Dialogue About Perfection – Part 2

Dialogue About Perfection – Part 2

By Saint Catherine of Siena

(Part 2)

(Published in French by Éditions du Sel)

    1. The Precept of Charity

Now when that soul [of Saint Catherine of Siena] had heard these most salutary doctrines of truth, she replied full of joy:

      1. Catherine

It rejoices me more than I am able to express that Thou hast been pleased to instruct Thy most humble servant; and, as much as in me lies, I render thanks for it to Thy most gracious Majesty. Truly, as far as I can comprehend with my limited understanding, the thing cannot be otherwise than as Thou hast taught me and so well explained by the example of my blessed Savior.

For Thou, being the highest good and the only good, Who canst not will sin, but only that which is just and right, I must infallibly do all that ought to be done if I fulfill Thy Will; and I shall fulfill Thy Will if for Thy love I contradict my own, which Thou wilt not in any way constrain, but dost leave it perfectly free1, that I, by voluntarily and constantly subjecting it to Thine, may become dearer and more full in Thy sight.

I desire greatly to begin to do that which Thou hast told me; but as yet I understand not well in what Thy Will is found, and by what faithful service I can best consecrate myself wholly to its fulfillment. I humbly pray Thee, therefore, if I be not importunate, and if my boldness trespasses not on Thy condescension, to instruct me briefly upon this also, which above all things I desire to know.

And the Lord said to her:

      1. The Lord

If thou seekest to know My Will, that thou mayest perfectly fulfill it, behold in one word that which it is: that thou shouldst love Me to the utmost of thy power without ceasing; that thou shouldst love Me with all thy heart, and all thy soul, and all thy strength”. It is on the performance of this precept that all thy perfection depends; and therefore it is written that “the end of the commandment is charity, and that love is the fulfilling of the law” (1 Tim. 1:5; Rom. 13:10).

    1. Explanation of the Precept of Charity

To these things that soul replied:

      1. Catherine

I understand well that Thy Will and my perfection consists in loving Thee truly as I ought with ardent love and sovereign charity; but I comprehend not well how I am to do this. I beseech Thee, instruct me also briefly on this point.

And God said to her:

      1. The Lord

Hear then and be attentive with all the application of thy mind to what I am about to tell thee. If thou desirest to love Me perfectly, thou hast three things to do.

        1. 1. To love God Above All and Absolutely

First, thy will must be detached, removed, and separated from every carnal and earthly affection, so that in this life thou shouldst love nothing temporal, fading, and transitory, except for Me. And what is yet more and above all, thou must not love Me, or thy neighbor, or thyself for thyself, but thou must love all for Me alone.2 For Divine love cannot tolerate any other affection with it or any earthly love. Therefore, so far as thou shalt permit thy heart to be infected with any contagion of earthly things, so far thou wilt sin against My love and fail of thy perfection; for a pure and holy soul should hold in abhorrence all that gives pleasure and enjoyment to sense. Never suffer any of the things My bounty has created for the use of men to hinder thee from loving Me. For to this end have I created all things and given thereto man, that he, knowing more fully through them the richness of My bounty, may love Me in return with a larger affection.3

Bridle therefore with a strong hand thy appetites and carnal concupiscence; keep perpetual guard over thyself; and courageously resist all those earthly desires which Thy corrupt nature and this miserable mortal life excite in thy heart, that thou mayest be able to sing with the prophet: “Blessed be God, who hath given strength and agility to my feet”, i.e. to the feet of the soul4, which are the affections; “who hath made my feet like the feet of harts”, that they may flee from the dogs; i.e. the snares of concupiscence of earthly things; and “setteth me upon high places” (Ps. 17:34), i.e. raiseth me to contemplation.

        1. 2. To Seek Only the Glory of God, and be an Apostle

When thou shalt have fully executed all this, thou mayest proceed to the exercise of the second thing, which is of yet higher perfection. And this is: that thou shouldst direct all thy affections, all thy thoughts, and all thy actions to My glory and hono alone, and employ thyself continually with all earnestness in praising and glorifying Me, by prayers, by words, by example, and in whatever way thou canst. And this thou must endeavor so to do as to excite in all others, as well as in thyself, these same affections and sentiments towards Me. Now this practice is yet more pleasing to Me than the first, because My Divine Will is thereby more perfectly and more directly fulfilled.5

        1. 3. To Resign Oneself Completely and Confidently

There yet remains the third thing, which when thou shalt have achieved, thou mayest rest assured that nothing more is wanting to thee, and that thou hast reached perfect sanctity. This is, that thou shalt use thy utmost endeavor to attain such a disposition of spirit that thou mayest become one thing with Me, and thy will may become so entirely assimilated and conformed to My all-perfect Will, that not only shalt thou never desire that which is evil, but not even that which is good, if it be not according to My Will; so that whatever shall befall thee in this miserable life, from whatsoever quarter it may come, whether in things temporal or things spiritual, nothing shall ever disturb thy peace or trouble thy quietness of spirit; but thou shalt be established in a firm belief that I, thine omnipotent God, love thee with a dearer love and take of thee more watchful care than thou canst for thyself.

