Making the Sign of the Cross: an Opening

Living without the use of my arms is… well, odd. Because of my genetic muscle-wasting disease, there are things that I just can’t do anymore.  This post is not about the difficult, critical inabilities, like washing or feeding myself.  It’s about my powerlessness to do one simple and seemingly unnecessary act (we could symbolically call this powerlessness, in keeping with my blog theme for September, the closing of one door) and how it awakened a deeper power and consciousness within me (the opening of a holy other).

I’m referring to the classic Catholic custom of crossing oneself. I used to be able to make the sign of the cross — right hand fingers touching forehead, then mid-torso, then the left shoulder, then over to the right shoulder — but became too physically weak to do so by my 20s.  Having been taught to cross myself at the beginning and close of every Mass, I did feel the growing lack over the years and it bothered me.  It bothered me at the time because I couldn’t do what everyone else was doing and I didn’t want to be even more conspicuous than I already was.  Going to Mass rarely, however, because I wasn’t a true believer at the time, meant that I didn’t have to worry about it much.  It wasn’t until later — after the bout with atheism and the recovery period exploring the religions of the world that brought me, finally, to choose and desire Christ — that crossing myself begin to mean something really important to me, as a prayerful ritual.  So, I would try to make the motions at Mass with my thumb, as my hand rested upon the control stick of my power wheelchair.  In a crippled way, this took care of the outward sign.  But it did nothing with inward reality.

It was in praying the Rosary that the difference was made. Lying on my bed on the couch, I could move my fingers where they rested next to my body, but, being alone and desiring deep contemplation, I began to really pray the Sign of the Cross.  What happened was, instead of the puny physical gesture, I began imagining the forming of a cross over my body while praying the words in my heart: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”  And, through my imagination, I was able to connect to the essential meaning of the act: a recollection of the first Sacrament that I received, when I was baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us of the act’s significance: “The Christian begins his day, his prayers, and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’ The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The sign of the cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties.” [CCC #2157.]

Sometimes, however, when people cross themselves, it can look like superstition. Even the Catholic custom of blessing ourselves with holy water in the sign of the cross when entering a church can look like (and can often be) perfunctory habit.  We Catholics might cross ourselves when passing by a church or a cemetery, or at the sight of an accident or other crisis, or whenever someone is speaking of something terrible.  It can be an instinctive reaction and may look to others like we are trying to ward off evil, like tossing spilt salt over the shoulder.  Yet, the instinct to cross oneself is a good one — as long as the outward gestures are connected to our inner reality as baptized persons, as persons given new birth, dedicated “to the glory of God”, calling upon the grace of Christ Our Savior to help us heed the Holy Spirit in every moment of our lives and truly live as children of Our Heavenly Father.

But… how often do we think of that when our hands are busy performing the conditioned gestures?

I didn’t think of it. Not until the physical ability ceased.  It’s like that old saying: you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.  Opening up my imagination, I was better able to appreciate what the making of the Sign of the Cross really is.  Because of this, I think that I do it more often than I would if I made the obvious outward gestures.  I will “cross myself” at the usual times — at the beginning and closing of formal prayers, like the Mass, as well as the Rosary, special intentions throughout the day, and morning, evening, and mealtime prayers — but I also find myself doing it throughout the day, without a formal “prayer”.

I cross myself whenever I seek to remember that I am in God’s eternal presence and that everything that I think, say, and do is known to God. 

In the name of the Holy Trinity, I envision a cross over my body and I am centered… my thoughts better focused. Whenever I am given a small opportunity to make an act of will and choose not to just go along with whatever, but to be the person that God created me to be… I pray the Sign of the Cross.   I try to do it before I make a decision, any decision — and before starting a conversation with someone that I think will be a kind of burden or trial, because I know that the momentary encounter is also an opportunity for Grace.  Also, I try to cross myself before I begin writing, because I want to be the writer that God created me to be, and this helps me to endeavor in His Name, for His Glory, by His Will, and for my eternal fulfillment.

For me, now, the Sign of the Cross is a reminder that everything that I do is in the name of God.  It’s like a summons… (or a slap upside the head)… or like a gateway.  In an imaginative and, also, a mystical way, the Sign of the Cross comes over me and I am transported to… connected to… the Divine — through, in, and with Christ… Christ on the Cross, where his Sacred Heart is opened for me and for all who want to enter into holiness, into true life.

It’s like stepping through an open portal in mind and spirit to live in the infinite grace and love of God… ultimate reality.

