At what parish are you a parishioner? That sounds like someone is asking, what church are you a part or a member of? So why don’t we use the word member? Why parish? What’s the difference? Is there even a difference? Yes! To be a parishioner is the same as being a saint, as living out the call to sainthood.
Well that escalated quickly. It’s tempting to reply, “you’re taking this a little too far; I’m only a member, I’m not a saint.” “That’s too much,” or “I only have to be good enough.” Instead of addressing these particular issues and valid concerns, consider the origin of the word parishioner, its true meaning, and how that relates to each member of the Church.
Christians are sons and daughters of God through and because of baptism. This regenerates the person’s interior life and gives him or her a greater capacity to love and practice virtue. Some would say baptism gives the person a supernatural capacity. So baptism makes the person a child of God through the Spirit of adoption (Rom 8:15); so what? Why is that important? Consider now what answer the word parishioner has to give.
“Is it in the bible?” Good question: Yes. The word parish or parishioner has its roots in the Greek language: paroikos. Para means near and oikos means dwelling. Where in the bible is this word used? Paroikos is used when a person journeys or travels. However, it is more than a word that means ‘to travel.’ It means to journey in a foreign land. When Genesis speaks of the sojourn or journey of Abraham, it is always to or through a land in which he does not hold citizenship (20:1; 21:34; 26:3). To be a paroikos means to be a foreigner, alien, stranger; a sojourner. To be a paroikos means (a) to stay in a strange place or foreign country, (b) to be one who lives in a place that is not his or her home. To be a sojourner means you are near to a dwelling… but not yet there: para-oikos.
Now that the word has a more clear meaning, place it in some relevant context. When is this word used? Who in addition to Abraham is considered a paroikos?
Do you remember when Lord delivered His people from the slavery of the Egyptians? It happened in the Book of Exodus. The Israelites were afflicted by Pharaoh and suffered much oppression. God took them from this foreign and destructive place. God also intended to bring them into a promised land which they could call their own, in which they could dwell. The Israelites, therefore, were sojourners in the wilderness, in the desert. They journeyed toward the place God Himself had prepared for them (sounds like John 14:2-3).
Imagine leaving the comfort of entire kettles and pots of meat. Imagine being uprooted from a place that gave you your daily fill of bread (cf. Ex 16:3). It was hard for the people of Israel to trust that this journey in the wilderness was good for them. They thought Moses intended to kill them with starvation!
It was hard to be a sojourner, to be without the comfort of food. They wanted to endure the cruelty of slavery for the sake of daily pleasure and satisfaction. They wanted to forsake the deliverance, redemption, and salvation of God for that which brought them death! In other words: they were comfortable living in slavery.
Baptism is what delivers us from the slavery of sin. We have the opportunity to take hold of this grace. This grace is sonship in Christ. This grace is the manner in which God our Father adopts us as sons and daughters. Baptism is the way in which we participate in an even more substantial exodus from vice, death, and corruption. Here’s what St. Paul says about it:
[Jesus Christ] came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
This is the effect of baptism! We who were far off from God by the grace of God (vv. 8-9) have been redeemed. We, the baptized, are no longer strangers to God. Did you read that? No longer are we foreign to Heaven. Rather, we are fellow citizens! We have citizenship in Heaven. Baptism causes and effects this grace, this change, this salvation. Our dwelling place is Heaven. We are built into this dwelling place. We are incorporated into and made part of the Body of Christ.
You are a fellow citizen of Heaven. You are “there, but not yet.” Can you feel the tension yet?
Sojourner = Parishioner
This is exactly what it means to be a parishioner. It means to take hold of your identity as a child of God. To be a parishioner means to be responsible for your journey, to recognize that you are a stranger in the world. Don’t yet believe it? Read John 15:18, Romans 12:1-2, John 1:10-12, John 16:33, Jeremiah 31:31-33, and Galatians 6:14. There’s more, but that’s a taste of the truth.
Your parish then, is the particular community in which you journey toward Heaven. That’s the particular Body of Christ you are part of (1 Corinthians 12). That’s the kingdom made present to us on earth (Mt 3:2; Mk 1:15). When Jesus says “the kingdom of God is within you [or in your midst]” (Lk 17:21), it means it is within reach; it is near. We are near the dwelling, we are para-oikos. Pray with that. Let the grace soak in. “Rise, let us be on our way.” Let us complete our journey to Heaven as parishioners!