Today's feast of Our Lady of Lourdes closes the 150th anniversary celebration of these marvelous apparitions. Pope John Paul also established this day for the observance of the "World Day of the Sick." It's not the "Day of Prayer for the Sick," but precisely the "Day of the Sick." This is a way of emphasizing that suffering is not only a condition from which hapless victims need to be rescued or in which they should be at least supported by our thoughtfulness: dedicating a day to the sick themselves proclaims, in the words of this year's Papal message, that "human life is beautiful and should be lived in fullness even when it is weak and shrouded by the mystery of suffering."
Even though we may not spontaneously apply the word "weak" to the Apostle, St. Paul knew about weakness and suffering. Remember that "thorn in the flesh"? No one knows what it was; all we can tell from Paul's language is that it caused him real suffering over a long period of time. And he prayed to be delivered from it! Instead, he was told, "My power is made perfect in weakness." And so Paul's paradoxical response was to "boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me, for when I am weak, then I am strong."
There are people like Paul who live their weakness in a priestly spirit, "offering it up" the way St. Therese offered her weary steps so that a missionary would be strengthened by her weakness to walk through danger to bring the Gospel to new peoples. In the encyclical on hope, Pope Benedict invites us to take up this practice again, letting our weakness (whatever form it takes) be transformed into the "sufferings of Christ for the sake of his Body, the Church."
(Other times in this blog I have mentioned the good work of the Catholic organization of people with chronic suffering; it's kind of a pen-pal support group for the mutual encouragement of this same "missionary attitude" in dealing with suffering: see www.cusan.org.)