To live in Christ is, in the widest sense, to live in a state of grace. It is a gift but a gift which God does not deny to anyone. What we are more particularly considering in these pages is the development of the gift. All are invited to develop the life of Christ in the soul, and those who set themselves to do so are actively and progressively on the way to identification: identification with the divine person so far as is possible in this life, leading to the fullest identification to be enjoyed eternally in Heaven. Christ incorporates us into his life at baptism, offers his life to us in countless ways as we mature in our religious formation, and finally crowns us with the grace of divine union.
Though baptism and religious service create the disposition, they do not constitute the unitive habit as understood by the classical mystical writers. Union for them means assimilation. It is not our good works that can force an entry into Christ’s life. It is God’s grace, prepared for by good works and prayer, that enables us to rise above and beyond ourselves and to be assumed into the fully meritorious life of Christ. His merits are our claim: we have no claim of our own. A rough analogy would be the way in which vapor is contained in the cloud. We are not only supported by Christ’s life in us, as moisture is supported in a cloud, but we can so increase this dependence as ultimately to be absorbed into it. Vapor becomes cloud and cloud is vapor. I live now not I but Christ lives in me. I am nothing but what I am in Christ. This is true integration and the realization of our purpose as souls created in likeness of God. This is human life in its fullness, waiting for participation in the divine life which is Heaven.
So how are we to set about it? While the process is to be seen primarily as the way in which God sets about it, there are practical steps which can be directed by us. Confession, Communion, the Mass. Frequent confession is played down today but if we are trying to enter into the sinless life of Jesus, the more often we cleanse ourselves of sin and guilt the better. Those who go to confession rarely, and some have dropped the use of this sacrament altogether, are in danger of blunting the sensibility to sin and are accordingly approaching the deepest reality of religion, and consequently of the interior life, in a spirit of presumption. Where there is to be union of two, says Saint Bernard, there must be correspondence of extremities. Though we may not perfectly comprehend we can at least correspond, and the measures available are particularly the sacraments of penance and Holy Communion, and a deeper appreciation of the Mass.
Whilst baptism is the most necessary of the sacraments – not only because it removes the stain of original sin and incorporates the soul into the mystical body of Christ, but also because without it the other sacraments cannot be received – the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is designated by Saint Thomas as the “most excellent.” So the most immediate and effective way of living in Christ is by receiving the bread of life. By the mystery of this water and wine, the priest prays in the Mass, let us come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity. The elements of the Eucharist are the outward signs of the inward grace which is union with the life of Christ.