Let me share a parable with you, which also happens to be a true story: A priest was leading a group of first graders on a tour of the church grounds. "This,” he would say, “is a room. It has tables, chairs, and other furniture in it. People work in it. I want you to study it very carefully.”
And the children scrutinized the church office. Then they went to the parish hall. “This,” said the priest, “is a room. It has tables, chairs, and other furniture in it. People do things and work in it. I want you to study it very carefully.” And they did.
And so the tour continued, including the choir loft and the main church. Then they came to the sanctuary. One of the boys started to go in to study it as he had the other rooms. But the priest reached out and stopped him: “You can’t go in there.”
“Because ,” the priest replied, “it's a holy place. Now I want you all to study it very carefully — from this side of the altar rail — and tell me what’s different about this room.”
So they studied it. They saw about four tables, five chairs, a bench, and even some carpeting. And they knew that people worked or did things inside this room. They couldn’t see anything at all different about this room. Not at all.
“You' re right,” said the priest, “that room is like all the other rooms we saw. But it’s still holy. You know why?” And the children didn't.
"To remind us that all other rooms are holy".
Later, the boywho wanted to go into the sanctuary asked: “Father , are you holy?”
After thinking for a moment, the priest said: “Yes, I guess I am. Now, can you tell me why?”
And the boyanswered, “I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with that room we couldn't go into.”
The sanctuary reminds us that all rooms (and all places) are holy. We remind ourselves that the sanctuary is holy by not entering it idly. Similarly, the priest reminds us that all people are holy. As Saint Paul wrote, “Don’t you know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?”
Perhaps we are called to treat all places with the respect we show the sanctuary. Perhaps, more importantly, we are called to show others and ourselves that same respect.
The One who indwells the sanctuary of the world also indwells the sanctuary at the center of our heart,. wherein we find the peace which passes understanding.
Originally published in The Pilgrim, July 1985