Prayer & Spiritual Life

By Steve Ray

The Sign of the Cross is a ritual gesture by which we confess two important mysteries: the Trinity and the centrality of the Cross. It is the most common and visible means by which we confess our faith. The Sign of the Cross is made by touching the forehead with the fingers of the right hand, then the breast and then the left and right shoulders.

The sign was originally placed upon the forehead with the thumb and later extended to the whole upper body. This is not only a personal gesture, as a form of prayer but also a public witness and a sign of participation in the life of Christ and the Church. It is used as an integral part of many actions (e.g., at Baptism, Confirmation, prayer, to begin and end Mass, etc.).

 The Church has given us wonderful customs and traditions to mark ourselves and to acknowledge our participation in the whole continuity of the Church and the work of Christ. Miracles have been performed with this simple gesture and parliaments and councils have opened under its sign. Though Protestantism jettisoned this practice, along with the crucifix during the Reformation, the Catholic and Orthodox traditions faithfully continue this age old practice handed down from the age of the Apostles.

 The Catholic Church has always seen outward gestures as means of expressing and actuating internal spiritual realities. Sacramentals, such as the Sign of the Cross, are not superstitious practices but are sacred signs by which various things in life are rendered holy through the effectual and sacramental grace of God. By the Sign of the Cross we pledge allegiance to Christ and invite the Holy Spirit to apply the cross to our lives—to take up our cross and follow Christ.

 Though the NT does not specifically mention the “Sign of the Cross”, there is scriptural warrant for such a gesture. St. Paul writes, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2), and “may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14).

Ezekiel provides precedence for a sign upon the forehead of believers (Ezek 9:4; 17:9–14) as does Revelation (Rev 7:3; 9:4; 14:1). Ezekiel provided a support for the early Christians to use it as a “sacramental” (CCC 1235, 1668) to display their devotion to Christ and His Cross. There is reason to believe that the Jewish Christians used the Sign of the Cross prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in ad 70.

 In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we learn: “The Christian begins his day, his prayers and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’ The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The Sign of the Cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties” (CCC, no. 2157; see also CCC, no. 786).

 The writings of the Fathers, as authentic witnesses to the apostolic teaching in the early Church, are replete with references to the Sign of the Cross. The practice is already well established in the 2nd century as attested to by Tertullian (ad c. 160-c. 225). He writes of the wife who “signs” her bed and body (To His Wife 5).

He also writes, “At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign. If, for these and other such rules, you insist upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none. Tradition will be held forth to you as the originator of them, custom as their strengthener, and faith as their observer” (The Chaplet 3, 4).

 Origen (ad c. 185-c. 284) wrote, “This [letter Tau] bears a resemblance to the figure of the cross; and this prophecy [Ezek 9:4] is said to regard the sign made by Christians on the forehead, which all believers make whatsoever work they begin upon, and especially at the beginning of prayers, or of holy readings” (Selections in Ezekiel. c. ix).

 St. Augustine (354–430 AD) wrote: “What else is the sign of Christ but the cross of Christ? For unless that sign be applied, whether it be to the foreheads of believers, or to the very water out of which they are regenerated, or to the oil with which they receive the anointing chrism, or to the sacrifice that nourishes them, none of them is properly administered” (Tractates on John 118).

 There has never been a time in the flow of historic Christianity that the Sign of the Cross has not been devoutly practiced. Only recently, since the Reformation, has the Sign of the Cross (along with the Crucifix, holy water and other visible signs) been rejected as idolatrous by many Protestant traditions. However, even Martin Luther in his Taufbuechlein retained the Sign of the Cross in the baptismal service and used the Sign of the Cross as one of his last gestures before death (H. Grizar, Luther, 3:435).


Tertullian: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff, ed., Eerdmans, 1980, vol. 3, p. 94–95.

Origen: The Faith of Catholics, Rev. Chapel, ed., Fr. Pustet & Co., 1885, vol. 3, p. 424.

St. Augustine: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st series, Philip Schaff, ed., Eerdmans, 1983, vol. 7, p. 432.

Grizar citation: Luther, Hartmann Grizar, B. Herder Book Co., 1919, vol. 3, p. 435.

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I am doing a show on Relevant Radio about the “Rivers of the Bible” at 9 AM Eastern at I will soon post the link to listen to the archived show.

We mentioned on the show when Steve at a grasshopper at the Jordan Rive like the John the Baptist did You can see the video here: ?

