Recently, one of the cardinals known for their opposition to changes in the structure of the Church surprised friend and foe alike with a plea to make the sacrifice of Jesus Christ an example above all else. For the Church, this is a suggestion very different from current practice. It opens a window to look at double care, the earliest form of Christianity and its history. With the current crisis, the time seems ripe for the Church to return to its roots.
Joining the ranks of the Christians was initially very attractive. According to the Greek historian Plutarch, the first Christians among the Romans were known for their care of each other and of the poor. Paul writes that these Christians did indeed gather on Sundays to share a sumptuous meal with everyone present. They took the time to hear from each other who needed support and how they could help the poor. This double care brought people from very different backgrounds together.
Unfortunately, the custom of double care lasted only a short time. In places where too many people wanted to participate, there was no time to listen to everyone's experiences. The full meal was replaced by handing out pieces of bread. On another day of the week, food was offered to those in need. The actual practice of charity ended outside the Sunday meetings. The care of the poor was left to private initiative. Unintentionally, the original obligation of all participants to care for each other and for the poor was lost in this development. Well-to-do citizens continued to meet on Sundays and listen to old stories, exhortations and theories. The theologians formed an institution with laws and strict theological principles, an institution that came to be called the church. Later, this institution drifted further away from caring. In the history of the Israelites, the church found justification for the harsh treatment of dissenters and for war.
Fortunately, the slaughter of dissidents is no longer defended by the church. But it still punishes, by all means, theologians within its own ranks who hold to their own opinions. The widespread use of the Internet has informed so many people of these punishments and of excessive luxury, corruption, clericalism, the covering up of sex scandals, the rejection of rationalism and of scientific progress, that a crisis is inevitable. For many people, the Church has become an organisation to be avoided as much as possible.
Yet some critical Catholics think there is still something in the Church worth saving. The principle of care for one another and for the poor is still seen as the way Jesus Christ wanted his people to go. The question arises whether and how the Church can recover the spirit of that sparkling beginning. In April 2021, the idea of caring for one another and especially for the poor was presented to independent Catholic activists. All responded enthusiastically, but some with the comment that bishops would not be willing to apply the idea. On reflection, this is a misplaced remark. It is not compatible with Pope Francis' upside-down pyramid. The initiative to establish a double care community should be taken by lay people themselves, without asking permission from a bishop. Later on, a bishop who wants to cooperate can act as a local supervisor. Lay people start founding Christian small double care communities on their own. Excellent opportunities to promote the idea are presentations at synods organised by lay people. There it can be made clear that such communities no longer need lectures on the ills of the past or on desired structural changes. Without discussion, there will be room in Christian double care small communities for
- Concern for one another
- Special care for the poor, the neglected and the abused
- Equal rights for women
- Equal rights for LGBT people
- Equal rights for (re)married people
- Marriage optional for ministers
- Participation in decision-making
- Accountability and transparency at all levels of decision making
- Referring crimes to civil authorities without hesitation
- Entrusting decisions in family matters to married couples
- An independent court and court of appeal
- Participation of representatives of all ranks in synods
- Joint meals with people of different views
- Election of caring leaders by the community
- Formation of more such communities
A synod organised by lay people can also decide to find like-minded people through a survey. In this way it would become clear in which places a sufficient number of potential participants live. There a first meeting could be called to find out what form those present would like to give to their community. A theologian from Mumbai has already stressed that three elements are indispensable to work out the shape of such a community:
- a listening attitude
- involvement and
- full co-responsibility of all;
This means that
- Each attendant has to be heard individually
- And preferably only six to 12 people are involved
- They gather regularly but not necessarily every week,
- are not tied necessarily to the traditional liturgy
- The models are not subordinate to a parish
- A bishop or pastor might be the supervisor
Proposal of Christian Double Care
As a baptised Christian, I would like to see the Church become a unity of communities open to all, governed by the principle of care for eachother and especially for the poor, and by all that it encompasses to walk in the way of Jesus Christ.