Islam, Signs, Symbols & Catholic Action

In conversation recently about Islam, I mentioned that once, during a public rosary, I noticed that when a veiled Muslim woman passed by she looked straight ahead, studiously ignoring our group.

The chat then turned on the fact that while Muslims are not afraid to show their religion by their dress, Catholics tend to keep any public displays of the Faith to a minimum, unless, like a public rosary event, we are together in a group.

Then, surprisingly, one person said that he always made the sign of the cross when he saw a Muslim, signs being very important and powerful, with, of course, the sign of the cross having a particular potency.

That got me thinking. Should more of us follow his brave example?  Is there any other Catholic Action that you can think of, that falls into the category of “signs and symbols”?  Or is this sort of thing liable to fall into the category of  “Islamophobia”?

63 responses

  1. As a Protestant, I always led my family in prayer when eating at a restaurant, just like at home. Now as a Catholic, we make the sign of the cross.

    Yes, it should be done.

    ALWAYS. EVERYWHERE.

    .

    • I also make the sign of the cross when eating out. But I have to be honest, I’d find it difficult to do face to face with Muslims on the street, I remember once passing a group of women covered head to toe in their black dress with the veil with only the eye-slits and, stupid as it may sound, I felt intimidated. The thought of their possible reaction if I made the sign of the cross, makes me shiver with fear to be honest. At the same time, I feel pulled to try it, so I am praying about that, going forward.

  2. The sign of the cross being both visible and simple is probably the most known and profound sign we can possibly make. Saints have encouraged using the sign of the cross in everything we do. I promote we use it more for the sake of evangelizing people

  3. The following report suggests there is nothing irrational or ‘phobic’ in fearing the spread of Islam. See this:- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-39279631

    I used to see a man on the train reading his bible. I saw other commuters look at him. I sometimes wondered if his quiet and probably unintentional witness had any effect on his fellow commuters.

    • WF,

      I saw that report yesterday, on the rise of Islam to become the dominant religion in the UK by 2070, My first thought? That’s what we deserve.

      • Exactly. Islam is a scourge permitted by God because we have (largely) turned our backs on Him and His true religion. The growth of Islam will only stop when Russia is consecrated to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart, and then we will have the promised period of world peace. There could never be true peace in a world dominated by Islam.

    • I don’t think it will take until 2070 for the Muslim community to become dominant. I think I’ve seen estimates that in 10 years they will be the dominant group. There are places in England (I think Leicester is one place) where the non-white community are already outnumbering the locals, though can’t be sure they are all Muslims.

  4. We always and everywhere make the sign of the cross when saying grace before meals when eating in or out. I have notices slight embarrassment on the part of our offspring as they get older. we have said to them on many an occasion they, if they deny Jesus before men, He will deny them before His Father in Heaven.

    That’s a great idea about crossing oneself when passing a Muslim, which I will now adopt.

    • I understand your children’s embarrassment, as it is not easy to stand out from the crowd, especially for young people. Peer pressure to conform to be like everyone else is very strong in the young.

  5. Also, we should frequently make the following act of consecration. More recent versions I have seen have had the fourth paragraph completely removed, which is a scandal:-

    “Most sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race, look down upon us humbly prostrate before Thine altar. We are Thine, and Thine we wish to be; but, to be more surely united with Thee, behold each one of us freely consecrates himself today to Thy most Sacred Heart.

    Many indeed have never known Thee; many too, despising Thy precepts, have rejected Thee. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to Thy sacred Heart. Be Thou King, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken Thee, but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned Thee; grant that they may quickly return to Thy Father’s house lest they die of wretchedness and hunger.

    Be Thou King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps aloof, and call them back to the harbour of truth and unity of faith, so that there may be but one flock and one Shepherd.

    Be Thou King of all those who are still involved in the darkness of idolatry or of Islamism, and refuse not to draw them into the light and kingdom of God. Turn Thine eyes of mercy towards the children of the race, once Thy chosen people: of old they called down upon themselves the Blood of the Saviour; may it now descend upon them a laver of redemption and of life.

    Grant, O Lord, to Thy Church assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; give peace and order to all nations, and make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry: “Praise be to the divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to it be glory and honour for ever.” Amen.

    • WF,

      You’ve obviously not been in Glasgow for a while. We’d never do anything else if we recited that prayer every time we passed a Muslim!

      Seriously, a beautiful prayer. Thank you for posting it.

  6. LOL! No I didn’t mean to recite it every time you pass a muslim . . . just whenever possible. Sadly, it’s the same situation down here in London.

    • That’s hilarious – I can identify with that, as I always make a mess eating spaghetti. It’s the last thing I would order if I was wearing the veil over my face! LOL! They were brave women!

  7. It would be quite difficult to make the sign of the cross in the street on the approach of a Muslim (or more than one – even more difficult) but it is a powerful thing to do, make the sign of the cross. Still, it is true that the Muslims are not embarrassed to show their faith openly, so we shouldn’t be either.

  8. I agree that we absolutely should make the sign of the cross frequently AND in public, e.g. before meals in a restaurant, when saying public rosaries- such a powerful prayer, the Rosary in public- when passing shrines, statues and churches. But I can’t help wondering if making a sign of the cross JUST because and ONLY because one meets a Moslem, (or Hindu, or whatever) is a good idea in apostolic terms. Is there any history of advice from sage saints about doing this to convert non Catholics?

