2. Two Ways of Seeing

When you look out on the world at the beginning of each new day, there are two ways of seeing it. One of these ways can lead to great satisfaction; the other to sheer wonder. First, you can see the world as our habitat where we naturally try to make ourselves comfortable. Through the sciences we explore its physical laws; through technology we harness its energies and use its resources. Within proper limits this is surely how it is meant to be. We even feel a responsibility to improve our lives in these ways, and a responsibility to use the world’s resources in a sustainable way. Through work and technology and artistic creativity we develop the world, and we develop ourselves as well.

We never have a right to what is pure gift. And a person can only ever be a gift - not owed nor owned.

But there is another way of looking at the world, in addition to seeing it as something to be used. That is to see it as something we didn’t put there in the first place. It was given to us, and behind everything “given” there is a Giver. This is what the world itself began to know from the time it attained conscious, human life. It is a characteristic of human life to recognise the world as “given” and to acknowledge a Giver.

Because creation was entrusted to human stewardship, the natural world is not just a resource to be exploited, but also a reality to be respected and even reverenced as a gift and trust from God. (Pope John Paul II, To the Church in Oceania)

What is startling is that God didn’t need to create the world because a God in need would not be God. So it was a choice God didn’t have to make. The world’s existence is, therefore, pure gift. Just try to imagine that it had been owed to you! If it wasn’t, then it was gifted to you. That already says something about you.

We begin to know how much we matter when we know that God didn’t need to create anything, yet wanted to. God could have chosen to create a world that didn’t include you, yet God chose to create a world that would include you. Have you ever wondered why?

You were called into existence - and cared about from the beginning:

O Lord, you search me and you know me,
you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar,
You mark when I walk or lie down,
all my ways lie open to you.
Before ever a word is on my tongue
you know it, O Lord,
through and through.
Behind and before you besiege me,
your hand ever laid upon me.
Too wonderful for me, this knowledge,
too high, beyond my reach.
It was you who created my being,
knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I thank you for the wonder of my being,
for the wonders of all your creation.
Already you knew my soul,
my body held no secret from you
when I was being fashioned in secret
and molded in the depths of the earth.
O search me, God, and know my heart.
O test me and know my thoughts.
See that I follow not the wrong path
and lead me in the path of life eternal.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-15, 23-24

The experience of wonder often accompanies the birth of a child. We seem to know intuitively that there is more to a child than can be accounted for by its parents’ part in bringing it into the world.

The underlying reason for wonder remains throughout each person’s life. Each one of us exists because of a choice God made: this is our great dignity, and nothing can change that. It is the basis for a whole different way of seeing yourself and every other person.

For Practice

  • Keep in mind that every person you will meet today (or have met today) was personally called into existence by God, and is a gift.
  • Look into the eyes of a baby or a child and give thanks. Know that in your life, someone else has given thanks for you as well.
  • Notice how often the argument in support of becoming parents through surrogacy starts from the assumption that individuals “have a right to have a child.” Do they really?

For Prayer

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the sky proclaims its builder’s craft.
One day to the next takes up the story;
one night to the next
makes known the message.
There is no word, or sound;
no voice is heard;
yet their report goes forth
through all the earth.

Psalm 19:1-4

The role of applied science in assisting the processes of conception and birth is to be welcomed provided the methods used accord with human dignity and the meaning of marriage. Not everything that is technically possible is morally right. Newly conceived persons are meant to be the fruit of married love, not the products of laboratory processes and manufacture.

Even good and generous people can hugely underestimate the dignity of persons; for example, when they speak as if there could be “a right to have a child.” We never have a right to what is pure gift. And a person can only ever be a gift - not owed nor owned. Persons are not property. Nor may little ones in the womb be used as raw material for developing vaccines, or be discarded because they don’t measure up to someone else’s preferences.

The potential clash between what is technically feasible and what is morally right becomes dramatic when it impinges on human nature itself. So much depends on whether we see our world and other people only as resources, or also as gifts from the hand of a divine Giver.