I do not like TV. I 've not owned a television set for over a decade and I could not name even five popular shows that air regularly on television - in either country. But I've discovered Downton Abbey. A DVD compilation of the entire first season was loaned to me last week and I've already watched the whole thing. I don't know what will happen in subsequent seasons, but in the seven episodes I have watched I've been astonished at the morality of the whole thing. Not just the absence of filthy words and suggestive scenes, but the beautiful emphasis on virtue and goodness. I do very occasionally see a show that is "totally clean". Slightly more often I see a movie that "has a really good message". Downton Abbey goes beyond that and approaches the moral caliber of a Jane Austen novel. There are characters of commanding virtue and goodness, characters who show impeccable integrity and heroic honor in myriad situations, large and small. There are also a few truly vile characters who do horribly vile things, but evil is clearly shown to be evil - even in moral areas where we are accustomed to evil being justified or even celebrated or made a bit fuzzy. I have only seen the first season so I do not vouch for anything beyond that. Naturally I hope that this moral excellence continues on throughout the series. From what I have seen so far, Downton Abbey is pro-life! Even Jane Austen's novels are not pro-life. Then again, Austen was not writing for a culture that needed to have the dignity of the unborn child clarified. Julian Fellowes is. Incidentally, the series is outselling any other television drama of all time. People like old fashioned morality and modest gowns better than they liked The Sopranos. What does that say?
In the last episode of the season, the most vile character speaks disparagingly about the unborn child of one of the female characters. The more virtuous characters demand that he show respect for the dignity of the child. He sneers,"at that stage they're no bigger than hamsters". It is quite clear that he also means that they are no better than hamsters and no more valuable. Seconds later, after a few more nasty comments, he gets punched in the face. You can't help but feel that it's long overdue.
Another scene earlier in the episode had me thinking along these lines as well. When the child's existence is discovered, his parents are both quite surprised. The husband is especially stunned and his wife feels compelled to ask him if he is happy about the baby. Her vulnerability as she asks is striking. Everything hangs in the balance for her. (She lives in the early 1900's, so by "everything" I do not mean that the child's life itself depends upon this man's preference.) If he said that he was not happy, a huge and heavy cloud waited to envelope her. Her natural inclination was to joy, but he could undermine that maternal joy by his emotional rejection of the child. Her heart instinctively bent to accept and embrace and celebrate this new life, but it was in his power to either support her maternal inclinations or to deeply damage them. That's not just a well-written or well-acted scenario. That is the history of women in every time and culture.
Within 24 hours, I saw this history playing out in real life. While visiting a friend today, I heard a neighbor screaming. My hostess's face clouded. She told me the painful story of the family next door. A solo mom of two little girls, aged 3 and 1. Different men drifting in and out of the house at all hours. Daily outbursts of venomous, hateful words shouted at the toddlers - "You little (insert vulgar cuss words)!" My friend ventured over one day to introduce herself. The neighbor did not tell the names of the little girls; she only waved in their direction with disgust and introduced them as "proof that IUDs don't work". I feel sad for these little girls. One stood in her driveway staring at me as I left. I waved to her. I thought about her the whole drive home and for the rest of the day. But I also feel sad for her mom. I'm sure that when she asked the fathers of these two girls if they were happy about her pregnancies they were not. She probably didn't even have to ask. What she is doing now is very, very hard and she is doing it all alone. She's doing one of the hardest things in the world and she's doing it under extremely difficult circumstances. And there are thousands and thousands of other women just like her. Her children live a life that is becoming increasingly "normal". I would guess that those two little girls do not experience a lot of consistent warmth, affection, stability or selfless love. I don't think they know much peace.
This is the face of the contraceptive culture. Contraception has made this kind of unhappiness so common in our modern world. It didn't invent a new problem, but it has multiplied a very very old problem to staggering proportions. Some would say it would be better had these little girls been aborted rather than live with the abuse and neglect that defines their days and shapes their young souls. I looked that beautiful little girl in the eyes today and I don't believe that. Others will say that the answer to these situations is more and better contraception. The mother of these little girls has already stated that contraception is a lie.
I'm not writing this evening in attempt to judge, just painfully wishing for an answer. What more can the pro-life movement do? This mother did not abort the babies that her boyfriends rejected. I don't know why or how but she found the strength to endure pregnancy, childbirth and active motherhood. But she's in way over her head now and she is killing the innocence and joy of the two little lives in her care. I bet she feels that somewhere too - and that it feels really bad. She hurts them out of her own hurt, and then has even more hurt to deal with. This woman needs the pro-life movement to embrace her and support her and help her. I can't stop feeling that after the baby is born, clothed and equipped for the first few months, we pro-lifers sort of feel that the job is done - when it's actually just begun.
John Cardinal O'Connor had a vision of an order of nuns who would pray and minister to unborn babies and their mothers. His vision became a reality and the Sisters of Life are one of the most beautiful group of women imaginable. I have a vision of an order of nuns who would minister to these women and their babies after the births - for years and years and years. It's a bit ridiculous for a married woman with three children to yearn to start a new order of nuns, so I never told anyone about this embarrassing scheme. But there are others out there who are in circumstances where the Lord could use them to build this vision into reality. The Lord gave me the name Servants of Dignity. (Maybe another order already has this name. No, a quick Google search revealed nothing). The mission: to serve and protect the dignity of children and families in difficult circumstances. The Sisters of Life open their convents to pregnant women in difficult circumstances who need a supportive place to live. The Servants of Dignity would open their convents to children in difficult circumstances who need a nurturing place to be. Not exactly an orphanage (although there could be some short-term overnight accommodation if needed), this ministry would be more like providing an alternative to daycare. The charism would involve providing a loving and wholesome environment where the child's dignity and worth would be affirmed, where the child would experience stability, affection and loving discipline. I imagine a Montessori-like atmosphere of peace and order. I imagine the recently departed spirit of Sofia Cavalletti imbuing the daily rhythms. I imagine a soft, simple habit that allows ease of movement for active engagement with children. I imagine practical support being offered to parents and great efforts made in helping the parents come to realize their own dignity. And I imagine tons and tons and tons of prayer. I see the sisters spending hours in Adoration and prayer, interceding for families.
Obviously this post has nothing whatsoever to do with our mission in New Zealand. This will undoubtedly be one of the posts that I infinitely regret writing tomorrow. Blame it on Peter Kreeft. I read his How to Win the Culture War yesterday and perhaps caught a bit of his recklessness. Ah well, I could use a pinch of recklessness from time to time. Thirty-third birthdays do that to me.