Funeral homily for Fr. Richard Crawford

At age 95, Father Richard Crawford was the Diocese of Peoria's oldest priest.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is the homily from the June 7 funeral Mass at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Streator for Father Richard Crawford. The homilist was Msgr. Philip Halfacre, vicar of the Ottawa Vicariate. Father Crawford died June 3, 2016, at the age of 95. His obituary is found here.

Your Excellency, Monsignors and Fathers, esteemed guests and friends: I thank you on behalf of Father Crawford’s family for your presence here.  And to you, Joanne, Dorothy, Jayne, Beth, David, Tim, and Todd: on behalf of Bishop Jenky and the priests of the Diocese of Peoria, I offer you our most sincere sympathies and the promise of our continued prayers.

Msgr. Halfacre

Msgr. Halfacre

We priests frequently pray Psalm 90 in the Divine Office, which contains the line, “Our span is seventy years or eighty for those who are strong.” Father Crawford was clearly one of the strong ones.  He was born about six months after John Paul II was born.  Dying as he did at the age of 95, he was our oldest priest.

The goal of life, of course, is not simply to live a long life – but to live well.  Nearly everyone sees the truth of this, but how do we do that?  How does one live well?  And how does one measure that? Many, indeed — many of you — are living well.  But the tedium of daily life keeps some from seeing that. The daily routine — the tiring pilgrimage of everyday existence — can keep people from experiencing life as though they are living well and fulfilling the will of God in their daily life.

The Greek poet, Sophocles, was right when he said some 2,500 years ago, “One must wait until evening to see how splendid the day has been.” If it is true for a day, it is certainly true for a life – including the life of a priest.

WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH MY LIFE?

Father Crawford was originally from this town – from Streator.  He was born here; he grew up here and went to St. Anthony School.  During the Second World War, he served in the Army Air Corps. After the war, he tried his hand at several things: he worked in a furniture factory polishing furniture, he was a barber, and a prison guard at Pontiac prison. Eventually, he re-enlisted and served in the Army – serving in France.

While he was there, he mulled over the question: What should I do with my life? Admittedly, that is to a great extent a First World question. Those living in the Third World do not ask that question. For them, much of life is pre-determined. We have far, far more options. One would think that we ourselves would thereby be happier – because we have so many options. I’m not sure it always works out that way.

In any case, Richard mulled over the question: What will I do with my life? He wanted his life to have meaning. He wanted the gifts God had given to him to find expression in some way and to bear fruit. To say that he wanted to “help others” is true – but is entirely too vague. Nearly everyone, in one way or another, helps others – the butcher, the baker, the commodities trader: they all “help people.” Richard discerned, through prayer and his discussions with others, that God was calling him to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. And after years of preparation and study, the happy day arrived: the day of his ordination, May 31, 1975.

HANDS HIS LIFE OVER TO ANOTHER

In a moment of great significance, Richard knelt before Bishop O’Rourke, the ordaining prelate. Richard put his hands together, and Bishop O’Rourke put his hands around them. Richard had his hands in the Bishop’s hands – this is profoundly significant. Richard is in effect saying to the Bishop, “I’m placing my life – my future, all that I am – into your hands. The Bishop looked him in the eyes and asked, “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?” And Richard answered: “I do.”

All of that is enormously important – and significant. It symbolizes the handing over of his life – the placing of his life into the hands of another. That determination of his will – in a definitive way, on the day of his ordination – to be a faithful and obedient priest determined for Richard his self-understanding and it gave Richard’s life its fundamental orientation from that point forward. “This is who I am: I have handed my life over to another who has received it.”

For those who have the eyes to see it, there are significant parallels between what the priest promises on the day of his ordination and what married couples promise on their wedding day.  On your wedding day, you husbands and wives handed your life over to another – all of your hopes and aspirations for the future were placed into the hands of your spouse. And you swore that you would live faithfully your marriage commitment until death.

In both cases, it entails placing one’s life into the hands of another. And in both cases, it involves giving oneself away – giving oneself to another.

This handing over of one’s life is the heart of the matter. And it is, as Pope Saint John Paul II so often said – quoting the Council – how we find ourselves. Our Lord himself has shown us how to do this; he has shown us the way. Jesus did not try to determine his own path; he received it from the Father. “My food is to do the will of the One who sent me.”

Yes, Richard promised respect and obedience to the Bishop, and what did the Bishop say to him? He said – Go to the people of Monmouth; go the the people of Ransom and Grand Ridge; go to the people of Streator, etc. And serve them as a priest of Jesus Christ … Be a priest to them.

And so indeed he did go. Not only was he happy doing so – Father Crawford did tremendous good through his fidelity and generosity. This is why Father Crawford was a happy priest. He didn’t try to determine his own path. He handed his life over – the body given up and the blood poured out – and he allowed himself to be led.

And so it is with every one of us. Faithfully fulfilling our responsibilities to others in the sight of God, like St. Joseph – not continually asking ourselves: Do I like this? Is this making me happy? Do I feel fulfilled? But asking rather, am I handing my life over? Am I doing my duty before God and before those whom God has placed in my life?

The key is to see our life as part of something larger than ourselves, whether it be the priesthood or one’s family.  And it’s that larger thing – that larger reality of one’s priesthood or marriage and family – that gives our life its sense of purpose.  Even in the midst of suffering or tedium, seeing our life as part of that larger reality and faithfully fulfilling my own role in bringing about the plan of God for it enables us to see our daily difficulties from a higher perspective. Seeing this is itself a gift from God inasmuch as it brings joy to our life when we see the bigger picture – the picture of all things achieving their fulfillment and redemption in Christ. Finding our life through self-giving is counter-intuitive – but all the spiritual writers say this in one way or another and it is born out in the lives of the Saints.

DEVOTION TO THE MOTHER OF GOD

I mentioned earlier that Father Crawford was ordained in 1975. It was in fact a feast of Our Lady that day – May 31, the feast of the Visitation of Mary. He was most certainly very happy to be ordained on that day – on a feast of Our Lady. He had a huge devotion to the Mother of God. Nearly all priests do – but Father Crawford did in particular. The core of Marian devotion, of course, is that she helps us on our way to Jesus, her son. There is no faster way to the heart of Jesus than through his Mother. How fitting it is that Father died on Friday – the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

We join our own prayers to those of Mary and all the Angels and Saints, that as Father Crawford stands before God – as we all indeed must – he will be warmly welcomed to his place in the Father’s house. May our God be blessed.

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