Have you ever seen the Sign of the Cross made sloppily? Made with too much familiarity? “In the name of the Tap, Tap, Tap, and Tap.” I read today a beautiful scene about making the Sign of the Cross from a historical event, mid-19th century, about 1858, in France. I’ll copy that little portion later here, below.
But right now I want to elevate the “Tap, Tap, Tap, and Tap” to the level of the actual reality of this gesture which is a bridge between our everyday lives in this material world and the true reality of our lives in the eternal heavenly realm.
Those who like to debate and argue and present their own points of view seldom have room in their hearts to humbly hear what simple Christians are saying. The “Talking Heads” of our day usually have hard and empty hearts. And willingly so. They have “hardened” their own hearts.
Lengthy discussions do not usually bridge the gap to the reality of a man’s condition.
St. Paul, very well-educated, able to debate with the philosophers in the Agora near Mars Hill in Athens, discovered this same thing: that obvious knowledge, sound arguments, logical presentations do not often win men to Christ.
He left Athens and moved on to Corinth, where he was able to think about the cold reception he had just received in Athens. He had an insight, then. He formulated a plan and it proved to be successful for bringing the reality of Christ’s Redemption to men who are needy in their unredeemed condition.
St. Paul knew Who had made the first “Sign of the Cross”
We find his words in I Corinthians 2:2 – For I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. “Among you” – i.e., you guys, you Corinthians, and everyone else from now on.
He taught the preeminence of the cross of Christ….foundational to the Christian message, foundational to our Redemption, our Salvation, our relationship with our Crucified Lord And the followers of Christ then and now physically, visibly have made the sign of the cross on themselves, on each other, on the things around them to affirm that primary Act of Justice, Mercy, and Love for the human race.
From the first centuries of Christianity the Sign of the Cross was an affirmation of their faith in Christ.
In the 200s AD, the 3rd century, Tertullian bears witness to this common Christian gesture. He tells us that Christians made the Sign of the Cross upon rising, as they were dressing, upon entering or leaving their houses, going to the bath, sitting down at table, and in fact before taking any significant action.
The Sign of the Cross is a statement of faith:
Thus, the Sign of the Cross is more than an action. It is a statement of faith in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. It is followed it by “Amen,” which means, “Yes, it’s true!” I would stake my whole being, my whole life upon Christ who died on the Cross!
So here is the beautiful scene I read in a book * tonight:
(In the presence of the beautiful lady standing before her, ineffably beautiful in snowy-white robe and lovely blue sash) Bernadette is about to cross herself. She cannot. Her arm hangs down heavily and lame like an alien burden. She cannot stir a finger. . . .Her powerlessness to lift her arm seems to have a special reason.
And, in fact, the lady standing before her in the niche does now raise her hand with its beautiful, fragile fingers slowly, almost instructively, and over her entire countenance makes a great, almost gleaming sign of the cross such that Bernadette had never seen a human being make. And that sign seems to remain floating in the air.
At the same time the lady’s face grows very serious, and this very seriousness is another wave sent out by that loveliness which leaves the beholder breathless. Always hitherto Bernadette, like everybody else, merely tapped forehead and chest carelessly when making the sign of the cross.
Now she feels a mild power grasping her hand. As one takes the hand of a child and guides it when one teaches a child how to write, even so that mild power guides Bernadette’s cold hand to make that great and inexpressibly noble sign of the cross upon her forehead.
And now the lady nods and smiles again as though a thing both important and very precious has been accomplished. . . .
For the rest of her life, Bernadette Soubirous was known for making the Sign of the Cross, so sublime and beautiful that it seemed like a great witness to the Infinite Love and Mercy shown to us on that Cross one day, long ago. And her gesture made many stop and think. . . .
* The Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel, a Jew in 194o, taking refuge from Hitler’s armies in France