I’d like to take a look at a short prayer you’re all familiar with. In fact, you may not even think of it as a prayer, but it is. I’m speaking of the Sign of the Cross, and my excuse for talking about it today is these words from the gospel you just heard: “. . . so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that all who believe may have eternal life.” When Jesus says “lifted up” He is referring to the Cross, not the Resurrection. So let’s examine this simple, basic Catholic prayer for a moment. I think you’ll find there iss more to it than you suspect.
First, whenever we make the Sign of the Cross, with our without Holy Water, we call down God’s blessing on ourselves. It used to be the custom to do so whenever one passed a Catholic Church or a funeral procession, but whenever we do it we are reminded of our dependence on God and our need for His blessing, always and everywhere.
Second, the Sign of the Cross marks, we might even say brands, us as belonging to Christ. We have been bought by Him, and not with any diminishable sum of silver or gold but with His precious blood beyond all price.
Third, the Sign of the Cross is the briefest possible Profession of Faith, stating in a few words that we believe in one God who is also three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Fourth, by marking ourselves with the Cross, we recall our Lord’s words, “Take up you cross each day and follow me.” Cross-bearing, suffering, sacrifice are not options for the Christ-follower, rather essentials of the Christ-life we are meant to live.
Fifth, the cross, as the word suggests, is made up of two pieces of wood at cross-purposes, like crossed swords; hence the cross is called “a sign of contradiction,” and we are reminded that if we are not at odds with the world, then we are not as Christian as we ought to be.
Sixth, the two pieces of the cross recall the Two Great Commandments our Lord taught concerning the two essential relationships we have in this life. The vertical beam, pointing upwards, recalls our relationship to God, whom we are to love with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. The horizontal beam recalls our relationship to each other and our call as Christians to love one another as we love ourselves, indeed as Jesus loves us.
Seventh, the cross is a vivid reminder that, as our relations and responsibilities to others increase, so must our relationship to God lest we topple, just as the heavier the cross-beam is on the cross, the sturdier the upright must be. We cannot be to others all we are meant to be without a strong relationship to God.
Eighth, the cross is the great sign of God’s love for us. As Jesus hangs on the cross He says to us, “This is how much I love you, no matter what you have done wrong. This is what I am willing to do that we may be together forever.”
Ninth, the cross reveals dramatically the true nature of sin. It says, “This is what sin does. It crucifies God.”
Tenth and finally, Mother Teresa of Calcutta found in the Sign of the Cross a summary of our Christian lifestyle, which must be made up of prayer, poverty of spirit, zeal for souls, and devotion to Mary. How does she get all that from this simple gesture?
We begin, she said, by saying, “In the name of the Father,” recalling the Our Father and Jesus’ teaching and example of constant communion with the Father in prayer.
We continue by saying, “and of the Son,” and remember that the Son emptied Himself of majesty and divinity becoming a poor human being, born in a crib, dying on a cross, lying helpless in our tabernacles. He is the model of humility and poverty of spirit.
Next come the words, “and of the Holy Spirit,” the Soul of our souls, as the Spirit has been called. The gifts of the Spirit are given to us not only that we may become holy but that we may draw others to God and Christ.
Finally we say “Amen,” meaning “so be it,” a variation on Mary’s Fiat, “Be it done unto me according to your word,” and we are reminded of the heavenly Mother Jesus gave us as He hung on the cross.
So you see, there is more than meets the eye in the simple Sign of the Cross. May we use it thoughtfully, prayerfully, frequently, and may it transform us into the image and likeness of Christ and His Mother.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.