Malachy McCourt (1931- )
(…continued) What saved Malachy McCourt from himself was the opportunity to help someone else– the chance to be a Good Samaritan. His first marriage lasted only long enough to produce two children, which he seldom saw. His second marriage survived his drinking, but just barely, marred again by his irresponsibility and absence. But the one thing he did sober up enough to get right was the care of his second wife’s mentally challenged daughter from a previous marriage. Nina was severely impaired and needed almost constant attention. Perhaps because of his own miserable childhood, Malachy had a special love and concern for Nina. He would do anything for her. They kept her at home for as long as they could, but finally they had to seek out institutional care for her.
That began a decades long search for a suitable place for Nina. Sometimes, she stayed at group homes where she received good care. But then those places would close, and other places often brought poor care and much disappointment and frustration. It was a never-ending search to find what was best for Nina. One of the places Nina stayed was in a New York State facility. Family visits were in a clean and pleasant area which gave the impression of it being a wonderful place to stay. But day to day life for the residents in the back hallways and wards was appalling, with conditions unfit for animals.
When McCourt heard about these conditions, he was enraged, and he began to organize the families of residents to work for changes. What followed was a long fight against the authorities on every level, but which finally led not only to changes there, but throughout the state and even the nation. He had a little bit of fame from his on and off acting career, and a lot of contacts, and so his involvement was crucial.
This was the first time he had ever worked with other people with the goal of helping someone else, and it brought a new meaning and purpose to his life. It became a turning point for him, and with it, began the long process of patching together his life, which was in ruins. He had to quit drinking, save his second marriage, reconnect with his kids, get and keep a job for once, get reconciled with family back in Ireland, and settle things with a whole host of others he had angered or alienated or cheated out of money over the years. It even led to a religious conversion of sorts, and a return to faith in the God he had heard about in childhood, but had so angrily turned away from. It was a long and painful process, but it did bring to him a bit of peace and comfort by the time he was an old man. And it all began with the opportunity to be a Good Samaritan, and the decision to, for once, do something for someone else.
In his old age, Malachy McCourt was looking back on his life as he wrote this book. As he was thinking about his work as a Good Samaritan, that work which led to so many positive changes in his life, he was reminded of something he memorized in catechism class as a child. He remembered learning that, “Our purpose on earth is to know and serve God, so that we may spend eternity with that God.” He remembered thinking as a child that would be extremely boring. He wanted to raise hell with his friends, not sit around in heaven with God and a bunch of holy people. But now, many years later, he thought of how good it felt to be a part of something that helped so many people, and he said, “If that’s what it means to serve God, being able to work with and be with the kind of wonderful people that I worked with on that project, then I have changed my mind about heaven and I am all for it.”
God has created us in such a way that when we help others, we ourselves are also blessed. He has called on us to take care of not only ourselves, but each other. For years, McCourt raged against a God that would allow children to suffer like he did. He did not understand that God has given us each a free will, and we can use that free will to make the world a better or a worse place. Some people make it worse, and some make it better. Jesus calls on us to be like the Good Samaritan, helping others whenever we can.
McCourt often raged against the Catholic charity workers who were at times mean to his mother and added to her humiliation as she sought their assistance. And while the behavior of some of those workers was indeed terrible, it was that Catholic charity, given by Christian people in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, that did keep alive the four McCourt children that did survive. Without that aid, there would have been nothing for several years. Imperfect and unwilling as we are, God calls us to be a part of his work in making the world a better place to live for everyone. Our willingness to be a part of that work of helping others then also becomes a blessing for ourselves.
A fellow pastor tells about a conversation he had with a man in his parish who was a World War II veteran. He was in on the D-day invasion of Normandy and the march across Europe to push back and defeat the Nazis. As he spoke of his war experiences, he mentioned the suffering, the deprivation, the loss of many good friends, and the horror of war. But then he said, “Still, I look back on those four years as the very best years of my life. For once in my life I really had the feeling that I was part of something bigger than myself. I was on the move, and we were going somewhere and accomplishing something important. We had a mission. Maybe it’s sad to say, but I do look upon those years as the best of my life.”
He said, “I was a part of something bigger than myself; we had a mission.” You do not have to be a soldier in a war to do that. God calls each of us to a mission, a mission that is far bigger than our own little self. And, said Jesus, even a cup of cold water given to one who is thirsty can be a part of that mission. “Whatever you do for the least of these my children,” said Jesus, “you do it for me.” And to the man who asked who is this neighbor he should be helping, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan; and then said, “Go and do likewise.”
Galatians 6:7-10 — Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Thou art never weary, O Lord, of doing us good.
Let us never be weary of doing Thee service. Amen.
–John Wesley (1703-1791)