Here is another letter from the book of her letters with an introduction this time.
TO MONNA ALESSA DEI SARACINI
The young widow of noble family to whom this letter was written was the most cherished among Catherine's women friends. She seems, as often happens with the chosen companion of a fervent and powerful nature, to have been a person simple, lovable, and quietly wise. Having after her husband's death assumed the habit of St. Dominic, she distributed her possessions to the poor by Catherine's advice, but she evidently retained her home in Siena. This became a constant refuge for the saint from the overcrowded Benincasa household, and the scene of more than one charming episode in her life as told by the legend. For the Mantellate, or tertiaries of St. Dominic, were not cloistered, nor did they take the monastic vows; they simply lived in their own homes a life of special devotion. To Alessa, Catherine left on her deathbed the care of her spiritual family. This intimate little letter dates from an early period in their friendship. In its homely, practical wisdom, as in the gentle loftiness of its tone, it shows the watchful and loving care with which Catherine entered into the details of the daily life of those whom she sought to lead with her in the way of salvation. The tests she proposes are as penetrating to-day as they were then.
In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:
Dearest daughter in Christ sweet Jesus: I Catherine, thy poor unworthy mother, want thee to attain that perfection for which God has chosen thee.
It seems to me that one wishing so to attain should walk with and not without moderation. And yet every work of ours ought to be done both without and with moderation: it befits us to love God without moderation, putting to that love neither limit nor measure nor rule, but loving Him immeasurably. And if thou wish to reach the perfection of love, it befits thee to set thy life in order.
Let thy first rule be to flee the conversation of every human being, in so far as it is simply conversation, except as deeds of charity may demand; but to love people very much, and talk with few of them. And know how to talk in moderation even with those whom thou lovest with spiritual love; reflect that if thou didst not do this, thou wouldst place a limit before perceiving it to that limitless love which thou oughtest to bear to God, by placing the finite creature between you: for the love which thou shouldst place in God thou wouldst place in the creature, loving it without moderation; and this would hinder thy perfection. Therefore thou shouldst love it spiritually, in a disciplined way.
Be a vase, which thou fillest at the source and at the source dost drink from. Although thou hadst drawn thy love from God, who is the Source of living water, didst thou not drink it continually in Him thy vase would remain empty. And this shall be the sign to thee that thou dost not drink wholly in God: when thou sufferest from that which thou lovest, either by some talk thou didst hold, or because thou wast deprived of some consolation thou wast used to receiving, or for some other accidental cause. If thou sufferest, then, from this or anything else except wrong against God, it is a clear sign to thee that this love is still imperfect, and drawn far from the Source. What way is there, then, to make the imperfect perfect? This way: to correct and chastise the movements of thy heart with true self-knowledge, and with hatred and distaste for thy imperfection, that thou art such a peasant as to give to the creature that love which ought to be given wholly to God, loving the creature without moderation, and God moderately.
For love toward God should be without measure, and that for the creature should be measured by that for God, and not by the measure of one's own consolations, either spiritual or temporal. So do, then, that thou lovest everything in God, and correct every inordinate affection.
Make two homes for thyself, my daughter. One actual home in thy cell, that thou go not running about into many places, unless for necessity, or for obedience to the prioress, or for charity's sake; and another spiritual home, which thou art to carry with thee always—the cell of true self-knowledge, where thou shalt find within thyself knowledge of the goodness of God. These are two cells in one, and when abiding in the one it behoves thee to abide in the other, for otherwise the soul would fall into either confusion or presumption. For didst thou rest in knowledge of thyself, confusion of mind would fall on thee; and didst thou abide in the knowledge of God alone, thou wouldst fall into presumption. The two, then, must be built together and made one same thing; if thou dost this, thou wilt attain perfection.
For from selfknowledge thou wilt gain hatred of thine own fleshliness, and through hate thou wilt become a judge, and sit upon the seat of thy conscience, and pass judgment; and thou wilt not let a fault go without giving sentence on it. From such knowledge flows the stream of humility; which never seizes on mere report, nor takes offence at anything, but bears every insult, every loss of consolation, and every sorrow, from whatever direction they may come, patiently, with joy. Shames appear glory, and great persecutions refreshment; and it rejoices in all, seeing itself punished for that perverse law of self-will in its members which for ever rebels against God; and it sees itself conformed with Christ Jesus crucified, the way and the doctrine of truth. In the knowledge of God thou shalt find the fire of divine charity. Where shalt thou rejoice? Upon the Cross, with the Spotless Lamb, seeking His honour and the salvation of souls, through continual, humble prayer. Now herein is all our perfection.
There are many other things also, but this is the chief, from which we receive so much light that we cannot err in the lesser works that follow. Rejoice, my daughter, to conform thee to the shame of Christ. And watch over the impulse of the tongue, that the tongue may not always respond to the impulse of the heart; but digest what is in thy heart, with hatred and distaste for thyself. Do thou be the least of the least, subject in humility and patience to every creature through God; not making excuses, but saying: the fault is mine. Thus are vices conquered in thy soul and in the soul of him to whom thou shouldest so speak: through the virtue of humility. Order thy time: the night to vigil, when thou hast paid the debt of sleep to thy body; and the morning in church with sweet prayer; do not spend it in chatting until the appointed hour. Let nothing except necessity, or obedience, or charity, as I said, draw thee away from this or anything else. After the hour of eating, recollect thyself a little, and then do something with thy hands, as thou mayest need. At the hour of vespers, do thou go and keep quiet; and as much as the Holy Spirit enjoins on thee, that do. Then go back and take care of thy old mother without negligence, and provide what she needs; be thine this burden.
More when I return. So do that thou mayest fulfil my desire. I say no more. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.