Yesterday my children and I had the opportunity to attend Mass at St. Patrick's in Pittsburgh's Strip District. The structure of the interior of this church is a bit unusual as the seating area for Mass is at the second floor level. The entry level of the church seems to be primarily an area of devotional prayer. The prominent feature that catches your eye immediately upon entering through the front door is the Holy Stairs, a replica of the 28 steps in the Church of the Holy Stairs in Rome. Those steps were brought from Jerusalem to Rome by St. Helena and were said to be the very ones that lay between Christ and Pontius Pilate when Christ was condemned to death.
The custom, in Rome and in Pittsburgh, is to climb these steps on one's knees, praying as one ascends. In 1993 when I visited Rome, I did this with the vast crowd there present, and yesterday I did this with my children. It was a powerful moment. As we started up the steps, I remembered distinctly how I prayed back in 1993. As a brand new Catholic, so new I could almost still smell the chrism on my forehead, with each step I prayed for people of various Christian denominations to return to union with Rome. At first yesterday I began to pray the same way, but it struck me that differentiating people this way, by denomination, touched nothing of the depth of need we all have. Instead I prayed for the grace of conversion for those who have been repulsed by Christianity and organized religion because of the sins of Christians and those acting in the name of the Church.
Christian unity comes as we all repent of our sin and embrace the cross. Only in the cross will we all be drawn together.
May this be our aim in the coming year. May the world know that we are Christians because of our love for one another.