Making the Sign of the Cross on the Road
My wife and I are in the midst of an experiment. Earlier this year I put a bed in an old Ford van and made a few other modifications for convenient work and travel at very low expense. Last Friday we set off to visit some of our far-flung children and one or two national parks. The theory is that a reasonable amount of work will be possible under these circumstances, so that we can be gone for three weeks without coming anywhere near to taking three continuous weeks off—and without spending much, except on gas.
Having just cleaned up from the Great Virus Attack of 2013 on Thursday, I was ready to leave by Friday afternoon. One of the books I took with me was St. Francis de Sales’ The Sign of the Cross, newly published by Sophia Institute Press, which is drawn from the third section of the great saint’s Defense of the Holy Cross of our Savior Jesus Christ. This was St. Francis’ extensive answer to Protestant attacks against his very effective reconversion of the Chablais region of Switzerland under the pressure of Calvinism. It was first published in 1600.
I suppose I make the Sign of the Cross as frequently as anyone—at the beginning and end of prayers, with holy water, when passing a church or cemetery, as a quick invocation of the Holy Trinity in challenging moments, and of course when particularly reflecting on the need for God’s blessing for myself, my family, my friends, CatholicCulture.org donors and users, and correspondents. Reading St. Francis de Sales on this subject, arguing against the iconoclasm of the Reformers, is at once inspiring, entertaining, warm, comfortable and very Catholic.
Then there is the use of the Sign of the Cross for inanimate objects. When the rear differential in our van began to give out halfway across Ohio, the Sign of the Cross proved its worth just as much as it usually does. An ever-increasing “engine noise”, varying in pitch with our speed, led us to pull off the Interstate and seek the advice of a local Ford dealer. Their service center was closed, but a mechanic listened, diagnosed it as a transmission problem and sent us to a nearby transmission shop. The shop too was closed, but there was a transmission specialist there working on his own vehicle. He too listened, confirmed that it seemed to be the transmission and identified the likely problem as (if you must know) the Front Torque Converter Pump.
The FTCP notwithstanding, the Sign of the Cross soon took care of our biggest problem. The mechanic immediately added that we could probably nurse the van along for another 180 miles until we got to Carmel, Indiana, where my daughter Katherine and her husband Ryan live with their three delightful little boys. So we carefully drove the remaining distance. After all, we were already expected for dinner and a one-night stay.
We arrived only a couple of hours late on Saturday. But it seems we have taken up residence. It is now Tuesday as I write this from Katherine’s kitchen table.
First thing Monday morning I showed up at a transmission shop we’d found on the Internet, except that I didn’t, because the shop no longer existed in the location specified. But the Sign of the Cross soon took care of that as I found another auto repair facility nearby that was able to direct me to a real transmission shop just a few miles away. I checked the van in with them, and by late Monday learned that it was not a transmission problem at all. The noise was coming from the afore-mentioned rear differential.
For the theologically-minded, the differential is that mysterious portion of a car’s being which distributes power to the wheels, allowing them to turn at different rates of speed for cornering (otherwise your tires would wear out pretty close to instantly) and, in some cases, for improved traction. Our limited slip differential, for example, sends power to the wheel that is not slipping, which can get us out of trouble in snow, mud or sand, though it is not nearly as good as four wheel drive.
Anyway, the real transmission shop was still willing and able to do the work, but said they couldn’t find a readily-available rebuilt differential to swap in, so we were looking at next week. Another occasion for the Sign of the Cross! And it turns out that the local Ford dealer could rebuild the differential on the spot, and the transmission shop was happy to drop the van off with Ford, which was only a block away. The Ford service team did need to order some parts, however, and I’m waiting for word on whether all the needed parts will come in today or not. I don’t mean to over-use the Sign of the Cross, but….
Anyway, through all of this I am finding St. Francis de Sales’ little book on the Sign of the Cross delightful. Here is part of what he says, for example, about how to make this invaluable exterior sign:
As a rule, the Sign of the Cross is made in the following way. It is made with the right hand, which, as Justin Martyr says, is esteemed the more worthy of the two. It is made either with three fingers, in order to signify the Blessed Trinity, or five, in order to signify the Savior’s five wounds; and although it does not much matter whether one makes the Sign of the Cross with more or fewer fingers, still one may wish to conform to the common practice of Catholics in order not to seem to agree with certain heretics, such as the Jacobites and the Armenians, who each make it with one finger alone, the former in denial of the Trinity and the latter in denial of the two natures of Christ. [p. 9]
To which it is appropriate to add: Amen.