The Difference Between Hockey, Football, and Soccer is Catholicism

*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 (frequently referred to by fans as 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 even while 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."

No-Shave November: A Catholic Approach

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons
No-Shave November is a growing campaign to promote awareness in the fight against cancer. It began in 2009 and has since gained momentum from year to year. 

Another similar campaign is the Movember campaign which promotes awareness of men's health issues by encouraging men to sport mustaches. 

No-Shave November predominantly promotes awareness through facial hair as well, although they also encourage more than the pogonotrophic arts. If you lack the capacity for the wild-and-free, virile tuft of mandibular fur, you could always cease shaving other areas for the cause.

Just like Catholics in Lent, No-Shave November forgoes one 'good' for some higher good. The money that you save from not shaving is given as quasi-alms to help those in need. While in your razor-fast the perpetual reminder to pray for the poor souls that battle with this unfortunate disease is right under your nose. Haven't sported facial hair before? The constant itch of a mid-length growth and the order of that garlic sauce stuck in your flavor-saver from lunch is penance enough, as if the end to displays of affection public and otherwise from your significant other wasn't enough.

And if you feel you still need some encouragement to sport your sprouts, here's a wonderful quote from St. Augustine:  "The beard signifies the courageous; the beard distinguishes the grown men, the earnest, the active, the vigorous. So that when we describe such, we say, he is a bearded man" (Exposition of Psalm 133. 6).

So, whether its the full beard, the chops, the handlebar, the goatee, van dyke, or even leg warmers (from the ladies), you have the opportunity to do some good while having fun at the same time. And remember, Jesus had a beard.

Please leave a description of the fanciful fuzz you're displaying in the comments below.

Igniting the World

Sometimes we get fixated on the words in this last Sunday's gospel about division within our households, but there is another verse which is often forgotten, namely "There is a baptism with which I must be baptized."

The ties between the reading from Jeremiah and the Gospel run deep. In order to see these ties we might want to understand Christ's words, "There is a baptism with which I must be baptized." The Catechism of Catholic Church (CCC) tells us in paragraph 1214 "to baptize (Greek baptizein) means to "plunge" or "immerse..." In our Christian understanding of our Sacrament, "the 'plunge' into the water symbolizes the catechumen's burial into Christ's death, from which he rises up by resurrection with him.."

When Christ says, "there is a baptism..." he is foretelling his own death. Denis the Carthusian explains this statement in Christ's own words saying, "there remains for me the duty of receiving a baptism of blood, that is, of being bathed, soaked upon the cross not in water but in my own blood poured out to redeem the whole world." Christ's baptism, the baptism that he offers us, is entrance into his passover, which does not begin on the Cross and does not end on the Cross.

Christ's passover is not a passover into death but into life. Christ was bathed in his own blood, and plunged into the tomb and plunged into the abode of the dead. But his "plunge" was not simply a plunge but also a rising from that plunge. That is to say that Christ's burial is meaningless without his resurrection. "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Cor 15:14).

Now, hearken back to Jeremiah's arrest. And his "plunge" into the muck of the cistern. The early Church would have seen this clearly as a foreshadowing of Christ's passion. The Navarre commentary states:
One ecclesiastical writer, Olympiodorus, interpreted Jeremiah’s imprisonment as a prefigurement of Jesus’ passion and death. Commenting on v. 6, he said: “The prophet becomes a figure of the mystery of Christ, who was handed over by Pilate to the Jews, descended into hell, and was raised from the dead. Jeremiah climbs out of the cistern he was cast into; Scripture often refers to hell as a cistern” (Fragmenta in Jeremiam, 38, 6).
Note also, that "three" men come to lift Jeremiah from the cistern. Christ's resurrection is a divine act of the Trinity. In our baptism we are put to death, but raised up by the Trinity, as "a new creature" (cf. 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15).

Now let us consider His words, "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" Christ sets this fire by His baptism, by the same baptism that we are baptized into. St. John Chrysostom comments on Christ's words saying:
For by the earth He now means not that which we tread under our feet, but that which was fashioned by His hands, namely, man, upon whom the Lord pours out fire for the consuming of sins, and the renewing of souls.
In Latin, we see the relation between human—homo—and the earth—humo—a little more clearly, which is very much the same in Hebrew, the original language of the story of Genesis, which is where this whole story begins.

Now, consider briefly the word "fire." Fire burns, destroys, it purifies gold and burns up impurities. It produces warmth and light. It consumes the sacrificial offering and sends up the smoke of incense and prayer. All the more the Holy Spirit, then, sets man ablaze with love, a love that purifies the heart, produces warmth, enlightens the mind, and consumes the offering of our life producing of it a prayer that rises up to God.

