Lessons in Faith & Humanity from MASH's Father Mulcahy

Monday, January 16, 2017

2016 took one of its last celebrity victims in William Christopher, who played Father Mulcahy on MASH. Five years earlier, I had written a post on what his character could teach us about religious life.

My life has gone through many twists and turns since I wrote that post, especially in 2016, and now I see Father Mulcahy's lessons as much more universal than I did back then. His character is much deeper than just the token chaplain or a moral compass to tell this shameless cast of characters to calm the heck down. No, Father Mulcahy is there to give us lessons in service, faith and humanity.

One of the biggest lessons that he taught us - all of us - was that to be kind, to be good-hearted in a world full of chaos doesn't require perfection.

He was human, not a robot priest or a flowerly saint too perfect to aspire to be like.
He was just a Christian, trying his best to be as Christ-like as he could.

One of my favorite scenes with Fr. Mulcahy is from the episode "Dreams" (Season 8, Ep. 22). Being the human and overworked religious that he is, he falls asleep while hearing someone's confession. He dreams of becoming Pope. Instead of passing the position up like a “humble priest”, he's elated and even more so that his Mass seems full to the brim. If you've ever seen MASH, you know that Father's Masses (or even ecumenical services) are very sparsely attended.

Like the rest of us, he has selfish ambitions.
Like him, I grow elated when I'm praised and recognized for something, like when a client comes to thank me for something I've done, a coworker praises me for a job well-done, or when I'm chosen for a special task.
Try as one might to be Christ-like, everyone has selfish ambitions. It's what makes us human - and that's okay.

But there's something more to Father Mulcahy's dream. Father Mulcahy – now Pope Mulcahy – is at the altar celebrating Mass when he feels something from above drip on his shoulder. Drip, drip, drip. He looks up. Christ on the crucifix, just as it should be. The Father Pope continues.
Drip, drip, drip.
He looks up again. This time, the camera very quickly pans to the crucifix above him. 

The crucifix no longer has Christ.
The crucifix holds a wounded American soldier...whose blood is dripping on Pope Mulcahy's shoulder.

Screenshot from this blog:

With that look up, Fr. Mulcahy is brought back to the present as the characters operate around him and life continues as normal.

When he saw Christ - particularly, in that American soldier - Fr. Mulcahy is taken out of his completely normal human selfish ambition back to what it's really about -
"Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to Me." (Matthew 25:40)

Who are the least? 
It's that wounded soldier.
It's that single mother struggling to make end's meet.
But it's also everyone around us, including ourselves.
But, most frustrating of all, it's our enemies.
Like Christ, we're all suffering our own crosses, seen or unseen.

Constantly circling back to that verse, to meeting Christ crucified and encountering God's goodness in those we meet, is what carries on any Christian during the ups and downs of this crazy journey of having faith and doing the best we can. God is here.

Or it's what carries me on, anyway. 

And I like to believe that, if he were real, it would be what carried on Father Mulcahy too...especially on those days he wished he could just get the heck out of there.

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