    What exactly would one be trying to achieve here? A witness to the Catholic Faith? A liberation of a soul from bondage/servitude? It comes across as a kind of exorcism- as we know, of course, unbaptised souls need exorcism but…..they do have to ask for it.

    I was reminded of the story of the Cure of Ars (I think) when he was a boy, who, in Catholic France where the custom of blessing oneself was well understood, frequently blessed the hour by saying a Hail Mary, often crossing himself. Once someone said to his father “Does your son think I am the devil? He blesses himself every time he meets me!” Of course, this was not at all the impression the little boy wanted to give, but you can see how someone received it….. Making the sign of the cross as a “hint” or witness to someone else has been suggested in cases like where fellow Catholics abuse the Holy Name. I think this is a cracking good idea!

    Also not suggesting that most Moslems would react badly to someone making a sign of the cross, but surely when dealing with strangers we should be prudent and avoid courting martyrdom or the minor equivalent if a person were of an inflammatory mindset? It’s one thing to die for your faith by refusing to renounce its practice, but it’s another thing altogether to actually look for trouble. Again, I am not suggesting stopping making the sign of the cross in public- I have often walked down the street saying my Rosary- I might not put it away if I met some Moslems but neither would I take out a hidden Rosary suddenly, just because a Moslem was coming, and wave it under their nose….whatever the intention, it comes across (to me) as provocative.

    Any comments?

  9. Just to qualify: I absolutely would promote and defend the Catholic Faith publicly, including approaching non Catholics with offers to explain the faith, offers of blessed sacramentals, invitations to join the Catholic Church, etc. I’m just not sure that making the sign of the cross as you pass someone comes across as evangelising them, or displaying your faith.

  10. Mary Murphy

    I tend to agree with you – I also wonder what the point would be. I always make the sign of the Cross when a hearse passes, and say a prayer for the soul of the departed as a sign of respect, and hopefully someone else may consider doing the same, but I agree that to single out muslims could be – at best pointless, and at worse, provocative. Should we also make the sign of the Cross when passing Jews? How about when passing flagrant sexual perverts?

  11. Therese, another point struck me: to say that others are not afraid to show their faith publicly by their dress, THEREFORE we should not be afraid to show ours by making the sign of the cross as we pass them, is an argument deficient in logic.

    A. The way a Muslim shows her faith is not at all the same way as a Christian shows hers. Let us look back to the times when Christians were living among pagans and we see that they lived lives resplendent in virtue, but as for the rest, they behaved modestly and discreetly, going about their business like anyone else and converting people rapidly through personal contact. I never remember hearing of a Christian who felt obliged to declare himself one by gesture every time he passed a non Catholic on the street. Apart from anything else it would wear us all out.

    B. Displaying your faith in dress is not at all the same thing as making a significant gesture when a person of another religion passes by, so it’s a faulty analogy. Our equivalent of wearing Muslim dress is wearing a medal, a religious habit, a cassock or a scapular. By all means we should witness by doing these things, always remembering to avoid all singularity and oddity and to follow traditional Catholic norms.

    • Mary Murphy & Therese,

      As they say all over the place these days, I see where you’re coming from.

      However, I didn’t think of the issue in the way that you are interpreting it.

      Someone (I think Mary) mentioned making the sign of the cross when a lapsed Catholic takes Our Lord’s name in vain, and, as a matter of fact, I remember, just over a year ago, in a social situation with some long lost relatives, doing just that, but spontaneously, without any big show, no pre-planning. I was sitting beside a relative whom I’d not seen for years and years, a real character, great fun, so I wasn’t looking for ways to belittle him or publicly correct him, but when – in the middle of one of his hilarious stories – he used the Holy Name as a profanity, I instinctively made the sign of the cross. I didn’t look at him (or at anyone else in the room) so I don’t know if anyone noticed. I hadn’t made the sign to BE noticed, it was an instinctive gesture. I do remember noting that he didn’t repeat the offence (to God) so perhaps the gesture did have some effect. I don’t know.

      My point is that that was how I interpreted the suggestion about making the sign of the cross when encountering a Muslim. Not that I would make a point of looking at the person and a big show of making the sign of the cross, but actually I’d imagine I would look away and quietly make the sign of the cross without looking to the right or the left, to quote the Book of Kings!

      As to the purpose – well, it would be the same as your suggested wearing of medals, scapulars etc. The sign of the cross, like those items, is a sacramental, with a power from God of its own.

      It IS a “witness” to Faith and a powerful one at that. I’m going to try it, anyway, to see if I can manage to do so discreetly, and leave any possible graces to God.

      As to examples from the saints – well, I doubt there were many previous examples when St Daniel the Stylite (5th century) decided to live at the top of a column in order to escape the world. Not a lifestyle that appeals to me, but I have no doubt that God will have used his sacrifice for the good of his own soul and the souls of others living at that time who, I believe, flocked to see Daniel.

      Similarly, the growth of Islam in our times makes it imperative for us to use our imaginations in order to bring them to Christ, where possible. It strikes me as very unreasonable to consider that the religious dress of Muslims is somehow not provocative in a nominally Christian country whereas a Catholic, discreetly making the sign of the cross in prayer for those who do not know Christ, IS provocative. I do, however, recognise that I need to get with the PC programme!

