Mary Arline (queen_of_kithia) wrote,
Mary Arline

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Good-bye, farewell, and amen.

In the flurry of tragic losses that marked the end of a terrible year, there is one that hasn't received as much acknowledgement as I think it deserves: William Christopher--known as Bill to his colleagues--played Father Mulcahy on the TV series M*A*S*H and passed away on December 31st.

I don't think I've spoken here of my abiding love for M*A*S*H, the TV series. When you're a little kid, there are things in the media--TV shows, movies, songs, whatever--that are part of the world that you inhabit because the grown-ups around you love them, and even though you don't really understand them, you love them too because you associate them with family and home and safety. M*A*S*H is one of those things to me. From the time I was born, and for the better part of a decade afterward, one of our local TV stations would show reruns of M*A*S*H in syndication every weekday at 6:30 p.m. At the time, it was my dad's favorite TV show--and probably still is--so we watched it every day. I could hum the theme song before I was two; by the age of three, I could name all the main characters. I loved it because the people around me loved it, but I think I understood less than 1% of what was going on in it.

When I bought my house last year and ran a channel scan on my TV, I found another station that shows M*A*S*H reruns every weekday, at both 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. At first I was a little reluctant to revisit it, for fear that it wouldn't live up to the exalted position it holds in my childhood memory. But eventually, nostalgia and curiosity won out, and rather than not living up to my childhood expectations, it far exceeds them because I now understand the stories--and the jokes--and can appreciate fully what M*A*S*H has to offer.

From time to time, I think about compiling a list of the best and most positive depictions of Catholic clergy in media. If I ever make that list, Father Mulcahy will be close to the top.[*](At the top of the list, always, is Father Roger Schmit from The Laramie Project, who not only embodies every quality that you could possibly want in a priest but has the added bonus of being a real, live, flesh-and-blood person who actually exists!) Father Mulcahy is the kind of good shepherd that every parish deserves. Impeccably orthodox and theologically sound, his strength, intelligence, and faith are tempered by his compassion, humility, and a self-deprecating sense of humor. He's not an instructor but a teacher; not a judge but a counselor. Father Mulcahy is a devoted servant to God, to his flock, and to his country--in that order. Named after St. Francis,[*](Francis John Patrick Mulcahy is the whole of it) Father Mulcahy embodies the prayer commonly attributed to that saint. In the midst of a war, he is an instrument of peace. Where there is hatred, he sows love; where there is despair, he brings hope. He consoles and understands others without seeking to be consoled or understood himself, and he knows that it is in pardoning that we are pardoned and in giving of ourselves that we receive.

How much of that comes from the words on the page, and how much comes from within the actor himself? I don't know, but I do know this: in the M*A*S*H pilot, Father Mulcahy was played by a different actor and was nothing more than the punchline to a joke at the end of the episode. In the hands of William Christopher, he became a character at least as sympathetic and dimensional and flawed and funny and loveable as any other character on the show.

Father Mulcahy is a character who has integrity, and I don't think you can play a character with integrity unless you have integrity yourself.
Tags: faith, family, in memoriam, memory, television

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