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27th Sunday of the Year
Genesis 2:18–24; Hebrews 2:9–11; Mark 10:2–16

Rediscover Wonder
A childlike wonder is at the heart of all prayer and worship.

Some years ago the Chicago Tribune carried an article
entitled “Taking a Walk with My Grandson,”
by Amelia Dahl. It was written in dialogue form and went something like this:

Ricky     Grandma, why do trees take their clothes off at
the end of summer?

Grandma     Because they get worn out and must be
exchanged for new ones.

Ricky         Where do their new clothes come from?

Grandma     From underneath the ground. Deep down,
mother nature is busy preparing a new spring wardrobe for them.

Ricky     Grandma, did you ever notice that the sky looks
like an upside-down lake?

Grandma     And those little white clouds look like sailboats,
don’t they?

Ricky         I wonder where they’re sailing to.

Grandma     Maybe to a cloud meeting.
Ricky        What would they do there?

Grandma     Probably decide if the earth needs more rain.

Ricky     Gee, God thinks of everything, doesn’t he,

That charming dialogue between Ricky and his grandma illustrates one of the points Jesus makes in today’s gospel:
“Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child
will never enter it.” Mark 10:15

Ricky’s grandma is a perfect model of an adult who has not lost her sense of childlike wonder.

To wonder means to see things as children see them.
It means to ask the same questions about them that children ask.

To wonder means to see things as if we were looking at them for the first time. It means to see things with the freshness they had when they first tumbled bright and new and unspoiled from the creative hand of God.

To wonder is to look at a field of wet grass after a rain and see the footprints of God. It is to look into the eyes of a child and see the fingerprints of God.

Agood example of what we are talking about is found in Charles Colson’s book Born Again. Recall that Colson was
one of the men who was convicted in the Wategate scandal of the 1970s. He later experienced a religious conversion that has left its mark on him to this day.

In one of the episodes of his book, Colson takes us back 20 years to a happy summer vacation he spent with his two young boys. He brought them a 14-foot sailboat and took it out to the lake. When they arrived at the lake, a gentle summer rain was falling. But this didn’t dampen their spirits.

As they shoved off from the pier, the only sound that could be heard was that of rippling water under the hull of the boat
and of the wet sail flapping in the wind. Colson’s ten-year-old son, Chris, was in control of the boat.

When the boy realized that he was the skipper, the most marvelous look came over his face. And his eyes flashed with excitement of knowing that in his two hands he was holding the power of the wind.

As Colson looked into his son’s face and eyes, he himself became transfixed. And then something strange happened.
He found himself talking to God.
He still remembers his words:

“Thank you, God, for giving me this son, for giving us this wonderful moment. Just looking now into this boy’s eyes
fulfills my life. Whatever happens in the future, even if I die tomorrow, my life is complete and full. Thank you!”

Afterward Colson was amazed and startled at what he had done. Even though he didn’t believe in a personal God,
he had spontaneously spoken to him as a person. In the joy of the moment his heart bypassed his mind and affirmed the existence of a personal God.

In his own words, he discovered that “communication with this unproven God was possible.” Why else had he spoken to him unless deep down he was aware that
“someone, somewhere, was listening.”

Indeed, on that rainy summer afternoon, Colson discovered for himself something that spiritual writers have always maintained: Wonder lies at the heart of all prayer and worship.

That brings us to the practical message that is contained in today’s gospel.

If we are finding it hard to pray or worship,
maybe it’s because we have let our sense of childlike wonder go behind a cloud.

Maybe it’s because we haven’t taken seriously Jesus’ words in today’s gospel: “Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of god like a child will never enter it.” Mark 10:15

May be it’s because we have lost our sense of childlike wonder at the world.
Maybe it’s because it’s been too long since we’ve had a long walk and talk with one of our children or grandchildren.

The modern novelist John Updike warns us what can happen when we lose touch with the younger members of God’s family. He says:
“[If we adults] do not keep on speaking terms with children,” we cease being human beings
“and become machines for eating and earning money.”

“The tragedy of life,” said the great missionary Albert Schweitzer, “is what dies inside us while we live.”

When our sense of wonder begins to die,
then our sense of prayer and worship also begins to die.

This is the important, practical word that Jesus speaks to each of us through today’s gospel.

Let’s close with a prayer.
Please follow along with me in silence:

God, help us keep our sense of wonder. Keep us from becoming blind to your fingerprints in the world around us,
especially in the eyes and faces of children.

Help us keep in touch with the little people around us so that we won’t forget what Jesus meant when he said,
“Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child
will never enter it.” Mark 10:15

Help us discover again how to wonder, so that through our wonder we may discover anew how to pray and worship.

We make our prayer through Jesus the Lord,
who live and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God for ever and ever.