      Of course, there is no commandment or dogma of the Faith that requires anyone to make the sign of the cross on encountering Muslims but it struck me, on hearing about it, that, since Muslims obviously consider the symbolism of their dress to be of great importance, it might be a simple and effective apostolate for Catholics who feel confident to try it, always with prudence and in a spirit of faith and charity – not to make a show of it as a provocation. If, however, by any chance any Muslim observing asked me what I was doing, I would explain that, since I believe Muslims do respect Our Lord and Our Lady, I always try to say a prayer for them, when I see Muslims – “I hope you don’t mind”. Something like that – who says I’m not a quick thinker in the face of imminent danger!

      Finally, the issue of the growth of Islam – and the nature and history of Islam – puts it in a different category from the other religions mentioned.

      Signed,

      Editor, DIL (Deficient in Logic) 😀

  12. 😁 DIL haha…

    No offence intended….I just enjoy a good debate…..

    In terms of provocation of Muslims or other non Catholics, I was thinking rather of something that might be a block to their conversion/appear to be taking them on in an inflammatory manner. Making the sign of the cross discreetly and charitably does not come under this heading, of course, especially when you said “with prudence, in a spirit of faith and charity”.

  13. Dear Editor

    Bravo you for going ahead and following your conscience. I admire that. I’m not convinced that this will be perceived by anyone as a witness to Faith, and may well be construed as provocation (what times we live in!) but as a personal sacrifice it is bound to be acceptable to Almighty God.

    As per your remark about persons taking the Lord’s name in vain. My hairdresser is a young, semi-lapsed Catholic – I say semi-lapsed because that is her perception – she has had absolutely NO Catholic education, attends Mass very rarely, but she still considers herself to be a Catholic,and has her children (number 4 expected imminently) baptised in the Church, and would not consider not doing so. She has a residual love/affection/loyalty/attachment to the Faith, but no grounding whatsoever. My problem is this; as per usual for hairdressers, she’s a chatty little miss, and during the course of her conversation with clients she blasphemes. I wouldn’t have a problem with gently correctly her if we were in private, but I’m concerned about doing so in front of others. I’m at a loss as to what to do. I make a mental prayer of reparation each time she blasphemes, but should I do more? I don’t want to humiliate a young woman, in front of her clients, who has no idea that what she is saying is gravely wrong.

    Advice?

    • Therese,

      I don’t think it’s a conscience issue – it’s a prudential judgment made personally. After reflecting on it, imagining it in practice, I don’t think I could do it but who knows what good might come of it if someone does.

      • Nicky,

        Correct. My conscience doesn’t dictate that I must make the sign of the cross when I see Muslims, so it’s not a conscience issue, but when I heard a highly respected priest say that he does this, it struck me as, possibly, something tangible to do in order to help, in a supernatural sense, our Muslim brothers and sisters. Not to annoy them or any such base motive.

        In fact, it may, in certain circumstances, if noticed by a Muslim, provoke, not anger or other hostile response, but a conversation. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

        Not everyone can or would be able to conduct the same apostolate(s). As a young woman in the Legion of Mary, I remember being assigned to go and speak to some “street workers”/women of the night, she said euphemistically. I used to enjoy speaking to them about their “work”! Seeing their reactions to being offered a miraculous medal, for example, was often touching and very rewarding. Not the first time we reduced them to tears; take that as you will! I’m sure many would be horrified at the thought of going into the red light district and chatting to the women, but would be happy doing something else (like making the sign of the cross for Muslims!) so please do not think this suggestion(about the sign of the cross) is the 11th commandment. It’s not. The eleventh commandment has always been the same: don’t get caught!

        • Editor

          While I do not doubt the good intentions of the respected priest you speak of, it is clear that his making the sign of the Cross when he passes Muslims is both imprudent and provocative. The Muslims he directs his gesture towards have no way of knowing what motivates him and are therefore most likely to perceive his action as a calculated insult. I think Father needs to re-think his approach to converting Muslims!

          • Athanasius,

            I find Muslims looking less than pleased in their shops when they spot my Miraculous Medal, and I’m not trying to be provocative, but should I stop wearing it outside my top, just in case it annoys a Muslim? It took me a while to realise why I was being treated so coolly, and then it hit me, I hadn’t bothered to cover up my medal.

            IMHO, there’s too much bending over backwards to avoid upsetting Muslims as it s. If they object to us showing a sign of our religion, then they can’t complain if we say we don’t like them shoving their signs of their religion in our face day and daily.

            • Josephine

              With respect, it is one thing wearing your Miraculous Medal around your neck as an expression of your Catholic Faith and quite another making the sign of the Cross when coming into contact with a Muslim. I’m sure you must see the difference.

              • Athanasius,

                It’s not whether Josephine sees the difference – I took her point to be that the MUSLIM didn’t see the difference. He seems to have been “provoked” to annoyance, if not anger, at the sight of her medal. So, should she stop wearing the medal, in the interests of a very human “prudence”?

          • Athanasius,

            Frank Duff, Founder of the Legion of Mary (whom, as a matter of interest, I met in my long-gone youth) instructed Legionaries to look around their place of residence, village, town, city, whatever, and identify the greatest need; they were to decide where their apostolic efforts should be directed most urgently. What is the greatest need, where I live, in terms of bringing the Faith to those who don’t have it? Hence, for example, the Glasgow apostolate to the red light district, and home to home visitation in order to ask everyone – lapsed or non-Catholics – if they would be interested in learning about the Catholic religion. Not once did I ever encounter anyone who showed anger or resentment at our approaches. Not once. Always, people were pleasant, often interested.

