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.”).

The Religion of Charity

The True Religion is recognized by its fruits: The Religion of Charity

 

Without Jesus Christ

With Jesus Christ

Infanticide

All of the pagan civilizations legitimized and practiced the murder of newborn babies: Greece, Rome, Carthage, India, China, Japan, North, South and Central America, Africa, Oceania, etc.

  • Constantine – (First Christian Emperor) takes away from parents the right of life and death over their children.
  • The Council of Arles (313) encourages Christians to take in abandoned children.

Slavery

  • In ancient Rome as at Athens, the vast majority of inhabitants were slaves.
  • Throughout its history, Islam has always practiced the mass trafficking of slaves (European or Black).
  • In Europe, slavery reappeared when the Christian spirit grew weak, at the end of the middle Ages.
  • “There is neither free nor slave” declared St. Paul.  From that moment, without trouble or revolution, Christian Charity began to snuff out slavery. Christians freed their slaves.
  • In France, the Queen Saint Bathilda (626-680) established the prohibition of slavery.

Cruelty

  • In Antiquity: Habitual massacre of those conquered.
  • Rome: Circus games, atrocious spectacles (under Claudius, thousands of men killing each other on Lake Furino to offer entertainment for the people!)
  • God is Charity announced St. John (first epistle) and the first Christians radiated this charity.
  • The pagans said of them: “See how they love each other!”

The Selfishness of the Leaders

  • Some philosophers praise charity, but practice it very little and without giving of themselves. (Tyrannical Rule: “In helping the destitute, the wise must remain indifferent to the evils he relieves: pity is a weakness, an illness.”)
  • Universal scorn or contempt towards the poor and the weak.
  • The poor are the center of attention Christians are invited not only to “weep with those who weep”, but to honor the poor, to whom they are indebted.
  • Even during the reign of the “Sun King” Louis XIV, Bossuet recalls this great thought in his sermon on “the eminent dignity of the poor in the Church of Jesus Christ” (1659).

Tyrannical Rule

The political power is absolute (Caesarism). Even if there were a few wise kings and emperors, the tyranny of a Nero or a Caligula or a Commodus, didn’t encounter any opposition.

Protection of the humblePopes and Bishops take up the defense of the weak in face of the strong. Multiple examples from the time of St. Ambrose (in face of the emperor Theodosius), up to Cardinal Mindzenty in face of Communism.

More details on the charity of the Church towards…

…The Poor

Since its birth, Christianity has been like an explosion of Charity. In Jerusalem, the first Christians sold their goods to give to the poor (Acts 4.32).

The pagan Lucien de Samosata (125-192) ridiculed Christians in his satire ‘Peregrinus’, but he acknowledged their “incredible enthusiasm” in exercising Charity: “They spare neither trouble, nor money, nor work.”

Before its persecutors, the First Christians emphasized this Charity.  Tertullian: “Has the State forgotten that it owes us the life of its poor, who would alas die if we didn’t come to their aid?” – Saint Lawrence, the Roman Deacon, gathering the poor that were helped by the Church, said, “These are the treasures of the Christians, we have none other.”

4th Century: Towards the end of the Persecutions, the wealthy Roman converts to Christianity sold all their goods to place themselves at the service of the poor: Pinian and Melanie, the Senator Paulinus, etc.

In the Middle Ages, the Christian Kings were well known for their Charity towards the poor: Saint Stephen of Hungary (†1038) washed their feet himself; Saint Edward of England (†1066) despoiled himself to help them; Saint Margaret, Queen of Scotland (†1093) and Saint Elizabeth of Hungary (†1231) literally passed their lives in caring for the poor; Saint Louis, King of France (†1270) each week reunited the poor to serve them himself at table. – Saint Edmond, Saint Casmir of Poland, Saint Leopold of Austria, Robert the Pious, Saint Bridget of Sweden, Saint Hedwig, Saint Margaret of Savoy, etc.

To help the unfortunate, new religious families regularly sprang up, drawing hundreds and thousands of souls who sacrificed themselves entirely to charitable works: The Daughters of Charity of Saint Louise de Marillac in the 17th Century, the Daughters of Wisdom in the 18th, the Little Servants of the Poor (of Jeanne Jugan) and dozens of other Congregations in the 19th Century…..

