Faith and Spirituality

[REFLECTION] Tell me what you (really) want

Ro Atilano

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[REFLECTION] Tell me what you (really) want
'God wants us to tell Him what is truly in our mind and hearts – to tell Him how it is that we truly think and feel, without editing'

This is a modified version of a homily in the book “The Miracle of the Ordinary” by Father Ro Atilano, a Jesuit priest. Rappler has published this with his permission.

In the first two years of Jesuit formation, a novice goes through several organized trials, one of which is the mission exposure. The novice is sent to a Jesuit mission, usually in rural areas, for a month of immersion. He may assist the Jesuit missionaries in their ministries or simply just be with the people in the community. The aim of this is to allow the novice not only to experience the life of a missionary but also of the people in the mission areas.

I was sent to Miarayon, Bukidnon in Mindanao, one of the mission parishes of the Philippine Jesuits in the region. Miarayon sits at 1,500 meters above sea level between Kalatungan and Kitanglad mountain ranges. It’s an Instagram-perfect picture of rolling hills and green fields with cool temperatures that could go down to 8 degrees Celsius. Wow! It is a dream assignment for a Jesuit novice, almost a vacation, and an adventure! In 2006 there was neither stable electricity nor mobile signal in the area. Just fresh air and breathtaking sights of nature!

The residents survive – although almost barely – on farming. With its weather, they are able to grow cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, and carrots. It was in Miarayon that I had my first experience of eating carrot fresh from being pulled out of the ground, no washing, just shaking off the soil. It was only then that I discovered that carrots are sweet when eaten fresh from harvest.

On my first day, Father Dario Saniel, the only Jesuit missionary assigned to Miarayon at that time, served me freshly boiled cauliflower and broccoli for lunch. I enjoyed them so much! Knowing how expensive these vegetables were in the city, I ate a lot as if there was no tomorrow. 

For dinner, it was cauliflower and broccoli sautéed with asparagus. The following day, we had fresh locally brewed coffee, mountain rice, and corned beef with broccoli and cauliflower for breakfast. For lunch, it was broccoli and cauliflower again in an experimented recipe. And if you think we had the same for dinner, you’d be right.

I started noticing the pattern on the third day: we will have broccoli and cauliflower every meal. So I respectfully asked Father Dario about when meat would be served for our meals. He told me that, as missionaries, we are dependent on what people offer during our daily Masses. Since our parishioners were mostly farmers, vegetables were all they could offer.

On the fifth day, my body started craving chicken or pork. It was almost like I was gasping for breath.  I was no longer enjoying the broccoli and cauliflower anymore. I actually started hating them! When I imagined the next remaining three weeks with broccoli and cauliflower for meals, I almost fainted.

Sunday came. One hour before the ten o’clock morning mass, I went to the chapel and knelt before the Lord. I complained to Him. I told the Lord that I was not ready to be a vegetarian just yet. So I begged the Lord that, for this particular mass, somebody would offer chicken.

That moment when I heard myself praying my innermost desire, I heard the clucking of a chicken. It was the most beautiful sound I’ve heard in a week. It was like hearing the angels sing! I made sure I was not just daydreaming; I looked back and saw a live native chicken on the offertory table. I jumped and almost cried with jubilation! God answered my prayer instantly! 

I cut short my prayer and ran to the offertory table to grab the chicken. I asked the congregation who among them offered such a beautiful gift. A young farmer in an old white shirt and tattered jeans raised his hand. I wanted to embrace him at that moment, but I kept my composure and I just told him that I would tie chicken to the table just to make sure it would not escape during the Mass. 

Right after the Mass I brought the chicken to the convent and dressed it. You should have seen the smile on my face while I was cooking. I could swear that it was the best chicken adobo I’ve had in my life!

In our Gospel today, we heard Jesus saying, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you.” Yes, you heard it right. Whatever. That means we can be a little more specific with our request. 

Do you remember the story of Jesus and the blind man Bartimaeus? The Lord had to ask Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus was a blind beggar who sat at the roadside asking for money from passersby. This was Jesus asking. Wouldn’t Jesus already know that what Bartimaeus truly wanted was not a few coins? He wanted to be able to see. That was what Bartimaeus wanted all his life. Jesus could have just healed him right away. But he did not. Jesus had to ask him. He wanted Bartimaeus to articulate his desires, his prayers. And only when Bartimaeus expressed what he truly wanted was his prayer answered.

Many times we find ourselves coming to God in prayer but not really being able to tell Him what exactly and truly it is that we want. There may be reasons why we could not articulate our prayer intentions. Sometimes problems, sorrow, and grief can overwhelm and conceal what we truly want to ask God. Trauma and pain can also numb us and make us unable to articulate what we want. For others, it could be shame brought about by sin that has estranged them from God that makes them uncomfortable to articulate their desire. For some, it could be just too much intellectualization and focus on the form rather than the content of their prayer.

But God wants us to tell Him what is truly in our mind and hearts – to tell Him how it is that we truly think and feel, without editing.  Don’t be concerned if you’re unable to follow the rules of grammar, or if you’re mixing languages. He just wants us to be honest before Him. In our relationships with family and friends, we are better able to relate with them or better assist them if they openly express to us their thoughts and feelings.

So the next time you pray, be specific. Imagine yourself in a conversation with Jesus and He says, “Tell me, what you really really want.” Go ahead. Tell Him. Do not be shy.  Even if it’s just chicken adobo. 

God knows our deepest prayers even before we tell him, but when you articulate your desire, then it becomes easier for you to recognize God’s answer to your prayers.  And when you realize that your prayer has been granted, then your happiness becomes more concrete and gratitude comes more easily. –

Father Roseller “Ro” Atilano Jr. is a Jesuit priest. He is currently the associate director of Jesuit Communications. He is the author of the book “The Miracle of the Ordinary,” which won the Cardinal Sin Best Book in Homiletics in 2022.

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