            Nobody, can deny that, were the Legion of Mary operating now as it should be, looking at the greatest need in our Scottish towns and cities (indeed, towns and cities across the UK) there would be an apostolate, a “mission” to Muslims.

            One favourite Legionary method has always been a direct approach, speaking to people, either on their doorsteps, or on the street. Provocative? Too bad. Our Lord’s instruction was clear; we are to go out in to the whole world, baptising them….

            Obviously, prudence has its place, but the virtue of prudence must not be interpreted as an excuse to do nothing, as it is, all too often, in my experience. It is nothing short of scandalous that, as far as I am aware, there is no “mission to Muslims”, largely thanks to the rise of the scandalous “inter-faith” movement, hell-bent (literally) on NOT encouraging converts from non-Christian religions.

            Thus, I disagree completely that “it is clear that [Father] making the sign of the Cross when he passes Muslims is both imprudent and provocative.”

            So far, unless I’ve missed it, he’s not made the front page of any newspaper, nor, to the best of my knowledge, has he experienced any anger from any Muslims on the street.

            We have become so used to taking worldly judgements about diplomacy and a false prudence as our standard, that we tend to leave God out of the equation. In the economy of grace, no apostolic action, conducted in a spirit of faith and charity, will go unrewarded – whether for the object of the action (Muslims) or the “do-er”. THAT must be our standard. Not human judgements about “provocation”. In any case, Our Lord warned us that He had not come to bring peace, but a sword; in other words, we WILL provoke others on occasion and we will not always be welcome when we take Christ to those who do not know Him, but that is no excuse for inaction.

            For the record, I’ve been hearing today of three readers of this blog who have actually tested the waters by making the sign of the cross when they see a Muslim(s) in the street, and none of them have experienced any kind of negativity at all.

            To repeat, however, no particular apostolate is mandatory, so no-one need feel obliged to do anything – visit the red light district (!), knock on doors in a street near you to hand out pamphlets about the Faith or just chat about it, OR make the sign of the cross when you see a Muslim.

            Plenty of people raised objections to Legionaries visiting the street women and knocking on doors to seek the lapsed and possible converts.God’s grace was, nevertheless, present in those works. My guess is that He will be present in the “sign of the cross” apostolate to Muslims. Mind you, I’ve yet to try it myself. If you don’t hear back from me within two days, you’ll know I got this one wrong, big time 😀

            • Editor

              It seems no one has understood the meaning of my comments. I was responding to someone who suggested that Catholics should make the sign of the Cross when passing Muslims in the street, or something to that effect. That’s just plain daft,.the Church has never encouraged so imprudent an approach to converting anyone.

              And I don’t agree with going around the neighbourhood knocking on doors like the Mormons and Jehovas Witnesses do. I’m not aware that the Church ever encouraged that either. My recollection is that the Church only sent Legion members to lapsed Catholic’s houses to try to win them back to the practice of their Faith.

              As for trying to convert women of the night in red light districts, I would like to think that where this practice took place only women were sent in as lay apostles. I can’t imagine the Church sanctioning the deployment of men, however pious, into red light districts to confront scantily clad women. It goes against the Church’s teaching on how to maintain purity. It would be pretty difficult for any man to confront such a woman and try to hold a reasonable conversation with her while looking down at the ground in order to maintain “custody of the eyes”. Sounds like a dangerous business to me. And before you say, I know about the protection of grace. But that’s not guaranteed to the presumtuous who deliberately place themselves in an occasion of sin.

              • Athanasius,

                I’m surprised that you appear to be unaware of the types of works conducted by Legionaries of Mary since well before Vatican II – the Legion was established in 1921 and spread across the world. I have a photo of myself as a teenager, with a group of Legionaries standing at a bookstall we set up outside what used to be called Stirling Library in Glasgow city centre, and I lost count of the number of amazing conversations we had with passers-by about the Faith, most of whom took some of our literature.

                So, little wonder that the idea of the sign of the cross shocks you. But worry not, the modernist version of the Legion is engaged largely in “sanctuary” work, I believe – they engage in the roles of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and reading at Mass etc. No more non-Catholics receiving a knock on the door and being invited to learn about the Faith, no more street women receiving Miraculous Medals and discussing the sinful lifestyle they shared with Mary Magdalen before HER encounter with Christ. So, all’s relatively well that ends relatively well. 😀

                Oops! I’ve just remembered that in a conversation with a former Legionary recently, she told me of an occasion (in Birmingham) when she and her Legion partner were knocking on doors and on one doorstep discovered that the occupants were Muslims engaged in a meeting of some sort. After briefly explaining that they were members of a Catholic organisation and were asking people if they would like to know more about the Catholic Faith, the man said they wouldn’t normally have anyone not Muslim in their meetings, but they would make an exception. About 15 people were in attendance and they politely listened while the Legionaries spoke about Jesus and Mary (linking to the Koran mention of both, but pointing out the differences); they were offered drinks and departed in very good friendship with their Muslim hosts. Nothing may have come of that, something may have come of that. But I find it a very strange type of Catholicism that would refrain from such missionary endeavour, given that being “missionaries” is at the very heart of our Faith.

