Excerpts spiritual teaching in Letters

Catherine sent 383 letters to an incredibly varied set of correspondents. An Italian edition lists the following categories: popes; cardinals, bishops and church leaders; kings and queens; knights, nobles and leaders of castles; civil leaders and heads of city states; noblewomen; lawyers and doctors; merchants and artisans; artists; priests, monks, abbesses, hermits; the mantellate and other disciples and followers; her family.

Catherine dictated her letters to scribes. (See “learning to read and write”) Over the years her letters were hand copied many times and compiled into different collections, so that there are some variations in the texts as scribes undoubtedly made changes knowingly and unknowingly.  Accordingly, Catherine’s writings have been edited by expert historians and linguistic specialists using the available manuscripts in order to come up with the most historically accurate manuscript.  I use the most recent such texts for my translations.

Catherine’s letters all contain exhortations or sermon-like advice about the urgency of having a relationship with God, who is love; she exhorts all to commit themselves to a journey of transformation based on that relationship.  Her wisdom is repeated in different forms and with different images and metaphors to all the types of correspondents as listed above.  The pope, queens, her fellow mantellate, all received similar exhortations about the urgency of a relationship with the God of love.

The wealth and richness of wisdom in Catherine’s letters has not been well mined in English.  The sections of this website on Spiritual Wisdom are widely based on Catherine’s letters and so have innovative material.

Letters are grouped below in two ways:  1) by correspondent, when the person is important in Catherine’s life and I include excerpts from several of their letters; and 2) by topic, when the correspondents are not as significant to Catherine’s story or when I include few excerpts addressed to them.

Translations are mine from the Volpato critical edition. [1]  Letter numbers correspond to T (Tommaseo) numbering in Volpato and in Suzanne Noffke’s English edition of the Letters (unless otherwise noted). Letter dates are according to Suzanne Noffke and may be approximate. [See Letters]

[1] Catherine of Siena, 2002. Lettere, in Opera omnia, testi e concordanze, edited by Antonio Volpato. Pistoia: Provincia Romana dei Frati Predicatori. PDF available online: http://centrostudicateriniani.it/it/santa-caterina-da-siena/scritti

To Raymond of Capua

Letter 226, February 1376

We are created in God’s Image


This passage shows one of the many ways in which Catherine repeats her conviction that we are created in the image of God.  As images of God, we are created for connection with others, that is for relationship; for God as Trinity is a mystery of personal connection and relationship.  Persons are one with God, God is in us (through the Spirit) and we live in God, the Creator who holds all in being.   The same idea is expressed through the metaphor of a plant graft.  We are grafted onto God, but God is also grafted onto us!  This metaphor is worth much meditation to unveil in our hearts the reality of the interconnection that exists between us and God.  The call is to live into this reality through a relationship with God, which must involve silence, solitude and self-knowledge, all aspects of a life of prayer. (See Time in cell: Knowledge of God-Knowledge of Self.)

Open the eye of understanding to see, and sharpen your ears to hear the doctrine he [God] offers you. You will see for yourselves, that in God you will find yourselves and within yourselves you will find God.  That is, in him you find yourselves as a gift of grace . . . for he created you in his image and likeness.  And in him you find the immeasurable goodness of God in having become like us, through the union of divine and human nature.  May our hearts burst and upon recognizing that humans are grafted onto God and God onto humans, may they be pierced by such a fire, such a flame of love,!  O boundless love, if persons could appreciate it, it would suffice. I invite you to this sweet school, my children, so that such affection and love may lead you to make this journey.


Letter 219, January 1377

An exceptional, prophetic vision [1]


This is an example of one of Catherine’s visions, a powerful experience of consolation, while she saw images in her mind’s eye and had the sense of God speaking to her.  I discuss this experience in “visions and God’s communication through images.”

