Coca Cola and the New Evangelization

new_coke

It was April 23, 1985. After 99 years of producing America’s number one soda Coca Cola did the unthinkable. They replaced the beloved Coke that everyone had always known with “New” Coke. Millions were spent in advertising. Celebrities were recruited as spokespeople. The publicity was there. The support for the roll out was well coordinated. There was only one problem. As reported over at NBCNews.com:

But public reaction was overwhelmingly negative; some people likened the change in Coke to trampling the American flag.

Soon people were hoarding cases of the old stuff. In June 1985, Newsweek reported that savvy black marketeers sold old Coke for $30 a case. A Hollywood producer, giving an old vintage its proper respect, reportedly rented a wine cellar to hold 100 cases of the old Coke.

On July 11, 1985 (after only 79 days and millions of dollars in advertising) New Coke was pulled off the store shelves forever.

So what went wrong?

There are two significant lessons that can be learned from the entire New Coke debacle. First, despite all the extensive taste testing and marketing research the executives at Coca Cola failed to grasp a very simple fact: no one asked for Coke to change the flavor of its soda. Second, no matter how well something is packaged and promoted in the end the quality of the product is what counts.

So what does any of this have to do with the Catholic Church and the New Evangelization?

First, a definition. What is the New Evangelization? Veteran Catholic reporter and NCR columnist John L. Allen, Jr. defines it as such:

“(T)he New Evangelization aims to reach out to alienated Catholics who in many cases have become secularized. Europe and North America are a special preoccupation, because that’s where a disproportionate share of these “distant Christians” are found.

Now, let’s translate all that into language that non-theologians can understand.

In a nutshell, the “New Evangelization” is about salesmanship. The idea is to move the Catholic product in the crowded lifestyle marketplace of the post-modern world.”

These days everyone is seeking to package a “Catholic product” in a manner that will engage Catholics and keep them from abandoning the faith of their fathers. Of course, there is nothing new to what we are hearing. This has been the battle cry of progressives for over a generation. It is believed, for some reason, that the Catholic faith in its fullest and most authentic presentation is apparently not convincing enough to evangelize the world.

First and foremost, the belief in repackaging our faith has been most visibly seen in the Mass. In far to many parishes we have seen, in the words of our Pope emeritus, a “fabricated liturgy”. Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland believes that the liturgy is a necessity for successful evangelization:

I am solidly convinced that an authentic and faithful renewal and reform of the sacred liturgy is not only part of the New Evangelization—it is essential to its fruitfulness…

If we do not get the sacred liturgy right, I fear that we will just be spinning our wheels rather than getting the New Evangelization going in the right direction. If we are transformed by the sacred liturgy, then we…can help transform the culture.

In a recent interview, Cardinal Raymond Burke (who as the Prefect for the Apostolic Signatura is the highest ranking American bishop in the Roman Curia) was asked about the importance of the liturgy in today’s Church as well as its role in evangelization. Cardinal Burke said that the liturgy was “fundamental” to both.

What is ultimately the lesson we should learn from the entire New Coke episode of 1985? As a Church we do not need to spend time worrying about what creative ways we can “engage” Catholics. If they are leaving the Church it is not because of poor advertising.

Evangelical praise and worship songs, free give aways of the latest Matthew Kelly self-help book, Masses aimed at every demographic beginning with our Teens, ecumenical Bible studies mid-week and in the pew surveys of the faithful are not what we need for the New Evangelization. How about simply giving the “consumer” a “product” superior to everyone elses: the fullness of the Truth.

The Holy Mass

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, echoing the sentiments of Lumen Gentium, tells us that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life”. (CCC 1324) Not to be profane, but THAT is our product! We have the Holy Mass.

John Allen said that the New Evangelization is about “salesmanship”. Let’s learn from Coca Cola. No matter how creative and innovative your marketing campaign may be, no matter how good your salesmanship may be, you will lose “market share” if your product is inferior. While all validly offered Masses are licit, not all are beautiful or reverent.

What is our role in the New Evangelization? To keep it from becoming the New Coke. Clergy and laity alike must work together to ensure that our liturgy is offered in a manner consistent with our heritage and worthy of our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament.

Please let me know your thoughts about this post and about the New Evangelization.

