Spoiler Alert: Season 3, Episode 4
Last night, Downton Abbey brought the plot back to the beginning of its first story-line and to one of the central themes of modernity: Man versus Nature. It was especially poignant to me in the wake of last week's anniversary of Roe-v-Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States, as I thought about how we, as Catholics, defend the sanctity of all human life.
In the very first episode of Season One, the family and staff have learned of the tragic news of the Titanic sinking. There was the grief over loss of human life on such a large scale, the horror of what the last moments were like for the victims, the faces of personal friends and families called to mind when reading the list of the dead.
Then, there was the shock. It was the shock of the time for those who heard the news. It is the shock we still feel when watching news clips of flooded cities or plane crash wreckage. Today, in this day, and age, how could such a thing still happen? The Titanic was a marvel of modern engineering, marking the height of all man could do, yet it was felled by an iceberg.
It was a moment for fear, for insecurity and doubt that would foreshadow the complete loss of innocence brought about by the Great War. It was an innocence whose existence would continue to live on primarily in movies, music, and aging memories, relegated to Nostagia, rather than Real Time.
Episode Four of Season Three put the truth of Man versus Nature on full display again when it aired last night on PBS Masterpiece Theater. As the beautiful Lady Sybil, young and full of hope, lay seized and gasping for final breaths, we were left wondering and shocked, our thoughts echoed in the lines of Matthew as he declared that surely in this day and age, something could be done. But, two doctors were left at the end of the bed, only to shake their heads and admit that there was nothing to be done. It would be almost thirty years before researchers learned that Magnesium Sulfate could prevent seizure convulsion and manage toxemia. Sometimes, other steps are necessary and eclampsia is still a situation that can be life-threatening, with emergency deliveries always a necessary step.
Man, with all his intelligence and skill always has to face the truth of his not being all-knowing or all-capable. That harsh realization puts us all at a spiritual crossroads. Upon hearing the news of Lady Sybil's death, Mr. Bates proclaims that if he believed in anything, this news would shake that belief.
For me, though, in my spiritual journey, the crossroads have not been a matter of keeping or losing the faith. It was a matter of how I would live and share that faith. It especially affected the way I would think of and interact with those who took a different turn at the crossroads. Too often, as a Christian, it is easy to express complete inability to understand how anyone could think differently from us. I think it is a sign of spiritual immaturity, not always a lack of knowledge or charity. Watching the death of a young mother from childbirth would not have been as shocking for someone in the 1920s, or especially all the years before, as it was to our modern eyes. Death was much more a part of life for those who came before us. Is it not then, possible to understand in the matter of abortion and contraception that there would have been tender, broken hearts open to what was billed as a possible solution to end the horrors that were often associated with child-bearing? And that much further a leap to see how this viewpoint could be handed down through generations?
It is not just the likes of haughty nobility, inventors, or businesspeople whose foundations are revealed to be shaky when they realize they are not the controllers of the universe. Those of us who call ourselves Catholics must realize our limits. We must realize that we stand gifted with grace and knowledge of Theology of the Body, encyclicals, and the examples of the Saints. We are not superior to those whose stance is opposite ours. We are gifted beyond what we deserve or could ever earn. And unless we humbly speak and act with love, we will sink or be left gasping shallow spiritual breaths on our own, only to realize it is God alone who is All-Knowing, All-Capable.