                For the record, I was in a shop yesterday, run by a lovely Muslim lady (I’ve been before.) I made a point of stopping at the shelves near the counter, and as I turned to go to the counter, I kept my eyes down and made a simple sign of the cross, before looking up, smiling at the lady who was already… beaming her lovely smile at me. Didn’t seem angry at all (assuming she saw the sign of the cross – I don’t know, wasn’t looking at her.)

                By the way, just to clarify, I wasn’t suggesting (and I doubt if Father can manage it either) making the sign of the cross every time we see a Muslim. That might be impossible, especially for those living in densely populated Muslim areas. As and when, would do it. As and when.

                • Editor

                  We’ll just have to agree to differ – again!

                  Setting up a Catholic bookstall in a public place is one thing, door stepping people is quite another. I always associate the latter with Pentecostal-type Protestantism Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

                  There is no evidence in the history of the Church for lay Catholics going around knocking on people’s doors, nor is there any suggestion by the Popes that such an apostolate should be undertaken. If you ask me this was the beginning of lay Modernism even before Vatican II.

                  As for making the sign of the Cross in front of Muslims, the practice is an imprudent one that smacks of affectation. The Church encourages Catholics to make the sign of the Cross in public, for example, when passing a Catholic Church, a cemetery, or in a cafe with the grace before and after meals, But to direct the sign of the Cross directly at a Muslim could bring the Cross into disrepute by imprudent provocation. The Church does not advise or otherwise encourage Catholics to behave this way in public towards non-Catholics and non-Christians. These poor souls stand a much better chance of converting by our prayers, penances and good example, not to mention conversation should religion arise as a topic.

                  I won’t be making the sign of the Cross when passing Muslims and I would like to think Muslims would not make Islamic gestures towards me..

                  • Athanasius,

                    That’s a very uncharitable post, I’m quite surprised at it.

                    I really came on to ask if you would mind answering my post of 12.16pm today.

                    • Josephine

                      It is one of the great misfortunes of our time that when someone speaks frankly he’s considered uncharitable. I posted my comments honestly with no uncharitable thoughts in mind. I’m sorry if my forthright manner offends you.

                      I’m also sorry that I missed your comments of 12;16pm. I’ve been on the road all day doing my job in pretty stressful conditions; then had to take my dog to the vet, carrying all 8 stones of her in my arms to and from the house/car/vet practice. Just had my dinner at 8.30pm and now have some work related stock issues to sort. Having heard all that I’m sure you’ll forgive my delay in responding to your comments. I will now go and look briefly at your 12:16 post and respond accordingly.

                  • Athanasius,

                    Although I myself undertook door to door apostolate on behalf of the Legion of Mary, and don’t think it was the beginning of lay modernism- maybe you could explain your thought here?- I don’t find your comments uncharitable in intent but merely a frank expression of opinion. I am inclined to agree with you on the sign of the cross issue and I don’t think this is a question of being PC or “humanly prudent” but simply an observation of whether this admittedly novel practice is a wise and effective method of attracting non Catholics to belief…..

                    • Mary Murphy

                      The grace of God attracts souls to the Faith, which is a divine gift. We can help open people’s hearts to that gift by our good example. Was it St. Paul who said that people should look at Catholics and say “see how they love one another”? This is the most powerful way of attracting others to the Faith.

                      Standing at people’s doors offering intellectual arguments as to why they should be Catholics is pointless. There is ample information out there for people who feel attracted by God to the Church and want to know more, We can certainly help souls by our example, prayers and penances, or through public writings, discourses, etc. But we really shouldn’t knock on doors like commercial sales reps.

                    • Athanasius,

                      It;s not about “offering intellectual arguments as to why they should be Catholics” (although I strongly disagree that that is “pointless”!) because Legionaries going home to home have usually got a reason to give to the people they encounter. It might be to invite them to something at the church – a series of talks, for example, or it might be just to ask them if they would like to learn more about the Church and take it from there. I’ve done it and found it exhilarating because the majority of people in my own experience were interested and it was great to see God at work in these situations.

                    • Mary Murphy,

                      I don’t think editor was suggesting the sign of the cross as a way of “attracting non-Catholics to belief” because for one thing, she was talking only about Muslims and I got the clear impression it was to show the Christian sign in the face of their very overt signs (dress) with a view to winning grace for them.

                      Maybe I’ve got it wrong but that’s how I’ve been reading her comments.

                  • As far as I recall the door to door apostolate was on behalf of the parish priest, and the only houses we visited were in his territory and with his permission and encouragement, on the understanding that he could not possibly get around to visiting all the lost and strayed sheep of his fold, or reach out to those outside the fold- just too many people. I think this was fine in these circumstances. I certainly would not start going visiting houses off my own bat as it would smack of Jehovah’s Witness behaviout. The Legion of Mary’s home visits were always in concert with and controlled by the local parish, which I think places it firmly in a Catholic category. Sadly, with the decay of the Faith in most parishes, the Legion’s historic strong point- parish control and guidance- has become its weakness, as priests in general drop efforts at conversion to the Faith.

                    • Mary Murphy,

                      You are right. The Legion Handbook specifically states that the Legionaries are the “extension” of the priest, visiting on his behalf on the understanding that the priest will visit personally when he can, especially if there is a request from those visited, which would be reported back at the next Legion meeting. No group can be started without the authority of the Parish Priest and the Bishop has to have already given permission for the Legion to be started up in his diocese.

