THE MOST HOLY TRINITY-A
Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity: one God in three divine persons. The Trinity is “the central mystery of our Christian faith and life” [The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #234].
I ask you to make the Sign of the Cross with me now as we acknowledge the Trinity: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
We make that Sign of the Cross so naturally, almost like blinking.
While the Orthodox and some other Christians also make the Sign of the Cross, this gesture with these words is a fundamental part of our Catholic identity. If you see someone making the Sign of the Cross in a restaurant before they begin to eat, you can pretty well bet that they are Catholic.
I was talking about this with a minister-friend of mine. As fellow Christians we both believe in the Trinity and in the gift of salvation through the cross of Jesus. And yet I would begin and end our prayer together with the Sign of the Cross, and he would simply bow his head. I asked him why.
He told me that he really did not know. But he figured that it came out of the Reformation. As he put it, with a twinkle in his eye: “Probably we Protestants don’t do this because you Catholics do!” Thanks be to God, we have all come a lot closer these days, with God’s grace.
The Sign of the Cross is a gesture that your parents taught you to make as a child. Perhaps they – and your early teachers – would smile as you tried to remember whether the gesture was from your left shoulder to your right – which is customary in the Latin Rite. Or the other way around – which is customary in many Eastern Rites.
As Catholics, we begin and end our prayers with the Sign of the Cross. In fact, at this Mass, the first words I spoke and the first gesture that we made together was the Sign of the Cross. And we will end this Mass in the same way with the final blessing.
The Sign of the Cross is used in the sacraments.
At the Baptism of a baby, the parents and godparents make the Sign of the Cross with their thumb upon the child’s forehead. And then the child is baptized with a triple pouring of water– or immersion in water– with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
In the Sacrament of Penance, we receive absolution from our sins accompanied by the Sign of the Cross in the name of the Trinity.
We make that Sign of the Cross when we wake up and say our morning prayers and before going to bed when we say our night prayers.
People make the Sign of the Cross in times of anxiety – as students often do before taking an exam in school, or as a ball player might do before going to bat.
It will be made over your body for the last time when you are buried.
Whenever we make the Sign of the Cross devoutly, we are professing our belief in two fundamental Christian doctrines.
The first is our belief in the Most Holy Trinity. Jesus Christ revealed this truth to us. There is one eternal God in three distinct divine Persons. God the Father created us and sustains us. God the Son took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and redeemed us. God the Holy Spirit strengthens us with His gifts of grace.
The second belief that we profess when we make the Sign of the Cross is that we are saved by Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. We confess that in Jesus alone is our salvation. And so we trace that cross on our bodies. As the third Memorial Acclamation pleads: “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your cross and resurrection you have set us free.”
There is a story about a factory worker who opened his lunchbox and made the Sign of the Cross as he prayed his grace before meals. Another worker saw him do this and made fun of him.
“Oh, I see you are a Catholic,” he taunted.
“Yes, I am,” he replied.
“Well why don’t you forget all that ritual stuff and just confess that Jesus Christ is your personal Lord and Savior?”
“I just did,” the man replied. “I made the Sign of the Cross in public.”
When we stand before God at the end of our lives, we will not be asked for a driver’s license or a passport, an investment portfolio or a PIN number.
We will be asked about what lies beneath the ritual act of making the Sign of the Cross so often each day. Have we truly embraced the Christian life of grace: that God lives within us – and that this gift was won for us by the death of Jesus on the cross?
And so, let us finish today as we began, professing our belief in the Trinity and in the saving power of the cross of Christ: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”