Dialogue About Perfection
by Saint Catherine of Siena
(published in French by Éditions du Sel. English version by A. A.)
The Honor of God; The Misery and Fragility of Man;
The Need to Strive for Perfection
The Author of the light communicated to a soul1. He made her understand her fragility and misery, ignorance and natural inclination to evil; at the same time, He gave her some glimpses of the greatness of God, His wisdom, power, goodness, and the other attributes of His majesty.
Thus enlightened, this soul saw how just and necessary it is to render perfect and holy worship to God. It is just, because He is the universal Lord Who created all things to praise His name and obtain His glory. Do not propriety and justice require that, respectful of his master, the servant give him service and loyalty? It is necessary, because man, composed of body and soul, was created in such a condition that he will only attain eternal life by voluntarily rendering faithful service to God up to the point of death; otherwise, he will never obtain the felicity that accumulates all honors.
However, there are few who render this service and, consequently, few who are saved, because almost all have their own interests in mind and not those of God.
This soul also saw that the days of man are short, that the day is uncertain when the fleeting time to merit will end, that no redemption is possible in hell, and that in the future life, He will justly pronounce an immutable and inevitable sentence on each, the reward or punishment that his way of living deserved.
This soul again considered that, on the one hand, we often talk too much and preach abundantly and variously on the virtues which render this worship and faithful service to God; and that, on the other hand, because of his lack of aptitude, obtuse intelligence, and feeble memory, man cannot understand many things nor faithfully retain what he learned. Also, while many are in a perpetual quest to learn something new, very few apply themselves to attaining perfection and serving God as is right and necessary for Him; but nearly all, preoccupied and given over to the agitations and fluctuations of the mind, habitually live in extreme peril.
The Desire for Perfection
This soul, therefore, seeing all this, rose up before the Lord, moved by a burning desire and violent love, and asked the Divine Majesty to be good enough to give her some short and clear precepts to regulate our life now and to lead it to its perfection; precepts whose formulas would embrace the teaching of the Church and Holy Scripture, and whose observance would render the necessary honor to God and lead us from this brief and miserable life to the beatitude that He intends for us.
God inspires holy desires and never arouses them in a heart without satisfying them 2. So he immediately manifested Himself to this soul ravished in ecstasy and replied:
In What Does Complete Perfection Consist?
• The Lord
My beloved, your desires delight Me; I like them so much that I am much more eager to satisfy them than you can, and eager to see them satisfied. My desire is immense to give you, when you want it, the useful and necessary benefits for your salvation. So I am ready to do whatever you want.
Listen carefully to what I am going to tell you, I, the ineffable and infallible truth. To answer your request, I am going to explain to you in a few words the practice which contains complete perfection, along with all the virtues, the summary of Scriptures and many discourses. If you conform your life to it and observe it, you will accomplish all that is clear and mysterious in the divine teachings, and you will enjoy perpetual joy and peace.
Doing God’s Will Alone, Following Christ’s Example
• The Lord
Thus, know that the salvation and the perfection of My servants consist in one thing: to do only My will, to strive with a sovereign diligence always to accomplish it; to work at all hours to serve only Me, to honor only Me, to seek only Me. The more diligence My servants bring to it, the more they approach perfection, because they more closely adhere and are united to Me, Who am sovereign perfection.
To better understand the truth contained in these few words, look at my Christ in whom I am very pleased 3. He annihilated himself in the form of a slave; He took on the likeness of sin because, plunged into thick darkness and straying from the path of truth, He wanted to enlighten you with the splendors of His light and bring you back to the straight way by His word and example4. He was obedient unto death to teach you through His persevering obedience that your salvation depends on a firm resolution to do My will alone. Anyone who wishes to meditate diligently on His life and His doctrine realizes, without a doubt, that the justice and perfection of men rests solely on generous, perpetual, and faithful obedience to My will.
Your leader, Christ, has taught it many times: “Not everyone that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father” (Mt. 7:21).
And notice that it is not without reason that He repeats twice: “Lord, Lord”; the states of this world being reduced to two principal ones, the religious state and the secular state. He means that no one, in any state whatsoever, can attain eternal glory, even by giving Him all external honors, if he does not do God’s will.
My Son said again: “I came down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him that sent Me5. (…) My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me6. (…) Father … not My will, but Thine be done7. (…) as the Father hath given Me commandments, so do I8.”
So if you want, like your Savior, to do My will, which contains your happiness, it is necessary that in all things you despise your own will, that you renounce it, that you destroy it9. The more you purify yourself of what is yours, the more I will give you what is mine.
To be continued
1It is the soul of Saint Catherine.
2On another occasion, the Eternal Father said to St. Catherine: “I do not despise the desire of my servants, yet I give to him who asks and invite you to ask. (…) sometimes, to test your desires and perseverance, I pretend not to hear you, but I hear you and give you what you need, because I give you hunger and the voice with which you cry out to me, and seeing your constancy, I fulfill your desires when they are ordered and directed toward me.” (Dialogue ch. 107)
3St. Catherine wrote: “Christ is on the cross as our rule, like a written book which anyone, even the ignorant and blind, can read. The first line of this book is hatred and love: love of the honor of the Father, hatred of sin.” (Letter to Br. Lazzani)
4The Eternal Father had already said to Catherine: “What caused the great obedience of the Word? The love which He had for My honor and your salvation. Whence proceeded this love? From the clear vision with which His soul saw the divine essence and the eternal Trinity, thus always looking on Me, the eternal God. His fidelity obtained this vision most perfectly for Him, which vision you imperfectly enjoy by the light of holy faith. He was faithful to Me, His eternal Father, and therefore hastened as one enamored along the road of obedience” (Dialogue 154 ; THOROLD Ed., Treatise of Obedience, §1).
5 John 6:38
6 John 4:34
7 Luke 22:42
9Self-will is that which, being inspired neither by the glory of God nor the salvation of souls, proposes only its personal satisfaction. It is directly contrary to charity. Nothing is more essential than its destruction.