May 08, 2017

Book Review - "Littlest Suffering Souls"

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer *
"Littlest Suffering Souls" official book cover / Credit: TAN Books
"Littlest Suffering Souls" official book cover / Credit: TAN Books

Rather than taking on complex political or moral issues of the day as he is so skillfully able to do, Austen Ruse, President of the Center for Family and Human Rights, in his new book Littlest Suffering Souls recounts the lives of three saintly children of our times who held a profound love for God, suffered greatly, and brought immense joy to those around them. All three children were, as Cardinal Burke states in his Foreword to the book, "examples of holiness and instruments of God's grace for those who knew them."

Brendan Kelly from Great Falls, Virginia, had Down syndrome yet his "religious precocity" was apparent at an early age. He was also diagnosed with leukemia at the tender age of two.  But Ruse observes that "along with the suffering came many graces." For example, although intentions for Brendan's health had previously been brought to Pope Saint John Paul II, Brendan was able to personally meet the Holy Father when he was just a young boy. That these two would meet was clearly divine providence, as Ruse recognizes, "[t]here are no coincidences in the often-charming world of God." The stunning picture of "two Christian gentlemen bidding each farewell" at the end of this meeting is included among the collection of beautiful pictures of Brendan and his family included in Littlest Suffering Souls. In the last hours of Brendan's life, he was confirmed as a very courageous and faithful soldier of Christ.

Like Brendan, Audrey from an early age showed a "supernatural attraction" to the faith. When she was only three years old, she threw herself into the loving arms of Mother Teresa during the saint's visit to Paris in 1986. Pictures in Littlest Suffering Souls show Audrey to have been a beautiful little blonde girl with an angelic smile. Like Brendan, Audrey was also stricken with leukemia. Even prior to her diagnosis, however, Audrey understood the value of sacrifice, suffering, and self-denial and lived it. Successfully lobbying for the dispensation to receive Communion at the early age of five, Audrey received Our Lord at Lourdes on the Feast of the Assumption. Never complaining during her grueling treatment, Audrey "united her suffering with Christ on the Cross, and she did so for the conversion of sinners, for vocations, to make reparation for offenses against the Immaculate Heart of Mary." With only a few weeks to live, Audrey too met Pope Saint John Paul II. After meeting both Saints Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II, Audrey's response to her father's question of "What more could you want?" was faith-filled:  "For Jesus to hold me in His arms."  She too was confirmed shortly before receiving God's call to His loving arms. 
   
Finally, Littlest Suffering Souls includes the story of dear Margaret Leo of Mclean, Virginia. I was fortunate to know Margaret and call upon her to intercede for my family. Margaret was confined to a wheelchair her entire life, the result of the most severe form of spina bifida.  But Margaret was in no way limited in the entrance she made into the hearts of those who met her. Margaret always paid attention to the details of a person's life. She asked when our birthdays were. She prayed for us and for our needs. Although afflicted with physical suffering beyond imagination, she offered that wide smile and loving hug that helped all of us grow deeper in our love for God, the sacraments, and one another. Margaret's faith was profound yet simple. But as Ruse so clearly notes, "The truest things are also the simplest." Margaret's presence daily at Mass was "a daily sight of devotion." Hers and her family’s commitment to the Mass inspired everyone witnessing their attendance to make more of an effort. Much like Brendan and Audrey, Margaret's confirmation was the product of her tenacious and single-minded dedication to the sacraments. 
   
Ruse notes that since Margaret's passing on July 5, 2007, continuous reminders of Christ's Mercy have comforted her family – particularly reminders of Margaret's connection and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Private devotions to Margaret and confidence in her intercession abound. Ruse mentions three cases in particular – the miraculous recovery of the father of one of her family's closest friends, the prompt diagnosis of a life-threatening kidney problem in Margaret's brother Anthony, and the full and vibrant life of another brother, Francis, who was born with the same malady that struck Margaret.
         
Austen Ruse's Littlest Suffering Souls offers much in the way of spiritual reading. The little children whose lives are highlighted are "witnesses to the proposition that all human life has meaning and dignity, even and especially those lives we may not fully understand." The stories of their joy in the midst of suffering are a great reminder that when facing whatever kind of contradiction here on earth, we need simply place our trust in Christ. Brendan of Great Falls, Audrey of La Celle Saint Cloud, and Margaret of Mclean, pray for us.

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is Legal Advisor for The Catholic Association Foundation. Her legal career has been dedicated to civil rights advocacy.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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