Two Seas in Palestine, by Bruce Barton

Sea of Galilee

“There are two seas in Palestine. One is fresh, and fish are in it. Splashes of green adorn its banks. Trees spread their branches over it and stretch out their thirsty roots to sip of its healing waters. Along its shores the children play, as children played when He was there. He loved it. He could look across its silver surface when He spoke His parables. And on a rolling plain not far away He fed five thousand people.

“The River Jordan makes this sea with sparkling water from the hills. So it laughs in the sunshine. And men build their houses near to it, and birds their nests; and every kind of life is happier because it is there. 

Jordan River

“The River Jordan flows on south into another sea. Here is no splash of fish, no fluttering leaf, no song of birds, no children’s laughter. Travelers choose another route, unless on urgent business. The air hangs heavy above its water, and neither man nor beast nor fowl will drink.

“What makes this mighty difference in these neighbor seas? Not the river Jordan. It empties the same good water into both. Not the soil in which they lie not the country about. 

Dead Sea

“This is the difference. The Sea of Galilee receives but does not keep the Jordan. For every drop that flows into it another drop flows out. The giving and receiving go on in equal measure.

“The other sea is shrewder, hoarding its income jealously. It will not be tempted into any generous impulse. Every drop it gets, it keeps. 

“The Sea of Galilee gives and live. This other sea gives nothing. It is named The Dead. There are two kinds of people in the world. There are two seas in Palestine. There are two kinds of people in this world. What kind are we?”

See our upcoming pilgrimages at Not listed yet, but we have a Family Holy Land Pilgrimage over Christmas break in 2016. Contact Suzanne for more info at or at 800-727-1999, ext 121.”

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Meaning of Sacred and Immaculate Hearts

by Steve Ray on June 11, 2015

A non-Christian friend found two paintings at an art show and asked me, “What in the world are these? They seem to have pagan elements. What do they have to do with Jesus and Mary?”

Here is my explanation. If you readers have anything to add, please post it in the Comments below. Thanks.

Thanks. Beautiful images. Full of biblical representation — NOT pagan influences. They are devotional images to remind Catholics of the sorrows of Jesus and Mary and the resultant purification, joy and new life that come from them.

Sacred Heart of Jesus

Sacred Heart of Jesus:
Hearts represent love and life as the center of our being. Jesus’ heart beats with the fire of love (at the top of the heart) which was demonstrated at the cross. The fire also represents the purifying fire of God by which he purifies men. It exudes the transformative power of divine love.

The crown of thorns brought suffering which was endured for the love of man to redeem him — to bear man’s pain in his own heart. The cut in the heart is that made by the lance that was thrust through his heart when he was on the cross.

The blood dripping represents the new life secured through his death (life came through dead). The Blood of Jesus also cleanses us, washes us from sin. The result is the heart of man (below surrounded by flowers) is given new life. The flowers represent a garden of delights, new life, freshness. The Garden of Eden which brought about death by sin is now replaced by the Garden of Heaven which brings new life because of holiness and the work of Christ.

Adam and Eve experienced death at the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden; The New Adam (Jesus) brings about life at the Tree of Death (the cross) in another garden (John 19:41). This cross is at the top of the heart. Heaven and the glory of God is represented by the clouds and the blazing sun or heavenly light from God behind the hearts.

Immaculate Heart of Mary

Immaculate Heart of Mary:
This one is similar to the Sacred Heart. The roses surrounding Mary’s heart represent her sinlessness and purity, sweetness and new life. The seven swords piercing the top of the heart represents the “Seven Sorrows of Mary,” (“Mater Dolorosa”).

The first of her sorrows was the Prophecy of Simeon that a sword would pierce her soul because of her son’s death (Luke 2:35), 2) their flight into Egypt, 3) the loss of Jesus in the Temple; 4) the fourth sorrow is Mary watching Jesus carry the cross, 5) the crucifixion imagining a mother watching her son die this way; 6) receiving his limp, cold body after the crucifixion, 7) the body of her son buried in the tomb.

When Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple as a baby the prophet Simeon said that the life and death of Jesus would be like a sword that would pierce her soul (Luke 2:35). The lower heart, the one of Mary surrounded by roses, shows a cut in it which is symbolic of her sorrows. But her sorrows have brought us new life and pure hearts represented by the garden of roses below.

The Mystic Rose:
The mystic rose, symbolizes Mary’s mystical participation in the Holy Trinity as Heaven’s Rose or Mystical Rose. In medieval times the mystic rose symbol was drawn with four petals on a stain glass background or on a multi-colored background like a popular quilt pattern which is still stitched today.

