Catherine of Genoa (1447–1510), named after Catherine of Siena, was born into an illustrious family named Guelph. Two from her father’s family were popes. Her father was the viceroy of Naples, and a cousin was a member of the College of Cardinals. In 1463 she was married to Giuliano Adorno, a wealthy and very worldly individual, with whom she had almost nothing in common. (Those who praise “arranged marriage” with sentimentality, or an embrace of patriarchy, should take note!) Some ten years after marriage Catherine was converted to a contemplative life. In the same year her husband lost his fortune. With their remaining income they sought simple quarters among the poor of Genoa. Giuliano underwent what appears to be a genuine conversion and became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. They both worked among the poor and the ill. In 1479 they left to live in the hospital and give their time in service to the sick and dying. A year later Giuliano died and in 1490 Catherine became the matron of the hospital.
Catherine became a mystic who was enabled to link her profound love of man and God to the world of practical philanthropy. She was ecstatic in feeling and original in thought. Her most important literary contributions were her Dialogues and her Life and Teachings.
In the latter work she wrote:
The creature is incapable of knowing anything but what God gives it from day to day. If it could know (beforehand) the successive degrees that God intends to give it, it would never be quieted . . . . When from time to time I would advert to the matter, it seemed to me that my love was complete; but later, as time went on and as my sight grew clearer, I became aware that I had had many imperfections. . . . I did not recognize them at first, because God-Love was determined to achieve the whole only little by little, for the sake of preserving my physical life, and so as to keep my behavioral tolerable for those with whom I lived. For otherwise, with such insight, so many excessive acts would ensure, as to make one in supportable to oneself and to others. . . . Every day I feel that the motes are being removed, which this Pure Love casts out.
Catherine says we cannot see these imperfections since if we saw them we could not bear the sight. Because of his love and grace God allows us to see the work he has achieved, as if at times no imperfections remained. But he still works to remove them all along.
She adds that many instincts are being consumed within her so that she could see what was bad and imperfect. In the mirror of truth (which she calls as a mystic Pure Love) everything is seen as crooked which once appeared straight.
The problem, says Catherine, is our “self-will.” The answer to this problem is what she calls “Pure Love.” Pure Love “loves God without why or wherefore.” Everyday she said she loved God more and was given a key to the house of love. As a result of living in this house of love she adds that God and sin cannot live peaceably side-by-side. But the way God drives out sin and love for this life is by giving us sight, step-by-step, of the life to come.
Ultimately a deeply joyous Christian learns to live in a way that opens his or her entire heart and soul to God’s agape, that is divine love. As the recipient of such love the person becomes “Christ intoxicated.” Catherine was plainly one such person.