On the first of April, at night, God manifested his mysteries, revealing wonderful realities, such that I felt as though my soul were not in my body; and my soul received such joy and fullness that no words can describe this. Explaining and offering details step by step, God revealed the mystery of the persecution currently affecting Holy Church, as well as the flourishing anew and renovation that are to come. First Truth revealed that the current problems are allowed in order to return the Church to her former state, using an argument from the Gospel, namely, “he requires scandal to come into the world;” adding, “but woe be to those through whom such scandal is produced!” It’s as if he declared: “I allow this time of persecution to reveal the thorns of my Bride [the Church] which needs pruning, but I will not allow the evil workings of men. You know what I will do? I will act as I did while in the world, when I created a whip and chased out those who trafficked in God’s house making it into a den of thieves. That is what I am doing now. I have made some persons into a whip to get rid of the sinful greedy and avaricious merchants [pastors and church leaders] who are puffed up by pride and buy and sell grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” So, with the whip of persecutions I chased them out; that is, through the burden of sufferings and persecution I drew them away from disordered and dishonest lives. Later, I experienced an increase in the fire of holy desire and as I looked, I saw both Christians and unbelievers entering into the side of Christ crucified.  Filled with desire and love, I walked among them and entered with them into Christ tender Jesus. I was accompanied by my father Dominic and by first John, and by all my children [her followers]. And he [Jesus] placed the cross on my neck and the olive branch in my hand as if he were saying to me he wanted me to take it to both peoples [Christians and unbelievers] And he said, “tell them, I announce to you a great joy!’” And then my soul became even more full, and together with the elect, it was drenched in the divine essence through union and affetto of love.  And my soul felt such delight, that the distress at seeing the offenses to God was gone.  I could even say, Oh happy fault!


Letter 272a, October 1377

On an experience of exceptional consolation


This letter describes the type of experience that includes an exceptional consolation.   Catherine tells us that her mind becomes clouded and usual ways of knowing are placed in abeyance in order to penetrate a knowledge beyond our usual ways of understanding.  There is a sense of leaving behind the normal human form of knowing, and instead becoming so absorbed in spiritual reality that knowing occurs in a deep intuitive manner beyond words.  The desire for spiritual knowledge and reality become dominant in her consciousness.
On Catherine’s language here:  When she says “all powers of the soul cry out” we could say in contemporary English “I cry out with all of my being.” (More on the powers of the soul, a very rich concept, in another section.)
Catherine’s language is flowery in a manner congruent with her cultural context as a young woman of 14th century Tuscany; she often uses the adjective “sweet” for persons and for the church. Here she addresses Raymond as “most sweet father.” In other places she even addresses the pope as “sweet daddy.”

And after God in his goodness and holiness desired to manifest himself and his mysteries; before these things, most sweet father [Raymond], the tongue cannot express and the mind seems to become clouded—it’s capacities become so diminished; desire grows intensely and all the powers of the soul cry out, wishing to leave this earth where there is so much imperfection and instead the soul wishes to get up and arrive at her end, that is to taste with the true citizens [those of heaven] the ultimate and eternal Trinity.


Letter 272b October 1377

Miraculously learning to write


Catherine tells Raymond that God had blessed her with the gift of writing as part of his providential grace so she could express the intensity of her experience of God’s presence and revelations.  Many scholars believe this is an addition to Catherine’s letter by a scribe and doubt that she had such an experience.  From my own scholarship I agree with Suzanne Noffke [2] that Catherine seems to have learned to write in a very basic manner perhaps through a combination of tutoring and grace in the last years of her life.

I actually wrote this letter and another I sent you with my own hand, with many sighs and abundance of tears, so that seeing I could hardly see.  I was full of admiration of myself and God’s goodness as I pondered his mercy towards his children, as well as his providence, with which I was abundantly blessed.  For relief, since I was deprived of the consolation of writing due to my ignorance, God provided me with the ability to write, so coming down from above [coming out of ecstasy], I could vent what was in my heart so that I wouldn’t explode.


