The Life of Dominic Savio
Dominic Savio and John Massiglia.
There was a boy at the Oratory whose character and career bore a striking similarity to Dominic's. He had come to Turin at the same time; he had come from a little place quite close to Mondonio, so that they were practically from the one district. He had the same intentions as Dominic, to embrace the ecclesiastical state, and he was inspired with a like eagerness to advance in the science of the saints. This was John Massiglia.
He had been talking one day to his friend about their future hopes, and after their exchange of ideas Dominic said: "It will not be sufficient for us merely to desire to become priests; there are means to be adopted to acquire the virtues that are suitable to that state." John replied that he was fully aware of it, but that he had confidence that they would have the grace to acquire them, if they were chosen to be among the ministers of Jesus Christ.
There had been some special sermons and exercises in preparation for the Easter Communions, and these two had taken part in them with singular devotion. After their Communion Dominic said to his companion: "I very much desire that we should be true friends; friends, that is, in regard to the affairs of the soul. I propose that from now we each admonish the other in regard to anything that may be thought useful for our spiritual advancement. If you see anything wrong in my conduct tell me immediately, that I may correct it; or if you think of any good I ought to perform, point it out to me."
His friend promised to do so, "though," he said, "there will be no opportunity, and on the condition that you do the same for me, who am in much greater need of such an arrangement." Dominic replied that that was not the time for compliments, but that henceforth they would help each other in the progress of their soul.
From that time, Dominic Savio and John Massiglia were intimate friends, and it was a true and perfect friendship, since it was founded upon real charity, and nourished by the frequent intercommunion of those pious suggestions and experiences which are prompted only by solid virtue.
At the end of the scholastic year, after the examinations, all the boys were allowed to go to their homes for the vacation, but some always preferred to remain at the Oratory, both for the advantages of extra study and to continue their exercises of piety, which could scarcely be carried on at home. Savio and Massiglia were among the number. But I knew that both were eagerly expected by their parents to spend the holidays at home, and that a change and rest were necessary after their year's work at their books. I therefore met them both together and said:
"Why do you not prefer to go home for a time?" No answer was at first forthcoming; both began to smile. "What is the meaning of that smile?" I enquired. Then Dominic replied, "We know that our parents would like us to go home, and in one way we are anxious to go; but as long as birds are in their cage, they are safe from the hawk; once out of it, there is risk of falling into the toils of the enemy of souls."
But in spite of their good intentions and their desires to stay, I insisted on their going home for a time. They obeyed, but only stayed away the minimum time that I had appointed.
If a detailed description were to be given of this friend, it would be very similar to the one being given of Dominic himself, for they had the same ideals, and were led in the same paths of virtue. Massiglia was of far more robust build than Dominic, and his health never gave anxiety; in fact he was most promising in every way; particularly in regard to his progress in his studies. He had finished his course of rhetoric and had received the clerical habit, for which he had so ardently longed. But he was destined to enjoy his happiness only for a few months. Some indisposition, slight though it appeared to be, caused us to insist on his studies being laid aside for a time, and as he did not appear to recover he was sent to his native place, by the advice of the doctors. While there he wrote to his friend the following letter:
"My dear Friend,
" When I left the Oratory, I thought I should be away only for a short time, so that I did not think it necessary to bring any books or school things with me. But now it appears that my recovery will take time, and in fact the issue of my illness is quite uncertain. The doctor says I am improving, but I think I am gradually getting worse: we shall see which of us is right. My chief regret is that I must be away from the Oratory and from you, and have had to give up most of the exercises of piety which we used to practise. My only consolation is in the recollection of the days when we went together to Holy Communion, and the preparation we used to make for them.
"However, although we are separated in body, we shall remain united in heart and spirit. I want to ask you to get from my desk some manuscripts and the Latin copy of the Imitation of Christ, which is beside them, and send both on to me. You may imagine how tired I am of doing nothing. The doctor will not hear of my studying at all. I have plenty of time for consideration, and often wonder whether I am to be cured, or to go back again to the Oratory, or whether this is destined to be my last illness. In any case I feel ready to submit with joy to the Holy Will of God.
"If you have any suggestion to make tell me of it. Do not forget to pray for me, and if we may not have the opportunity of enjoying our former friendship I trust we shall enjoy together one day a happy eternity.
"Remember me to all my friends, particularly to the Sodality of Our Lady Immaculate.
"Your affectionate friend,
Dominic at once carried out his friend's request, and enclosed the following letter:
"My dear Massiglia,
"Your letter was a source of consolation to me, and to all your friends, for it at least showed that you were alive, a fact which we were beginning to doubt, and did not know whether to sing the Gloria Patri or the De Profundis. The things you have asked for are being sent. I will only remark that though Thomas ŕ Kempis is a good friend, he is dead and gone; you must search for him in his writings, and make his counsel living again by putting it into practice.
"I see that you are desirous for the opportunities we have here for the performance of the spiritual exercises. You are right. When I am away from the Oratory I feel the same need. I used to try to make up for it by visiting the Blessed Sacrament every day, and getting some companions to go with me if they would. Besides the Imitation I used to read the Hidden Treasure, by St. Leonard of Port Maurice. You could do the same perhaps, if you feel disposed.
"You say that you do not know whether you will return to the Oratory or not. Truth to tell, I also feel that my health is showing alarming symptoms, and I have a presentiment that I am advancing with rapid strides towards the end of my studies and of my life. We can at least pray for each other, that we may have the grace of a happy death. Whichever one of us goes to Heaven first must prepare a place for the other, and will be able to stretch out a helping hand to lead him to his heavenly home.
"May God keep us in His Grace, and help us to become saints, for we may not have long to live. All your friends are longing for your return to the Oratory and send their kind remembrances to you. For myself
"Your most affectionate friend,
This illness of young Massiglia, as we have said, appeared slight at first; more than once he seemed quite recovered; but again relapsed, until he was quite suddenly brought to the point of death.
Fr. Vafrč, who was his Director while at Mondonio, writes: "He had time to receive the last comforts of Religion, and did so with greatest edification; he died the death of the just man who leaves this world to go straight to his reward."
Savio was profoundly grieved at the death of his close friend, and although resigned to the Will of God, he mourned his loss for some time. It was almost the only occasion that I had seen his gentle face covered with the tears of sorrow. His one consolation was to pray for his friend's soul, and to get others to pray for him. More than once he said: "Massiglia has gone to join Gavio in heaven, when shall I go to join them in the bliss of Paradise?"
As long as Dominic lived, he had his friend often in mind, particularly at Mass and at the spiritual exercises; he never ceased to recommend to God the soul of that friend, who, he felt, had been of such assistance to him. In fact this loss had more serious results than one would think, for it seriously affected the already weakened frame of the friend and his health, which had never been robust.