It seldom happens that one discovers a book covering the concept of redemptive suffering in children. In Austin Ruse’s new book, Littlest Suffering Souls: Children Whose Short Lives Point Us to Christ, readers glean an important and honest glimpse into the innocence and purity of children who learned deep spiritual truths through their own suffering and even deaths.
Ruse does a fantastic job paving the way for the stories of three children who demonstrated heroic virtue through their specific trials. He begins by explaining that, while it is rather uncommon to find child saints who were not martyred, it’s not entirely impossible. Three children in history – Little Nellie of Holy God, Ven. Antonietta Meo, and Mary Ann Long – are examples Ruse uses to allow the reader to be captivated by the incredible tales of how some children respond to their suffering.
Ruse also aptly differentiates between pain and suffering, thus allowing the reader to realize that pain is the physical or mental reaction in our bodies, but suffering is what we actually choose to do with that pain. This is the crux of redemptive suffering and what it means to suffer well.
Most of us would admit that we don’t suffer well, that we struggle to offer up our bodily afflictions and other interior or exterior trials. We often fight against our concupiscence, which tells us to flee from suffering rather than to unite them to the Cross for a greater purpose. The three modern-day children Ruse introduces to the reader are powerful witnesses to everyone – adults and children alike – of total surrender to God’s will, silently suffering through the virtue of humility, remaining joyful in the midst of excruciating pain, and understanding their unique role in salvific history.
Truthfully, I don’t see how a person could read this book without experiencing profound spiritual change in their own lives. The wisdom from these children, the holiness, the journeys they endured in their short lives is beyond imaginable. For them, life wasn’t about capricious child’s play. It wasn’t meant to be lived for their own pleasure. Instead, they realized that their life was about attaining Heaven, and so they took that task seriously in small and grand ways.
I think what’s most powerful about these children’s lives is precisely because they were children. They were innocent. Some of them received the Sacraments early, because they were so spiritually advanced. We often think of children as victims, and there is a term that is occasionally used to describe children who endure painful cancer treatments or battle rare diseases – victim soul.
Indeed, these children could be described as victim souls, but not in the sense that they were victims of life or circumstance. They were not trapped without free will. They were victims of love. In other words, God’s love so captivated them that they freely and unabashedly chose to give everything to Jesus in order to be with Him forever in Heaven.
Because of Ruse’s book, I believe many lives will be permanently changed. His message is a timely and urgent one in our modern world that views disability, suffering, and death – especially among children – as pointless and worth exterminating. Littlest Suffering Souls is an incredibly pro-life book suitable for prayer, contemplation, and even discussion within families.
Text (c) Jeannie Ewing, all rights reserved.