Saturday, December 31, 2016

Farewell, Father Mulcahy

"I want to tell you about two men. Each facing his own crisis. The first man you know rather well. The second is a patient here. Well, the first man thought he was facing a crisis. But what he was really doing was trying to impress someone. He was looking for recognition, encouragement, a pat on the back. And whenever that recognition seemed threatened he reacted rather childishly. Blamed everyone for his problems but himself because he was thinking only of himself. But the second man was confronted with the greatest crisis mortal man can face, the loss of his life. I think you will agree that the second man had every right to be selfish. But instead he chose to think not of himself, but of a brother. A brother! When the first man saw the dignity and the selflessness of the second man, he realized how petty and selfish he had ... I .... I ... I had been. It made me see something more clearly than I've ever seen it before. God didn't put us here for that pat on the back. He created us so he could be here himself. So he could exist in the lives of those he created, in his image."

Father Mulcahy (William Christopher)

William Christopher, who is remembered for playing Father Mulcahy on MASH but that only scratches the surface of his life's work, died today at the age of 84.

It seems, in many ways, to be the appropriate cap on a year that saw more celebrity deaths than usual. Not that the mother–daughter combo of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds wasn't dramatic enough, but losing Christopher isn't dramatic so much as final somehow. This is it. Enough. Be gone, 2016.

Christopher, as I understand it, was as soft spoken as the character he played, seldom the focus of episodes but always a moral compass and a character worthy of admiration.

When I think of him, I always think of an episode when Mulcahy was eager to make a good impression on a visiting cardinal. He sought the cooperation of those in the camp but kept running into obstacles.

Then he became involved with a crisis facing a patient at the camp, and he felt ashamed of his selfish behavior. While counseling the ailing soldier, he failed to show up on time for a special service honoring the visiting cardinal. He was summoned to the service wearing his bathrobe and apologized for not being prepared as he would have liked — or being dressed as he would have liked.

Then he proceeded to deliver the brilliant introduction to the cardinal that you can find at the top of this post.

When he was done, the cardinal stepped up to the podium — but, before addressing the congregation, he embraced Father Mulcahy warmly and said, "You're a tough act to follow."

It is truly fitting that William Christopher's should be the last celebrity death of 2016. He's a tough act to follow.