Guest Blogger: Laura Wells ’14, PC for Life Coordinator
Each Tuesday, when I have lunch with the two little boys I babysit, the two-year old get a kick out of saying the grace-before-meals. He sits buckled in his high-chair, his legs swinging back and forth, his hand pressed together, waiting for the moment: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit — AMEN!” — and joins in, touching his forehead and then enthusiastically clapping to finish the prayer off.
The sign of the cross. It’s a simple gesture, one that even a two-year old can do (and find endlessly entertaining — the choruses of “Amen!” (plus the exciting clap, of course) usually continue for a few more minutes after the rest of us have started eating). Yet this simple gesture is at the same time such a profound prayer. We do it so often, it is easy to let the sign of the cross become effortless, automatic; I’m so thankful for those weekly lunches with that two-year old that make me slow down and reflect on the craziness of what I’d otherwise do on autopilot.
Yes — the craziness. Think of it: Christians take as their rallying sign, as their indentifying gesture, what was for the ancient world a symbol of extreme humiliation, of an ignominious criminal fate. When Christians made the sign of the cross, they were marking themselves with something that the culture didn’t find attractive, or upright, or noble. Remembering this heritage, when we make the sign of the cross we should bear in mind our calling to be counter-cultural, to stand up for virtue, truth and charity even when it is not popular or easy.
A twentieth century theologian, Romano Guardini, remarked: “We do it [the sign of the cross] before praying so that… we may put ourselves spiritually in order; focus thoughts, heart and will on God; after praying, so that what God has given us may remain within us…. It embraces the whole being, body and soul… and everything is consecrated in the name of the Triune God” (Lo spirito della liturgia. I santi segni, Brescia, 2000, pp. 125-126).
The ancient Greek word for sign was sphragis; this was also the term for a general’s name that would be tattooed on his soldiers. We’re called to be soldiers of Christ’s (2 Timothy 2:3). And the sign of the cross can be our reminder of that – our “tattoo” marking us as His followers. Radical? –yes. Even slightly badass. (Am I allowed to say that on the camp min blog?) But true. Awesomely true.
Fight the good fight. Because we stand under the standard of Christ — the sign of the Cross.