Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 24, 2016
When we Catholics pray, we begin with the Sign of the Cross. I wonder if many of us really stop to consider what we are doing. Is it possible that the little prayer that helps us enter into prayer has become almost a thoughtless gesture? For example, when batters “sign themselves” before the first pitch, are they really conscious of the fact that they are invoking the fullness of the Divine Mystery…The Blessed Trinity…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Or has this opening prayer taken on an air of superstition, not unlike crossing one’s fingers for luck?
Certainly, for many, “signing ourselves” with the Cross is done without thought and out of habit…following the que of the priest or the folks standing next to us. Something precious is lost when we don’t understand the power of that gesture.
Another prayer/gesture that I am concerned is fast becoming an endangered species is our way of welcoming the proclamation of the Gospel at Mass. I’m not confident that our younger Catholic Christians even know that the gesture of marking our forehead, lips, and heart is accompanied with the prayer: MAY THE LORD BE ON MY MIND, MY LIPS, AND IN MY HEART. So, on those occasions when, like Jesus, I have been asked to teach people how to pray, I often begin there…with the signing of our forehead, lips, and heart…asking God to be present to my entire being.
Far from a gesture of habit, this is an extremely important prayer that invokes the Holy Spirit. We are asking that we be fully attentive to the Real Presence of Christ in the Gospel. We are praying that we may fully understand and appreciate The Good News that we take in through our ears. If God is always on our minds, we are better able to orient ourselves in the direction of eternal life. If we are continually thinking about God, we can easily shrug off the dark influences of this life and concentrate on our future…because God is the Future of those who seek Him with a sincere heart.
When we mark our lips, we are, in a sense, making a commitment to take full advantage of every opportunity to pass on what has been given to us by what we say to others and how we live our lives. If God is always on our lips, then our last word will open the gates of the Kingdom to us. How comforting is that?
When we sign our hearts, we are, in a sense, offering hospitality to God’s Eternal Word…offering ourselves as living tabernacles. When we invite the Divine to live within us, on our last day, we can leave here with the sure and certain hope that God will repay the favor and invite us to dwell for all eternity in the company of the angels and saints. Far greater than anything but a mindless gesture done out of habit, we should greet the proclamation of the Gospel with an eager spirit…eager to become what we hear.
Jesus has taught us to approach our God as a good and loving Parent Who knows each of us intimately, and treasures us as unique and precious individuals. And so, we pray to Our Father Who art in heaven. But it is also important to know that same God can also be on our minds and lips and in our hearts…if we only ask!