by Cheryl Ann Smith.
The day I became an applicant of Madonna House, though it was Catherine Doherty who officially accepted and warmly received me, it was Tom Egan whom I experienced bringing me into the heart of the family.
Before I sat down beside Tom Egan for supper that night, I hadn’t known him all that well. In fact, I was a little uncomfortable around him. I couldn’t always understand what he was saying: he spoke quickly, tripping over his words. And his loud gruff voice often sounded angry.
But that night, Tom turned to me with dancing eyes and opened his heart. He talked about the beauty of our vocation, and the joy of belonging to this family. Somehow, he let me know that I was now his sister.
And it wasn’t just words. Two months later Tom was on holidays in a nearby house, and he invited my class of applicants for supper. I couldn’t believe it! He really wanted our company. He wanted to serve us. He truly was our brother.
As the years passed, Tom and I lived in different houses and situations. But we both deepened in our love for God and this family.
Two years ago, when I came to live in St. Mary’s, there was Tom once again to welcome me. By now he had suffered much and had learned to turn that suffering into prayer.
During his three days of poustinia each week, he would discover treasures from Catherine’s writings, and he could hardly wait to share them with me. And when someone or some situation particularly needed prayers, I would ask Tom to intercede. His prayers were faithful and powerful.
On the Feast of St. Nicholas (December 6th), we have a custom. Each person draws the name of someone in the community to pray for in a special way during the coming year. This year, to my delight, I drew Tom’s name.
However haphazardly I may have prayed for him since then, I was given the privilege of praying for him in a most profound way, at 1:20 pm, March 3rd.
I was in a meeting down the road at the main house, when we received the call that Tom had been found dead in his room. I rushed home, and moments later burst into his poustinia room. There he was, stretched out on the floor. As I stood at his feet gazing at his poor, disfigured face and body, I couldn’t help but feel I was standing with him at the foot of his cross.
The scene did not look or smell pretty. Neither did Golgotha. I couldn’t say or do anything to “fix it”, roll back the clock, or alleviate whatever pain he had suffered.
Neither could Our Lady, Mary Magdalene, or St. John at the foot of Christ’s cross. But like them, I could pray and be there.
Because Tom had died alone, the police had to conduct an investigation. So we could not attend to his body.
So as we watched with Tom for those few hours, I saw, for the first time, another of the anguishes of the women following Jesus. How painful it must have been for them to have to wait until after the Sabbath to wash and anoint his body!
And as I waited in that room with Tom, I gradually became aware of a deeper reality. As the shock began to wear off, I could sense peace, surrender, triumph – and joy surrounding my brother.
At one point, a scene flashed into my heart. I “saw” Jesus asking Tom if he would be willing to die alone, and to lay alone for some hours before he was found and to offer that sacrifice for those who die alone without faith. And I “saw” Tom’s heart explode with joy. Yes! Fiat!
His life was already a sacrificial offering. Now, although he could no longer work in the missions, he could offer his very lifeblood for those who die alone.
How does this all work in God’s economy of grace? I have no idea. But this inner sense of Tom’s triumph and joy in his supreme sacrifice permeates my heart.
And what joy it is to imagine the day I will enter my eternal home. Perhaps Tom himself will welcome me there, too.
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