Series II
27th Sunday of the Year
Genesis 2:18–24; Hebrews 2:9–11; Mark 10:2–16

Mother Hale
What kind of mark are we leaving on the children we meet in life?

Lorraine Hale pulled up to a traffic light at an intersection in Harlem. On the sidewalk, next to the light, she saw a young female junkie who was nodding out. Cradled in the junkie’s arms was a tiny baby.

The light turned green and Lorraine drove on.
Then something told her to go back to the light.
She turned around, went back, and said to the junkie:

“Look, you’ve really got a problem, and you need help.
Take your baby to my mother’s house. She’ll take care of it for you.’’

The junkie looked at her but didn’t understand.
Lorraine repeated her words about three times.
Then she wrote her mother’s address on a piece of paper and put it in the junkie’s hand.

The next morning the junkie showed up at the Hale house.
The baby was shaking, its nose was running, and it had a bad case of diarrhea. The baby was suffering from drug withdrawal.

Babies born to mothers who are junkies come into life as drug addicts. They become addicted in their mother’s womb before they are born.

Lorraine’s mother, known to her neighbors as Mother Hale,
took the baby and nursed it through the painful period of withdrawal.

Mother Hale didn’t know it then, but that single act of kindness would change her life.

Soon word got around, and other junkies showed up on her doorstep with their babies. At one time Mother Hale had over 20 babies in her home. And at another time she ran out of money after buying food and clothing for them. But she managed to scrape by.

Over a period of 16 years, Mother Hale has helped over 600 babies withdraw from drugs.
“It usually takes about four to six weeks,’’ she says.
“They reach out to you in pain and cry, and all you can do is hold them and love them.’’

Then one day something else happened to Mother Hale
that changed her life. Someone told President Reagan about her work. He was deeply moved and mentioned it in his State of the Union address to Congress in 1985.

As he did, the television camera cut away to Mother Hale
in the White House gallery. It caught the 81-year-old grandmother with tears running down her cheeks.

That did it. Mother Hale became an overnight celebrity. Newspaper reporters interviewed her and TV talk-show hosts invited her to appear on their programs

Money poured in, and Mother Hale’s work grew into a fully equipped center with a full-time staff.

Now other cities are contacting her for advice on how to set up similar centers to care for drug-addicted babies.

Mother Hale’s story fits in beautifully with today’s gospel story, which describes mothers bringing their little children to Jesus to have him touch them.

Many of these babies were sick, no doubt,
like the babies that the junkies brought to Mother Hale.

And, no doubt, many of Mother Hale’s neighbors tried to protect her from being swamped with sick babies, just as the disciples of Jesus tried to protect him from being swamped with them.

But like Jesus, Mother Hale simply said,
“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them,
for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’’

Then, like Jesus, she “embraced them and blessed them’’
with her loving care.

The story of Mother Hale catches the spirit of today’s gospel as few stories do. It shows an 81-year-old grandmother—2,000 years after the gospel story—
living out its spirit and message.

And it shows this in a way that inspires us to want to do something similar in our own lives.

When Mother Hale took in her first drug-addicted baby,
she had no idea that she would inspire millions of people by that single act of kindness.

She had no idea that 16 years later it would set off a chain
reaction of help for thousands of other unfortunate babies.

She had no idea that the chain reaction would extend beyond Harlem to other cities across the nation.

She had no idea that God would use her to inaugurate an important new program for a special group of suffering children in our society.

All she knew was that some very sick babies needed her to say to them what Jesus said 2,000 years before her:
“Let the children come to me, and do not stop them.” Mark 10:14

AChinese proverb says, “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every passerby leaves a mark.’’

The mark Mother Hale is leaving on thousands upon thousands of children is beautiful.

It is so beautiful that it inspires us to want to leave a similar mark on the thousands of children we meet in the course of our lives.

And that is doubly true when those children happen to be our own. We want to leave on them the mark of Jesus himself, so that they, in turn, will someday leave a similar mark on their children.

Let’s close with a brief reflection on this very point. It was composed by General MacArthur, one of the great military leaders of our time. The general writes:

By profession I am a soldier and take pride in that fact.
But I am prouder—infinitely prouder—to be a father.

A soldier destroys in order to build; a father only builds,
never destroys. The one has the potentiality of death;
 the other embodies creation and life. . . .

It is my hope that my son, when I am gone, will remember me
not from the battle but in the home repeating with him our simple daily prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven.’’

