The curious boy and the tabernacle

November 11, 2013

By Christopher Gunty 

A modern fable: Once upon a time, a curious little boy climbed over the altar rail at his parish church, eager to see what was in the tabernacle. He had been told that God lived in there, and that seemed a strange idea to him. How could God, who was so big in his young mind, live in such a small place?

The parish priest happened to come into the church while the little boy was exploring the sanctuary. At that point, there are two ways this fable could end.

Scenario One: The priest reacted in anger and reprimanded the boy. “Why are you here? You’re not allowed in this area.”

“But I just wanted to see ... “ the boy stammered.

“You can see from behind the rail,” the priest growled, cutting him off. “Go back there, and don’t come in this area again.”

And so the young boy slunk away, and not only did he never set foot in the sanctuary area again, after a while, as he grew up, he drifted away from the church. He never learned where God lived, and he never got to know Jesus, who lived in the tabernacle, and in his heart.

Scenario Two: The priest welcomed the boy’s curiosity. He explained that the tabernacle housed the Blessed Sacrament, in which Jesus is truly present, body and blood, soul and divinity. It is a difficult mystery to grasp, but the priest tried to explain it so the boy could understand.

The priest then showed the boy other items around the sanctuary. He explained that the altar of sacrifice is also a table for the best banquet feast ever. He answered the boy’s questions, gently and patiently. Rather than chastise the boy for his “transgression,” he reflected a love of God and his people. The boy looked forward to receiving Christ in the Eucharist, and God lived in his heart.

And the moral of the story is – well, you decide. Which scenario do you think happened? What do you learn from each?

A couple weeks ago, during an audience at the Vatican to celebrate families, a young boy went to Pope Francis and spent some time with him. He hugged the pope’s leg, the pope patted him on the head and the boy eventually sat in the pope’s chair while the pope made a speech. The pontiff’s aides tried, gently, to usher the boy back to his seat, but he wouldn’t go.

The youngster reportedly is originally from Colombia, recently adopted by an Italian family. The mother expressed her gratitude that the pope did not send her son away, and saw the pope’s blessing and acceptance of her son as a blessing for all abandoned children.

“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus told his disciples when they tried to shoo away the young ones. While there must be some control of the crowds around the pope for his safety, Francis apparently decided that the boy was no threat.

How will that young boy respond to the church when he becomes a man? Will he recall the warmth of the pope to a curious kid? Will he know that the church values families and children? I bet he will.

As for that young boy who breached the sanctuary to learn about where God lived? It’s not a fable, but based on a real situation. Fortunately, it was scenario two, and the young boy grew in wisdom, age and grace – and one day became a priest. And he did more than set foot in the sanctuary of that church; through the power of the Holy Spirit, he turned ordinary bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

“Let the children come to me” indeed.