Wednesday 15 September 2021

The Sign of the Cross

The one symbol most often identified with the Lord and his Church is the cross. Yesterday we celebrated the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This feast has its beginnings in Jerusalem and the dedication of the church built on the site of Mount Calvary in 335, after the finding of the True Cross by the Empress St Helena. But the meaning of the cross is deeper than any city, any celebration, any building. The cross is a sign of suffering, a sign of human cruelty at its worst. But by Christ’s love shown in the Paschal Mystery of his Passion, Death and Resurrection, it has become the sign of triumph and victory, the sign of God, who is love itself.

Christians have always looked to the cross in times of suffering. One of the most striking images after the atrocity of 9/11 in New York was that of a cross, formed by two iron beams — by providence, more than coincidence — which towered over the scene of wreckage and carnage. That cross stood as a sign of hope and strength in the midst of unbelievable tragedy. People in concentration camps, in prisons, in hospitals, in any place of suffering and loneliness, have been known to draw, trace, or form crosses and focus their eyes and hearts on them. The cross does not explain pain and misery. It does not give us any easy answers. But it does help us to see our lives united with Christ’s. It helps us to see Christ standing with us, suffering with us, and to know that we will rise with him.

We often make the Sign of the Cross on ourselves. We make it before we pray to help fix our minds and hearts on the Lord. We make it after prayer, hoping to stay close to him. In trials and temptations, the cross is a sign of strength and protection. The cross is the sign of the fullness of life that is ours. At Baptism, too, the Sign of the Cross is used: the priest, parents, and godparents make the sign on the forehead of the child. This sign made on the forehead is a seal, a sign of belonging. By the Sign of the Cross in Baptism, Jesus claims us as his own so that he can share his life with us.

Today, let us look to the cross. Let us make the Sign of the Cross and know we bring our whole selves to God — our minds, souls, bodies, wills, thoughts, hearts — everything we are and will become. Let us “lift high the cross” above the evil and suffering in this world, and claim back the world for Christ.

Ave crux, spes unica — Hail, O Cross, our only hope!