You can search everywhere, but you won’t find this heroic Charity practiced anywhere else than in the Catholic Church.

…The Sick

Jesus “went about doing good”, especially to the sick.  From the beginning Christians followed Him in this.

252 A.D.: Epidemic of the Plague in the Roman Empire. Pagans fled from Carthage, abandoning the sick to the care of the Christians (under the jurisdiction of the Bishop Saint Cyprian who would be martyred by the same pagans in 258). – In 268, the same happened in Alexandria.

4Th Century: As soon as the anti-Christian Persecutions ended (Edict of Milan in 313), hospitals, orphanages, and hospices rose up throughout the Empire. The first known hospital was founded in Caesarea by the Bishop Saint Basil the Great, who cared for the sick there himself. – The first hospital of Rome was founded by Saint Fabiola. Something never before seen: this noble Patrician would go and take up the sick from the streets, wash them, bandage them, nourish them and spend her whole fortune on them. – The Senator Pammachius (friend of Saint Jerome) did the same: he died destitute, in the hospital which he himself had founded. – Likewise, Saint John the Almoner founded the first hospital in Alexandria, Saint Chrysostom, that in Constantinople, Saint Ephrem at Edessa, etc.

Throughout the Middle Ages, hospices and hospitals multiplied themselves in all of Christendom.  The Pope Saint Symmachus founded a new hospital in Rome in the beginning of the 6th Century. Pope Pelagius II founded another in 580. Pope Saint Gregory the Great (590-604) still another, in addition to an orphanage, etc.

The historian Hurter estimated that in the 13th Century, France possessed 20,000 hospitals which welcomed the sick, orphans, the poor and pilgrims.

A masterpiece (indeed to be visited!) of this Charity in action is the Hospital of Beaune, founded in 1443.

Century after century, thousands and thousands of religious gave themselves totally to Christ in the person of the sick: The Hospitaller Brothers (Saint John of God, 1537), Camillians (Saint Camillus de Lellis, 1584), etc. In only 30 years, 1584-1614, 220 of the first Camillian Religious died of sicknesses contracted from those whom they assisted.

Not only in Christendom, but throughout the entire world (India, China, Africa, and Islamic Countries) the Catholic Church is the true Mother of hospitals and of works of Charity. Other religions have more or less tardily imitated Her, but without ever preceding or equaling Her.

…The Prisoners

Slowly but surely, the Church brought about the abolition of slavery, not in causing slaves to revolt (which would have led to massacres), but in giving a Christian spirit to their masters. St. Paul recommended to masters this charity towards their slaves: “Forebear threatening them, knowing that the Lord both of them and you is in Heaven; and there is no respect of persons with Him.” (Eph. 6.9).

Hermes (Prefect of Rome under Trajan) freed his 1,250 slaves on the day of his Baptism.  Saint Ovidius freed 5,000 slaves, Saint Melanie 8,000, etc.

Pope Saint Symmachus (498-514) employed considerable sums in buying and freeing slaves in Liguria. His successors did the same, notably Saint Gregory the Great (590-604), and Saint Zacharie (741-752) who bought slaves as far away as Africa.

When the Pagan spirit revived, at the time of the Renaissance (15th-16th Centuries), Popes Paul III (20th of May, 1537) and Urban VIII (22nd of April, 1639) firmly opposed the slavery of the American Indians.  Several Popes equally opposed the slave trade (of Blacks): Eugene IV (January 13, 1435), Pius II  (October 7, 1462), Paul III (June 2, 1537), Blessed Innocent XI (by the intermediary of Cardinal Cibo in 1683), Pius VII (Congress of Vienna, 1815), etc. – Numerous priests helped the negro slaves, notably Saint Peter Claver (†1654) who added to his Religious vows that of consecrating his entire life to the service of the slaves, and who did not hesitate to sign (his name): “Peter Claver, slave of the slaves forever.”

