*Warning* I’m an unabashed fan of hockey. I am biased, and I do believe hockey is not only the best sport but the most analogous to Catholicism. Imagine my delight when I discovered Alyssa Bormes book, “The Catechism of Hockey,” which is published by The American Chesterton Society.
It’s a delightful book, but maybe more than anything, thought provoking. It manages to get you to think about how you live your faith life. Bormes points out the seriousness with which we treat sports, but the lack of seriousness with which we treat the Catholic faith. It challenges us to live our life with the same commitment we give to the sports we play.
I want to discuss in particular Bormes’ discussion on the “Sin Bin,” while comparing hockey’s treatment of penalties to other sports’ treatment of penalties, fouls, and other forms of rule-breaking.
Bormes points out that the hockey penalty is dealt to a skater following an offense that may be classified as major or minor depending on the intention and the flagrancy of the offense. He does his time immediately and individually, sitting alone in the Penalty Box (the “Sin Bin”) for his allotted time. He serves his time, and then is allowed to continue in the game. While the skater is punished individually, the team also suffers for the duration of the penalty since no other skater is allowed to take the place of the offender. The actions of the single player affect the whole team while still the skater has an individual punishment.
It is in looking at other sports that the uniqueness of the hockey penalty and thus its similitude to the Catholic view of sin is emphasized. In football, when a player breaks the rules, the penalty is assessed to the entire team as a unit. A single player false-starts and the entire team must give up their hard-earned forward progress and retreat five yards. The intention of the player makes no difference and each offense has a predetermined penalty.
In soccer, a player is given a warning (yellow card) following an minor infraction, but neither he nor his team suffer any consequences; the yellow card is merely a warning and the player receives a “booking,” meaning his name has been recorded. If the player receives a second yellow card, he is also shown a red card and ejected from the game. He is not replaced by another player and the game continues with his team playing shorthanded. Only after a second warning is the individual penalized for minor infractions. If the player commits a flagrant penalty he his ejected immediately regardless of number of previous offenses.
In these differences lie the greatness of hockey as an analogy for the Catholic approach to sin and forgiveness. For a Catholic, an offense or sin, is his own. No one else is to blame when he breaks a rule. For this reason, the penalty is assessed to him individually. The player’s penalty requires a “penance” proportionate to the gravity and seriousness of his offense.
Likewise, sin may be major or minor (mortal or venial) depending on intention, means, and the moral object. The punishment is assessed taking these three aspects into consideration. While each man’s sin belongs to him alone, he is also part of a common human nature that he shares with all men, is part of the Body of Christ which he shares with all baptized Christians, is part of a country by birth or immigration, and is part of a family by birth, adoption, or choice.
His actions have an effect on all of the others who share in each of these relationships even if not a visible one. There is always, no matter how private a sin, some affect on the entirety of humanity and the other communities to which the person belongs on some mystical level. For the Catholic, each sin has a ripple effect into all of his relationships, from God all the way down to the stranger in a distant land.
A good analogy to understand this is the integrity of a puzzle. The entire cosmos is like a puzzle. If one piece is missing, the entire puzzle is incomplete. The entire puzzle is defective on account of one piece. Sin affects the entirety of creation. Now imagine that on the puzzle has among many images one of a person (representing for us humanity). Now, if the puzzle is missing one piece particularly in the image of the person, how much more is the image of the person defective within the entire puzzle which is also left defective.
Just as the penalty box corrects the penalty , in Catholicism there is a way to fix these relationships, to get back into the game. He needs to sit in the “Sin Bin,” do his penance, and then is allowed to continue in the game. He has the ability to be forgiven of his sin and atone for it. Hockey is merciful towards its skaters. His team is playing at full strength again. He may visit the penalty box numerous times, even for the same offense, and yet he is never given a red card and ejected unless he refuses to do his time in the box (which would be a “game misconduct”). The most serious of penalties are treated harshly and like all analogies this is where it breaks away from Catholicism. There is no sin so great that it can’t be forgiven. Only the rejection of such forgiveness, which has its own similitude to hockey’s game misconduct for refusing to enter the penalty box.
Where (American) football penalizes the entire team for any offense and Association football (soccer) penalizes a player only with a warning or the Draconian red card with no option for forgiveness, hockey is merciful! Hockey is merciful and shows the mystical union of the individual to the greater community in more Catholic terms.
If you found this comparison of soccer, football, and hockey interesting, pick up a copy of Alyssa Bormes book, “The Catechism of Hockey.”