© 2014 Christina Chase

Lord, Live Your Life through Me

When I consecrated myself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I knew that there was part of the Consecration that would be difficult, if not impossible, for me to do because of my severe physical limitations.  (It’s hard to get around, I stay home a lot.)  Mass attendance on the first Friday of each month is recommended, with five in a row prescribed.  Hopefully, I will be able to do this… but I’m not counting on it.  Meanwhile, I will participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy in the best way that I can: by watching a televised Mass and praying to receive Spiritual Communion.  To help facilitate spiritual participation and communion, I will be choosing and presenting a prayer, meditation, or scriptural passage that’s conducive to true worship.

This month’s facilitator is St. Ignatius of Loyola, who eloquently speaks to the crux of what I was poorly attempting to write about in my last post:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; dispose of it entirely according to your will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is sufficient for me.

This is exactly what God calls me to do, exactly what I have such a hard time doing.  This is the life of Jesus Christ, his human nature crying out to God the Father: “not as I will, but as thou wilt.”  (Matthew 26:39.)  This is the self-giving love of Christ on the Cross, surrendering to Divine Will, pouring out his life’s blood for me.  And this is what is celebrated in the Eucharist of every Mass: the surrender of the self to the will of God in humility and love.

So what does that mean to me and for me?

There is nothing that I can give to God that God has not already given to me.  God doesn’t need monetary tribute or burnt incense or a sacrificed portion of grain or meat.  Even the little things that I “give up” during the season of Lent are not for God – the sacrifices are for me, to help me recognize that material things and self-centered pleasures do not constitute my identity or the fullness of life.  By letting go of daydreaming (my personal Lenten sacrifice) I can turn my mind more fully to God and be more deeply aware of the true gifts and talents that God has given me.  When I use these gifts for God – including my personal liberty, memory, and understanding – then I am fulfilled as a human being.  I’m closer to becoming the person that I was created to be – I am closer to knowing the profound depth of God’s love and to experiencing infinite joy.

From today’s Psalm (51):

should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.

To truly participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy, then, symbolized by the bread and wine brought to the altar, I give my whole self to God.  I consecrate and offer my person and my life to Divine Love Itself, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Like Jesus, I seek and choose God’s will.  This is full participation in the Eucharist – in Christ’s Paschal Mystery.  Transformed through redemption, I received the gift of Christ’s love, thus entering into full spiritual communion.  And then I am able to do the things that God wants me to do each day: setting aside my selfish pursuits and indulgences, my self-righteous indignations, and going forth, in the ways in which I am uniquely able, “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing [my] bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when [I] see them, and not turning [my] back on [my] own.”  (Isaiah 58)

So, why don’t I DO it?    Why do I have such difficulty just being gentle sometimes?

Lord, I want to be like you.  I want to give you my whole self.  Come, live your life through me.

Christina Chase

Giving Thanks – Eucharist

“For God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son….”  [John 3:16]  There is no more profound truth than this, and no greater love – no better reason for giving thanks.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.  It is a day that we set apart in order to be mindful of all the goodness in our lives and to be truly grateful for the gifts that we have been given.  It is right and just for us to give thanks to God for Creation, for life itself, for our lives, and for His Infinite Love.  Believers, of course, should be mindful and grateful every day.  I will be going to Mass tomorrow even though it’s not Sunday, even though it’s not a Holy Day of Obligation, because I deeply desire to participate in the Eucharistic liturgy on the day that is called Thanksgiving, even by nonbelievers.  After all, Eucharist means thanksgiving.

In the Sacred Liturgy of the Mass, the Paschal Mystery – Christ’s Incarnation, life, Passion, death, Resurrection and Ascension – is celebrated through Scripture and Sacrament.  In the Eucharistic prayer, the outpouring of God’s love through Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross is made present again in an “unbloody manner” [Council of Trent].  As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we, the Church, pierce the temporal veil through the Eucharistic liturgy and step into sacred timelessness – uniting ourselves with Christ on the Cross in the offering of ourselves to God.  We give ourselves in true love, in thankful praise and solemn promise to God.

In lifting “our hearts up to the Lord”, we receive the fullness of Christ who is lifted up, his heart broken open so that he may give himself to us.  The bread and wine of the Eucharist are consecrated and changed into Christ’s Body and Blood – and we, too, are changed as we enter into his Holy Sacrifice.  And we make his sacrifice our own by living out this love, this surrender to God’s will, this gift of self to others, in our own lives.

I  hope that I remember, not only tomorrow, but every day of the year, that we most beautifully and truly give thanks by giving – ”love one another as I love you.”  [John 15:12]