PLAYING GOD OR PLAYING HUMAN?

Novena in Honor of El Dulce Nombre de Maria
Hagatna, Guam
2nd Day: August 30, 2008


Based on 1 Cor 1:26-31 / Mt 25:14-30

The moral theologian Thomas Shannon offers an interesting paradigm to illustrate what it means to go into two extremes with regard to technological interventions in our human, bodily lives and what we do to our own bodies. On the one hand, we can “play human” and, in its extreme pole, refuse to do anything or to take resort to anything in order to improve our physical, bodily existence, and to simply allow God and his grace to lead us to a certain level of well-being. This first approach means utter dependence on God and God alone. It refers to being totally on the receiving end in reference to God’s help and God’s gift of salvation. One of its concrete effects would be to take refuge in the false belief that technology has nothing whatsoever to do with Christian faith and that to take resort to what technology can offer is tantamount to being faithless, and being unable to place one’s entire self in the hands of God.

The other extreme, playing God, is to go the opposite path of technologism. This means that one ought to follow the so-called “technological imperative” – that says, “if it can be done, it ought to be done.” This also means that when it comes to doing anything to improve life, health, or our bodily welfare, there are no limits whatsoever, no bounds, or anything similar that should hamper man’s dreams and desires. Thus, there ought to be no limits to embryonic stem cell research, to eugenics, or the dream to create what journalists would love to call “designer babies.”

Both, according to Shannon, are flawed approaches and attitudes. They represent two extreme poles, that do not represent the happy mean, or the virtuous middle.

At least one of the two extremes, and the middle ground, in some way, may be said to be represented by two contrasting attitudes that are shown by the servants in the gospel. Three servants were entrusted with talents, one got five, another got two, and the third got one. The two who got five and two talents proceeded forthwith to work so as to double what they received. They invested what they got and produced more for their master. In contrast, the one who got only one, played as human as can be, and thought nothing about what he could possibly do with the little that he received. He hid it in the ground and refused to budge a finger to make more for his master.

I would like to see in the other two servants who invested what they got, an image of the virtuous mean between the two extreme poles of playing God and playing human. This is what we refer to as the virtue and attitude of responsibility, the virtue that leads one to make good use of what one has received, what talents and capabilities one has, not for one’s own good alone, but also, for that of others.

I see more. The attitude of responsibility shown by the two servants speaks much of two individuals who are fully engaged with the world and everything in it that shares in the goodness of the creator. It represents an attitude that values whatever God has created and given for what they are – gifts and blessings from the Lord, and given for our benefit and the benefit of all his creatures. In contrast, I see the attitude of the miserly servant who hid his talent underground as representing someone who is not fully engaged with created reality, someone who is totally dependent, and one who probably cannot believe in, nor accept, his God-given capacity to be “master of all creation.” It represents, to me, an inability to give full and responsible cooperation to the grace and gift of God, who calls us to participate in His creative work.

In this second day of our novena, my thoughts go to someone who is called blessed, primarily because she proclaimed by her FIAT, that statement of full cooperation with the will of the Lord. Mary, for me, and for all of us, a towering example of what it means to claim the glorious liberty of God’s children, and cooperate fully with what the Lord gives her. Ecce ancilla Domini, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum!
This is the language of full engagement. This is the language of full human cooperation. This has nothing to do with playing human to the extreme, that leaves all responsibility to God. This is the story of divine-human cooperation that ought to be the story of each one of us.

The first reading alludes to the great gift given from above. This great gift has to do with God “choosing the foolish of this world to shame the wise.” It has to do with “God pulling down the mighty from their thrones, and lifting up the lowly.” This is the story of God’s unmerited and unsolicited gift of salvation to humanity, a gift, nevertheless, that needs to be unwrapped, enriched, and used “for the life of the world.”

I would like to propose that we take up this cause for Mary, our Mother. I would like to suggest that we all today, always and for all ways, enshrine her in our hearts as model par excellence of one who “dances with the music of the Spirit” and cooperates fully with God’s gift and God’s call, in order to produce more talents for our Lord and Master. We will have occasion in other days to put more flesh into what this cooperation is all about. Suffice it for now for us to dwell on this simple, but profound idea that Mary is one who did not have to play God, and usurp divine authority to be great. No, she was great and declared blessed because she has allowed herself to play more than just human in the sense of not being utterly dependent, but one who took up the cudgels for God, by cooperating with Him and His plan of salvation. Indeed, as we answered after today’s first reading, “blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be His own,” and blessed is the person who, like Mary, lives and acts according to that singular choice and blessing from the Lord.

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