If you’re familiar with the Episcopal Church, or certainly if you are an Episcopalian, you probably have heard that we’re the church that reads to God. From collects and psalms to Scripture and the prayers of the saints, our services are dominated by reading aloud our devotion to God. Naturally, we all find favorite prayers, to which we return over and over for comfort, strength and reassurance.
I found a new favorite prayer recently while reading “40 Years With a Saint,” by Cesare Cavalleri with Blessed Alvaro del Portillo — a long-form interview with Blessed Alvaro about his time with Saint Josemaría Escrivá.
St. Josemaría, Jan. 9, 1902 – June 26, 1975, is the founder of Opus Dei, the Roman Catholic movement to find holiness in the everyday work of everyday life, to worship God and bring Christ into our lives and to our neighbors by sanctifying our work, our leisure — every aspect of our daily lives.
“The Work,” as St. Josemaría called it, was meant to take the pursuit of sanctity beyond the clergy, beyond the church walls, to live and breathe in the days of everyday laypeople:
“Sanctity is not for a privileged few. The Lord calls all of us. He expects love from all of us—from everyone, wherever they are; from everyone, whatever their state in life, their profession or job. For the daily life we live, apparently so ordinary, can be a path to sanctity: it is not necessary to abandon one’s place in the world in order to search for God…because all the paths of the earth can be the occasion for an encounter with Christ.” (Letter 24-III-1930, no. 2).
St. Josemaría wrote prodigiously in his own right on “The Work,” most notably in The Way (1939), Christ is Passing By (1973), The Way of the Cross (1981), Furrow (1986), and The Forge (1987) [I admit I’ve only yet read The Way]. But, “40 Years” offers a different perspective, and a much richer understanding of St. Josemaría’s own writings because of the anecdotes and personal reflections from a man who spent four decades with the saint, and went on to take the reins of Opus Dei.
The anecdote from “40 Years” that yielded my new favorite prayer involved St. Josemaría visiting a devout young woman named Sofia, who was dying.
“Father,” Sofia confided to him, “sometimes I’m afraid that I won’t hold out to the end, because I am not a strong person.”
The Father promptly answered her, “My daughter, don’t be afraid — Jesus is waiting for you! I am asking him to cure you, but may his will be done. Sometimes it is hard to accept that divine will when we cannot understand, but the Lord must laugh at us a little at times like this, because he loves and looks after us like a real father with a mother’s heart.”
This is not the clinical advice of a detached cleric. Blessed Alvaro tells us St. Josemaría deeply grieved at the suffering or death of any of his “sons and daughters.” He was visibly, personally touched by Sofia’s suffering. But he gives her the only advice on which any of can universally rely: “may his will be done.” St. Josemaría goes on to tell her he will offer her up to God during Mass — that he will offer her up at the altar alongside the body and blood of Christ during the Eucharist:
“Tomorrow I will place you on the paten at Mass, with the Sacred Host, and will offer you to the Lord. And you, whether here or in heaven, must forever stay very united to the Father, to the intentions of the Father, because I need all of you to support my supplications.”
St.Josemaría tells us all to offer ourselves fully to God — sick or well, rich or poor, weak or powerful — to offer up all we are to the Almighty, and to find peace in however God uses what we’ve offered. “Ask for your cure,” St. Josemaría tells Sofia, “accept the will of God, and be content with whatever he decides: the Church needs our life, either way.”
When Sofia lamented that she was no longer able to attend Mass, due to her illness, St. Josemaría offers her a new perspective of victory — a means to sanctify the illness itself:
“My daughter, now your whole day is a Mass: you are being consumed in very close union with our Lord. Don’t worry, the Lord is inside you; just don’t leave him. Pray a lot. Turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to St. Joseph. Go with confidence to our father and lord St. Joseph, and ask him to lead us along the road of that intimacy he had with his Son.”
The very essence of “The Work” was to find a way to draw closer to God in any circumstance. At work. At play. In the tedium of everyday chores. And, in this incredibly tender moment with Sofia, St. Josemaría tells us even illness, suffering and death can be offered up as a means to love and serve God, and to show God to all around us.
As he left Sofia’s hospital room, “without trying to hide his grief,” he offered her this prayer:
“Fiat adimpleatur, laudetur, et in aeternum superexaltetur iustissima atque amabilissima voluntas Dei super omnia. Amen. Amen!” : “May the most righteous and lovable will of God be done, accomplished, praised, and eternally exalted above all things. Amen. Amen!”
The prayer is beautiful in its entirety. But, I immediately focused on those last four words in the Latin: Voluntas Dei Super Omnia. God’s will above all. These words summarize St. Josemaría’s pastoral counsel to Sofia, and to us all, and echo Christ’s words in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
There is no substitute for the Lord’s Prayer. And, there are many longer prayers that more completely express and explore our praise, penitence, supplications and calls for intercession. But, I believe any situation — whether praise or despair, intercession or deepest penitence — can be boiled down to those four simple words: Voluntas Dei Super Omnia — God’s will above all.
Since reading this prayer last week I’ve taken to repeating those words over and over in quiet time, while driving, when I feel frustrated at work, or when the nagging specter of worry or fear begins to drag me into old and unhealthy places. Voluntas Dei Super Omnia. God’s will above all. Immediately, I’m reminded I don’t have to figure it all out on my own. All I must do is give my work, my life, to God. And then, let go. Let go, have faith, and know that any work done sincerely, with love for God and for our neighbors, will be guided by God’s eternal will for us all — that we be brought to perfect union with Him.
I hope this short prayer is as powerful for you as it has become for me.