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By doing the sign of the cross, you're saying to the Lord, "I want to obey you; I belong to you. I will always be obedient to God's law, Christ's teachings and the Church." When suffering comes, the sign of the cross is a sign of acceptance.

It's remembering that Jesus became a man and suffered for us and that we participate in Christ's suffering.

The sign links you to the body of Christ, and when you make it you remember your joining to the body with Christ as the head. Jesus says in Luke , "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." The word that the Fathers of the Church used for the sign of the cross is a Greek word that is the same as what a slave owner put on a slave, a shepherd put on a sheep and a general put on a soldier -- it's a declaration that I belong to Christ.

Self-denial is not just giving up little things; to be a disciple you are under Christ's leadership and you don't belong to yourself.

We don't have any indication of it in Scripture, but St.

Basil in the fourth century said that we learned the sign from the time of the apostles and that it was administered in baptisms. Paul's saying that he bears the marks of Christ on his body, in Galatians , as his referring to the sign of the cross.

Ghezzi: I think that it's not something to be taken casually.

The sign of the cross has enormous power as a sacramental; it does not cause the spiritual thing it signifies but draws on the prayer of the Church to affect us in our lives. When I see professional athletes make the sign of the cross during games, I'm not critical of them.

I can imagine that Christians would make a little sign of the cross with their thumb and forefinger on their foreheads, to remind themselves that they were living a life for Christ. In the book, I describe six meanings, with and without words.

Q: Why do Catholics use the sign of the cross with holy water upon entering and exiting a church?

Ghezzi: In order to participate in the great sacrifice of the Mass, you need to be baptized.

Now, the multifaceted significance of the sign of the cross has been investigated and explained by Bert Ghezzi, author of "Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer" (Loyola Press).

He told us how the sign came about, what six meanings it has and why making it reverently can enhance one's life in Christ. Ghezzi: The sign of the cross is a very ancient practice and prayer.

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