Restore and Reactivate

To some, being Italian-American means overindulging in pasta and joking about tough guys.  But being Italian means being heir to a rich tradition stretching back before the Caesars.  Included are philosophers like Seneca, poets like Dante, artists such as Michelangelo, and saints like Francis of Assisi.

To some, being Catholic means giving up chocolate for Lent.  But those who explore their Catholic heritage discover thousands of years of meaning, insight, and life-giving resources: inspiring stories about people from Abraham to Mother Teresa, practical instruction by some of the most brilliant thinkers of all time, tried and true spiritual practices that make people grow in character and happiness.

In John 10:10, Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.”  That recalls Isaiah who, speaking of God’s people, says: “Lo, I will spread prosperity over her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.”  (Is 66:10-14, this Sunday’s first reading).   The Catholic Church is all about preserving and enjoying the WHOLE, rich heritage of Christ.  In fact, the word “Catholic” comes from the Greek word for “whole.”  The problem is that some preserve outward practices of this heritage, like giving up something for Lent, but have lost the connection with the meaning and power of such customs and traditions.

shutterstock_124104559Take for example the sign of the Cross.  For some it is just a mechanical part of “logging on” and “logging off” of our time “connected” to God via prayer.  For others, it seems no more than a superstitious good-luck charm to employ before stepping up to bat.

To see what it really means, we need to examine where it comes from.  In baptism, a cross is traced on the foreheads of the baptized.  The same occurs in confirmation, when the tracing is done with sacred oil called “chrism.”  As the signing takes place, the name of the triune God is pronounced — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

How far back in time does this practice go?  Paul says “I bear the brand marks of Jesus in my body.”  (Galatians 6:14-18, Sunday’s second reading).  Notice that in the book of Revelation, those doomed to death have the mark of the beast on their brow while the 144,000 in white robes have been sealed on the forehead with the name of God and the Lamb (Revelation 7:3-4 and 11:1).  Sounds a lot like the sign of the cross, doesn’t it?

In the early Church, the sign of the cross was seen as the brand mark on the body of a Christian that indicated that he or she was now the property of a new master and under the protection of that master.  The blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the Israelites protected them from the Angel of Death who “passed over” their homes.  The sign of the cross on the Christian says “hands off!” to the power of darkness.  Note that Jesus says to his disciples “I have given you power to tread on snakes and scorpions and all the forces of the enemy, and nothing shall ever injure you” (Luke 10:19).  The sign of the cross is the sign of this power.

But this sign means even more than belonging to the triune God.  It indicates how and why we’ve come to belong to God and to be entitled to his protection.  It means that for my standing with God, I do not trust in the good deeds that I’ve done or the “good person” that I am.  Rather, I stake my claim to heaven on what Jesus did for me on Calvary.  It means that I am saved by a pure gift of His love, by grace.  “May I never boast of anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Galatians 6:14).

Each time I make this sign, it is a renewal of my “decision for Christ,” my intimate relationship of love with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which comes as a pure gift of God’s grace through faith, baptism and confirmation.  In this simple little sign is contained the very essence of the gospel.

The good news is that everything in the Catholic heritage is like this – full of rich meaning that we’ve forgotten.  But not to worry — we can recover the meaning and reactivate the power.   Let’s get busy exploring and unpacking the amazing Catholic tradition!


image credit:

Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Ph.D.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For info on his resources and pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 800.803.0118.

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  • Michieli

    great article.

  • Lee

    Our Catholic history is full of important information, but it has gotten lost to the people. Thank you for bringing the Sign of the Cross to our attention. Are you aware of a short prayer that may be said with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

  • BillinJax

    As an American Catholic and a jump start may I offer this prayer of mine for all our readers.

    An American’s Prayer for Forgiveness

    Heavenly Father, we as Americans have lost our way, we have
    forsaken your love and gone our own way into self indulgence through our desire
    for personal gratification in every aspect of our lives.

    We have lost our grip on your eternal truth. We have chosen
    comfort over compassion; want over worship, pleasure over perseverance,
    personal satisfaction over eternal salvation, and entitlements over personal
    efforts or sacrifice. Many now depend on
    the words, power, and promises of “Caesar” more than your eternal word.

    We want to come home to you as prodigal sons and daughters
    seeking your mercy upon us and our nation that we may be forgiven for our many
    offenses marked by our willingness to permit evil intent and false doctrines
    espoused by our own leaders to creep into our lives and society.

    We have not been vigilant, we have hidden our lamps under
    the bushel, and we have often remained silent as your tenants were judged
    unworthy by our authorities. As your word and laws were being removed from
    public buildings and our schools within the sight of our children we mumbled to
    ourselves rather than witness our faith to those who seek to deny you. We have blindly allowed evil to infiltrate our culture one benefit or right at a time.

    We seek through your mercy and forgiveness that within our
    nation your truth may at last be saved from corruption by those evil forces
    that care not for your law or love.

    We humbly ask through this prayerful petition that for the sake of all the faithful here and in heaven that you might come to us as did the prodigal’s father and lead us back into your graces and grant that our beloved America may yet be returned to the one nation under God it once was and our founders intended it to be.