So, what's the point of all this? Why does this lead to division?

1 Peter 4:12-19 answers this for us:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
Setting the world on fire is about the Spirit. It is about sharing this Spirit, by taking it into ourselves. Ultimately, it is about Baptism. It is about Christ's baptism and our union with Christ by our baptism, a union of love effected by the Holy Spirit. It is a call to live out our baptismal promises and the life—that is the fire—we received at baptism.

Three Musts of the New Evangelization

If we face up to the facts, we have lost some serious ground in the culture wars. It is not because what we have to say is not true, or right, or loving. It is because the way we say it is unintelligible, unconvincing, and unaffective (I know this isn't really a word). We are using a language that is lost on generations of people who do not speak the philosophico-theological lingo. We, in effect, are preaching in German to the French. It is absurd and laughable.

If we want to take our situation seriously, we need to do things differently. We have to become more intelligible. We have to become more convincing. We have to become more affective.

Becoming more intelligible...

In our daily arguments with 'the World' we seem to think that if we use the same words, we will be understood. The problem is that the same word means different things to different groups. It is like I tell my friend, "Let's go fishing tomorrow; I'll meet you by the bank at five." We both know what fishing means, but when I say bank, I may mean the bank of the river or the financial institution. When I say five, I have not made clear if I mean in the morning or the evening. So, when my friend shows up at the wrong place at the wrong time, I should not be surprised. 

A more concrete example is the matter of "rights." If we look at them, we will notice that we do not even have a functioning definition of what a right is or where it comes from or what distinguishes rights from pseudo-rights. As Catholics we like to think we can take the high ground, but we are using a borrowed word that carries a lot of baggage. Without denying the existence of rights—which we have not even proven—we can talk about all the same issues using the language of duty.  

Sure, I may have the right to do 'this' or 'that,' but I certainly do not have a duty to do 'this' if it conflicts with the duty to do 'that.' And if I do not have the duty, then I most certainly have a clear moral imperative to refrain from 'this' and to do 'that.' 

Becoming more convincing...

In order to be convincing, we have to be credible. Nothing makes us less credible than our failure to practice what we preach. The only way to be more convincing is to be more loving. Our good works preach the gospel, at times, more loudly than our words (and no St. Francis never said, "Preach the Gospel at all times; use words when necessary." Look it up.).

Integrity is essential to our arguments, especially when are arguments are about being a certain kind of person. Our own lives need to reflect better the lives of the saints. We cannot do that if we do not first know Christ. The common denominator in the lives of the saints is Christ and His Church. A love for the Sacraments is essential to living a truly Christian life. If you want to know Christ, you have to meet Him where He is, namely in Scripture, in the Eucharist, and in your bother and sister (cf. Mt 25).  

Becoming more affective...

We have to touch the heart and mind, and we cannot do one without the doing the other. We have to not only be loving, but we have to get others to feel loved. We have to stir up the spirits of those we are preaching to and all the Spirit to move them to conversion. We cannot expect them to change based solely on one or two moving experiences, but without those experiences, we change is difficult if not impossible.

We have to stop thinking of all emotive experiences as superficial. Some of them are consoling. When a sense of peace and joy, that is ordered and reasonable, fills a person we can be sure that that is the work of the Holy Ghost. When someone is stirred with a joy that is muddled by the overwhelming desire to do too much too soon, we have to question the source of that experience. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Wisdom and will never lead us imprudently. We can be sure, however, that peace is from God.

If we touch the heart without touching the mind, our desired effect will be short lived. If we touch the mind without touching the heart, we will have an army of self-referential pietists who may know the faith but do not practice it or who practice only that aspect which is most comfortable to them, most likely study.  

We should not be afraid to use means that move people as long as those means are accompanied by sound reasoning. A logical argument can be quite moving if presented in the right way. And a more affective, intelligible argument will ultimately be more effective and convincing especially if one presenting it is a person of real integrity.

Treading Lightly on the Sacred Ground

"Do not come nearer; rather take the shoes from thy feet,
thou art standing on holy ground." (Ex 3:5)
The spiritual life is sacred ground, but often times we tread clumsily and heavily as if it were not. My own experience is that those of us who spend their time studying religion, history, philosophy, literature, theology, etc... sometimes fail to manifest the same sensitivity and subtlety that they have in their own fields of study when it comes to talking about an individual's spiritual experiences.

