Climbing the Holy Stairs

Over Spring Break I had the privilege of going on a pilgrimage to Rome with fellow seminarians and a group of men from Notre Dame and Holy Cross College who are discerning the priesthood and religious life. It was a truly wonderful experience being able to travel to the Eternal City and see the heart of our Holy Roman Catholic Church.

The Eternal City

As Good Friday approaches I would like to reflect on one of the most powerful experiences I encountered while on pilgrimage, which was climbing the Scala Santa. These “Sacred Steps” are the marble steps that Jesus climbed to the Roman Praetorium in Jerusalem where he would be condemned by Pilate to death. As I was climbing the steps on my knees, I meditated and was trying to put myself in the place of Jesus as he slowly and surely climbed the steps. He had already experienced his Agony in Garden, where he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot and tied and beaten by the Temple guards. He had been brought before the Sanhedrin and Caiaphas where he was beaten, punched, slapped, and spat on by not only the high priests, but also by his fellow Jews who had only recently welcomed him into the city on Palm Sunday. So here was the Son of God being forced up these twenty-eight marble steps to be brought before Pontius Pilate and was doing so for our good. He walked up these steps slowly and painfully, hurt physically but also emotionally.

Scala Santa in Rome

Trying to overcome the pain from the beatings he had experienced, but also overcoming the betrayal of Judas and the people of Jerusalem. He climbed these steps knowing that he was about to die upon the wood of a tree, and that his blood would become the salvation of mankind, but I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for him to realize it. He knew he would have to experience immense pain and suffering, but in the end He was doing it to save not only the souls of his apostles but the souls of generations to come.

Ecce Homo by Tintoretto

As I climbed these steps knee by knee I put myself in this frame of mind and found it extremely beneficial. I started to reflect on how some of my struggles were like our Lord’s and how he faced them head on and accepted them because it was the will of His father. I have found that this must be how I approach the crosses I carry now and will carry in the future. They have been put there as a way to build me up and make me a stronger person, not to tear me down. I will reflect on this past year and see the crosses I have carried and remember that they will never compare to the cross Jesus carried. For he carried the sin of the world upon his shoulders and was nailed to the cross to free us from sin and grant us eternal life. I know that this Good Friday I will reflect on how the Lord climbed the Scala Santa and how we must all prepare ourselves to carry the crosses in our lives.


Rob Ackerman is in his first year of formation at Old College Undergraduate Seminary on the Campus of Notre Dame. He is currently studying at Holy Cross College. He and his fellow Old Collegians write posts for the Spes Unica Blog, sharing on their life and formation in Old College.

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