Series III
27th Sunday of the Year
Genesis 2:18–24, Hebrews 2:9–11, Mark 10:2–16

A wedding is an event; marriage is an achievement

God made them male and female . . .
and the two will become one. So they are no longer two,
 but one.” Mark 10:6–8

In her book A Marriage Made in Heaven, Erma Bombeck describes her 25th wedding anniversary. It goes like this:

I had fantasized a large white tent with hundreds of guests milling around. The orchestra would be playing our song,
while my husband and I swayed gracefully on the dance floor.

The truth is our twenty-fifth anniversary turned out quite differently. Our kids simply threw some hamburgers on the grill, scarfed them down and split, leaving my husband and me to clean up.

As my husband put away the last things, I just sat there quietly studying him. Together, we’d survived three children,
five houses, and nine cars.

Then my husband walked over to where I was sitting. He had that look about him. He said, “I’ve got a surprise for you!”
“What is it?” I asked excitedly. He said, “Close your eyes.”

When I opened them, I sat holding a jar of cauliflower,
 packed in pickle juice. He said gleefully,
“I hid them from the kids, because I knew how much you like cauliflower packed in pickle juice.” Erma concludes, saying, “Maybe love is just that simple.”

Today, we hear a lot of talk about marriage contracts.
But this is not what marriage is about. Marriage is not a contract but a covenant.

A contract protects the parties in advance. It spells out what is expected of each party. A covenant does not. It’s an unconditional mutual pledge to love and serve one another forever: for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, in good times and bad.

Obviously a covenant demands a great deal of maturity.

There’s an ancient story about a young man who knocked at the door of a house. A voice from inside said, “Who is it?”
The young man said, “It is I. I’ve come to ask your permission
to marry your daughter.” The voice from inside said,
“Go away! You’re not ready! Come back in a year!”

A year later the young man returned and knocked again.
The voice from inside said, “Who is it?”
The man said, “It is your daughter and I.
We’ve come to ask your permission to marry.”
The voice said, “You are now ready. Please come in.”

According to counselors, most relationships that end in marriage go through four stages.
First, there is the attraction stage. It’s the thrilling experience of being drawn together in a way that makes life explode with excitement. It takes place at four human levels:
The physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.

The challenge of this stage is to keep these four levels in harmony and balance and not let one—like the physical or
the emotional—overwhelm the others. If a couple meets this challenge, their attraction will flower into a commitment to marry.

Second, there is the integration stage. Once a couple marries, they begin the process of integrating the excitement of love with the ordinariness of daily life.

The challenge of this stage is to retain love as the couple’s top priority. It is to keep love from becoming routine.

Third, there is the conflict stage. It begins when marriage partners fail to meet the challenge of the second phase.
When this happens—as it does to some degree in every marriage—the relationship enters a critical stage.

Faults that were once overlooked now ignite sharp conflict.
Slowly the atmosphere deteriorates. The adoring lover becomes the nagging adversary.

The challenge of this stage is to steer conflict into constructive direction. The danger is to avoid or suppress conflict rather than deal with it. If avoided or suppressed,
Communication breaks down and resentment builds.

The fourth stage is the maturation stage. It begins when the partners resolve to deal constructively with conflict and rediscover love. This process can be the most beautiful time in a marriage.

To understand how it works, one marriage counselor described human intimacy as being like a rubber band.
When the two lovers drift apart—for whatever reason—
the residual power of their affection is usually strong enough
to draw them back together again.

The challenge of this stage is to forgive the other’s faults and
rediscover the other’s goodness. The danger is to give up and
let love die rather than be reborn.

If marriage partners meet the challenge, the experience will launch them into a mature and more lofty level of love.

Those who have experienced this stage are unanimous in agreeing that the love it brings is more beautiful and more
romantic than the original love they shared.

This brings us to a painful reality in our modern society.
It is a marriage that deteriorates so badly that sincere prayer and professional counseling fail to revive it. The Church compassionately recognizes the sad reality of such a marriage.
It permits physical separation of the couple whenever ardent prayer and counseling fail. Remarriage, however, is possible only when one’s spouse dies or an annulment is granted.

An annulment is not a divorce. It is a careful study and prayerful judgment by the Church that what seemed to be a marriage was not.

One basis for an annulment is a lack of maturity on the part of one or both parties to enter into a sacred covenant to marry.

Another is a lack of freedom to marry,
for example,
when a premarital pregnancy occurs and parents pressure one or both partners into marriage. A third basis is concealing a defect to gain consent to marry, for example, the silent intention of one or both not to have children.

Catholics who remarry when they are not free to do so are encouraged to continue to worship with the community and seek its support—even though they may not receive Communion.

Let’s conclude our brief reflection on the sacredness of the marriage covenant with these words of Saint Paul:

Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable;
love does not keep a record of wrongs;
love is not happy with evil,
 but happy with the truth. Love never gives up. . . .
Love is eternal. 1 Corinthians 13:4–8