                      I don’t think it’s right to disparage Jehovah’s witnesses anyway as they are doing what they believe to be necessary to take their beliefs to the people. There’s nothing wrong with visiting home to home, but they’ve got the wrong message – that’s the problem there!

                    • Mary Murphy

                      You’re absolutely right, and you place the missionary work correctly in the context of the parish priest delegating lay people to visit sick and/or lapsed Catholics. They were never sent out cold calling!

                    • Josephine

                      I am perfectly happy to disparage the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who I have found to be generally not interested in what is true or false in religion. They are a determined lot who do the rounds looking for mugs to grow the coffers of their sect. You need to read about these people and what they represent.

                      Here you go: http://www.ewtn.com/library/answers/incredjw.htm

                    • Athanasius,

                      On the contrary, the PP OFTEN sends out Legionaries “cold calling” as you put it. Home- to-home visitation to seek possible converts. It’s as old as Christianity itself. Remember, not only the 12 apostles went out on such an errand but the 72 as well.

                      In addition to working in their own parishes, some Legionaries book to go on Peregrinatio Pro Christo trips to parishes in other countries where the priest has asked for the Legion’s help. I know of at least one parish in Glasgow who hosted such a group last year and they went home-to-home, on behalf of the priest.

                      You amaze me, in that you seem not to be at all acquainted with the work of the Legion of Mary which I am pretty certain is the largest lay organisation in the world, although I’m ready to be corrected on that, not had time to check the numbers.

                    • Editor

                      I would be surprised if The Legion of Mary is now the largest lay organisation in the world. From personal knowledge I would say it is largely disappearing from our shores, for example.

                      However as you are right to say door to door visitation was the norm, and the visit of a P.P.C. Group was a boost to any parish.

                      Generally that contact was welcomed by the occupants of the house, and I am sure the religious discussion was always fruitful at some level. It led, at least, to the sowing of some seed.

                  • Athanasius,

                    Your final paragraph shows that you’ve missed the point. I won’t be making the sign of the Cross when passing Muslims and I would like to think Muslims would not make Islamic gestures towards me..

                    Muslims ARE “making Islamic gestures towards you” because their very dress code is a sign of their religion. That came across very clearly in the blog introduction and later comments.

                    • Josephine

                      They might say the same thing about you when you wear your Miraculous Medal. Has that ever occurred to you?

                      I’m not so much interested in a Muslim’s manner of dress, which is impersonal to me. The debate here is about making the sign of the Cross when one comes into contact with Muslims. Now that is very personal and, I would argue, quite confrontational.

                    • Athanasius,

                      “They might say the same thing about you when you wear your Miraculous Medal. Has that ever occurred to you?”

                      Yes, that was my point! They didn’t bother hiding their disapproval of my medal, but I’m not supposed to show any disapproval of their signs and symbols. That was the point I was making. As usual, though, I don’t make myself clear, so I’m sorry about that.

                  • Athanasius,

                    Replying to your comment at 3.45pm – seems I’m the last in a long line!

                    Your choice of words surprises me. “Affectation”? Last time I heard that allegation it was hurled at Petrus from the pen of Archbishop Tartaglia, when Petrus wrote to ask if the Archbishop (then Bishop of Paisley) would provide the TLM, post-Summorum Pontificum. I was shocked then, that a Bishop of the Church would take it upon himself to make a judgement on the interior disposition of a soul within his diocese, instead of accepting his request in good faith, and I am as shocked today at your attributing of such base motive to a good priest and some (very few) lay people who consider a little apostolate of making the sign of the cross as a prayer for Muslims, worth trying. Father had noted the importance which Muslims place on their dress as a sign, and remarked, rightly, that “signs are important”. Clearly not all Catholics think that the sign of the cross is all that important; that it can be “provocative”. Try telling a Muslim that their dress is “provocative”. I’ll send a Get Well card.

                    Maybe you are right and it’s not a good idea to make the sign of the cross for Muslims. I don’t know. I only tried it once and believe me I did not make the sign directly AT a Muslim, but I’ve explained as clearly as possible what I mean, and then what I did, so I’m not going to go round in circles repeating myself. I wish now to respond to your post in a little detail and then will leave the matter there. YOU are extremely busy and I am extremely busy (for one thing, trying to get the Oxford Dictionary people to re-define “retirement”) so there is no point in dragging this discussion on longer than necessary. To your comment at 3.45.pm:

                    You wrote:

                    “But to direct the sign of the Cross directly at a Muslim could bring the Cross into disrepute by imprudent provocation.”

                    I reply:

                    There is absolutely nothing in any part of this thread, to justify your continued insistence about “directly” making the sign of the Cross “at” a Muslim, ditto your repeated claims of “imprudence” and “provocation”. Now you’ve added “bringing the Cross into disrepute” to the litany.

                    Below, I’m quoting directly all that is relevant from this thread, focusing only on the blog introduction and my own comments, because I find your statements puzzling, based on what is actually being said by me, on this subject. Please point out anything below, from either the blog introduction of any of my comments, which may objectively fit your description above:

                    From blog article:

                    Then, surprisingly, one person said that he always made the sign of the cross when he saw a Muslim, signs being very important and powerful, with, of course, the sign of the cross having a particular potency. That got me thinking. Should more of us follow his brave example?

                    From my comments – the relevant extracts:

                    1…Not that I would make a point of looking at the person and a big show of making the sign of the cross, but actually I’d imagine I would look away and quietly make the sign of the cross without looking to the right or the left, to quote the Book of Kings!