Letter 272c, October 1377

Revelation, exceptional consolation: basis for The Dialogue


This excerpt describes an experience of consolation which started one night after reading a couple of letters, and then became intensified the following morning during Mass. While in this consolation, Catherine describes increased desire, basically a movement of longing for God becoming dominant within her. Fruit of this experience is the inspiration to make the requests foundational to The Dialogue.  These petitions were followed by a sense of God speaking to her so that in this letter we see the elements of that which became her book, The Dialogue. 

While praying for the pope and the church, inspired by just having read a letter from Raymond and another from the Pope Gregory XI (received undoubtedly through Raymond), she writes:

Suddenly, through divine grace, my desire bounded and an I felt unfathomable joy. [In this state of consolation] I waited for morning in order to attend Mass on Mary’s day [Saturday]. When time came for Mass, I went to my place and lifted my consciousness to knowledge of myself, putting myself before God with shame for my imperfection.  And so being lifted out of myself out of eager desire [reference to a shift of consciousness from focus on herself to absorption in the consolation of the presence of God], focusing the eye of understanding on eternal truth, I made four petitions.

[1] “Prophetic” as the Old Testament prophets who were emissaries of God’s word.

[2] Noffke’s translation of the letters, vol. 2, note 51, pp. 505.

To Pope Gregory XI [1]

Letter 206, March 1376

An example of a) use of images and metaphors;  b) blunt exhortation of the pope


The church is like a garden. Bad pastors are like “stinking flowers” that must be removed from the garden in order to keep the garden healthy. After pulling out and throwing out the stinking flowers new, sweet-smelling flowers should be planted; these sweet-smelling flowers are pastors and church officials who live ordered lives and hold as a priority the wellbeing of their congregants and the church.

This excerpt also shows an example of Catherine’s blunt, forceful exhortation of Pope Gregory XI.

In the garden of holy Church, as the manager of this garden, you must remove the stinking flowers that are full of garbage and cupidity and are inflated with pride. These are the bad pastors and administrators that poison and rot the garden. . . Use your power and tear out these flowers, throw them out, that they should not govern. . . Plant in the garden sweet smelling flowers, pastors and officials that are true servants of Jesus Christ; those who are concerned only with the honour of God and the wellbeing of souls.


Letter 270, April 1377

Pope’s responsibility to mediate salvation


This letter and Letter 209 below both tell the pope that he is the mediator of salvation.  Catherine considered the pope the mediator of “the blood,” that is, the key mediator of salvation offered through Jesus’ giving of his life for us.

Catherine beliefs about the papacy can be challenged, but they determined her interpretation of God’s will.  She believed the pope’s role was central to the functioning of the church for the good of all persons and this belief led to her forceful correspondence with two popes, urging each to conversion and relationship with God that they might live out this crucial role according to God’s will.

Oh! shepherd and doorkeeper of the blood of the lamb. … You are the doorkeeper of God’s wine cellar, that is of the blood of the only Son, whom you represent on earth; Christ’s blood can be made available through no other hands but yours.


Letter 209, beginning 1377

Pope’s responsibility to mediate salvation


(See comments above for letter 270)

I wish that you would open the eye of understanding to see the beauty of your soul and the blood of the Son.  For this blood has washed the face of our soul.  You are the minister of this blood.


Letter 255, June 1376

Catherine as spiritual formator/guide to pope 


Catherine’s conviction of the central, irreplaceable role played by the pope in the salvation of persons motivated the correspondence where she acted as spiritual guide or formator of the pope.  If the pope’s relationship with God was not strong, all Christians would suffer.

In the passage below Catherine bluntly tells Gregory that he has in his hands the power to mediate salvation.  If he doesn’t take this responsibility seriously, he risks his own salvation, and he may as well quit his role as pope.
Catherine also tells the pope in an authoritative manner that he must make peace with the Tuscan republics. [2] For Catherine, peace was God’s will and so the pope must pursue this.  Note Catherine gives detailed advice revealing the absolute certainty she experienced regarding her connection to God and her call to bring God’s word to those in the highest authority. (See discussion about her holiness.)

