Inventory time: How many crucifixes are in the room you are sitting in? How about the house you live in? I don’t know about you, but growing up I got a few raised eyebrows from friends when they would come over to play. Not because of the size or color of my house but by the sheer number of religious articles around it.
Let’s face it, Catholics love sacramentals.
It’s true, whenever I decorate a home I make sure to have a crucifix in every room. We have rosaries hanging on the rearview mirrors of our cars and religious window clings to boot.
I love all our sacred art, sacred music and ancient traditions but there is something Catholic that I dread. It is something that I take for granted, that I do before every prayer in the privacy of my home but dread doing at the public table.
The Sign of the Cross.
It makes me wince whenever I do it in public. For me, it is much easier to nail up crucifixes in my home where only friends enter. For me, it is easier to hang a rosary in my car where no one can say anything to me unless I roll down my window. For me, it is easier to dunk the tips of my fingers in the Holy Water font and sign then it is to make it in front of a crowd at lunchtime in McDonalds.
It is also no surprise that the Church adopted this so-simple-I-can’t-believe-its-so-hard-to-make-in-front-of-my-friends sign. That’s what God does. He doesn’t give us complicated formulas of ways to connect to Him. Instead, He takes simple things that most humans have like bread and wine and accomplish the unimaginable. Here, he uses a simple cross to stand as a creed to all his followers.
When made outside the doors of the church or our own homes, we are thrust into the scrutiny of the public arena. To make this sign over ourselves is to step into a place where religion is often mocked and misunderstood. It is a hard thing to face for those of us who don’t like conflict.
Wouldn’t be easier to wear a blessed medal? Sure, it would. Blessed articles are beautiful reminders of God’s goodness and grace. They are expressions of our faith. But the Sign of the Cross calls us to take one step more into His grace. To not just wear his blessings and graces close to my heart but to share that with others. The Sign of the Cross declares to all who see that I am a dedicated Christian. I can’t hide it behind a door or tuck it into my clothes.
“The Sign of the Cross can be made to testify to belief in the Crucified and thus be a profession of faith or to show that one hopes in and places one’s confidence in the same Savior, in which case it is a means of invoking God’s assistance in virtue of the Passion of His Son.” (St. Francis de Sales, “Sign of the Cross: The Fifteen most Powerful Words in the English Language”, pg 17)
This simple motion invokes an entire Bible’s worth of information. It is with this very sign that I enter into the liturgy, experience the Lord entering the Eucharist and the very sign I am commissioned with at the end of Mass. I have done it a million times, seen it done a million times and taken it for granted a million times. St. John Chrysostom asks: “If someone asks you, “Do you worship the one who was crucified?”, have no shame and do not lower your eyes to the ground, but instead glory and rejoice in making the confession with your chin raised and eyes looking straight ahead.” (pg 12.)
This Sign of the Cross, according to St. Francis de Sales, is performed by Christians to show that they were knights, whom had taken on the Cross of Christ (become His disciples) and were not ashamed of the great power of Christ’s cross and salvation for all souls. (pg 12)
St. Jerome, Tertullian, St. Ephraiam, St. Cryil and St. Ambrose, all invoke that the sign of the cross should be made in all matters of day to day life. From the time we rise to the time we sit, eat, stand, enter a room, go to a meeting, go outside etc. the sign of the Cross is there to strengthen us, to protect us and to remind us what our actions should be geared toward.
It is an outward expression of our faith to those around us but coincidentally, by making this sign God sends special graces to our soul. So, wouldn’t it follow that even if we are nervous about what others will say, the Sign of the Cross itself will grant us the graces to answer the questions posed to us?
Reflection: Everything we do as Catholics in our liturgies and customs are packed with meaning. For example, When making the Sign of the Cross, we confess three great mysteries: the Trinity, the Passion and the remission of sins, by which we are moved from the left, the hand of the curse, to the right, the hand of blessing. Did you know that most people in the early church made it with either three fingers (in honor of the Trinity) or five fingers (in honor of the five wounds of Christ)? (pgs. 9-10) Even St. Cecilia, who was one of the Church’s first martyrs, was found in the position of holding three fingers pressed together (for the Trinity) and two on her other hand touching (representing the two natures of Christ).
There are so many times I complain about not having time to pray. By that, I of course mean that deep, spiritual, contemplative prayer that usually happens during an hour of adoration. That doesn’t happen regularly here so I am constantly disappointed in my performance as a pray-er. Yet, the Sign of the Cross is a prayer in and of itself. So, if I don’t have time in my day to make four small motions with my right hand then I think I had better loosen up my schedule.
Challenge: Make the Sign of the Cross every morning when you wake up and every night when you go to sleep. Get in the habit of making this sign and thinking about what it means. Be aware of how many fingers your are making it with, what are you saying with your body? If you’re feeling particularly adventurous make the Sign of the Cross every time you pass a Catholic Church, sit down to eat a meal in the breakroom, go out to eat at a restaurant, or kiss those you love goodnight. Make the Sign of the Cross. See how it feels!