Posted June 03, 2005:
There’s Always a Possibility

by Tom Egan.

The following was excerpted from the newsletters that the mission houses send to the community. Tom wrote them over the years from various houses, and taken together, they give a glimpse into the day-to-day life he lived and the men staff continue to live.

Our Lady of Aquia House, Aquia, Virginia, Oct. 10, 1961 — When Tom was at the brand new house whose apostolate was to families:

Life here in Aquia is one of continually doing little things, sometimes seemingly unimportant things at the moment, but all part of God’s plan for the apostolate here in Virginia. For each of these little things helps to organize our house. Each of them, as we have been told, has an infinite value, and we hope that nothing in the way we do it, cuts down on that value.

Aquia House, March 27, 1963

With the coming of spring comes spring cleaning, and that is a task of no small proportion. So armed with a scrub pan containing hot water and detergent, clean rags, and two willing hands, I proceeded to wash the woodwork.

This job took a few days, or so it seemed to me, because I was continuously being taken off that job to engage in some other form of cleaning—taking down curtains or venetian blinds and helping to wash them or hang them on the line, or moving furniture here and there.

Marian Centre, Edmonton, October 7, 1968 — When Tom was pick-up man, that is the man whose daily job was to pick up the donations of food for the soup kitchen:

After breakfast it is time for me to organize the pick-up trips for the day, and this is no small matter, let me tell you. First out comes the list of regularly-scheduled pick-ups, and then the slips of the one-time pick-ups that I fit in with the regular trips.

Having collated the regular and one-time trips, I take out the city map and plot out the course I will take that day. I list all the street numbers, all the proper right and left turns, and then I take off.

Following my well-plotted course, I make all the proper turns and so forth and pick up bread, vegetables, meat, and clothing and do various errands for the house.

Well sometimes I make all the proper turns. I must admit that sometimes I get a little confused in the city and miss some of them, but for some strange reason, I always find my way to the proper destination.

Marian Centre Regina, October 2, 1972 — When Tom was in charge of the soup kitchen:

There have been the usual dining room adventures. One day a man was acting a little troublesome. I told him, “Sir, you cannot do that here.” He said, “You are mean.” I agreed and he grunted something. Then he said, “I wish Mike was here.” I said, “Me, too,” and he grunted something and walked off.

The next day he invited me to have coffee with him and he talked to me about the American Civil War. It didn’t sound like anything I had ever read in the history books, but we have been great friends ever since. Except that he calls me “Bill” most of the time.

We have had some interesting young adults, teenagers actually, who have been around for some time. They seemed to have trouble taking their plates and cups to the counter to be washed.

So I sat down and talked to them about it. I asked them what they would do if they ran the dining room and people didn’t pick up their dirty dishes. They told me they thought that I should pick them up. I disagreed, and they disagreed with me. When they left, I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be.

But the next day they came and told me they had picked up their dishes, and now if someone else doesn’t do it, they point it out to me in a joking way. I joke back, and we have built up quite a joking rapport.

Maryhouse, Yukon, April 9, 1981 — When Tom took care of the men’s emergency hostel:

My day is basically one of cleaning, cooking, changing bed linens, laundry, and making food pick-ups three times a week. But most of all it is trying to make this a place of peace, with an open door, and a warm welcome that says, “You are the reason for my being here.”

At night and during meals we get to talk. They want to know about me, who I am, where I came from, why I am here. I talk about Madonna House and Catherine and Fr. Eddie and how we live.

Often the chastity part interests them. They ask the why of it, and they hear how deeply a celibate respects and holds sex in awe.

And there are times we talk about God.

It is not so much discussion as questions and answers. You never know that the moment for a man to hear what he needs to hear is happening. And most of the men you never see again, so you never know what happens to them.

But there is always before you the possibility that God is using this moment to bring a man to himself.

It is because of the possibility of this that the many changes of bed linens, hours of laundry, miles of floors swept, mopped and waxed, the endless dusting and hundreds of pounds of food cooked, are as nothing.

MH Combermere, January 1990 — When Tom worked in the shipping and receiving department:

What is there to say about mailing the MH books people have ordered? I package them, address them, put the correct amount of postage on them and mail them.

Yes, that is what I have done hundreds of times. There is, however, a little more to the story of mailing those books than that.

Each Madonna House book is a source of life that comes from God. This makes it a privilege to mail them.

I package them carefully, trying to live out the words, “Do little things exceedingly well for love of me,” words contained in the Little Mandate God has given us through Catherine Doherty. Yes, I try to do it with love, and that means with prayer. (I must admit that often I am distracted and the prayer is not continual.)

I pray for the people who will receive those books, for they are not just names on an order form, but a brother or sister in Christ. I pray that the words will touch them deeply, change their lives in some way, big or small, and affect as well the lives of those they come in contact with. I also pray for all those who will ever read those books for as long as the books exist.

Some of the books are mailed to priests and religious in the Third World countries, who cannot afford to buy them.

This is done through the generosity of many people. When preparing these mailings, I pray not only for them but for the people they are serving as well.

As I said earlier, I cannot say I pray for them all the time that I am preparing the mailing of the books. But I try to pray often, saying the Jesus Prayer, asking God’s blessing on them.
Maybe you can sum up the praying with the words I use often as I do this: “That the world may know you the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

That is what mailing Madonna House books is for me.

Maryhouse, Yukon, February 14, 1998 — When Tom returned to Maryhouse as a poustinik:

All the world comes into the poustinia. Downstairs from my poustinia room, AA meetings are held daily. The sound of those meetings come up the stairs, and part of my prayer is the sound of those people who struggle with alcohol.

These sounds remind me that there are many others struggling with this or that addiction, my brothers and sisters somewhere out there, and that they need support of one sort or another.

Other days I hear people coming for food. They too become part of my prayer.

And I know that my praying must not stop when I leave the poustinia, that all I do must be part of the prayer, be it chopping kindling wood, shoveling snow, sorting donations, helping with the dishes, visiting with the people who have come just for that, or any other job or task that might be asked of me.


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