The Thorn and the Hemorrhage

As I was reviewing this week’s scripture readings I came across quite a juxtaposition between the reading from the second letter to the Corinthians on Sunday (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) in which St. Paul speaks of a “thorn in the flesh” and the Gospel of Matthew on Monday (Matthew 9:18-26) in which a woman who has suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years reaches out to Jesus for healing.

In the first instance, St. Paul refers to an on-going trial in his life. He has begged the Lord “three times . . . that it might leave [him], but he has answered . . .‘My grace is enough for you.’” Basically, St. Paul has asked the Lord for help and the Lord has said, “No, this is something that you need to deal with. The suffering has a purpose. I am with you, but you need to endure and continue to be faithful.

In the second instance, the woman has suffered for twelve years. Not only has she suffered physically, but spiritually as well, for in the Jewish tradition she was ritually unclean. Yet, she summons every ounce of her courage and reaches out to Jesus, believing that if she just touches his cloak that she will be healed. What faith she demonstrates! And she is rewarded for that faith. “Jesus turned round and saw her; and he said to her, ‘Courage, my daughter, your faith has saved you.’”

Both St. Paul and the woman have faith. Both have problems that are causing them great pain and suffering. Yet, one is healed and one is told to keep on bearing the burden. What is the lesson for us in these two scripture readings? The first lesson is that we need to ask the Lord for help. What are the thorns in our own lives? We all have some – the nagging problems that won’t seem to go away no matter what we do. These problems may be physical difficulties, mental or emotional struggles, or a struggle with temptation and sin. These problems may even be issues we have with another person in our lives. Whatever the particular thorn might be, we need to bring it to the Lord in prayer. We need to humble ourselves and, emulating the woman’s courage and faith, believe that God will heal us.

But, what if He doesn’t? What if like St. Paul, He looks at our pain and difficulties, and tells us, “I’m sorry. My grace is with you, but this suffering is something that you need to go through. There is a lesson here for you, and you need to learn it.” What do we do then? I believe that the answer is that we keep praying. We can accept the answer and accept the suffering while continuing to bring it to God in prayer, asking for help and healing. I found it interesting that St. Paul had asked the Lord for help three times. I understand that St. Paul had a much closer communication channel with the Lord than I do, but I have found in my life that there are times when I have had to pray to God for years to finally get peace and resolution to an issue. Yes, God had a lesson for me to learn, and in hindsight, I can appreciate the need for the suffering. I believe that the continued prayer helped me have the grace to endure the suffering, helped me learn the lesson that I needed to learn, and helped the resolution finally occur, often in better ways than I could ever imagine. God knows what is best for us. We simply need to have courage and always ask for help.

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur


Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur writes from western Massachusetts where she lives with her husband and two sons. A Senior Editor with Catholic, she blogs at

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  • Cooky642

    May I suggest that, just as we “need to have courage and always ask for help”, we also need to learn to take “no” for an answer?

    As parents, we know that our children often ask for things that are not good for them. The 5-yr-old wants cookies a half-hour before dinner. The 10-yr-old wants to play Nintendo instead of doing homework. The 15-yr-old wants to surf the web without parental oversight. We have no problem telling our children that some of the things they want are not good for them and we won’t allow it. So, why do we have such a hard time believing that God sees some things as “not good” for us, and says “no”? Is it because we see God as some cosmic vending machine: put in the proper number of prayers, pull the lever, and out comes what you want?

    St. Paul QUIT asking after the Lord told him His grace was sufficient. Why do we have so much trouble saying to God, “This seems like a good thing, but if You see that it’s not, I trust Your judgement…..and thank You for loving me enough to say “no”!

  • pfmacarthur


    I agree with you. There are certainly times when God says “No” for our own benefit, but as you pointed out, God told St. Paul that his grace was sufficient. If I am going through a difficult time, I’m going to continue praying for that grace! I always pray that God’s will be done in a given situation and that I accept that will, but I need the ongoing grace to do that when life is hard.

    Thank you for your comments!


  • momof11

    I took the “have courage and and always ask for help” to be an acceptance of the “no” alomg the lines of “Okay Lord, I know I have to continue to bear this cross, I need your help to do so.” A “no” to a request does not mean we become stoic in dealing with the problem by ourself and no longer turn to God for the grace needed. We must remain in a position of begging and acknowledge our neediness for God.

  • Cooky642

    Patrice, thanks for your reply. If you took it as a criticism, I apologize: that was not my intention. The idea of the “cosmic vending machine” is one of my pet peeves, and I encounter it everywhere; so I was responding as much to myself as to you. I did appreciate your article, and I have a genuine reply.

    I have an assortment of medical problems that would fill a rather ugly book! Some of them are my own fault (smoking = emphysema) and some not (both an aortic and a lumbar stenosis = disability). While I have no doubt that God has graced me with these problems for my own good and the good of others (I get to “offer it up”!), I nevertheless present myself any time the Church offers Prayers for the Sick. I believe that God can and will heal me in His own good time and in His own good way, and I don’t ever want to be in a position where God could say to me, “Y’know, I was prepared to heal you in such-and-such a circumstance, but you weren’t there!” (I’m only being slightly facetious.) On the other hand, if it is His will that I struggle under these conditions, then so be it. If we truly see His Will as the only perfect good, why would we want (much less ask for) anything else?

  • Paul

    It is an interesting contrast between the spiritual level of the ex-Pharasee Paul and the woman.
    He who had thought himself the epitome of the rigteous man now considered it all dross and she being unclean was cut off from the communal liturgical worship feels unworthy to approach Jesus directly. Look how her faith in Jesus heals her, he then turns to recognize her publicly as being healed restoring her to the community.

    How many people wander around unclean, living in their mortal sins. And does not Jesus seek to bring them back to communion with the words “I absolve you from your sins…” and so he has established a priesthood to act in his person to put a face on that forgiveness a forgiveness that the apostle Paul new well.