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Life and Doctrine of Saint Catherine of Genoa
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CHAPTER XXII

Of her vocation, which was like that of St. Paul.—That she was freed from suffering by her great love.—How terrible is man without grace.—How great is the stain of even one slight defect, and still more that of a sin.

The vocation and the correspondence of this holy Soul were like those of the glorious apostle St. Paul; that is, that in one instant (as was narrated in the beginning), she was made perfect. And this was evident, because in that instant and ever thereafter she proceeded not like a beginner but like one already perfect; for this reason she never knew how to give any account of the way to obtain perfection, because she herself had never attained it by acquired virtues, but simply by infused grace, which instantaneously wrought in her such effects as usually require the uninterrupted exercises of a whole life.

And being thus transformed in God, the fire of love which burned in her purified heart was as great at the beginning as at the end of her conversion—which was a miraculous thing. She said that after she was called and wounded with love she never experienced any suffering, either interior or exterior, either from the world, the devil, or the flesh, or from any other cause. This was the effect of her interior transformation in God, so that although many adversities befell her, nevertheless she never found her will opposed to them, but on the contrary she received all things as from God, and, thus mingled with his love, nothing failed to please her. Her humanity, too, was so subjected to the spirit that it never rebelled, although it was obliged to perform many penances; so that in her was fulfilled that saying: My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God (Psalm lxxxiii).

And therefore she said: “When I see the greatness of the spiritual operation, and behold how important is any offence against God or his grace, I find it impossible to conceive of any other suffering or any other hell, than to have sinned against him. All other pains which it is possible to endure in this life, are consolations in comparison with this; just as, on the other hand, all things inferior to God which may seem to have a sort of goodness are yet, in comparison with him, only evil; this however, I know well, will hardly be understood by him who does not know it by experience.

“On the other hand, I know not how man can be so blind as not to see that unless God sustains us by his grace, we are full of sorrow, bitterness, wrath, discontent, and woe, even in this present life, where, however, we are never entirely abandoned by him, no matter how great our sins may be. For, if a man could possibly live this mortal life, when entirely forsaken by God (excepting only the divine justice, failing which he would be annihilated,) I am certain that whoever beheld such a being would die. And not only he who beheld him, but he who, though far removed from him, should learn of his existence and comprehend the misery of his state, would also be deprived of life. To be abandoned by God is a thing too terrible and vast for human words to express, or human intellects to comprehend.

“Alas! with how many perils is man surrounded in this life! When I consider of what great importance are spiritual life and death, if God did not sustain me I believe that I should die. If I could have any desire, it would be that of expressing all that I feel and know concerning this; and if it were granted me to demonstrate what I wish by martyrdom, I do not believe I could find any torments which I would not joyfully undergo, if so I might warn man of the importance of this truth.

“When I beheld that vision in which I saw the magnitude of the stain of even one least sin against God, I know not why I did not die. I said: ‘I no longer marvel that hell is so horrible, since it was made for sin; for even hell (as I have seen it) I do not believe to be really proportionate to the dreadfulness of sin; on the contrary, it seems to me that even in hell God is very merciful, since I have beheld the terrible stain caused by but one venial sin. And what, in comparison to that, would be a mortal sin? And then so many mortal sins? Surely, if any one could behold all this, even if he were immortal, anguish would once more make him mortal. Even that slight and solitary vision which I beheld, and which lasted but an instant, if it had continued but a little longer would have destroyed my body had it been made of adamant.’

“But all that I can say concerning it seems false beside what I truly comprehend. For this vision brought me so near death that my blood congealed and my whole body was so enfeebled that I seemed to be passing beyond this life; but the goodness of God desired that I should live to narrate it.

“And afterwards I said: ‘I no longer wonder that purgatory is as terrible as hell, since one is to punish and the other to cleanse: both of them are made for sin, which is so horrible that both its punishment and its purgation must needs correspond with it in horror.’ Man could understand this if he considered his evil inclinations, and how wretched he is when left to himself. But God does not permit this vision to be seen except by those who are, as it were, confirmed in grace, and even these he allows to see only so much as will be for their own good and that of others. And he shows them also that goodness which rescues man from these great and incomprehensible perils to which he is subject,, although he beholds them not; but God knows them and their importance, and therefore the great love he bears us moves him to compassion, and so long as we are in this life he never ceases to incite us to well-doing, in order that we may not be more deeply plunged into evil.”

From this may be seen how it was that the conversion of this Soul was accomplished, like that of St. Paul, who, rapt into heaven, beheld the glory of the just, while St. Catherine beheld the pains which sinners have merited by their crimes, how full of abomination they are, and how earnestly to be fled from.

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