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   The Life of Dominic Savio

  Chapter XXI  

Dominic's Interest in the Sick. He had to Leave the Oratory for Change of Air. His Parting Words.

Dominic's gradual decline was not so rapid or so marked as to cause him to be continually in bed; he sometimes went into the class room, or the study, or helped in some light domestic work, as the doctor had suggested; but his chief delight was to attend on his sick companions whenever there chanced to be any. But he seemed to derive such pleasure from it that he doubted whether it could be meritorious in the sight of God.

However, while he waited upon their needs he was particularly pleased to be able to assist them in some spiritual way, and was very skilful in his method of so doing. He remarked to one companion that the poor body could not last for ever, so that it had to become weak some time or other and gradually be consumed; but then the soul which had been set free would go to its everlasting home, and enjoy an eternal happiness. If the medicine were distasteful, he would remark to the sick boy that it was not nearly as bad as the gall and vinegar of our Divine Lord, and that it was ordained by God that these remedies should be provided for the body.

Dominic's own health had already made it evident that he would have to leave the Oratory and go home for his native air. He had a great repugnance to this, for it interrupted his practices of piety; and in fact I had sent him to his home just before this, but he only remained there a few days and then returned to the Oratory. I must own that our regret was mutual and I would have made every sacrifice to keep him amongst us; I regarded him with the affection that a father has towards the best beloved of his sons. But the recommendations of the doctors made it clear that it would be against all prudence to keep him longer at the Oratory, especially as he had been troubled with a severe and obstinate cough for some days.

Notice was accordingly sent to his father and the day for his departure was fixed for March 1st, 1857. In order to make a sacrifice of his will to God, Dominic submitted to this arrangement, for he would have much rather ended his days at the Oratory. Somebody suggested to him that it would not be for long, and that he would return quite well and be able to continue his studies. But Dominic was under no misapprehension; he replied that he was going away and he knew quite well that he would never return.

On the evening before his departure he stayed with me a long time, so much so that he had no wish to leave me. He had a great many questions to ask, concerning chiefly his own method of action as an invalid, which now he was, and how he might make that state meritorious. I told him that he should offer his illness and his life to God. He was anxious about his past faults and whether I thought he would be saved. I assured him that whatever he might have committed was forgiven, and that he need have no fear of being saved. In regard to temptations, I counselled him to reply to the tempter that he had already given his soul to Our Lord, who had redeemed it with His Precious Blood.

He had many further questions about dying and about Heaven, and he seemed like one who had his foot upon the threshold of Heaven and wanted to know beforehand what it was like.

The day for his departure happened to be the day for the exercises of a happy death, and these he made with the utmost fervour. In fact I have no words in which to describe the devotion with which he approached the Sacraments, though it made a deep impression on me. He regarded these exercises as his actual preparation for death, and thought that perhaps his end might come at any moment.

His few preparations for departure were soon made, though they were carried out with that scrupulous care which showed that he regarded them as the last acts he would do at the Oratory. He went to each of his companions to say goodbye, and to several he gave a little message of advice or encouragement or recommendation. To one boy he owed a few pence. He called to him and said: "Come let us put our accounts right, or else there may be trouble in settling accounts with God." To his associates in the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception he had some special advice to give, and encouraged them always to have the greatest confidence in Our Lady.

When he was going he turned to me and said: "Then you will not have my body with you, and I must needs take it to Mondonio? It would have been but a brief inconvenience and then all would be over . . . . But the Will of God be done. If you go to Rome do not forget the message I have given you concerning England; pray that I may have a happy death, and that we may see each other again in Heaven.

We had reached the door of the Oratory leading out to the street. He still had hold of my hand, but he turned to his companions and said: "Goodbye, my friends, pray for me, and may we meet again in Heaven where there are no more partings." Just as he was leaving he said to me: "I would like a present as a souvenir." I asked him what he would prefer to have, a book for example? "No, something better than that." I thought perhaps he wanted something for his journey and suggested it to him. He replied: "Yes, it is exactly that, something for the journey to eternity. You have spoken of a plenary indulgence from the Pope, for those who are dying; I should like to participate in that."

I said I would willingly insert his name amongst those who should enjoy that privilege which I had obtained especially from Rome.

Thus he left the Oratory where he had spent the last three years. They had been three happy years for the boy, three years of continual edification for his companions and even for his superiors; he had left it now to return no more.

His parting salutations, so unusual in a boy, had astonished all of us. We knew that he suffered a good deal from his illness, but as he was nearly always up and about, we were not accustomed to regard it as causing immediate anxiety. His cheerful disposition also went far to conceal his sufferings. Therefore, although we were inclined to take his parting words seriously, and were greatly grieved at them, we still had hopes that he would return and continue his studies. But the sequel proved otherwise. He was ready for Heaven; during the few years of his boyhood he had merited the reward of the just, and it seemed that God designed to take him to Himself in the spring time of his life, and before he should encounter those dangers which bring shipwreck often even to the purest souls.