Posted on August 1, 2013, in life, liturgy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. When I think of the New Evangelization I think about a return to the teaching of the faith that has been lacking in North America during my life span. There has been no real catechesis on any coordinated level at least in the diocese that I grew up in. We have a post-Vatican II society that grew up when the clergy left the teaching of the faith in the hands of others who were not trained to the task. I grew up not knowing many of the fundamental catechism facts that any child would have been taught 10 years earlier. Maybe my understanding of the New Evangelization is different from the definition you’re working from, but I know a lot of young catholics who are excited right now about learning the truths of the faith and understanding them for the first time.

    • Thank you for your comment Elizabeth. I think you are absolutely correct about the poor catechesis over the past 40 years. I am a convert who largely “read” myself into the faith, and then thankfully my interior/prayer life started getting more attention.

      My wife, who is a cradle, experienced the lack of catechesis growing up. She too has been playing catch up. Our Holy pastor at our parish along with a lot of good online sites, and books, have helped her in recent years.

      My focus on the liturgy also applies to this area. Lex Orandi lex credendi. People can be taught the Eucharist is Christ, and the Mass is heaven on earth, but the Liturgy can powerfully reinforce it, or serve to under cut it.

      God bless and I hope you continue to read and comment!

  2. Theresa A Ostendorf

    From Lighthouse Catholic Media: Learn It ~ Live It ~ Share It!

    To participate in the New Evangelization — Start with Step 1: Learn It! (so many of us have had that same lack of catechesis in our lives.

    From there you can’t help but to go to Step 2: Live It! (because it is so beautiful and it leads you to Fall In Love with Him! And when you’re in love – you want the whole world to know!)

    Which Naturally brings you to Step 3: Share It!

    • Couldn’t agree more Theresa. It sounds a lot like the Cursillo method of Piety, Study and Action.

      From what Cardinal Burke and Archbishop Sample said, we need solid, traditional and beautiful liturgy to feed the faithful so that we effectively evangelize. In addition, once we have shared our faith, we can then bring them to Mass and let God reach them in the Sacred space of the Liturgy.

      God bless and thank you for sharing Theresa!

  3. I have not the words to explain the Glory of the beloved Mass.

    I also grew up with post-Vatican II Catechesis-Lite. I asked the hard questions, but had to find the answers for myself. I taught my sons as best I could and both attended Catholic schools from Pre-K through 12, but neither of them now as adults attend the Mass. But that’s OK, I believe, as St. Monica did, and as my mother and grandmother did, that they will return to the fold, as I did.

    What took me away from the Mass wasn’t the language, or the music, or the style of the readings. For a while, being a Catholic was irrelevant to me. After a few years, I found myself in the unlikely role as an apologist in an ecumenical Women in Scripture group! After attending the worship services of the other members of the group (one of whom was a pastor’s wife), I began to miss the Mass. I wasn’t sure why.

    The International Year of the Child found me defending the Church’s position against abortion by promoting greater respect for women, to honor Mary as our mother. (NOT a popular move in a Protestant Bible Study!) But I came home to the miracle of the Transubstantiation. The Real Presence, once perceived, can not be forsworn or denied. Outside of that, the form of the Mass pales.

    • Always love your comments Marie! You are spot on about the Eucharist. Once a Catholic truly sees with the eyes of faith that it is our Lord on the altar, and whom we receive at Mass…then you find yourself never wanting to lose him again.

      I’m sorry about your adult children. My oldest, who is in her mid twenties, has also fallen away. She still considers herself Catholic, but it plays no part in her life presently. I will pray for your sons if you pray for my oldest. Deal? 🙂

      God bless and thank you for reading my blog and for sharing your experiences.

  4. As a convert to Catholicism nearly four years ago, I have to say that actually TEACHING the faith in RCIA was nearly non-existent. I self-catechized prior to RCIA, and was severely disappointed in it, and saddened for those entering who didn’t have the skill or desire to learn for themselves what the faith really is.

    • Unfortunately many have experienced this. I have even heard of priests openly disagreeing with the Church’s stance on certain social teachings right in the middle of a RCIA class!

      Ron, sounds like our Lord may have use for your knowledge as a teacher of RCIA in you parish. What do you think?

  5. Very true. The focus is not on the “customers” but on the “product”. I agree with John Allen (I’m actually also John Allen) that New Evangelization is about salesmanship. It’s a good analogy.

    Hoping for future posts from your blog, liturgy guy.

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