Given that God gave you authority, and you have taken it up, you must use your power and virtue; for if you should not choose to use it, it would be better to give it up for the greater honor of God and the salvation of your soul.

This is His will and He asks this of you:  God wants you to make peace with all of Tuscany, with all those with whom you have a quarrel. You must come to as much agreement as possible with all sinful children who rebelled against you; you must do this without war, though you can punish them as a father would punish a child who has offended him.


Letter 238, September 1376

Catherine as spiritual formator/guide to pope


This passage reveals how Catherine acted as spiritual guide to the pope, as well as the authority with which she addressed him, bluntly asserting she knew what God wanted. Catherine, the young lay woman, told Gregory what kind of pastors to choose and indirectly chided him for not doing this well.

With vice torn out and virtue planted, place this cross in the hand of the good and righteous pastors of Holy Church. . . . [God] wants you to name those who are good and virtuous and who do not fear their own death. God does not want status and greatness and worldly pomp to be criteria for their selection—since Christ is not in conformity with this—so consider only the greatness and richness of virtue.


Letter 252, December 1376

Catherine as spiritual formator/guide to pope


In this letter, Catherine urges the pope to practice virtue in order to develop the spiritual fortitude he needs to struggle against temptation and disordered priorities.  Virtue, or a life ordered in God, results from allowing oneself to be transformed by God who is love, into someone capable of love.  This is most urgent for the pope, given his role.

Keep in mind that since you have come in as a new plant into the garden of Holy Church, you must prepare yourself through growth in virtue to resist the world, the flesh and the evil one, the three principal enemies that challenge us day and night; these enemies never sleep. I trust that as divine Goodness has helped you resist these enemies, that he has done all that is necessary to obtain from you that for which he created you, that is to give glory and honor to his name; as well that you might rejoice in his goodness, receiving the eternal vision that makes our blessedness.  At this time you are Christ’s Vicar so you must set to work and do battle for the honor of God, the salvation of souls [persons] and the reform of Holy Church. This mission includes burdens and sufferings particular to you that are added to the common struggles suffered by anyone who wishes to serve God (as I already explained). And since your burden is greater, you need a bolder and more courageous heart that does not fear anything to come.


Letter 196, February 1376

Advocacy for the Tuscan Republics


In this letter Catherine advocated for the Tuscan Republics that had joined the anti-papal league in rebellion against the attempts at control by the papal authorities living in Italy.  The Papal legates (authorities) wanted control over as much territory (and its wealth) as possible.   Catherine tells Gregory that he must forgive these republics for the sake of peace.
The highlights in the text below are mine to show how authoritative Catherine could be in speaking to the pope and how she did not hesitate to tell him she was speaking on behalf of Christ.  In the section of this website on discernment I discuss Catherine’s spirituality in terms of her certainty that she was connected to the truth because of her connection to God. [link discernment] Also see Catherine as spiritual director of Gregory.

I beg you in the name of Christ crucified, I want you to offer mercy, that with your goodness you defeat their malice. … I demand mercy for them, Father, you must not take into account your children’s ignorance and pride. Rather with the food of love and of your goodness, bring peace to us your miserable children who have offended you. I say to you, sweet Christ on earth, on behalf of Christ in heaven, that if you act in this way, they will all return peacefully, pained by the offense caused to you and place their heads on your lap. And so, you will rejoice, and we will rejoice because with love you will have returned the lost sheep to the fold of holy Church.

[1] See section on “Political engagement and spirituality<letters to Gregory XI. For a more detailed discussion of Catherine’s relationship with Gregory XI, see “Examining Catherine of Siena’s Controversial Discernments about Papal Politics,” and “Catherine of Siena’s Challenge to Pope Gregory XI: Lessons for Today.”

