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Life and Doctrine of Saint Catherine of Genoa
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CHAPTER V

Of her great penances and mortifications

During the first four years after she had received the sweet wound from her Lord, she performed many penances, and mortified all her senses. She deprived her nature of all that it desired, and obliged it to take what it disliked. She wore hair-cloth, and ate no meat, nor fruit of any kind, either fresh or dry; and being by nature courteous and affable, she did great violence to herself, by conversing as little as possible with her relatives when they visited her, without any respect to herself or to them; and if any one was surprised by it, she took no notice.

She practiced great austerity in sleeping, lying down on sharply pointed things. As soon as she determined to do any thing, she never felt any temptation to the contrary. The fire within was so great, that she took no account of exterior things relating to the body, although she neglected no necessary work; and no temptations except those of her natural inclinations could affect her. This was the case throughout her whole after-life. She so resisted her natural inclinations, that they were completely destroyed. Temptations like insects, could not approach the flames of pure love enkindled in her heart.

Her eyes were always cast down. During the first four years of her conversion she spent six hours daily in prayer, for such was the obedience of her body to the spirit, that it dared not rebel, although it suffered keenly; and she thus fulfilled in herself the words: cor meum, et caro meo, exultaverunt in Deum vivum.

During these first four years, the interior fire that was consuming her produced such extreme hunger, and so quickly did she digest her food, that she could have devoured iron. She comprehended that this desire for food was something supernatural. She was also unable to speak except in so low a tone as scarcely to be understood, so powerful was her interior feeling.

Most of the time she appeared like one beside herself, for she neither spoke, nor heard, nor tasted nor valued any thing in the world; neither did she look at any thing.

Yet she lived in subjection to every one, and was always more inclined to do the will of others than her own. And it is remarkable, that although God even in the beginning made her perfect by infused grace, so that she was at once entirely purified in her affections, illuminated and peaceful in her intellect, and transformed in all things by his sweet love, yet it was the will of God, that the divine justice should be observed in the mortification of all her senses, which, although they were already mortified, so far as regarded the consent to any natural inclinations, even the slightest, yet the Lord allowed her to see what these were, and therefore, she very carefully opposed them.

She was sometimes asked, when practising such mortifications of all her senses: “Why are you doing this?” And she answered: “I do not know, but I feel myself interiorly and irresistibly drawn to do so, and I believe that this is the will of God; but it is not his will that I should have any object in it.” And it seemed indeed to be the truth, for, at the end of four years, all these mortifications ended, so that if she still wished to practice them, she could no longer have done so.

At that time, listening one day to a sermon in which the conversion of Mary Magdalen was narrated, she heard a voice in her heart saying: “I understand;” and by her correspondence with the preaching, she perceived her conversion to have been like that of Magdalen.

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