99 stone steps – 100 fragile knees – 50 souls laid bare.
It was a warm September morning when a group of men boarded a bus headed for Montreal, Canada. While one might have guessed their destination to be a sporting event, pub crawl, or some type of team-building exercise, the miles traveled ended in front of Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal, a magnificent basilica that began as a humble chapel in 1904 and now stands as the largest church in Canada, receiving upwards of two million pilgrims and visitors from all over the world each year. Throughout the course of the day, the group toured the Cathedral, walked the beautiful outdoor Stations of the Cross, and played tourist in the gift shop. Perhaps the most poignant part of their day, however, was when each of them took to their knees to climb the ninety-nine steps leading to the entrance to the basilica.
This picture is so powerful and evokes such emotion, I hesitate to put any words to it, as if I am an intruder into the very private way it speaks to the viewer. The last thing any of these men want is recognition of their feat in climbing the stairs in the humble posture of prayer. I feel strongly, however, that it needs to be seen; it demands the truth it reveals to be heard.
I am particularly struck by the young girl standing at the top of the stairway on the right-hand side. Her curiosity is so very innocent as she watches this group of men ascend the stairs. I’m quite certain she didn’t absorb the beauty of what was happening before her, but I have to hope that somewhere, in her subconscious perhaps, this vision will hold strong and reemerge as she navigates what is becoming an increasingly divided world with ever-decreasing sensitivity and care for the human soul.
If I were standing next to that little lady, I’d be tempted to narrate the scene before her, for fear she might miss the message. This, my little friend, is what your vision of a true man should be: strong enough to take to his knees in recognition of his weakness, his posture laying bare his faults and serving as admission that, on his own, he doesn’t have what it takes to lead the kind of life he was designed for. When you set out to search for a husband and confidant, look for a man that admits there is someone bigger than himself, smarter than his own flawed ideas and conclusions about the world and how it’s supposed to turn, with dreams and plans for his future that far exceed anything he can come up with on his own. It is in this submission, I would tell this young lady, that these men find their greatest strength, in the recognition of their smallness that they take on the enormity of their unique purpose on this earth.
I would challenge this small child to keep this vision lucid in her memory and call it to mind in those moments when she might think her best option for a soulmate is the kid staring at her chest rather than her eyes, the guy trying to prove his own worth by putting down that of another, or the boy who can’t seem to keep his hands off her. When her world becomes clouded with constant news reports of men’s gross failings and she starts to normalize the stories that saturate every form of social media, I hope she will remember that there are men who choose differently, men who fight the good fight every day to honor and secure the image in which they were first created.
In much the same way, I’d lean over to her brother standing next to her and give him a head’s-up to take notes on what he sees playing out before him. This is the example we need our young men to hold as the gold standard of a hero, the men who don’t go into battle alone but rather partner with the one who won the war long ago. So when the world tells him his worth is judged by his athletic ability, his looks, or the size of his muscles, he just might remember to take to his knees and begin an entirely different climb to success.
Copyright 2018 Nicole Johnson