Perfect Prayer

Billy had trouble talking anyway. How could he get the sacrament prayer word perfect?

Calmly the bishop turned his head toward the sacrament table and gave the dreaded “no” sign. The young priest had missed a word while blessing the sacrament.

Give the kid a break, I thought to myself, trying in vain to transmit my brainwaves to the bishopric. After all, this was Billy we were talking about. This was a kid who had a tough enough time talking in complete sentences, let alone reading prayers in front of a congregation of people, speaking words verbatim from a card.

Just a week before, Billy’s dad had ordained him a priest. With that prayer came a promise that the Lord would help him overcome his handicaps. The following Sunday, that promise was put to the test. Billy was kneeling behind the sacrament table, confronted with a task that demanded nothing less than perfection.

Billy prayed again, and with loving composure, the bishop once again signaled for him to say the prayer over. Billy’s face filled with disappointment as he dropped to his knees, cleared his throat, and prayed. An anxious reverence filled the chapel.

As Billy began again, I prayed along with him, mouthing each word as if I could somehow control his speech. Amazingly, the technique seemed to be working. With only a few phrases to go, Billy’s prayer was perfect. And then the unthinkable happened as the words that I mouthed and Billy spoke went suddenly out of sync.

There would be no need for Billy to look at the bishop. Billy knew he had to start over. For one awkward and eternal moment he remained on his knees as all eyes focused on the bishopric. And then Andy arose from the congregation, walked quietly to the sacrament table, and knelt down next to his younger brother.

Bowing our heads in gratitude, we waited for Andy to offer the prayer and put an end to Billy’s suffering. But it was Billy’s voice—not Andy’s—that broke the silence. I held my breath as Billy tiptoed through the phrases with his brother at his side.

Then at last came “amen,” and the bishop smiled and nodded.

Billy emerged from behind the sacrament table wearing the same big grin he seemed to always have. For one sweet moment he had tasted perfection, and he knew it. We all knew it, and I more fully understood the wisdom of our bishop.

He was well aware of Billy’s weaknesses. But he loved Billy. He loved him enough to allow him the chance to magnify his priesthood and to let him try and fail until he found perfection.

In that perfect prayer that Billy uttered, we were all lifted and edified. We all saw a priest of great courage who knelt with his older brother and preached a powerful sermon from the sacrament table.

[illustration] Illustrated by Roger Motzkus