The Scala Sancta and My Sin Nature

October 24, 2008 in Europe, Italy, Travelogue

< ![CDATA[  We rode the metro and buses all over Rome to visit the Spanish Steps a few days ago, by accident; these are the widest and longest set of steps in Europe. What I was hoping for were the Scala Sancta, the Sacred Steps. We found these today, within walking distance of our apartment. They are in a nondescript building across from the Basilica of San Giovanni Laterano, you’ll know them by the little old lady shrouded in black, who is begging outside. These steps are supposedly those from Pontius Pilate’s house in Jerusalem, brought here in 326 AD by Saint Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. The very same steps, if the legend is to be believed, that Jesus walked up and down on the day he was brought before Pilate for judgement. The first thing I noticed when we walked into the dim hall was the quiet. Most other churches we’ve visited have been a hive of tourist activity and rather loud and chatty. Not so, the Scala Sancta. There were relatively few people there, and those who were, were silent. The marble staircase has been covered over in walnut wood, worn smooth by centuries of penitents climbing them on their knees. Every few steps is a little round glass window set in a brass fitting. Beneath these windows are stains on the marble, said to be Christ’s blood, dripped there after his flogging. The only way to climb the steps is on your knees. Of course we did it... Tony, Ezra and I... the big kids opted to walk up the adjoining staircase and wait for us at the top. The first few steps were easy. I had plenty to pray about and the paintings on the walls and ceiling above the stairs were fascinating. Then my knees began to ache. I admit to resting most of my weight on my toes instead of my knees. It gave me greater respect for the sincerity of the little old woman two steps ahead of me who was intentionally not bearing any of her weight on her toes. Half way up my back started to ache, and my attention started to wander. The queue on the staircase was not moving fast. It was a mental effort to focus on prayer and not on wishing the pilgrims ahead of me would pray faster, or at least move faster. There was one guy, three steps ahead, who had brought a pillow to kneel on (it seems to me that this is cheating in some way, the letter of the law, but not the spirit, if you will.) Ezra lost his focus entirely and began tapping on the glass of one of the windows... “What’s supposed to be in there, Mama?!” he asked in a LOUD stage whisper. “Shh!” I gave him the eagle eye. He kept crawling up. By the time we reached the top it was an effort to stand to my feet. Not being Catholic I did not have the benefit of the order brought by the ritual of the rosary to my prayerful climb. Instead I groped around in my own mind and prayed sporadically about everything rattling around in there... the kids, the trip, my friends, their kids, for the lady next to me on the stairs who was all but weeping, for the big kids not to be doing something stupid at the top without supervision, for the election. I can only hope that the God who created me knows my weaknesses and loves me anyway. I was interested to learn that climbing the stairs earned me a plenary indulgence (once a year) or a partial indulgence (anytime). I’ve done a little research, but I’m still not entirely sure what this buys me. Being me, I figure I’ll save it for a rainy day... you know, the day when I really blow it BIG and need that extra edge over my sin nature. If it weren’t for my firm commitment to belief in the finished work of Christ and His grace to cover all sin, once and for all, I’m just the kind of girl who’d have been Tetzel’s best client.]]>