[2] See tab, Political engagement and Spirituality<Catherine’s letters to Gregory XI. Despite her forceful exhortations, the historical evidence suggests Catherine had little influence over the pope’s political moves.

To Pope Urban VI

Letter 346, December 1378

Formator of pope; use of layers of images and metaphors


This is an example both of Catherine’s blunt formation of the pope and of her use of interlaced metaphors and images.
In terms of the latter, there is the metaphor of becoming grafted onto Jesus, who is the tree of life.  The flower is virtue; the fruit is the motivation to work for God and God’s people.  In other words, if one is connected to Jesus, one grows in virtue through this relationship of love, and growth in virtue in turn results in the desire and willingness to care for the good of others according to one’s vocation in life.
Intertwined with this imagery is the metaphorical language of conceiving and giving birth, normally not applied to plants but to humans and mammals.  Thus, the flower “conceives” virtue, while the fruit “gives birth.”   Then there is a further metaphor about the fruit.  First the fruit tastes bitter but depending on the inner transformation of the person the fruit becomes sweet.

In plain contemporary language this passage tells us:  Develop a close relationship with Jesus, because such closeness leads to transformation in terms of living a virtuous life.  Such transformation when authentic results in a desire to work for the good of God’s church and people.  When one is close to Jesus and lives through this transformation one will desire to work for God, rather than feel burdened by a difficult obligation. 

I want you to be a tree of love grafted onto the tree of life, Christ, sweet Jesus.  May the flower that conceives virtue in your deepest self be born of this tree.   And may the fruit of this flower give birth to hunger for the honor of God and the salvation of your sheep.  And if at first this fruit tastes bitter . . . when the soul has decided in her depth to struggle unto death for Christ crucified and for love of virtue, this fruit becomes sweet.


Letter 351, May 1379

Acting as formator to pope; authoritative exhortation of the Pope


Now in the last year of her life and living in Rome, Catherine offers unsolicited spiritual guidance to pope Urban in an authoritative tone, essentially telling him what he ought to do.  Catherine finds such authority in her conviction that she is in close connection to God and God is guiding her to act in this way.  She emphasizes that God will give the pope the grace he needs to accomplish his task.  He must, therefore, be connected to God in a conscious way.

I said I desired to see accomplished in you the sweet will of God in every other thing.  I remind you that Truth wants you to put thought and effort into ordering and building up God’s Church . . . as you are able in the time you have.  For it is He who will act for you; he will give you strength to carry it out, light to recognize what is necessary, and wisdom and prudence in order to straighten out his little boat. And He will give you the will to accomplish your task—well, he has already given you this—but will strengthen this grace out of His infinite mercy.

To Andrea Vanni

(Letters 358, 363, 366)

Catherine wrote to Vanni urging him to exercise his duty as law enforcement officer in a just manner. This advice occupied only a short part of her three letters. The rest focused on her wisdom about relationship with God and transformation.


Letter 363, December 1379

Persons created for love; example use of metaphors 


This excerpt shows how Catherine expresses herself through metaphors.  In this case a tree is the soul, the core of the person and of her identity. One’s core identity before God, one’s essential, eternal being (soul) is created by God out of love and for love.  This is the grounding principle of Catherine’s spirituality and is also a foundational Christian principle:  humans are created by God out of love, capable of love and to express love.

Love for Catherine is measured by the capacity to care for the good of the other.  Without humility –recognition of one’s vulnerability to self-centeredness as core ‘sin’—one is much less likely to bear fruit in the sense of living according to the capacity for love.  Good fruit fall to the ground, meaning one’s actions are likely to be self-centered, which is the opposite of our actions being moved by love.

