A STUDY conducted by Professor Barry Zuckerman of the Department of Pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine has shown that children who are read to from an early age have a greater language maturity later in life and a more harmonious emotional and social development.

However, the importance of fairy tales does not end there. Through these stories young children learn to handle their inner demons, that is, their own deep seated fears.

Fairy tales like those of Perrault and the Brothers Grimm are perfect examples of this because they contain the ideal mix of fantasy and reality which transforms the message they convey into symbols that children readily understand. Hansel and Gretel, for instance, is an excellent medicine against the fear of abandonment, Cinderella explores the dynamics of envy while Sleeping Beauty upholds the ideal of ‘good masculinity’.

Children imaginatively weave around the stories heard from mummy and daddy’s loving voice  their own story connected to their own real-life situation and are finally relieved to hear the happy ending – that there is moral order in the universe and that there is always a solution that puts everything right.

In this March issue, a month which takes us from Lent through Passiontide right to Easter Sunday, I would like to recall a tale (in honour of the child inside every single one of us) that my dear mother used to tell my brothers and I as a bedtime story during Lent: the legend of Robin Redbreast.

Jesus was breathing heavily under the Cross on His way to Calvary when a small brown bird called Robin, which was flying nearby, was drawn by the crowd gathering around the suffering man. The little bird wondered why all those people were following the man and, after a closer look, was heartbroken to see that the man was suffering great pain due to the weight of the Cross. Droplets of blood issuing from a crown of thorns that had been placed on the man’s head were trickling down along the noble features of His face.

“Where are they taking this poor man?” Robin said to himself, feeling all the more drawn by this highly poignant, bizarre spectacle.

Finally, the sad procession stopped on top of a hill called Golgotha. The soldiers escorting the condemned man, who were also carrying whips, hammers and long nails, removed the Cross from the man’s shoulders and then stripped Him. They then made Him lie on the Cross and, to the little bird’s horror, proceeded to nail the man’s hands and feet to the Cross.

Robin immediately tried to stop them by grabbing those nails with his beak but, no matter how hard he tried, he could not lift those heavy nails from the ground.

The Cross was raised and the man’s agony began in earnest. Every now and then Jesus raised His suffering eyes to heaven, which grew dimmer with each passing breath, and the little bird suffered along with Him. At a certain point the idea came to Robin that he could at least lessen the man’s suffering by removing one particularly nasty thorn that was sticking deeply into the man’s temple making Him bleed along the face. With immense effort the little bird grabbed the thorn with his beak and, with a sharp pull, managed to extract the thorn. Soon after this, however, the man died.

Robin then returned to his nest, but discovered that the plumage on his breast had been stained with blood. So Robin flew to a pond and tried to wash the blood away, but not only did the stain not go away, it actually became brighter and brighter, of a radiant ruby red colour. In the meantime Jesus was buried, but on the third day He rose again.

The Risen One was walking along a country road leading to a house where a group of His disciples had gathered in fear of the future when He realised that a small bird was flying over His head. Yes, it was that same kind-hearted little bird that had extracted the thorn from His head. Jesus recognised him from his particular flutter and by the red stain on his breast.

The Lord then blessed the bird and, to honour his goodness, determined that the royal stain would be passed on to Robin’s descendents till the end of time. In this way a new species of birds originated: the Robin Redbreast.

This wonderful tale teaches us an important spiritual truth, which is that God, despite His omnipotence, wants to need us human beings. It points out that all of us, even through a simple deed, can always alleviate the suffering of our sisters and brothers, and it leads us to ask this important question, “Am I one who merely receives or one who is also able to give?”

A blessed Easter to all of you, dear readers.

Updated on October 06 2016