                    2 …it struck me as, possibly, something tangible to do in order to help, in a supernatural sense, our Muslim brothers and sisters. Not to annoy them or any such base motive.

                    3 …In fact, it may, in certain circumstances, if noticed by a Muslim, provoke, not anger or other hostile response, but a conversation. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

                    4 …I kept my eyes down and made a simple sign of the cross, before looking up, smiling at the lady who was already… beaming her lovely smile at me. Didn’t seem angry at all (assuming she saw the sign of the cross – I don’t know, wasn’t looking at her.)

                    5 …By the way, just to clarify, I wasn’t suggesting… making the sign of the cross every time we see a Muslim. END.

                    For the life of me, I cannot see anything that fits your descriptions of this activity, but if I’m missing something, please point it out.

                    I’m going to leave it there. I launched this thread because I thought it was a lovely idea when I heard it and was impressed that a priest today would even think of doing something so profoundly simple and supernatural, in charity for our Muslim friends. It did not occur to me that any Catholic would consider it an “affectation” I believe that it’s always a mistake to attempt to judge motivation and interior disposition. By all means disapprove of the suggestion about sign of the cross/Muslims, but best, in my humble view, to leave it to God to take care of the rest.

                    • Editor

                      I did not say that it was affectation, I said it smacks of affectation. There is a huge difference between the two statements.

                      As for Bishop Tartaglia’s remarks to Petrus, they are in no way comparable with my comments.

                      Bishop Tartaglia was denigrating the ancient Mass of the Church and a Catholic soul who wrote to him expressing veneration for it. I am writing about Catholics who confront Muslims with the sign of the Cross, thereby risking insult to Muslims who would hardly be expected to understand the motive behind the gesture. It is the height of imprudence and not the kind of behaviour the Church would ever countenance as worthy of the sign of the Cross.

                      I’m too tired now to read all of your post in depth but I have read enough to agree that a discreet sign of the Cross for the conversion of a Muslim, by which I mean not to their face, is perfectly good and wholesome. My difficulty is with anyone who suggests we make our sign of the Cross to the face of the Muslim, which would be very imprudent indeed.

                    • Athanasius,

                      Leaving aside the semantics (“smacks of affectation”), I am astonished that after all of this, we obviously do NOT differ at all.

                      You have no problem with a “discreet” sign of the cross – nothing else has been suggested here, certainly not by me, nor, to the best of my memory, by anyone else. To clarify, hopefully,once and for all:

                      You write –

                      “I am writing about Catholics who confront Muslims with the sign of the Cross, thereby risking insult to Muslims who would hardly be expected to understand the motive behind the gesture… My difficulty is with anyone who suggests we make our sign of the Cross to the face of the Muslim “

                      Nobody has suggested that. I agree, that would not be helpful at all. We’d all be running for the hill!

                      You then write –

                      “I have read enough to agree that a discreet sign of the Cross for the conversion of a Muslim, by which I mean not to their face, is perfectly good and wholesome.

                      Alleluia! We agree! That is all that has ever been suggested, and not even in the case of every Muslim we encounter. I think I said somewhere, “as and when” will do.

              • Athanasius,

                “And I don’t agree with going around the neighbourhood knocking on doors like the Mormons and Jehovas Witnesses do”

                What about the first Apostles, as it is on their example that the Legion of Mary work-tasts (I used to be a member myself) are based?

                The Apostles and Saint Paul just spoke to the people wherever they found them.

                I’d be curious to know how you interpret missionary work.

                • Josephine,

                  Well said. It’s actually because Catholics are so inactive that the Mormons etc get so many people interested in their religion. I’ve had ex-Catholics come to my door selling me Jehovah and Joseph Smith, LOL!

                  In case you’re interested, I interpret missionary work the way Jesus taught it – going out into the whole world, seeking converts. Not that I’m very good at it, but I do see the way the Legion of Mary has fallen away from their apostolic work of conversion as a sign of the times.

                • Josephine

                  I think you make the classic mistake of confusing the apostolate of the clergy with that of the laity. The Apostles were ordained clerics and the times were very different.

                  Missionary work for lay people is traditionally working for the S.V.D.P. or some such organisation, visiting the sick, helping the poor, etc. It can also be, as editor explained, the Legion of Mary setting up a stall in a properly designated place to attract people who may feel drawn to, or curious about, the Catholic Faith. It can be the Catholic Truth blog and Conferences. It can also extend to going to foreign countries to help priests and religious by teaching, nursing or doing domestic tasks in remote outposts.

                  It is not knocking on the doors of total strangers like a travelling salesman, and it is not making the sign of the Cross in the faces of Muslims. There is no evidence of that kind of “missionary work” in the history of the Catholic Church. If you doubt me, then provide proof from any period in time prior to the 20th century when Catholics went around knocking on people’s doors and blessing themselves when met by a Muslim. I’m always open to correction.

