By Sean Mulcare
This is a picture that was taken a couple of years ago, and I think there’s a lot of rich symbolism here about the journey to God. It shows how the journey isn’t meant to be without suffering. The journey is not easy. It will demand everything, and ultimately its destination on this earth is death to ourselves. Just as Christ died on this earth, I am coming to understand that we are called to die as well. We must let go of our former, sinful ways of life — where we have previously found our identity and “joy”. And in letting go, we will die to our former selves. It of course doesn’t end there, because after that death comes the resurrection. The journey is not an easy one, and there is suffering along the way — I imagine each one of these steps in the photograph of the stairs represents a different form of attachment we have over Christ. We must conquer them through the cross and through the use of our will, and in doing so we will reach the destination. I imagine it as a sort of purification from our former sinful ways of life. By reaching our destination, we will be most authentically ourselves. We need to step above our worldliness and conquer it through participation in the Cross of Christ.
The destination being the death of my former self is on one level very unattractive, especially when I think about all the suffering involved. And yet I think we all know within ourselves that going on and moving forward in the ascent is the only place where hope lies, and we intuitively know that is where true joy and peace can be found. However, I believe this becomes clearer as one gets closer to the destination. When we think about the many people who have made this journey up these same steps of stairs before us and about how they persevered despite the pain, we find courage. We look to the saints to learn from them how they ascended from earth to heaven. There may be a couple of particular steps that hurt the most. When we encounter those, we can look to a saint who struggled with that step as well and can learn from the wisdom of one who has made it. There are many little deaths to ourselves that we need to endure in this life, and eventually we will learn to embrace them. Eventually, through those little deaths, we will reach our final destination — the death of our former selves and Christ raising us up into the saints that we are meant to be.
I think it’s symbolic that the sign says, “You must ascend on your knees.” It would be so much easier to simply walk up, and I think that’s what so many people want — to simply die and go right up to heaven. But I think ascending on your knees implies a purgation. It’s not easy. It takes a choice of the will, and it’s a journey. It’s not something you that requires no work. With a steadfast will and the grace of God, we will reach our destination. We will die to our former selves, and we will participate in the resurrection in which God will graciously bestow on us the reward that we have labored for (with his help and at his prompting the whole way).