SYMBOL OF FAITH -- SIGN OF THE CROSS

"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself" (John.12:32).

A beautiful manifestation of faith in God and His revealed truths is recorded in the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel. Before teaching or revealing to His followers some new doctrine, Christ was accustomed to work some miracle to prove to them His divine authority. On this occasion He had wrought many miracles upon the sick and the halt. He had multiplied the loaves and the fishes in feeding the multitude. He had calmed the storm on Lake Tiberias and walked on its water, showing His power over nature and the elements. 

Then Jesus proceeded to tell them how He would give us His own Body and Blood as food and drink. "Many therefore of His disciples, hearing it, said: "This saying is hard, and who can hear it?  After this many of His disciples went back; and walked no more with Him" (John.6:61,67). "Then Jesus said to the twelve: "Will you also go away?" And Simon Peter answered Him, " Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known, that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God" (John. 6:68-69).

On another occasion, Jesus turned to His disciples and said to them: "But who do you say that I am?" Whereupon Simon Peter again replied: "Thou art Christ the Son of the living God." And Jesus answering, said to him: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona; because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but My Father Who is in heaven" (Matt.16:15-18).

Here, my friends, we find all the elements that enter into the subject we have been discussing in our previous discourses, namely, faith. St. Peter manifested an unshaken faith in the revealed Word of God. His faith was firm and constant; his was a steadfast and living faith, demonstrating publicly and openly what he believed in mind and heart. This open expression of faith suggests our subject for today, namely, our symbol of faith--the sign of the Cross.

(O Jesus, assist us with Thy grace!)

It was Christ Jesus, our Savior, Who declared before His Crucifixion: "And I, if I be lifted from the earth, will draw all things to Myself" (John.12:32). Since then the Cross of Christ has become the symbol of our faith. The very essence of our entire faith is epitomized in this one great symbol, so dear to the heart of every devout Catholic.

Before the time of Christ, the cross was the symbol of shame, ignorance and dishonor. Like the guillotine, the noose or the electric chair, it was the instrument for the execution of the worst criminals. The cross was branded upon the forehead of criminals as a symbol of disgrace before the whole world. But once Christ had foretold  that "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself," the cross was no longer destined to remain the disgraceful symbol of infamy. 

With His Crucifixion, the cross was to become the symbol of honor, the standard of Christian faith, the symbol of salvation. Like the government which flies its flag over its Capitol, public buildings, ships and ports, so the Church now crowns her steeples, her altars and the very tombs of her children, with the emblem of the cross. Catholic people grace their homes with this sacred symbol. These customs date back to the time of the Apostles and the beginning of Christianity. Even a St. Paul could cry out: "Far be it from me to glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal.6:14).

From time immemorial, it has always been the pious practice for all good Catholics to express their faith publicly by making the sign of the cross upon their person, saying at the same time: "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Tertullian, who lived in the second century of the Christian era, says: "In all our actions, when we come in or go out, when we dress. when we wash, at our meals, before retiring to sleep  . . . . we form on our foreheads the sign of the cross. These practices are not commanded by a formal law of Scripture; but tradition teaches them, custom confirms them, faith observes them."

Meaning of the Cross.--You frequently hear the question asked: "Why do Catholics make the sign of the cross?" You may answer by stating that the cross is a sign, a symbol or expression of our Christian faith. By touching our foreheads we wish to signify that we believe that Christ, the Son of God, was from all eternity with the Father, and coequal with the Father in His essence. When we touch the breast, it reminds us that Jesus descended from heaven into the virginal womb of Mary and became incarnate. The touching of both shoulders reminds us that  the Holy Ghost proceeds at the same time from the Father and the Son. Then we trace the cross from the left to the right shoulder to remind us that by the death of Christ upon the cross, we were brought from the left of damnation to the right of salvation.

