Suffer Little Children

Introduction

Today, children suffer, as they have suffered since their first existence. We were born into the world as utterly dependent little souls. We relied on the love, kindness, selflessness and consideration of others for our survival, in order that we might one day mature into adults with the ability to provide for other children. It seems inconceivable that as mankind has progressed over the centuries, with wondrous inventions almost daily, and bold new insights into the meaning and sacredness of life, he has still somehow contrived to inflict horrendous suffering on those most vulnerable in society, particularly the very young. In this have we learned nothing at all?

The suffering of children in The Bible

As mankind has developed and proliferated, so too has the many forms of suffering inflicted upon all humans, especially our children. We find several examples in Sacred Scripture. When we read about floods and famines, plagues, pestilences and persecutions in biblical times, we know from parallels today, how innocent children suffered horribly. The intransigence of rulers, in defiance of God, resulted in the needless loss of young lives (The Passover, Exodus 12:21-28).

Jesus suffered as an infant. He was denied the advantage of being born in His own home, delivered in harsh surroundings, to young, terrorised parents. Within days, He was bundled up and carried hastily in flight to Egypt, ahead of the murderous hoards of Herod's henchmen, in order that He might escape the terrifying slaughter of innocent children, at the behest of a power-mad monarch (Matthew 2:13-23).

Holy Children

Even the growth of Christianity throughout the ages has not deterred the sometimes relentless march of death over tiny lives. But throughout the course of history, many children have given us holy examples of how to live a life for God. They have shown us the meaning of suffering and how to live and cope with it and to use it as a means to salvation.

Maria Goretti died in Italy, in 1902 because she rebuffed the sexual advances of a much older teenager. She gave the world a model example of suffering for purity. She was only eleven years of age. Mari Carmen Gonzalez-Valero died from scarlet fever in Spain, in 1939. She had suffered untold agonies with great patience and an admirable love of God. She was in her ninth year when she was laid to rest. Saint Paolo Lang Fu, a young Chinese martyr, died at nine years of age, along with his mother, for refusing to renounce his faith. Fathi Abboud Baladi, died in Lebanon, in 1980, at the age of 19 years. He was found shot to death in war-torn Beirut, having lead a life of devotion to his Christian faith, praying for 'the weak, the hungry, the miserable and prisoners'. Lucas da Rocha Silva, died in 2003, at the age of nine years. A little Brazilian boy, he had endured interminable suffering since 2000 with cancer. He asked his mother why he had come into the world to suffer so much. His mother explained that God had asked that of him, and that he was to accept it. He accepted his cross without rebellion.

These are but a small few of thousands of children who knew the meaning of suffering and embraced it with love of God and with joy enduring all for the love of God.

Children Suffering Today

How much pain is mankind directly responsible for? How much of it could he prevent. Today, millions of children around the world are suffering terribly. They do not have a choice; suffering has become their lot. On Feb.05,2014, the first UN report on children in Syria’s civil war paints a picture of ‘unspeakable’ horrors. It states that Syrian children have been subjected to “unspeakable” suffering in the nearly three years of war, with the Government and allied militia responsible for countless killings, maimings and torture. The report also condemns those who recruit 'youngsters' for combat and the use of terror tactics in civilian areas. Perhaps it is naive to suppose that all countries and parties involved in bloodshed through wars, could call a ceasefire at midnight, tonight.

Would it also not be possible to ensure that every man, woman and child has enough to eat, through more philanthropic food production policies? Surely mass exploitation of children through work and the desire to fulfill baser human needs are wrongs that require to be eradicated at their earliest detections? It is the “duty of the Christian community to intervene in such dramatic circumstances.”

There has and always will be sickness, yes; and we probably require more surgeons, doctors and nurses to save lives and to care for those who require attention; but are health policies being deliberately stymied by narrow-mindedness, unrealistic work practices and greed?

Is Suffering Necessary?

To reconcile to Himself all who were destined to die because of sin, God took the loving initiative of sending His Son that he might sacrifice himself for sinners. The entire life of Christ was a free offering to the Father to carry out His plan of salvation. He gave "his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45) and in this way he reconciled all of humanity with God.

St. Matthew tells us to renounce self, to take up our cross and to follow Jesus. (Matthew 16:24). The three children of Fatima, Lucia dos Santos and Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto, had been asked by the Blessed Virgin Mary, when she first appeared to them in 1917: "Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and to bear all the sufferings He wills to send?" The three children replied: "Yes, we are willing." Their 'yes was a living example of Matthew's Gospel message.

In The Imitation of Christ, Thomas Á Kempis tells us: "In the cross is salvation, in the cross is life; in the cross is defence from enemies, in the cross heaven's sweetness is outpoured; in the cross is strength of mind, in the cross is joy of spirit; in the cross is highest virtue, in the cross is perfect holiness. There is no salvation for the soul nor hope of eternal life except in the cross. Take up your cross then, and follow Jesus, and you will enter eternal life." (X11, On the royal way of the holy cross).

As seen earlier in the example of the holy children they seem to grasp the meaning of suffering with sweet simplicity and in their young years are able to suffer with a pure love for God. It is their contemplation of God, in their purity and innocence that brings about an acceptance to carry their cross. Their holy little lives are so conformed to the will of God that their "yes" joins in Jesus and Mary's "yes".

In the words of Pope Francis "a Christian is called to endure suffering just like Jesus, “without complaint; endure in peace.”

Intention and prayers

This month we pray for all suffering children and young people;

We ask God to give them the grace to carry their cross;

We pray for an end to unnecessary suffering;

We pray for those who inflict suffering upon them;

We pray for those who alleviate their suffering;

We offer to God all the suffering endured by children and young people around the world.

 

References:

Young Faces of Holiness by Ann Ball, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, 2004.

Vatican City, Feb 9, 2009 - In preparation for the 17th World Day of the Sick on February 11, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI released his annual message.

2013-09-12 Vatican Radio, Thursday morning at Mass at the Casa Santa Marta.