I don’t pretend to sound very original here for there’s nothing new under the sun. But I only wish to reecho for wide diffusion the points of Bert Ghezzi in an article published a few months ago in Our Sunday Visitor (3-25-2013) (See http://www.osv.com/tabid/7621/itemid/9190/Why-Catholics-make-the-sign-of-the-cross.aspx).
According to Ghezzi, there are six ways “in which making the ancient sign opens Catholics to life-transforming graces”. In his book The Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer (Loyola Press, 2004), the author shares how making the sign with more faith and reverence helps him experience its great blessings. “I did not think much about it, but after a year I noticed that I seemed to be doing measurably better in my Christian life. I was praying with more passion, resisting my bad inclinations somewhat more effectively, and relating to others more kindly”, he said.
So, here are the six oftentimes overlooked reasons why we, Catholics, make the Sign of the Cross:
First, the Sign of the Cross is a profession of faith. It is an abbreviated for of the Apostle’s Creed. Have you noticed the Trinitarian structure of the Creed that we pray every Sunday and on Solemnities? To profess our faith is quite urgent today when the society seems to disregard the place of God in our lives. “When we sign ourselves, we are making ourselves aware of God’s presence and opening ourselves to His action in our lives”, Ghezzi notes.
Second, making the Sign of the Cross is a reminder and renewal of our baptism. What happened in our baptism? St. Paul says that in baptism we died sacramentally with Christ on the cross and rose with Him to a new life (Cfr. Rom 6: 3-4; Gal 2:20). When we make the sign, we ask the Lord to renew the graces we received in Baptism. We also acknowledge that through Baptism we become one with the Body of Christ, the Church; thus, we are co-redeemer with Him.
Third, the cross is a mark of discipleship. Pope Francis, in his first homily, emphasized the importance of the cross to Christ’s disciples. He said, “When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord”. “By tracing the cross on our bodies, we are denying that we belong to ourselves and declaring that we belong to Him alone”, Ghezzi explains. As Catholics, are we going to deprive ourselves of this manifestation of our belongingness to Christ?
Fourth, if the Sign of the Cross is a mark of authentic discipleship, it is because it is a manifestation of our acceptance of suffering. Because Jesus chose to suffer for us, He is telling us that suffering – being a normal part of disciples’ life – has a new redemptive and redeeming meaning. Thus, when we mark our bodies with the sign, we embrace lovingly whatever physical, spiritual or moral pain that comes as a consequence of our faith. However, it is not embracing suffering for its own sake. Catholics are never sadists. We take joy in suffering because it purifies us and it unites us to our Lord.
Fifth, the Sign of the Cross is a moved against the devil. The devil thought mistakenly that he had won a great victory when Jesus died on the cross. “Instead, the Lord surprised Him with an ignominious defeat”, Ghezzi observes. The cross, therefore, becomes a symbol of the devil’s defeat and the Christians’ victory. I remember a saying that goes, “When the devil reminds you of your past, remind him of his future”. Making the sign of the cross does not only remind us of our victory over the devil, it also reminds the devil of his ultimate defeat.
Lastly, making the Sign of the Cross manifests also our victory over the flesh. The flesh is the sum of all disordered inclinations that we experience within as a result of the original sin: envy, jealousy, sensuality, anger, etc. When we sign ourselves, we express our decision to “crucify” the desires of our flesh and to live according to the Holy Spirit. Ghezzi likens it to “tossing off a dirty shirt or blouse”. “Making the sign,” he says, “indicates our stripping ourselves of our evil inclinations and clothing ourselves with the behaviors of Christ (see Col 3: 5-15)”.
Knowing these reasons and keeping them in mind whenever we make the Sign of the Cross, either in opening or closing a prayer or in entering a church, is one step towards living seriously our spiritual life as Catholics. This Year of Faith could be the best time to start doing it.