Small Cross.--We use another cross, known as the small cross, with which we sign ourselves, for example, at the Gospel at the Mass. It is made in this wise. We open our right hand, and with the inner thumb we make the sign of a small cross upon the forehead, lips and breast. This also has its symbolical meaning. (1) We make the sign of the cross on the forehead, which symbolizes the seat of our reason and thought. (2) By word of mouth, we express our thoughts. (3) The heart is the seat of our love, desires and intentions. This small cross, therefore, is to remind us that all our thoughts, words and works should have some bearing upon the work of redemption. We should know God with our reason, confess Him with our lips, and love Him with our hearts.

Power of the Cross.--History has ever been a living witness to the extraordinary power of the cross in all trials and difficulties. It is related that in the year 312, after the cruel persecutions of the Christians by the pagan Roman Emperors has lasted for nearly three hundred years, Almighty God sent peace to His Church by the miraculous victory of King Constantine over the threatening pagan emperor Maxentius. The enemy's army outnumbered Constantine's three to one. Seeing the strength of his adversary, Constantine prayed fervently to the "true God" for assistance. On the day before the battle there appeared in the sky, in view of Constantine and the whole army, a brilliant cross of light with this inscription: "In hoc signo vinces" (In this sign shalt thou conquer). The following night Our Blessed Lord appeared to Constantine in his sleep with the identical sign and ordered him to make a duplicate of it and use it as his standard in the coming battle against Maxentius.

Constantine rose early, ordered the standard to be constructed and commanded that the sacred sign of the cross he engraved upon his own helmet and the shields of his shoulders.  Fortified with the symbol of the cross, he marched out to battle and gained a crushing victory over the enemy. On the same day, he entered Rome in triumph. But instead of going to offer sacrifice to the false gods of his ancestors, he published everywhere the vision which he had beheld, and openly confessed that his splendid overwhelming victory was due to the God of the Christians. In gratitude, he ended the bloody persecutions, permitted the Christians to worship in public, and later became a convert to Christianity and the greatest benefactor and protector of the Christians of his time. His mother, St. Helena, with an escort of soldiers, set out for Jerusalem in search of the True Cross upon which the Savior had died, retrieved it and preserved it for future posterity.

Use of the Cross in the Liturgy of the Church.--Mindful of the powers of the cross, the Church employs the symbol of the cross constantly in her ritual and ceremonies.  Her altars are surmounted by the cross; her sacramentals and her blessings are always accompanied with the sign of the cross. Tradition tells us that a cup of poisoned wine was once handed to St. John. He made the sign of the cross over it, drank the contents and escaped all its effects. St. Benedict had a similar experience. And St. Teresa states that Satan had not power over the cross, nor over any object over which the sign of the cross has been traced. It is the Christian's strongest and most powerful weapon against Satan.

Conclusion.--My friends, from what has been said, it should be sufficiently clear to us all that the Church counsels us wisely when she petitions us to make frequent use of the sign of the cross. Like the early Christians, as recorded by Tertullian, we should make the sign of the cross as soon as we wake in the morning and end the day with the cross at night when we close our eyes in sleep. We should make it frequently during the day--before and after meals, in times of trials and difficulties, in times of temptations, before we enter upon any serious undertaking. Start the day's work with the sign of the cross and draw God's blessing upon your daily tasks. How edifying it is to all to see young people on athletic fields and in games begin their contests with the sign of the cross!  Employing the sign of the cross in this manner, we are fulfilling the advice of St. Paul when he tells us: "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all things to the glory of God."

Oh, Yes, my friends, this symbol of our faith, the cross, is our greatest and strongest weapon against sin and Satan through life, and our greatest strength at the hour of death. No matter what our state of life or calling may be, God sends us all many crosses through life. With these trials and difficulties, He tests our loyalty and fidelity towards Him who died upon the cross. These trials teach us to exclaim with St. Paul: "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal.6:14). Like Constantine the Great, we see the cross in the dark heavens above us, with the words also inscribed thereon: "In hoc signo vinces" (In this sign, shalt thou conquer).  And with this standard preceding our life's battles, victory also will be ours.  We shall enter triumphantly into that eternal Jerusalem where we shall enjoy forever the company of Him who, while here on earth, declared: "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself" (John. 12:32). Amen.