In Chapter 2 of his Book Christian Proficiency, Martin Thornton discusses the “three heavenly unities.” These are: the Trinitarian unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the unity of God and man in Christ; and the unity of Christ and his church. We are baptized “into Christ.” Through baptism we acquire “a new, eternal, supernatural status” (10). To live a life of prayer is simply to live in accordance with our baptismal identity. “Christians may or may not be better than others, but they are certainly different creatures than the unbaptized, with different supernatural powers and with the tools of the trade of world redemption” (10).
Through our baptismal union with Christ, we become part of God’s new creation. In the beginning, God created the world by bringing order and beauty out of chaos by his Word. God made the world and said, “It is good.” The world was corrupted by the fall of man. Because of man’s disobedience to God’s Word, the order and beauty was lost and the world descended back into chaos and disorder. Harmony and unity between God and man were restored in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. In the Bethlehem manger, for the first time since the fall, God could look at something in creation say, again, “It is good.”
What began at Christmas was completed in the Ascension, as Christ returned to the right hand of God with his perfected humanity. Thus, what is shared with us in baptism is the glorified humanity of Christ. “The believer’s own human nature is not destroyed but is strengthened and perfected by its grafting into the archetypical human nature of the Ascended Lord” (12). Through the grace of prayer and the sacraments, we are “raised up and seated in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 2:6). We live in union with God in Christ through the Spirit in the new creation; we live supernaturally. Our ability to live supernaturally is dependent upon grace. Thus, “The most direct and truly practical way we can serve the world is by prayer and sacramental acts” (12)
The new creation is, first, Christ; then it is Christ in us and us in Christ. We have become something new and different; it is our vocation to fully become what God has made us to be through baptism. The grace that comes to us through prayer and sacraments is central to fulfilling this vocation. We cannot accomplish God’s work “on our own.” Our labor in Christ is effective because it takes place on the supernatural level of Spirit and, thus, bears fruit.
The essential order of the Christian life is that it begins in prayer and Sacrament and produces the fruit of new behavior. When prayer and Sacrament are neglected, the Christian life is reduced to an attempt to do or be good on a merely human level. This attempt always fails, and it is the cause of great frustration for many in the Christian life. We are saved by grace—not only at the beginning of the Christian life but—continually. The grace of prayer and sacrament continually raises us to sit in the heavenly places in Christ and continually makes our labor fruitful.