We always make the sign of the cross and say grace before we eat. One comes before the other, and we wouldn’t think of not thanking God for our food, before we begin our meal… But if we are out in public... then saying grace can get a little tricky. Why is it so difficult to make that sign of the cross in full view of others? Why do we find it so hard to be visibly Catholic?
A priest once suggested we make a tiny cross on our foreheads with our thumb, when saying grace in public. In this way we can do what is right but be inconspicuous.
Another priest said we should be openly proud of our Faith and declare it to the world. He took a family to MacDonald’s for dinner. Before anyone could tuck in, he stood up, and in his loud and booming voice said, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” accompanying his words with a huge sweeping sign of the cross, which was not only beautiful, but positively attention grabbing. How did the family cope? Wonderfully. They grinned, felt good and enjoyed their food, not caring at all whether anyone thought they were strange.
Our family doesn’t use the inconspicuous forehead method or the attention grabbing method of making the sign of the cross when in public. We try to say grace quietly but properly. At least Andy and I do. The children are different. They shout it out like normal. Why do adults worry about what others are thinking, while children don’t?
The other day we took our four youngest girls to the zoo. It was a very special outing, a once-every-few-years visit. Of course, we’d packed a delicious picnic to eat half-way through the day.
At lunch time we found a picnic table under a spreading tree, where we could look out over Sydney Harbour and enjoy the spectacular view. The girls unpacked the food: fresh rolls, salads, cold meats… Soon our mouths were watering and we couldn’t wait to devour all that tempting food. We were starving. But first we had to say grace… we had to make the sign of the cross.
I looked at my family sitting around the wooden picnic table. I thought about the beautiful day we were enjoying together: the excitement as we arrived at the zoo entrance, the smiles on the girls’ faces as they ran this way and that looking for the animals, the stunning scenery, a husband who didn’t mind driving two hours each way through city traffic so we could have this day out…
And then all of a sudden, something remarkable happened. A unexpected warm powerful feeling spread through me and bubbled over. I made the sign of the cross with great care. I didn’t say grace quietly but joined the girls in proclaiming it to whoever was listening. Who was listening? I didn’t even look to see. I didn’t care. All that mattered was that joyful moment when I felt full of gratitude to God for everything He’d given us.
What did our fellow zoo visitors think of us?
Look at those religious nuts.
Oh look! They’re Catholics too!
Or perhaps no one was even interested in what we were doing.
I wonder why we worry so much about what other people think. It seems especially absurd when these are people we don’t know and will probably never see again. Are they more important than God?
The memory of that warm and joyous feeling, I experienced at the zoo, remains to give me strength. In my imagination, I’m in our local shopping mall with our girls. We have a tray filled with rolls and drinks and we are looking for somewhere to sit. We spot a table in the centre of the food hall and quickly slide into the seats, and then with all the shoppers around us, I say, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” We all make beautiful signs of the cross and I smile.
I’m a Catholic. I’m not afraid. I belong to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
And I am truly grateful.