For Catherine, humility has the meaning of knowing oneself as sinner and in need of God, as well as understanding that one is created for love.  Humility does not mean being self-effacing.  When she says the tree/soul must be planted in true humility, she means that one’s deepest self must be rooted in this knowledge of self as in need of God.  To be planted in pride means the person is unaware of her brokenness, woundedness, sinfulness or the recognition that she needs God’s merciful love to be transformed.  So, to be planted on top of the mountain of pride, means one lives disconnected from the recognition of her need for God’s love and  mercy and is, therefore, vulnerable to going astray.   That the fruit of the tree/soul drop to the ground means that one’s most constructive, love-centered ways of being in life could easily fail or go astray.  (See section on knowledge of God-knowledge of self.)

As a tree you should be planted deep in the earth of true humility, so that the wind of pride will not do damage to the tree of your soul. The soul is a tree of love created by God out of love and for love and can only live from love; it [the tree/soul] lives either from holy love or out of self-centered love. [my highlight] The latter kills grace; it’s like placing the tree on top of the mountain of pride where all kinds of opposing winds can damage it, breaking branches and causing its fruit to drop to the ground.  And if the person does not strengthen this tree, it falls to the ground.

On Being Created out of Love for Love

Letter 29 to Regina della Scala, end 1375


In this letter Catherine tells us persons are created out of love and for love, for persons are created in the image and likeness of God.  Because God is love, then as images of God, we are created for love.
Catherine decries the blindness that leads persons to stop connecting to God, the source of love and the fountain of grace to actualize their capacity for love.  This is a tragedy for the person because she is violating her deepest nature.

Oh! How blind and miserable humans can be!  Seeing themselves created in the image and likeness of God and restored to this image by grace . . . she [the person] is so blind that she abandons the love and depth of care that has made her great out of His goodness; and instead loves those things that are not in God. In that way the directionality of her loves and love itself are directed out of the confines of what is in God, and she loves created realities and herself without God!


Letter 21 to someone whose name it is best not to write due to some of the words used in this letter, Spring 1376


Here Catherine highlights absolute dignity of each person due precisely to our being created out of love.  This message expresses the depth of compassion Catherine ascribed to God and sought to practice herself.  She reminded the correspondent of his dignity even though she was rebuking him for sins presumably so grave that he remained an anonymous correspondent.  Catherine was convinced that the most serious sinner must embark on a journey of transformation out of knowledge of their dignity because created out of love and for love.
Catherine’s great confidence in God’s mercy and human nature is seen in her expectation that this man can “pay God back” by allowing God to transform him.

We never asked God to be created.  Rather moved by the fire of love, God created us in His image and likeness.  He created us with so much dignity that no tongue can describe, no eye can see, nor ear grasp the depth of dignity humans have.  Love for love is the debt we owe God, the debt God wants paid back.  It is right and just that the person who experiences love should love back.  God showed the greatest love that could be offered, he gave his life for us.


Letter 374 (Gardner I in Noffke) [1] to Bartolomeo Smeduci, end 1375


Here Catherine uses one of her metaphors that appeal to our heart and emotions in order to communicate what is ultimately beyond our understanding.  Because our first clothing is love, then that which keeps us alive at birth is love.  Catherine wants us to imagine her metaphor in order to grasp her point.  A newborn baby without any warm covering right after birth would not thrive and if allowed to remain uncovered long, might die.  Similarly, without God’s love we cannot thrive, indeed, we would not live.
We are part of God as a child is part of its parents.  Without the genes and love of parents a child would not come into being.  Without God’s love, we would not come into existence.

Think about this, dear father:  since we were created in the image and likeness of God out of love, the first clothing we had was love; and so persons cannot live without love, as we are made of love and nothing else; what we have in terms of both our body and our soul is for love. In a similar way a father and mother bring a child into being from the substance of their flesh out of love, through God’s grace.

