We do it before we eat. We do it as we walk into the sanctuary. We do it when we genuflect. We start Mass with it. We end Mass with it. We do it three consecutive times before we read the Gospel. We do it when we drive past a Catholic church. We do it before the game, before we go to sleep, and before we travel. In the west we do it with our right hand; in the East they do it with their left. Some do it with three fingers; some kiss it upon its completion. Martyrs did it as they were taken to their death. We are marked with it when we are baptized. You don’t have to be literate to do it because it requires no special education or skill. It is our salute:
In nómine Patris et Fílii et Spíritus Sancti. Amen. The sign of the cross. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is our most simplistic prayer but it conveys and sums up the entire mystery of our faith. It’s a simple prayer but it is SO crucial to beat our battle with the flesh, the world and the diabolical.
Paul speaks of the cross in almost all his New Testament letters: “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14).
The earliest accounts suggest that Christians traced the cross with their thumb upon their forehead. My patron saint, Saint Francis de Sales explains it this way:
“We raise the hand to the forehead, saying ‘In the name of the Father’ to signify that the Father is the first person of the Most Holy Trinity, of whom the Son is begotten and from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds. Then saying, ‘And the Son,’ the hand is lowered to the breast, to express that the Son proceeds from the Father, who sent him down to the womb of the Virgin. The hand is moved from the left shoulder to the right, while saying, ‘and of the Holy Spirit’, as the third person of the Holy Trinity, proceeds from the Father and the Son, that he is the love that unites both, and that, through his grace, partake of the fruits of the passion. Accordingly the Sign of the Cross is brief declaration of our faith in the Blessed Trinity, in the passion of Christ, and in the forgiveness of sin, by which we pass from the left side of curse to the right side of blessing.”
There is no way of talking about the sign of the cross without talking about the Most Holy Trinity. Most catechists dread talking about this subject, and most priests only preach about it on Trinity Sunday. Why? Because as Saint Augustine says, “If you understand it, it’s not God.”
No matter which way I go about this topic I’m sure to be... well-- a heretic. Just kidding.... maybe.
Once I went to a conference where it's theme was, “God is Love.” I believe that statement is what makes us Christians. A Jew or a Muslim would say God loves. But the radical Christian difference is we say God IS Love. And I think that is the best way to explain the Trinity.
If you say God is Love, then you have to mean that within the very being of God there is a play between a Lover, the Beloved, and the Love that they share. If God is not a Trinity, God is not love. For love requires three things: a lover, a beloved, and a relationship between them.
One Being- three Persons.
In the creed we say “We believe in one God.” That is our Catholic way of saying what the Jews have said for years “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God alone.”
God is one but we know through the revelation of Jesus Christ that God has to shown himself to be One being three persons. The sender the sent and the love in which the sent was sent. Still think the sign of the cross is simple?
So how does this apply to us today?
We are called to be men and women who invoke the Trinity. You say “sure I make the sign of the cross all the time”. But I tell you today that we have to be MEN and WOMEN of the Triune God. Jesus gave us the perfect example. He held nothing back from the Father. That’s how we should love each other.
^^^ That’s the principle for the Sacrament of Marriage. In marriage the two become one. So much so, that nine months later you have to name that love that was shared between the two. That is one reason why that Catholic Church condemns contraception (I didn’t say doesn’t like. I said condemn).
It’s an anti-trinity mentality. The contraceptive mentality says “I’m going to give most but not all” but the mentality of the Trinity says “Have this mind among yourselves which was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but EMPTIED himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:4-7).
Imagine for a moment if Jesus on the cross had a contraceptive mentality. What if he held back- just a little back up there on the cross? What if he just appeared to have died? (You know that’s an ancient heresy BTW)
If Jesus had a contraceptive mentality there would be no salvation for you and me.
At the beginning of this post I named a lot of places that we invoked the Trinity. Some places I didn’t name were the bed room, computer room, office, and over a smart phone--and it’s a sad fact. Can you imagine what power would be released if we invoked God in the places where we fell often to lust, anger and pride ?
Can you imagine what power would be released into our marriages if we invoked God in the bedroom? You’re talking about a country that spends billions on pornographic material and millions on Viagra and other related medications. It’s food for thought-what if we prayed and called down the Trinity while we partook in the martial embrace – the very action that replicates the life of the Trinity?
It’s no small thing we do when we make the Sign of the cross. It should take our breath away- but only so that we can be filled up with another breath: the spirit of God.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.