Dr. Neal, Thank you for sharing your story. I was moved. It helped me realize more fully that the spiritual realm is immanent and accessible at all times, not just for special people some of the time. I am adding an excerpt from the biography of St. Catherine of Siena -- I am a Catholic convert (from Enlightenment Philosophy) and St. Catherine was the last witness, in a series, who finally helped me make up my mind. St. Catherine is one of those people who died twice. She discussed the experience with her confessor and friend, Raimundo de Capua. Thank you again -- John Reed.
…after the holy virgin’s body had endured the Passion, which lasted several days, of course her physical powers were greatly weakened, but the love in her heart was increased. In undergoing that most bitter Passion, she had in fact a tangible experience of how much the Lord had loved her and the whole human race, for there was kindled in her heart such a violence of charity and love that it was not possible for her heart to remain whole and not break in two. The same thing happens when a pot is filled with fermenting liquor; the repressed force, finding itself hemmed in, cracks the pot and the liquid rushes out because there was not a proper balance between the contents and the container.
But why am I wasting time on comparisons? The force of this love was such that the virgin’s heart broke in two down the middle, and so, with the vital veins broken, solely through the vehemence of the divine love, and through that alone, she expired. Do you find this impossible to believe, reader? You must realize that many people were present at her death, and some of them are still alive. It was they who first told me about it; I shall give their names later.
[After learning of this incident, Raimundo sought-out Catherine]
I went off to see her in state of the utmost concern, and did all I could to find out what she was thinking, imploring her to tell me the truth. Instead of answering me, she burst into tears. After a while she said, “Father, would you feel sorry for a soul that had been freed from a dark prison, seen a light that made her blissfully happy, and then was once again locked up in darkness? That unhappy person is me! And it all happened to me because of my own fault, God’s providence having so decreed.” These words increased my curiosity to know how anything so portentous had happened to her, and I said, “Mother, was your soul really separated from your body?” She replied, “The fire of Divine Love and the longing to be united with Him I love had burned up so high that even if my heart had been made of stone or steel it would have been split apart in just the same way.
I am convinced that no created thing could have made my heart proof against the violence of that love. So you can take it as certain that my heart broke from top to bottom and split apart, solely as a result of the violence of that love, and I still seem able to feel the wound that splitting apart made. This will give you some idea whether my soul was separated from by body. And I saw divine mysteries that no living soul can utter because memory has no hold over them and there are no words capable of describing things so sublime: any words that were used would be like mud compared with gold. One thing I do retain from the experience, however, is this; that whenever I hear people talking about what happened to me I get very upset, because it reminds me of what a worthless state I have been reduced to after rising to such heights of nobility; and the only way my disappointment can express itself is in tears.”
On hearing this, desirous as I was to learn the most minute details of what had happened to her, I said, “Mother, you never keep any secrets from me; well, then, I beg you, describe this miraculous event to me down to the last detail.” She said: “In those days, after many ecstasies and visions and after receiving many spiritual favours from the Lord, I fell ill, entirely overcome by love of Him, and had to go to bed, where I prayed to him continuously to take me from the body of this death, that I might be more closely united with Him. I did not obtain this, but I did finally manage to get Him to communicate the pains that He had felt to me, in so far as I was able to bear them.”
Then she told me what I have related above about the Lord’s Passion. She went on: “From these teachings about His Passion I got a much clearer idea of how much my Creator had loved me, and this so increased my love that I languished to the point of wanting only one thing, that my soul should depart from my body. Each day He Himself increased the fire that He had lit within my heart until it could bear it no longer, and the love became as strong as death: then the heart broke to two, as I said, and my soul was set free from this flesh of mine. But unfortunately for all too short a time!”
“How long,” I asked, “did your soul remain outside the body?” “Those who saw my death,” she answered, “say that four hours elapsed between the time I expired and the time I came back to life. Quite a lot of people in the neighborhood went and told my mother and family the sad news. But my soul, which believed it had entered eternity, lost all account of time.”
“And during those hours, Mother, what did you see?” I asked. “How did you soul come back in to the body? Tell me all about it: don’t hide anything from me.”
“Father,” Catherine said, “my soul saw and understood everything in the other world that to us is invisible: that is to say, the glory of the Saints and the pains of sinners. I have already told you: the memory cannot keep anything of it and words are not adequate to describe it; but as far as I can I will try to tell you about. You can be certain, then, that my soul contemplated the Divine Essence; that is why I am now always so discontented with being in the prison of the body. If I was not sustained by love of Him and love of my fellow-men, for whom He sent me back into the world, I should die of misery. Nevertheless, it is infinite comfort to me to know that I suffer what I do suffer: it is through suffering that I shall enjoy a more sublime vision of God. For this reason alone, my tribulations do not weigh on me; in fact they bring comfort to my soul, as you and the others who are with me can witness daily.”
[describes souls in hell]
Having come to the end of this aside, she returned to her main them. “While my soul was seeing all these things, the Heavenly Bridegroom, whom I believed myself to be possessing fully, said to my soul, ‘Do you see how much glory is lost by those who offend against me, and what torments they are punished with? Then return to life and make them understand their errors, the danger and the harm they do.’ And as my soul showed itself highly reluctant to do this, the Lord went on, ‘The salvation of many souls makes it necessary for you to go back! You must change your present way of life; your cell must not be a home to you any longer; instead, for the good of souls you will have to leave even your own city. I shall be with you always, in your goings out and your comings in, and you will carry my doctrine and the honour of my name to high and low, to lay folk, clerics and religious. I shall put a kind of wisdom in your mouth that none will be able to resist. I will lead you before Popes, before the Heads of the Christian Church and its people; and through the weak, as is my custom, I shall humble the pride of the powerful.’ While God was speaking thus to my soul in a spiritual or intellectual way, it suddenly, in a way I cannot understand or describe, found itself back in the body, and as soon as it realized this, it was assailed by unbearable misery, and of three days and three nights I could to nothing but weep; and even now when I think back on that experience I still feel I must cry.”
“Don’t be surprised at that, Father! The surprising thing is rather that my heart is not broken anew with misery every day, considering the sublime degree of glory I possessed, which now alas has forsaken me. The purpose behind all that experience was the salvation of my fellow-men; so no one must be scandalized if I love with a love without equal those whom the Lord had it my task to correct and lead from the false way to the true after buying them at the highest of all prices. For their sake I have been separated from the Lord, and His glory has been withdrawn from me for who knows how long? Hence, as St. Paul said, they are my glory, crown and joy! I say this to you,” she concluded, “so as to remove the thorn from your heart that others have in their hearts too, who grumble because I am everyone’s friend.”
From The Life of St. Catherine of Siena, by Raimundo de Capua.