During this time, thousands of Christians were reduced to slavery by the Berber Muslims of Algeria, Tunisia, etc.  The Order of the Trinitarians (founded by Saint John of Matha in 1198) and that of the Mercedarians (founded in 1218 by Saint Peter Nolasco) dedicated themselves to delivering them. – Saint Peter Pascal for example (Bishop of Jaen) gave all his goods, and then his own person to redeem the captives of the Turks. Some Faithful sent a huge sum of money for his ransom, but he preferred to use it to free women and children, and he died a captive in 1300.

Common law prisoners and convicts profited also from the Charity of the Church:  The 5th Council of Orleans (549) ordained that an archdeacon visit the prisoners every Sunday. Saint Damasus, Saint Wenceslas, Saint Leonard, Saint Peter Caracciolo, Saint Vincent de Paul, etc. devoted themselves particularly to this apostolate.

Read the encyclical In Plurimis of Leo XIII, 1888, regarding slavery.

“All the Institutions of Charity that mankind possesses today for the relief of the unfortunate, all that has been accomplished for the protection of the poor and weak in all of the circumstances of their lives, and for their different kinds of sufferings, owes its origin either directly or indirectly, to the Roman [Catholic] Church. It is She who gave the example, She who gave the impulsion, She who often still furnishes the means of execution.”  – (Frederic Hurter) *

(*)  The Historian Frederic Hurter (1787-1865), specialist of the Middle Ages, was converted to Catholicism after having noted the Charity of the Church throughout the centuries.

The confessions of the enemies of the Church

The Pagans:

In the 4th Century, the pagan emperor Julian the Apostate grieved: “While the priests of idols don’t have a thought for the unfortunate, these abominable Galileans (= Catholics) devote themselves to exercises of Charity.” (Letter 48). – “They nourish not only their poor, but even ours as well.” (Letter 49).

The Protestants:

The revolt of the Protestants against the Church in the 16th century was a catastrophe for the poor. In England, King Henry VIII closed all the monasteries and confiscated their goods. Now, these monasteries nourished the poor.  The extreme poverty became frightening, and brought about revolts.  Henry VIII took excessively severe measures: he caused thousands of vagabonds to be hanged. To replace the alms that had before been spontaneously given for the love of God and neighbor, England was constrained to institute a tax for the poor (which became progressively heavier and heavier). She enclosed the poor in Workhouses, the harshness of which moved public opinion. The same circumstances gave rise to the same effects in Holland, where they went so far as to organize veritable “Hunts for the poor”.

In Germany, the leader of the revolt against the Church of Jesus Christ, Martin Luther himself, was forced to admit, after the victory of Protestantism:

“While we were still serving the devil [sic] under the banner of the Pope, everyone was charitable and merciful, not only did one give, but one gave generously, with joy, with piety […]. Today […], there’s no one who doesn’t cry out or thinks he’s going to die if he gives but a mite.”  (Sermon of Luther, ed. Walsh, t. XI, c. 1758).

One of Luther’s first companions, George Wizel, left him for the following reason:

“I reproach the Lutherans for almost entirely destroying or rendering useless, the establishments founded at great expense by our fathers for the benefit of the poor, which is against charity and also against justice for our neighbor. I reproach them for appropriating for themselves the riches of the Churches without helping the poor […]. Everyone agrees and recognizes that the poor have a much harder and more miserable life now, than in the past, in the time of the Roman Church.” (George Wizel, Reiectio Lutherismi, 1535).

The Atheists:

While, in France, the Third Republic chased the Religious from the hospitals that they had founded, Dr. Armand Despres (1834-1896, hospital surgeon and famous unbeliever) testified:

“During my service, at the time the Sisters were working, the mortality rate was 1%. Now, with the lay people working, it is 5%. Why? Because the Sisters never left the Hospital, because they ran at the first call of the sick, because they accomplished not a profession but a duty. These brave girls were content with the 200 f. which they received annually. The lay persons receive 700 – 900 f. when they are boarded, 1500 – 2000 f. when they live elsewhere (…). Where before there was but one Sister, they have now placed two lay nurses. Where we are working, they have even placed three, and that didn’t suffice. These three women claimed they had too much work, and obtained the help of a fourth nurse. See how one has replaced one Sister.”  (Letter of Dr. Despres to The Hospital Gazette, September 7, 1888.)