The Life of Dominic Savio
IT will be rightly conjectured that many reasons forbade that Dominic should undertake any extraordinary penance: there was his age (he was only fourteen or fifteen); there was his delicate health; there was the innocence of his life. But he knew that it is difficult to maintain fervour and purity of soul without some austerity, and this consideration made him ready for penances and mortification; and by mortifications I do not here allude to the insults and unpleasantness that he had to bear, or to his continual restraint over his senses, whether in class, study or recreation. This form of penance was a habit with him.
I refer now to actual penances, painful to the body. In his fervour, and his devotion to the Mother of God, he had resolved to fast on bread and water every Saturday; but his confessor forbade it; he wished to fast during Lent; but after a week it came to the knowledge of the Director of the House, and that too was forbidden. He wished at least to do without breakfast, but consideration for his health made it prudent to forbid that also. What then was he to do to satisfy his desire for some bodily mortifications. As he was forbidden to do anything that affected his food, he began to afflict his body in other ways. He put some some sharp things into his bed, so that he might not be able to repose in comfort: he wanted a kind of hair shirt; but all these things were soon prohibited. He thought of something else. During the autumn and winter he managed to escape having extra blankets for his bed, so that during the cold of January he had only the summer coverings on his bed. This was discovered, because, one morning he was unwell, and had to remain in bed; and when the Director came to see him, he saw at once that he had insufficient covering for that severe weather. "Why did you do this?" the Director asked, "did you want to die of cold?"
"Oh, I shall not die of cold," he answered. "When in the stable at Bethlehem, or hanging on the Cross, Our Lord had less to cover Him than I have now." He was then forbidden to undertake any penance at all without express permission; and this command, though difficult, was obeyed.
Later on I saw that he was in some difficulty. He said he could not reconcile the command of the Gospel to do penance, with the prohibition he had received. "The penance God wishes from you," I said, "is simply obedience. If you obey, that will suffice for everything."
"Can you not allow me to do some other penance?"
"The only penance you are to do, is to bear patiently all that God sends you in this life."
"But those things must be put up with by necessity."
"Very well," I replied, "whatever you have to suffer by necessity, offer it to God, and it will become a virtue, and meritorious in the sight of God."
This counsel comforted his misgivings and he was never disturbed in that way again.