Did you know that prayer doesn’t mean having to stop everything and getting out a book, or having to come up with something formally well-rounded that makes sense? Did you know that prayer is as simple as talking to your next-door neighbor (not that anyone does that anymore) or a co-worker? Absolutely! For the most part off-the-cuff conversations with God are as important as formal prayer. Length doesn’t matter either; just being in communication with our heavenly Father is what St. Paul talked about:
Always rejoice. Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all (1 Thess 5:16-18).
One prayer that we Catholics do without even thinking in a matter of seconds is usually not considered a prayer at all, but it is. We often think of The Sign of the Cross as a gesture instead of a prayer. We Catholics make the sign of the Cross so many times that it may have lost its powerful message for us. There’s a book written entirely on this prayer by Bert Ghezzi, The Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer. Ghezzi says that there are six reasons to make the sign of the Cross.
1. It’s the mini Creed — as the Creed is the profession of our faith in the Triune God, declaring our belief in Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit and what He has done for us, Creation, Redemption, and establishing the Church for our Sanctification. We are making ourselves aware of God’s presence.
2. A renewal of our baptism; making the Sign of the Cross reminds us of our own baptism, that we died with Christ on the Cross and rose with Him in new life sacramentally. We are asking for graces to continue in the role of collaborating with Christ in rescuing our brothers and sisters from sin and death.
3. The Sign of the Cross is the mark of discipleship; when we make this sign we affirm our loyalty to God and denying that we belong to ourselves. We affirm that we are His soldiers commissioned to work with Him in advancing His kingdom on earth.
4. The Sign of the Cross signifies our acceptance of suffering. Jesus promised us that suffering would be a normal part of a disciple’s life (Lk 9:23-24), at the same time, the Sign of the Cross comforts us with the realization that Jesus, who endured the Cross for us, now supports us and we should celebrate this in this small but powerful prayer.
5. The Sign of the Cross is a 2-edged move against the devil. On one level, making this sign is a defensive move declaring that we won’t be swayed by the evil influences and on another level it is an offense weapon helping us advance the kingdom of God together with Christ and the Holy Spirit
6. The Sign of the Cross is a victory over the flesh. In the New Testament the word flesh sums up all the evil inclination of our old nature even after our baptism, but making this sign expresses our decision to crucify these desires of the flesh and to live by the spirit. Our Church Fathers taught that the Sign of the Cross diffused the force of powerful temptations such as anger and lust.
Now for an exercise: Make the Sign of the Cross six times and apply of the perspectives each time.
1. First, sign yourself professing your faith
2. Second, mark yourself remembering that you died with Christ in Baptism
3. Third, make the sign to declare that you belong to Christ as His disciple and will obey Him.
4. Fourth, sign yourself to embrace whatever suffering comes and to celebrate your suffering with Christ the Church.
5. Fifth, make the Sign of the Cross as a defense against the devil and as an offensive advance of God’s kingdom against him.
6. Finally, make the sign to crucify your flesh and put on Christ and His behaviors.
Go through these six signings often in your daily prayer and watch the grace flow through this ancient sacramental in the days to come. Maybe the next time you need to count to 10, you could count to 6 with the Sign of the Cross prayer.
[This article is adapted from Ebeth Weidner’s lecture notes on prayer.)
(© 2011 Ebeth Weidner)