My friend Lisette has a blog you should read. Ok. Lourdes.
I've been to Lourdes twice (I like to think it's St. Bernadette rewarding me for taking her name at Confirmation) and while I think in some ways it bears a strong resemblance to a Catholic Disney Land (walking up to the main Basillica looks a lot like the Magic Kingdom, you wait on line to use the baths and there's incredibly tacky merchandise in every shop in town) the experience I took away from Lourdes is that suffering is a gift.
The story of Lourdes is that St. Bernadette, a young girl, saw Mary, the Mother of God in what was basically the town dump. Mary told her to drink and wash in the "spring" that was nothing more than dirt. While onlookers laughed at her simplicity, Bernadette dug with her hands through the mud and was eventually led away by her concerned family. However, a spring bubbled up that has been attributed to dozens of officially documented miracles and countless more "unofficial" ones.
A Church was built and what was once a dump is, now a destination for many Catholics but especially those seeking healing. Hundreds shuffle through the baths every day and there are several hospitals in town to accommodate the sick who are brought in on stretchers and wheelchairs and are given prominent places in processions and liturgies.
St. Bernadette died a painful death from asthma. As we know from The Song of Bernadette (capturing the heart of little Catholic girls long before "The Princess Diaries") Mary had assured her that she could not promise her happiness in this life, only in the next. So many of us pray for healing for ourselves, for our friends, from so many things. While God heals and miracles happen every day, there are also many moments where it appears that our prayers go unheard. What I realized, watching the hundreds of infirm gather at Lourdes, was the beauty of suffering and faith that there is more than this time on earth. Walking the stations of the Cross in Lourdes seemed so real, to see that those who suffer are the ones who are so closely united to Christ because they know, first hand, the depth of what His love was for us. He perservered in the midst of physical suffering that he could chosen to end at any time.
We spend so much time avoiding suffering, seeing it as a "curse" or a sign that God has forgotten us. The prominence of suffering in Lourdes made me realize the gift that it is. Not that we shouldn't work to alleviate it -- but that God is very close to those in the midst of pain because it is what he himself experienced on earth.