Have you ever watched people enter the Church and cross themselves? One of my favorite images involves a father with his arms full of children, while the mother puts her hand into the Holy Water and blesses him and then the children. The lesson is that because of our baptism we can bless each other.
The image of blessing ourselves is very Catholic. Some people are very careful to touch their foreheads, their chest and then their shoulders, making the sign of the Cross. Why do we do it?
People of Hispanic heritage cross themselves and kiss their thumbs. I’ve been surprised to watch some just pass their hand near their mouths after crossing themselves because they sometimes appear as if they don’t know what part of their hand they are supposed to kiss, or why. To a non-Catholic it may appear like they are swatting flies. Most are imitating their fathers and mothers, and that is good. Children imitate better than they obey.
The reason we cross ourselves when we pray or come into or leave a Church is because we are “Trinitarians”. The Sign of the Cross can be seen as a short form of our Creed. We don’t just believe in God, but we believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit; three persons in one God. We remember that Christ died for our sins on the Cross. And we remember our Baptism, just as Jesus commanded it, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Hispanic tradition of kissing their thumbs is really an additional devotion of the Holy Cross, like we do on Good Friday when we kiss the Cross in adoration. Mexicans cross themselves and then make a cross shape with their thumb and forefinger and kiss that Cross. If you are going to do it, finish crossing yourself by actually kissing the crossed thumb and forefinger. Otherwise, why do it? It is not an obligation but it is a beautiful devotion. We have all kinds of personal devotion traditions, like blessing ourselves with Holy Water when we enter church, or touching a statue of a saint and then blessing ourselves.
We are so Trinitarian! It’s not enough for us to simply say we believe in God. Of course we believe in God! However, we begin each prayer time by repeating our belief in the Holy Trinity. We name all three persons. We place ourselves in their Divine presence. We invoke their help. We ask for their blessing.
Moreover, there are four persons to consider when we meditate upon the Blessed Trinity: The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit, and You! God wants to be known! He reveals himself. Every revelation is to men, whom he created in his image.
In Genesis, we have heard and read,
Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…. God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.
He revealed himself in us! We are made in His image. He fathered us when he created us and blew His spirit of life into us.
The Father revealed the Son and the Holy Spirit to Mary, when the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary,
Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
We have always been the primary targets of his revelations of himself!
Today’s Gospel comes from a discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews. Listen carefully to the beginning of the dialog. Nicodemus is really asking Jesus something like, “Who are you and where do you come from?”
He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”
Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.
Jesus is speaking of our entry into the Holy Trinity by our Baptism by water and our Confirmation by the Holy Spirit.
When we cross ourselves we acknowledge our Baptism into the Holy Trinity. That is why it is so important that the words of Baptism say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And at our Confirmation, the Bishop says as he anoints us, “Receive the Holy Spirit”.
But why is all this important? It is because of God’s love! God’s love came first. Jesus tells Nicodemus who he is and why he came as a sign of God’s love, as we heard in today’s Gospel,
… so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
Evangelical Protestants also share our love for this quote. It is John 3:16, and is the most famous of all biblical quotes. Next time you are watching a nationally televised football game or another major sports broadcast, I am certain you will see someone in the crowd holding up a sign that says simply, “John 3:16”.