Littlest Suffering Souls:
Children Whose Short Lives Point Us to
TAN Books (30 March 2017)
(Also on Kindle)
I was keen to review this work for many reasons, one being the number of heroic children with chronic disabilities and their heroic parents that I have encountered. Not all those children had the same intense faith as the children described in this utterly moving book but they were extraordinary in their way. Another reason is because I want to counter celebrity atheist Stephen Fry's argument against the existence of God, namely, the sufferings and death of innocents. His disciples clearly think that his is the best argument ever. They presumably have not heard of Dostoyevsky, C S Lewis or the the author of the Book of Job who tackle the same issue in an at least equally intelligent way.
The book may not be a philosophical response to the mystery of suffering but it is compelling. Take the example of Brendan Kelly, a person with Down's Syndrome who developed leukaemia at the age of two. Yes, there was much suffering. But there was also the mystery of grace working in him and grace being granted to others through his intercession.He had the great blessing of meeting the philosopher of suffering, Saint John Paul.
Then there was Audrey, a little child with tremendous faith. She met Saint Teresa of Calcutta. And she met Saint John Paul! Because of her strong faith, she was able to receive Holy Communion at the age of five. She united her many sufferings to those of Christ on the Cross. Like Saint Jacinta, she did so in reparation for offences against the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She simply asked Jesus to hold her in his arms. Most often, parents teach their children. But it was Audrey who instructed her nominally Catholic parents.
Then there is Margaret who, because of severe spina bifida , required a wheelchair throughout her brief life. So many of us could have fallen into self-pity in a similar situation. Not Margaret, who was passionately interested in others. Hers was a deep and simple faith. Like St Margaret, she was devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.Since her death in 2007, many miracles through her intercession have been reported.
For atheists like Stephen Fry, the brief lives of Brendan, Audrey and Margaret are quite meaningless. They did not advance the world in any material way. But change the world for better they most certainly did. Certainly, their lives are moving. But there is a calmness associated with them, or what C S Lewis would have called "joy." Their complete trust in God reminds us that God is in control, no matter what.
A chapter is dedicated to Little Nellie of Holy God, an Irish girl who died aged just four. So holy that she influenced the great Pope Saint Pius X.
What a wonderful book. And a great birthday gift for Stephen Fry.
Reviewed by Dr Pravin Thevathasan