Let’s be honest: at one point or another, I think we’ve all been embarrassed to do the sign of the cross. It’s no problem during mass or youth group, but once you’re in literally any type of public setting…well, that’s a different story. I’ve caught myself doing it so fast I probably looked like a baseball coach telling his player to steal second, while other times, I’ll try to play it off like I’m scratching my head or something.
For years, I didn’t understand the point of “those motions”- that’s pretty much all it was to me. But making the sign of the cross isn’t just some gesture. It’s not just some good luck charm before a big play in a game. And it’s not just some sign as visible as an ash on your forehead to point out to everyone that you’re Catholic. It’s a prayer. And it’s one of the most powerful prayers you can make.
Through the sign of the cross, we re-affirm our identity and value. The world, those around us, and maybe even our own mind send us a lot of messages. Maybe things like “you’re not worth loving,” “you’re not good enough,” “you’ll never really belong,” and the list goes on and on. I don’t know what lies you struggle not to believe, but I do know that in this simple prayer, we’re reminded of how the cross combats all of them. God Himself thought you and I were worth leaving Paradise to be crucified for. Our value and worth are found only in the Precious Blood of Christ, poured out on the cross. So no matter how beautiful, talented, smart, popular, successful, or even holy we are or aren’t, our worth will never be any more or less. THAT’S one of the important truths we affirm when we make the Sign of the Cross.
St. John Vianney justifies this, when he said, “The Church wishes that we have [the Sign of the Cross] continually in front of our minds to recall to us just what our souls are worth and what they cost Jesus Christ.”
We’re reminded not just of who we are but more importantly, Whose we are. We acknowledge that we belong to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Pope Francis explains, “Making the sign of the cross means to tell ourselves and others who we belong to and who we want to be.”
But it doesn’t just stop in identity (as absolutely amazing as our identity in Him is).
The sign of the cross is a call to action. By making it, we dedicate our prayer, our actions, and even our life to God, symbolizing that we’re willing to die to ourselves through our own daily crosses for Him. Whatever we’re about to do and the way we live should, therefore, reflect our efforts to live for His holy Name. You know, the same Name before which every knee shall bow (Philippians 2:10) and the very Name by which we are saved (Acts 4:12)? This isn’t some casual thing. It’s a dedication to Almighty God.
Imagine how different our lives would be if we took this prayer more seriously! If we truly strived to live for in His Name. It would change everything.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived in the fourth century, said “Let us not be ashamed of the Cross of Christ; but though another hide it, openly seal it upon your forehead, that the devils may behold the royal sign and flee trembling far away. Make then this sign at eating and drinking, at sitting, at lying down, at rising up, at speaking, at walking: in a word, at every act.”
Devils fleeing and trembling? That’s what I’m talking about, right?? St. John Vianney continues this theme, calling it “the most terrible weapon against the Devil.” Who knew this prayer was such a secret weapon?? I wish I had earlier in life, that’s for sure. He goes on to explain that “above all [we should make the sign of the cross] when we are tempted.” My personal favorite quote of his is “He, who when tempted makes the sign of the cross with devotion, makes hell tremble and heaven rejoice.”
I’ve been amazed in my own life by the strength and graces I’ve been given to fight temptation just by doing the sign of the cross. I can’t recommend it enough in your daily battles.
So here’s my challenge, for you and for myself: let’s take the sign of the cross more seriously. Let’s pray it with reverence and our whole heart, not just going through the motions but rather, thinking about what we’re really praying and proclaiming. Let’s pray it with boldness and unashamedly, not caring who sees but instead proudly proclaiming the truth of our faith and our salvation and identity in the cross of Christ.
And let’s live for our God, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.