                  • Athanasius,

                    I’m afraid it’s you who makes the classic mistake of falling into the error of clericalism. Apart from the obvious areas reserved to the priest, sacramental work, offering Mass, hearing Confessions etc. the Church has never taught that there is any area of the Church’s missionary work that is reserved to priests. Indeed, the Legion of Mary works as an extension of the priest, with a Spiritual Director overseeing the work of each group. When Legionaries return to report on their work for the week before, the priest will note any names where he might do some follow-up. I found the following short explanation of the Legion on a website just now, as it probably answers your criticism better than I could:

                    “The Legion of Mary is a worldwide lay apostolate organization evangelizing to the world for Jesus Christ through His Mother Mary, the Mother of the Church. It is the largest apostolic organization of lay people in the world, with more than 3 million active members and 10 million auxiliary members in nearly every country of the world. It has been active in the United States since 1931.

                    The main purpose of the Legion of Mary is to give glory to God through the sanctification of its members.

                    Members become instruments of the Holy Spirit through a balanced program of prayer and service.

                    The meetings offer the opportunity to reflect upon spiritual readings. Each meeting begins with the Rosary and the priest gives a short homily at one point during the meeting.

                    The Legion of Mary was formed in 1921 from one meeting with its founder, Frank Duff; included were 15 women and a priest in Dublin, Ireland.

                    Being a Legion of Mary member begins with saying the rosary. Beyond the rosary, works of the Legion include the three primary areas: conversion, conservation and consolation.

                    Conversion includes extending a friendly invitation to non-Catholics to come to the Catholic Church and to answer questions people may have. The personal witness of the Faith can be powerful means of converting others.

                    Conservation is important in helping fellow Catholics to develop a deeper love and knowledge of God and of our Faith. It involves reaching out with kindness to our brothers and sisters who are lax in practising the Faith or who may have strayed away.

                    Consolation is reaching out to the lonely, the ill and the aged. Consolation is also shown to family members of a deceased parishioner.”

                    If you don’t mind me saying so, it is extremely unkind to describe those Legionaries conducting home to home visitation as “travelling salesmen”. It takes courage to do that work, and I have heard of many stories of people being made interested in the Church as a result. I’m sure there are many conversion stories to be told, but even if not, I doubt that God will look so disdainfully at the efforts of those who go door to door for Christ, as you do. I’m very disappointed in your disparaging comments about these courageous people.

  14. I do a gentle bow of the head when people use the Holy Name in vain. I think for people who were brought up in the Faith this is a clear statement, and they usually desist. However your hairdresser might think you were just suffering from a muscle issue 😀 so I don’t know if it would work. I am pretty sure, if it is only a case of taking God’s Name lightly, the mental prayer of reparation is best in this case, as her culpability is probably not huge anyway. If it is really heavily blasphemous, like if there are obscenities used in connection with God or something really offensive, I would be inclined to make a bigger statement like at least crossing myself very obviously.

  15. Thanks Mary. I always bow my head at the Holy Name of Jesus, as it was inculcated in me from early childhood and I cannot stop myself, even it I wanted to(!) but I notice that it’s a habit which is not usual today – even amongst the generation whom one would expect it to be. I very much doubt that it would be noticed by the younger generation – if they noticed they’d probably think I was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease (smiley thingy which you seem to have mastered, and which I would love to!).

  16. After reading this thread yesterday I made the sign of the cross when I saw two Muslim women crossing the road – but I was in my car, LOL!

    I actually felt good, though – as if that small prayer would make a difference (no thanks to me, but the grace of God). I followed the advice of not looking at them, just carefully making a brief sign.

    Whether I could do it on the street on foot, is another matter!

  17. Editor

    I’m coming to this thread late. From what I’ve read in the blog article and your comments, it is clear that the good priest in question is suggesting a discreet sign of the cross. I’ve never thought of doing this for the conversion of Muslims, but I think it shows Father’s zeal and apostolic spirit.

    Just on Saturday there was a large gathering of Freemasons in my local town hall. I happened to be in town and they passed by in their regalia. I discreetly made the sign of the cross and said the prayer:

    O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee, and for all those who do not have recourse to thee, especially for the Masons and all those commended to thee

    Now, I’m scared of my own shadow so the last thing I would want is to be hounded by marauding Freemasons! However, I think this gesture is more supernatural than provocative. It seemed a natural thing to do. I remember many years ago doing something similar when passing a large gathering of goths in Glasgow. In my view, it is an act of charity.

    • Petrus,

      Bravo! Those Freemason need supernatural help such as a sign of the cross near them, just as much as anyone else!

  18. I know a gentleman who is a Third Order Franciscan and he wears the seven decade Franciscan Rosary around his neck whilst going around the town, and I know an old Scottish Priest of Opus Dei who goes up to random people in the street and on public transport and asks them “are you a Catholic”, and if the answer is “no”, he asks them “why not?” Likewise, I know another gentleman who has a picture of Pope John Paul II in the sleeve of his phone and he said a number of people spontaneously asked him questions about the faith.

    • Catholic Convert 1.

      I remember hearing about a woman who used to sit at the back of the big Jesuit church in Glasgow (St Aloysius) and one day someone asked her if she was new to the parish. She said, no, that she was not a Catholic but liked sitting in the peace of the church, that it was a beautiful church. The other person then asked her if she had ever thought of becoming a Catholic and she replied that, having sat there regularly for about 20 years, that was the first time anyone had asked her that question. She seemed to be amazed when it dawned on her what she was being asked for the first time after all those years.

      I can’t remember the ending, whether she became a Catholic, but it was a very interesting fact that in all those years not one Catholic had asked her that question, until that day. She’d been sitting there regularly in the years before Vatican II, so we can’t blame the Council for that one, LOL!

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