Lessons on Religious Life from MASH's Father Mulcahy

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Although it went off the air two years before I was born, I've always been a fan of the TV show MASH. By now, I think I've watched the entire series. The series was full of great plots and moral lessons, hilarity, and more than all that, very rich characters.

While Hawkeye and the rest were funny, my favorite character was the MASH chaplain, Father Mulcahy. (I know, I stereotypical is it that my favorite character is the Catholic priest?) But I found Father Mulcahy to be one of the richest characters on the series in many different ways. He was a priest but so completely human, showing the world that Catholic priests (or religious in general) aren't robots.

Sure, the character of Father Mulcahy showed the "secular" world lots about the realities of religious life, but I think there's a lot we, who are discerning to be religious, could learn about religious life from his character.. I understand Father Mulcahy is fictional and I could learn many of these same lessons from the saints themselves but, to see these lessons portrayed in a regular comedy series, makes it all the more real.

In one episode, Father Mulcahy writes to his sister ("his sister the Sister" - she is a nun) and the whole episode follows his letter. He speaks of all the suffering he encounters, how he is exasperated and tired (so much so that he ends up punching an unruly patient), how he wonders if he is doing any good or if he is even useful in any way. At the end of the episode, at the end of his letter, he writes something to the effect of "but, in spite of all this, I carry on and hope I am doing something"  Religious, like Father Mulcahy, may never know the effect they have on people. They may wonder if, as hard as they work, they are actually doing anything. Yet, like Father Mulcahy, they carry on. They carry on to serve God obviously, but also in the hope that, in some way, they are comforting the suffering and being a light of hope, a glimpse of God, to others.

In one of the later episodes, the show goes through a variety of dreams the characters are having. Hawkeye dreams of losing his limbs, Houlihan dreams of blood on her wedding dress, etc. It's a weird episode and I wasn't a fan until they featured Father Mulcahy's dream. He dreamt he had just been elected Pope, though still in the setting of the MASH unit. He walked down the aisle of the Mess Tent to say Mass, excited to see so many people. When he arrives to the altar, we see on the film that the bottom of a large crucifix stands behind him. As he begins to talk, he starts to notice that blood is dripping unto him. He looks up and the camera (very quickly) shows that a crucified American soldier had replaced Jesus on the cross. It always struck is such a great reminder that religious must recognize Jesus crucified in all those they encounter who suffer. A wounded soldier, a widow, an orphan, a sick elderly...they are all Jesus crucified, suffering on their own cross.

Father Mulcahy's own selflessness throughout the entire show gives all of us a great example. Through sheer kindness, he saves the MASH unit from a soldier who threatened everyone with a gun, he sneaks away to take a dangerous helicopter ride to help those severly wounded on the battlefield, he talks Klinger out of blowing himself up with a grenade, and in the most notable last episode, running out in mortar fire to save trapped Korean POWs and completely losing his hearing in the meantime but then volunteering to stay in Korea after the war. We get the message that Father himself believes that he can only do these things through the grace of God. The same is true for religious. With God, they can do anything, even that which seems beyond their abilities. All the good they do is through Him and His grace.

Is there any particular TV or book character that taught you lessons about religious life? Or faith in general?

1 comment:

  1. Amanda,

    A fascinating sharing...reminding me of the show I watched many times before quite a while back; never before in the way you describe.

    Through your sharing, I am reminded that God is far greater than my own finite abilities, even my very own brokenness and weaknesses. Even when I feel that I am not enough, God will still use me to touch someone else. This is simply the awesome beauty of our loving God.

    Thanks for sharing your light with me!

    God Bless!


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