It is a very popular and insightful devotion to Jesus and his mother — the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Every aspect is taken from the Bible and nicely illustrated in the pictures you sent. You have a nice few items there :-)


A Day of Retreat .. or maybe a Life…

May 13, 2015

I recently received an invitation to a retreat at a monastery in Massachusetts. Maybe some day I will have the time to go. But they also are inviting young men to come and take a look. Fr. Dunstan and I met at a men’s conference not long ago. Want to break away from the hectic [...]

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Kissing Statues

May 11, 2015

We are in Jerusalem today ready to pick up our group of 50 people at the airport in a few hours. When I woke up this morning to the Muslim “call to prayer”, church bells ringing and horns honking I read this email that came from the United Kingdom… It read, “Hi Steve! I know [...]

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“Created for Greatness”: The Emerging Catholic Men’s Movement – CWR Article

May 7, 2015

My friend Joe Hanneman just had his excellent article on the need for Mens’ Movements in Catholic World Report. He had interviewed me for the article and he used my quotes :-) Men, and women who love their men, should read this article and encourage real men to be involved. It makes better sons, better [...]

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New Talk by Steve Ray: “Giving Yourself to God”

April 17, 2015

I gave a parish mission and the folks said this was the best of my three talks. You can now purchase it on MP3. CD audio disk coming soon. This is no warmed-over churchy homily on stewardship and tithing. This is about YOU, your life and your commitments. Our time is short, our lives are [...]

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Etiquette at Mass: Reasonable Do’s and Don’ts for Polite and Proper Worship

March 17, 2015

20 Things TO DO And NOT DO at Mass. These are not rules that will get you banished from the Church, but things that are mostly common sense — polite conduct to enhance our worship and that of those around us. 1. Fast before Mass. It is required that one fasts for at least 1 [...]

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The Skull is Talking to Me; Lent is Upon Us!

February 18, 2015

THE SKULL TALKS TO ME EVERY MORNING! It says, “As you are now, I once was; as I am now, you soon shall be — remember your mortality!” No better way to approach Ash Wednesday and 40 days of Lent. Artists have painted St. Jerome with a skull on his desk. Popes were known to keep [...]

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Nine Things You Should Know about Lent, by Jimmy Akin

February 17, 2015

Jimmy is one of my good friends and favorite guys, especially when it comes to biblical, Catholic and apologetical issues — and square dancing :-) I also love the looks of his bushy red beard. You can visit him at Now, on to the matter of Lent: 1. What is Lent? According to the Universal Norms [...]

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Tears Singing Good Ole Baptist Hymns

February 10, 2015

The old Baptist hymns still stir me and bring tears to my eyes. They take me back to my childhood when the family would dress up, us kids in our little suits with cheesy ties and short-legged pants. Dad would always give us candy during the service and put his arm around us while tickling [...]

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Desire of the Everlasting Hills

February 9, 2015

If you haven’t watched this 1 hour video yet, do so. A good friend told me about it at a men’s conference this weekend where I was speaking. Janet and I turned it on tonight and were captivated. If you want to understand the homosexual lifestyle, the sadness and emptiness it brings — this is [...]

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Did St. Paul Pray for the Dead?

January 17, 2015

It seems apparent that St. Paul DOES pray for the dead. Here is my short article that gives a pretty clear example of St. Paul praying for a dead man, a man named Onesiphorus. This will be interesting for those who deny prayer for the dead and must find supposedly find everything explicitly in the Bible before they [...]

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Is God Like a GPS System?

December 28, 2014

There are a million reasons why God is NOT like a GPS system but I am in Australia and I made a wrong turn and my GPS started reprimanding me and saying “Recalculating!” For those who don’t know, GPS stands for Global Positioning System. It is a nifty little device that links up with positional [...]

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“Sunday Mornings in Ancient Times” or “Why I Teared up Last Sunday”

December 22, 2014

Tears welled up in my eyes — again — at Mass last Sunday. It was not always so. As a former Baptist I used to think the Catholic Mass was a sacrilege and an abomination. How could anyone worship a piece of bread? Really! However, last Sunday I was overcome with emotion while sitting in [...]

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Family Rosary Pledge Campaign

November 25, 2014

My friend Karen from New Hampshire wrote: The Family Center has just kicked off a Family Rosary Pledge Campaign! Our aim is to get 1,000 + families to pledge to say the Rosary together weekly – we want this to spread world-wide! I’ve got my son on it at the International Theological Institute – he [...]

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