Before Christ ascended into heaven, one of his final commands was to “Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). How are we to do this? Are we supposed to do exactly as the Apostles did and leave our homes and families to go preach Christ’s kingdom to the heathen and unbeliever? That is a great and heroic vocation, and the world desperately needs more missionaries. Yet most of us are not necessarily called to do this. What then? Are we exempt from Christ’s command to openly profess our faith because we are not great missionaries? Can’t we do our best to stay away from sin, go to Mass on Sundays, say our prayers in private each day, give a few dollars to the poor, and leave it at that? Our Lord clearly tells us that more is required. “Every one therefore that shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32).
In a way it is rather uncharitable to refrain from professing our faith publicly. There are those in our modern world who know very little, if anything, of the Catholic Faith. The best and primary way of leading others to the Church is by example. It is essential that we live our lives according to the precepts of the Gospel and the Church. Without showing those around us that we are indeed Catholics and are striving for heaven, being an incredible apologist or evangelist will count as nothing. But there is another way in which we can simply and easily show the world that we are Catholics. It is by frequently using one of the simplest prayers of the Church, the Sign of the Cross.
The early Christians used to make the Sign of the Cross much more frequently than we do today. Tertullian says, “At every motion and every step, entering in or going out, when dressing, bathing, going to meals, lighting the lamps, sleeping or sitting, whatever we do, or withersoever we go, we mark our foreheads with the Sign of the Cross” (Gaume, 20). The early Christians must have had good reasons for making use of this prayer so frequently.
Yet how often do we make the Sign of the Cross today? Has it become merely a gesture we make quickly and without thinking at the beginning of certain prayers? Clearly, we have lost something when we make the Sign of the Cross thoughtlessly. More often than not, Catholics today “do not make the Sign of the Cross, or make it but seldom, and very carelessly” (Gaume, 19), as opposed to the early Christians, who prayed it frequently and devoutly. One of the greatest losses of the Church today is the loss of the frequent and devout use of the Sign of the Cross.
The use of the Sign of the Cross is a great method of evangelization. It marks us as Catholics, and it is very profitable to ourselves and to our neighbors. We also have the example of the great saints and the early Christians. They recognized it as one of the greatest prayers of the Church, a profession of faith, and a means of proclaiming the Gospel. As such, we should try to imitate them, making it more frequently and with as much devotion as possible. Keep it from becoming a mindless gesture and think about what it means. Treat it as the powerful sacramental that it is, and use it to show the world that you are a follower of Christ.
The Holy Bible, Translated from the Latin Vulgate. New Testament, English College at Rheims, 1582.
Laux, Fr. John, M.A., Chief Truths of the Faith, TAN Books and Publishers, Inc. Charlotte, North Carolina, 1990
Gaume, Monsignor Jean-Joseph, The Sign of the Cross, The Desert Will Flower Press, Golgotha Monastary Island, Papa Stronsay, 2007