my liberty so vivid and so great, that I fear no impediments between me and my object, and in it I rest content. My intellect is greatly enlightened and daily becomes more calm; daily are manifested to it things so new and processes so delightful, that it is satisfied to remain ever thus employed, and seek no further since here it finds its rest; but it is impossible for it to explain these operations. The memory is satisfied to be employed in spiritual things, and can with difficulty recall any others. The affections which are natural to man are overshadowed by a supernatural love, which alone satisfied him, and makes him desire no other food, since in it he finds all that he requires. And yet man can render no account of the way in which he is conquered by an operation surpassing all his powers.
What more shall I say concerning this work of love? I am forced to silence, yet have an instinctive wish to speak, although I cannot speak as I desire. Let him who wishes to experience these things abstain, as Saint Paul commands, from every appearance of evil. Whenever man does this, at once God infuses into his soul some gift of grace, which he increases with so much love that the man is lost, absorbed, transformed, and overpowered. And however difficult it may appear to abstain from evil, no one would allow any hindrance to prevent him from doing everything for God, who could see the readiness with which he comes to the help of man, and the loving and watchful care with which he aids him and defends him from his adversaries. But when man has once entered the straight road, he learns that is is God who works all that is good in us, by his gracious inspirations and the love infused into the Soul, which acts without hindrance by reason of the satisfaction which God mingles with lll her toils. It is enough for man not to act in contradiction to his conscience, for God inspires all the good he would have us do, and gives the instinct and the strength for it, otherwise man could do no good thing. For this God gives all the facilities and the means, so that he enables us to do all things with pleasure, even those that to others seem the greatest penances.
O how great is the love, the kindness, and the mercy which God shows to man in this wretched world! Justice is made known afterwards at the moment when the soul leaves the body; then, if she has not to undergo purgation, God receives her into himself, where she is transformed by his burning love, and thus transformed remains in him forever. At that moment also she goes to purgatory or to hell, if there is aught within her to be purged or to be punished: this is accomplished by the divine decree which sends each one to his own place. Every one carries within himself his own sentence, and is by himself condemned. If souls did not then find the places ordained for them by God, their torments would be even greater, for they would have violated the divine order; and as there is no place which his mercy does not visit, when they are within his order, their sufferings are less than they would otherwise be. The soul was created by God for himself, and is governed by him, and it can find no repose but in him alone. The condemned in hell are in the order of God through justice. Could they be outside of it they would be in a still greater hell by their violation of the divine order, which gives them the terrible instinct to go directly to their appointed place. Elsewhere their sufferings would be redoubled, and therefore they go thither, not indeed that they may suffer less, but impelled by that supreme and infallible decree of God, which cannot err.