A Word Picture of the Mission of the Church

The first reading from Wednesday’s Feast of Simon and Jude presents a key feature of the apostolic mission of the Church; it also provides an interesting word study. Here are the key verses:

You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone (Ephesians 2:19-20).

The highlight of this passage is bringing people out of the status of strangers and sojourners and into the household of God, the Church. There are two Greek words that merit some of attention, and one of them paints a kind of picture of the work of every parish.

The Greek word translated as “strangers” is ξένοι (xenoi). Its primary meaning is “foreigners,” people from somewhere else. It is the root of the English word “xenophobic,” which refers to a fear of foreigners. For our purposes in this verse, the word just refers to those from far away. The word paints a picture of the catholicity of the Church, which is to include people from all nations, both near and far. The mission of the Church is unto all the nations so as by faith and Baptism to get them into the Church, which is the household of God.

The Greek word translated as “sojourners” is πάροικοι (paroikoi). While this translation is not inaccurate, it misses the subtleties of the Greek. There are two Greet roots: pará (close or beside) and oíkos (house). So, it means someone living close by. This is where the English words parochial and parish come from.

Thus, the Greek presents a kind of picture of what a parish is. It is a Church with people living nearby. Parishes have boundaries and the pastor and people are responsible for all the people inside their boundaries: all the people, not just the Catholics! So, the job of the parish (parochia in Latin) is to care for and evangelize all the people living nearby, all those inside its boundaries. The mission of a parish is, to use St. Paul’s image, to get those living nearby into the Household of God (the Church).

This, then, is the apostolic mission of the Church: to bring people from near and far into the Household of God, which is the Church solidly standing on the foundation of the Apostles with Christ as the great cornerstone or keystone on which all lean. These two Greek words present a kind of word picture that can assist us in perceiving our mission near and far!