Going on mission to Hong Kong in 1976 was both an exciting adventure and a shock to the system. Moving from the wide-open spaces, the peace and tranquility of a small Irish town to the closely packed high-rises, the noise, the over-crowded streets, was a new experience for me. Studying and struggling to speak one of the world’s most difficult languages was an added stress. It was therefore with great relief, six months later, that I found myself on one of the outlying islands at Xavier House for my annual retreat.
Xavier House, a Jesuit retreat center, was a total contrast to the busy life of the city. Quiet, situated on the edge of the South China Sea, with space to walk, and lots of trees and exotic flowers, it was a place to be refreshed and renewed before returning again to the city and the busy work day.
It was with a sense of wonder that I found myself in October 2000 back in Xavier House, this time as a member of the staff. I was invited – the first woman and the first Sister – to be part of a new team in Xavier House. In preparation I took some studies in spirituality and spiritual direction. For the past number of years, together with two Jesuits, I have been working in Xavier House. Most of those who come are lay people, both Catholic and Protestant.
In our garden at Xavier House, at a certain time in the year, the lotus rises in glorious bloom from the depths of the small pond. It glows deep pink in the sunshine. I like to think of this as a symbol of my work. The pond is deep and often murky, like the inner depths of the human person. The sun is like the bright light of God who encourages us to go deep within. And when we do this, there are moments in the sunshine of his presence when our inner beauty, made in God’s image, blossoms forth in all its loveliness.
I have discovered this time and time again with the people I direct. They come here stressed out from their busy lives as teachers, housewives, priests, office workers, etc. They are glad to be in a quiet place, but they carry the anxieties of their lives, and share these anxieties with me in our initial meetings. However, as they get in touch with nature – the sea, the trees, the song of the birds – they were absorbed by the beauty of the creator, who has shared all this with us.
Slowly they let go of the cares and anxieties and listen to God speak to them through nature and through the Scriptures. They discover that the important thing for them is to be with God, and to know that God loves them and wants to be with them. In these moments they discover with wonder the beauty of God, and like the lotus, the beauty rising from the depths of their own lives.
When I meet people as a spiritual director, we talk about how they are relating with God. We talk about their life and their relationships with family and with other people. We talk about what makes them happy or sad–what gives them life, and what takes away their energy. I often marvel at the great privilege which is mine and all that I receive through the openness and trust of the people who share with me.
It’s hard to switch off all the voices and all the choices that clamor for our attention today. However, if we do, we may gradually be filled with wonder as we discover the presence of God within us, and, like the lotus, allow that presence and that love to shine through all we are and all we do.
Columban Sr. Patricia Byrne was assigned to Hong Kong in 1976. The Missionary Sisters of St. Columban began working in Hong Kong in 1948 and recently made the decision to leave Hong Kong due to the declining number of Sisters available to staff the mission