Here I Am, Lord – Ro Atilano, SJ

John 1:29-34, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Here I am

“Here I am, Lord; I come to do Your will.”

I used to work for the biggest auditing firm in the country. They say it is the dream of every new certified public accountant. For the experience, as the veterans would say. I applied and got accepted and started to build my career and my résumé as a tax consultant. True, the promises for a better future in terms of stability and financial confidence were very attractive. True, the company offered all sorts of opportunities for professional development and skills enhancement. Indeed, I was very lucky to have been accepted in the company. And so many people admired me and wanted to be where I was.

As days became months, I began to realize that perhaps it was not really for me.

There were many times that I needed to leave the office at midnight because I had to finish reports. Actually, one could not recognize the difference between night and day for even at midnight, the entire building was very much alive. There were also many times that I needed to work during the weekends. I was getting thinner and thinner and looking older and older each day. When my work became the center of my life, I felt I had lost my life.

In the midst of all these, I found a sacred ground. Every morning I would pass by Greenbelt Chapel to begin my day and to ask for strength. There were nights that I would simply sit in one of the pews and gaze at the cross saying nothing to the Lord for, oftentimes, my body was already tired and worn out. In the midst of the all the noise, I found quiet stillness in that chapel. In the center of breathless actions, I could hear the beating of my own heart. In that chapel located in the heart of the busiest business district in the country, I began to hear what my heart truly wanted to say.

“Here I am, Lord; I come to do Your will.”

Since I was young, I always wanted to become a missionary priest. But I knew I could not pursue that dream because I needed to help my family. I came from a very poor family in Mindanao. I lost my dad when I was young. So the entire family was waiting for me to finish my education so I could save them from poverty.

Gratefully, I was able to finish my education because of the generosity of other people. And so here I was, in my long-sleeved shirt and tie, working for my family. But, I really felt empty.

It was two o’clock in the morning when I left the office one day. I turned off the computer and went to the elevator. I watched the people on that floor. There were still some of them who preferred to extend their work hours. The elevator doors opened and I went in slowly. As I descended, I wondered what would have happened if the elevator malfunctioned and crashed down with me in it.

The door opened and I went out of the main lobby after greeting the security guard. There were taxi cabs waiting for passengers along Ayala Avenue. For some unknown reason, I chose to slowly walk along the avenue. Some lights were still on in the tall buildings of Makati. There were still some people working there, I thought. I felt the cool breeze that touched my face. I suddenly missed my family back home. It has been some time since I last visited. I was not able go home for Christmas that year too. I was also told that my grandmother was sick. And yet here I was.

I reached a crossroad and crossed the street when I heard a loud screech coming from a two blinding lights. I thought it was my last moment. I could not move. I had no time. Time stopped. I just closed my eyes.

When I opened my eyes, I saw the car going straight down the avenue until it disappeared from sight. My knees were trembling, my entire being was shaking. I felt warm tears running down my cheeks. I am still alive! I sat down along the sidewalk and began to pray.

“Here I am, Lord; I come to do Your will.”

That was nineteen years ago. At that crossroad, I started thinking about the most important things in my life and seriously discerning about what I truly desired. After resigning from that job in Makati, I went back to my hometown to teach at the university. A year later, I was hired as a consultant for a World Bank project with the government. I was able to help my younger sister finish college and built a small house for my mother. And then finally, I had the courage to follow my desire of serving the Lord as a Jesuit. I joined the order in 2006.

Every time people ask us “bakit gusto mo mag pari?”, I find it difficult to answer in one simple sentence. I feel I need to tell my entire story in order for them to understand. But if there was really a word that could be the answer to the question, it would be gratitude – gratitude to God for all the blessings, gratitude to God for his unconditional love and mercy, gratitude to God for his unfailing presence in my life. It is gratitude that propels us to make decisions of love to love. It is gratitude that makes us give our lives in service to others. It is gratitude that we are able to pray our responsorial psalm today, “Here I am, Lord; I come to do Your will.”

Gratitude is indeed powerful. It is the spontaneous response of the realization of being blessed by God beyond measure, of being chosen, forgiven, despite our unworthiness and sinfulness.

My dear friends, if you feel that is difficult to do the will of God, start by counting your blessings. Think of the people who have always be there for you, even when you were at your worst. Think of the good things and privileges that you have right now and imagine a life without them. Think of your life right now and how fragile and short it actually is, and how much you waste its moments in hatred, envy, apathy, resentment and lack of gratitude. Realize how blessed and gifted you actually are! The truth is that we cannot completely count all our blessings for they are more than we can ever imagine.

St. Ignatius of Loyola taught us the examen; that is, to end the day by spending a few minutes looking back over our day in order to find God and the reasons to be grateful to Him. Make this a habit and gratitude will become a disposition in life. Then your heart will be filled with gratitude to God and then you will hear yourself praying,“Here I am, Lord; I come to do Your will.”

More and more, I come to realize, and it is becoming ever more real, that I am not worthy of this gift of priestly vocation. I am grateful to God every day. I thank God for my work experience in that auditing company, my prayer moments in that small chapel in Greenbelt, and that near-death experience I had in a Makati crossroad nineteen years ago. Indeed, I am blessed more than I can ever imagine and I pray that I remain grateful to him every single day of life.

“Here I am, Lord; I come to do Your will.”

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