And the more perfectly thou dost abandon and resign thyself to Me, the more will I console thee with My grace, and make thee feel My presence; and thus thou wilt ever know more and more, and experience more fully, the tenderness of My love for thee.

    1. The Condition: Renunciation of Self-will
      1. The Lord

But thou wilt never reach this measure of perfection except by a firm, constant, and absolute denial of self-will. He who neglects to acquire this, neglects at the same time the most sublime perfection; and he who cheerfully embraces it, executes at the same time My most holy Will, pleases Me in the highest degree, and has Me continually with him. For there is nothing more pleasing to Me than to abide within you and work in you by My grace; “for My delights are to be with the children of men” (Prov. 8:31), to transform them into Myself (if only they desire it, for I will in no way do violence to their free will); in such a manner that they may become one with Me in the participation of My infinite perfections, and especially My unchangeable peace and My most perfect tranquility.

    1. What God Did For Us In His Son

But, that thou mayest better comprehend how ardent are My desires to dwell with you, and mayest kindle in thyself a more fervent longing to subject and unite thy will with Mine, consider attentively that I have willed that My only begotten Son should become incarnate, that My Divinity, despoiled of every token of greatness or glory, should be united to humanity; in order that by this great act of benevolence and charity, by this ineffable demonstration of love, I might draw and constrain you in like manner to unite your will to Mine and to remain perpetually bound to Me alone.

Consider that I have willed further that this My Son should suffer the cruel, painful, and most fearful death of the Cross, to the end that by these torments He might destroy your sin, that sin which had raised a barrier of division between you and Me so effectually that I could in no way look upon you; that further in the highest of the Sacraments I have prepared for you a table, too little appreciated, of the Body and Blood of this My Son, in order that by partaking of it you may become transformed and changed into Me. Even as the bread and wine of which you partake is changed into the substance of your body, so you, by feeding under the species of bread and wine upon this My Son, who is one with Me, shall become spiritually transformed into Me. And this is what I have already spoken to my servant Augustine in these words: “I am the food of grown men; grow, and thou shalt feed on Me; nor shalt thou convert Me into thee, but I will convert thee into Myself.”6

Translation by sister Drane O.P. (XIXth century)

Footnotes by the Dominicans of Avrillé, translated by A.A.

To be continued

1The Lord also told Catherine: “dearest daughter, […] [freewill] is yours, given by Me. You therefore, with free arbitration, can hold it or leave it, according as you please.” (Dialogue 43, Treatise of Discretion, § “Of the use of temptations”).

2“My Truth said, ‘Will you arrive at perfect purity, and be freed from stumbling-blocks, so that your mind may not be scandalized by anything?’ Unite yourself always to Me by the affection of love, for I am the Supreme and Eternal Purity. I am that Fire which purifies the soul, and the closer the soul is to Me, the purer she becomes, and the further she is from Me, the more does her purity leave her; which is the reason why men of the world fall into such iniquities, for they are separated from Me, while the soul, who, without any medium, unites herself directly to Me, participates in My Purity.” (Dialogue 100, Treatise of Prayer, § “Of the third and most perfect state”).

3The Lord taught St. Catherine how to love one’s neighbor: “And simple souls, who often love creatures with spiritual love, know this well, for, if they have received My love sincerely without any self-regarding considerations, they satisfy the thirst of their love for their neighbor equally sincerely. If a man carry away the vessel which he has filled at the fountain and then drink of it, the vessel becomes empty, but if he keep his vessel standing in the fountain, while he drinks, it always remains full. So the love of the neighbor, whether spiritual or temporal, should be drunk in Me, without any self-regarding considerations.” (Dialogue 64, Treatise of Discretion, § “How an imperfect lover of God loves his neighbor also imperfectly”).

4“The feet of the soul, signifying her affection, are the first step, for the feet carry the body as the affection carries the soul.” (Dialogue 26, Treatise of Discretion, § “How this Bridge has three steps”).

5“This proves that you possess Me by grace in your soul, producing much fruit for your neighbor and making prayers to Me, seeking with sweet and amorous desire My honor and the salvation of souls. The soul, enamored of My truth, never ceases to serve the whole world in general, and more or less in a particular case […], for in the love of Me is fulfilled and completed the love of the neighbor” (Dialogue 7, Treatise of Divine Providence, § “How virtues are accomplished by means of our neighbor”).

6Another time, the Lord told Catherine: “See, dearest daughter, in what an excellent state is the soul who receives, as she should, this Bread of Life, this Food of the Angels. By receiving this Sacrament she dwells in Me and I in her, as the fish in the sea, and the sea in the fish – thus do I dwell in the soul, and the soul in Me – the Sea Pacific [‘Ocean of Peace’].” (Dialogue 112, Treatise of Prayer, § “Of the excellent state of the soul who receives the sacrament in grace.”).