[1] Noffke’s translation of the Letters includes some not numbered according to T (Tommaseo).  This one appears with a number given by Gardner, an early manuscript editor. It is in vol. I, p. 184 of Noffke’s translation. Link to Life and Writings, Noffke reference


Letter 144 to Paola, a Prioress, July 1375


This letter offers an example of Catherine’s own desire to be a martyr and shows the way she encouraged women disciples to go on a crusade pilgrimage with the hope of becoming martyrs.  She expresses this with one of her metaphors, namely grafting oneself onto the cross, as a plant cutting might be grafted onto an existing plant or tree.  Becoming “grafted” onto the cross means one would die like Christ, crucified in a figurative manner, giving one’s life for others.  For Catherine this possibility is as desirable and joyful as is going to a wedding celebration.

Let us all as a brigade run and graft ourselves onto this Word. I invite you to the wedding feast of this grafting, that is, to shed our blood for him, as he shed it for you; let’s go to the Holy Sepulcher, and let’s leave our life for Him there.


Letter 143 To Giovanna Queen of Naples, August 1375


Catherine exhorts even a very worldly queen to consider martyrdom.  Catherine’s words of offering “blood for blood” evidence her spirituality of martyrdom; it is an opportunity to literally offer our life (blood) [1] to God in imitation of the life (blood) that Jesus gave for us.  In this language and the fact that Catherine exhorts to this ideal even this worldly queen, we see the importance of the ideal of martyrdom to Catherine’s spirituality.  See “Crusades and Catherine’s spirituality,”and my articles of 2021.

Give your life for Christ crucified. Oh! how sweet it would be to offer blood for blood, to see you grow in holy desire as a result of remembering the blood poured out by God’s son.

[1] In the Old Testament blood was a symbol for life, and this symbolism was carried into the New Testament writings.

Authoritative Exhortation of Civil Authorities

Letter 138 To Giovanna Queen of Naples, June 1375


In this letter Catherine used authoritative language towards a powerful queen, exhorting her in no uncertain terms on behalf of God and indirectly telling her she would be stupid and foolish not to help mother church.  This authority and confidence on Catherine’s part comes from her absolute sense of union with God and her utter conviction that working for the good of the church is working for the salvation of many because the church, when functioning well, mediates that salvation.  And persons’ salvation is God’s ultimate will.

I ask and press on behalf of Christ crucified that you support the Bride of Christ in her need showing that you are a faithful daughter of sweet, Holy Church … You should know that this mother nourishes her children at the breast with sweet, life-giving milk. Stupid and foolish is the child who would not help her mother.


Letter 213  to Daniela of Orvieto (Like Catherine, a Mantellata)


She [ the virtue of discernment] is a child born of love. What exactly is discernment and what does it accomplish?  Discernment is a form of light; as I said, it is a fruit of knowledge of God and self.  As a result of this virtue, it is possible to see with discerning light what one owes and to whom, and to be able to act immediately and with perfect discernment upon what has been perceived; thus God is given glory and his name is honored. . .  

The first principle that this virtue places in our soul is to render honor to God and goodness to our fellow human beings. With regard to ourselves, this virtue guides us to hate vice and self-centered sensuality. . .  The virtue of discernment orders love towards our fellow human beings; and once the person’s love towards others has been ordered, this virtue helps preserve and foster that which nurtures such love, which is continuous, humble and faithful prayer. Also the virtue of discernment covers her with the mantle of desire for virtue so that the person will not be bodily or spiritually caught up by lukewarmness, negligence or selfish self-love. . .  

On discernment and penance 

The light of discernment keeps the person covered in the mantel of desire for virtue, thus preventing her from becoming attached to penance. Penance should be an instrument, depending on the need of particular times and places. Discernment accomplishes this sorting out, for penance is an instrument and not something to which we should be attached. . .  

Where has your hope in God’s kingdom gone now that you are distressed and almost in despair?  It has been erased by your attachment to penance, through which you expected to obtain salvation.  Since you can no longer practice penance, you feel as if though you will be deprived of salvation.  These [distortions] are the fruit of lack of discernment.  If instead she benefitted from the light of discernment she would see in discerning manner that the only thing that can distance her from God is being deprived of virtue; for eternal life is found in virtue mediated by the blood Christ.