FR. CYRIL CRAWFORD, 1966-2012
A Short Eulogy for Father Cyril Crawford OSB
Memorial Service, American College of Louvain, 8pm, Wednesday 23 May 2012
Dr. Martin Stone (formerly of KU Leuven)
St. Benedict's monastic Regula (Rule) begins with an invitation to the individual monk to listen (obaudire) and obey (obedire):
Listen, o son, to the precepts of your master and incline the ear of your heart (et inclina aurem cordis). Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father's advice, that by the labour of obeidence you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sin of disobedience.
When we reflect on this passage and the ensuing content of Benedict's great gift to the Church, it might be said that his vision of the monastic life is predicated upon on the idea of a profound generosity of spirit, whereby the individual monk is not only open and attentive to the word of God as he discerns it in the loud exclamations and subtle whispers of the order of creation, but is voluntarily prepared to 'incline the ear of his heart' so that he may welcome God to that imperfect abode, and thereby live in a manner that accords with God's wishes through the virtue of holy obeidence. Listening to the manifold utterances of the Spirit and living according to the practice of simple obedience, are then prerequisites of the monastic life and within them recline the delectable promise of a return to blessedness and eventual union with God. In this tradition, obedience does not and cannot entail any undue servility of spirit or a denial of all that is good and attractive in human life. Rather, monastic obedience first enhances and then reorientates human nature back toward its original supernatural end, a spiritual telos above and beyond this mortal coil in which reposes the hope of better things to come.
In considering the life and varied apostulates of our dear departed friend and brother Cyril Crawford OSB, we cannot help but recall the above words of his Father Benedict. For Cyril lived, prayed, studied, and laboured with just the generosity of spirit that Benedict demanded of his disciples. A spiritually resolute yet forthcoming individual, Cyril gave himself to his friends and colleagues with equanimity and selflessness. Everything he did issued from a strong and settled Christian faith, a body of belief which never gave itself to vulgar evangelisation nor one which imposed itself uncritically upon the texts, ideas, and questions that consitituted his advanced philosophical studies. Cyril's faith was that of an individual at ease with himself and the world, a faith which not only could be used as a dynamic and creative resource with which to confront and engage the enervating spiritual challenges of our age, but a faith that acted as a steadfast repository of gratitude for the many benedictions which God continues to bestow on us through the workings of His grace. Father Cyril was attuned to the presence of the Spirit among us, and this is why he was able to acknowledge the good and inherent value in all those he met. So disposed, he always acted as a source of genuine encouragement for his many friends and colleagues; his exemplary, patient yet practicable example of the Christian life escourted so many souls on their rocky road to virtue and precarious journey back to God.
While Father Cyril acted with great charity, spiritual effort, and intellectual industry during his time in Leuven, he probably left his most indelible mark on the lives of those to whom he offered spiritual guidance, the sacrament of confession, and friendship. As a spiritual director and insightful confessor — and here I speak from the priviledge of personal experience — Cyril always acted out of love and fraternity. His advice, which could range from life-affirming counsels to gentle if necessary exhortations and corrections, was tailored to the meet the concrete requirements of an individual's on-going relationship with God, with a view to fortifying and then deepening the quality of that bond so that a greater peace both in conscience and in the troubled human heart could be secured. By generously responding to the call of priesthood and by allowing God's grace to work through his person in the administration of the sacrament of confession, Father Cyril's counsel provided the means by which those under his spiritual tutelage could flourish in the Holy Spirit, a process of growth and development that offered one a tractable and effacacious spirituality commensurate with one's innermost being which then could be transposed with fecundity to the world. With sagacity, encouraging criticism, and consummate witness, Father Cyril showed to all he ministered that the Christian life was feasible as well as desirable, and that peace and happiness in God was a real and obtainable goal.
Many of us also had the honour to know Cyril as a friend, one who remained loyal and true, forever at hand when he was needed, and forever a source of fellowship, good humour, and conviviality. Whether it be to the accompaniment of a fine cigar, a good bottle of wine, or a refreshing draft of Trappist beer, Cyril was the perfect companion; a man who enjoyed conversation and the stimulus of others. His highly idiosyncratic manner of laughter and ability to physically exhibit so many genres of the frown, ranging from the merely quizzical to the outright incredulous, endeared him to many, even those who might ordinarily rush to judgement or else flee to the hills at the sight of a Benedictine habit. In the ancient world, the philosopher Aristotle so astutely gave expression to the idea that friendship is a relationship of particularity: we love our friends because they are our friends and our affection and esteem for them is based on characteristics that can only be peculiar to them and not to other people. In the life of Father Cyril we meet a profound illustration of the way in which this ancient ideal of friendship is surpassed and ameliorated by the Christian notion of caritas (love). For Cyril was able to love and regard his friends in a manner that was respectful of their inherent dignity and uniqueness, and yet subsumed his concern for them within the more selfless virtue of charity. By responding to his friends in terms of who they were, as opposed to what they could or ought to be, Cyril placed the particular values of friendship within the more general economy of Christian love, and in so doing helped to elevate and ennoble those fortunate enough to come into his circumference of intimacy. We loved Father Cyril for who he was; he loved us as he loved all manner of things that exemplified the face of Christ.
So now our friend, guide, and confessor has departed us, and it is appropriate that we feel disheartend and bereft. It is also fitting that we should pray and shed tears for this wonderful man. And yet, even now in the moments of our grief, Father Cyril has something salient to teach us about the nature of Christian hope and the promise of better things to come. For by his apostolic life and assorted deeds, by inclining the ear of his heart to God, and by exuding a warm and generous humanity, Father Cyril made the presence of Christ real for us, and it is for this and so much more that we pray, with humility and in fond rememberance, that his darling soul will find the repose it so richly deserves. May my dear friend, and this community's most cherished friend and pastor, rest in peace.