Back in April I began a series on What’s Killing American Catholicism. Events and other commitments kept me from completing the series at that time. The first post was on Cultural Catholicism and I argued that this was countered by Comprehensive Catholicism–a Catholic faith that is truly universal and transcends all cultures and ethnicities. The second installment was on Complacent Catholicism which is countered by Compassionate Catholicism. The third post focused on Cafeteria Catholicism versus Complete Catholicism while the fourth installment was on Cut Off Catholicism which is countered by Continuous Catholicism. I encourage you to use the links to read the whole series and share it.

The next word that begins with ‘C’ is Coca Cola Catholicism. This has two aspects. The first is a critique of the sort of American Catholicism which, like Coca Cola itself is sweet and fizzy, but has not nutritional value–in fact, after the first buzz it doesn’t even quench your thirst. The caffeine doesn’t really satisfy. It makes you thirsty and wanting more. Coca Cola Catholicism is characterized by worship that is warm and fuzzy and sweet. Anodyne sermons that are about anything but the gospel of Jesus Christ–bland exhortations to be nicer people or to be more tolerant or pep talks to boost self esteem. This is combined with hokey, sentimental music with saccharine songs about gathering together and feeling the Spirit all gooey and sweet.

It is easy to leave the criticism at the superficial level by only criticizing the sappy hymns, cheap populist and practical architecture, the anodyne sermons and bland spirituality. These things, however, are only the symptoms. The cause is the second aspect of Coca Cola Catholicism–that it is truly and completely an invention of the American culture. Coca Cola is a drink that is only water with artificial flavoring, an artificial stimulant and bubbles added. It has then been promoted with one of the most comprehensive and slick advertising campaigns ever launched. Indeed, a visit to the Coca Cola museum in Atlanta is mostly about the advertising.

Coca Cola Catholicism is, I fear, analogous to the drink. It is a form of the Catholic religion that is sweet, bubbly and stimulating, but the stimulus is mere titillation. It is an artificial stimulant. To go to a Coca Cola Catholic Church is to come away feeling fine for a short time, but then you have to go back for more because you have not really received much nourishment. Furthermore, as Coca Cola is completely and genuinely American, and has been shipped around the world to conquer the world, so Coca Cola Catholicism is uniquely American and, sad to say, it too is being shipped around the world to conquer the world.

The antidote to Coca Cola Catholicism is Contemplative Catholicism. Contemplative Catholicism is deeply rooted in the Contemplative tradition of prayer. It is suspicious of all spiritual quick fixes. It is characterized by stability, obedience and conversion of life. Contemplative Catholicism is steady, deep and true. It is good red wine instead of a fizzy drink. The problem for most American Catholics is that Contemplative Catholicism takes time and effort. A Contemplative Catholic is not made in a day. To be a truly deep contemplative Catholic is the work of a lifetime. It requires solitude, silence, sacrifice, service and study. It requires the obedience of faith–even when it is difficult–especially  when it is difficult. Americans don’t like that. We like our results instantly. We want a quick fix, an instant answer, a ready solution.

I cannot see how the American Church will accept this solution. While the portrait I paint of Coca Cola Catholicism is harsh, and I know I am dealing in generalities, at the same time I do not see much evidence of Contemplative Catholicism, and yet it is only this in depth commitment to obedience, stability and conversion of life that will change our church and change our world and change ourselves. As usual, the solution is not in great plans for evangelization or catechesis. Instead what is required for individuals to realize the need for change and to determine that–even if no one else joins them–they will become a contemplative Catholic and they will allow their own transformation to be used by God to transform the world.