For each of us the spiritual life differs vastly. I should not expect my life and my experiences to answer the questions of your life. The way I resolve my issues is not going to be the way that you resolve your issues and for all the right reasons. What is amazing, however,  is how similar our experiences are when we can uncover them. If we can boil them down to just their essence, we see great similarities between what is happening in each of our lives.

What is most difficult is developing the subtlety to distinguish between non-spiritual and spiritual events in our lives. For example, the feeling of hunger is a non-spiritual thing. My stomach is empty, it pangs for want of food, and I can hear a growling. On a spiritual level, I can move beyond my body's natural appetite to be fed. In a negative way, I can begin to despise the causes of my hunger and curse God for not providing for me. In a positive way, I can sublimate that hunger into a hunger for justice or grace. I can offer this temporal suffering out of love in atonement for my own sins. Whatever I do at that level, it is no longer a matter a my corporeal body.

Too often, though, we confuse non-spiritual affects with spiritual ones. Beethoven once said, "Music is the mediator between the spiritual and sensual life." Because of music's power to influence us on a physiological level, the place where the affect becomes spiritual is difficult to distinguish, and let us not forget that non-spiritual experiences really do influence our spiritual experiences.

This is why silence—real, true silence—is so necessary for us. We need to make time to sit with God in peace and quiet, listening to Him or listening for Him. Every outside influence can confuse us about what is spiritual and what is non-spiritual. So, in order to hear God we need to stop and draw clear lines of distinction between God's voice and everyone else's.

To do this we need to reflect on our day. We need to stop and reflect on the moments throughout the day where we made decisions and what things influenced the decisions we made. Were those influencers spiritual or non-spiritual? Were they ordered, reasoned, and directed toward God, or directed toward me and my own desires?

You can say, "who has time for that?" But that is already the wrong question. Just like every other relationship in you life, you make the time for the ones you believe are most important. If you cannot make five minutes for God, you have no business having any friends.

The prayer of the Church is a great place to start. In particular, I would encourage praying Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. It specifically sets aside time for an examination of conscience, and is a good place to start for thoughtful reflective prayer that incorporates scripture. It will help you develop a habit of setting aside time to stop and spend in conversation with the most important relationship in your life.

So, before you start giving out spiritual advice to friends and family, develop a deep prayer life. If you develop a prayer life that incorporates silence and the written word of God, you will start to see more clearly those lines of distinction. When you can see those, you will not be able to do anything but tread lightly.

The History of Henry VIII: an opportunity taken...

"To be deep in history is to 
cease to be a Protestant."
~ Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman
Last week I wrote about an opportunity missed. This week, I seized an opportunity.

Yesterday, for the first time in months, I paid for a haircut. I am a fan of traditional barbershops, and the only traditional barbershop I know of in the area is about 45 minutes away. It is the same barber shop where I got my hair cut the day before my wedding.

The gentlemen there are always professional and personable. This time, as I was sitting in the barber chair, when I was asked what I do for a living. It is usually a conversation I do not enjoy having. When I say I do theology, I usually get one of two responses. The first is something to the effect of, "I don't see how anyone couldn't believe in God." The second is usually, "Oh..." and then silence.

This time the conversation was quite different. I was asked where I work. I told him that I do not currently have a job, and that finding a job in this area is difficult. I said that as a Catholic it is not like I can just go out and start my own church. To this, he replied, "Maybe God's telling you that it's time to join a different church."

Ah! Yes! An opportunity to evangelize!

He continued saying, "Maybe if you were Episcopal you could be a priest and have a wife, I know it's difficult to do something like that if you're Catholic."

I asked him how much he knew about the history of the Episcopal church. He admitted that he didn't know much. I explained to him that the Episcopal church was an extension of the Anglican church in America. It maintained the liturgy of the Church of England and its structure. I then asked how much he knew about the Church of England. He acknowledged that he did not know anything.

King Henry VIII
I explained to him that the Church of England was part of the Catholic Church until the rule of Henry VIII. Henry ultimately decided to proclaim himself the head of the Church in England, because the Church refused to annul his marriage. I asked him if he thought that was a good enough reason to leave the Church.

He admitted it was not and we continued to talk. I expressed as subtlely as possible the idea that the more you know the history of Christianity the more certain you are that the Catholic Church is the only true Church. I did this from my own perspective, saying, "I can't imagine being any Christian denomination. The more I've learned the history of any denomination of Christianity, the more certain I am that their reasons for separation are unfounded and it leads to error. So, naturally I wouldn't consider leaving the Church myself just so I could get a job."

We continued talking but at this point he seemed to concede that my decision was well formed and he asked if there were other ways that I could help the Catholic Church. He made several suggestions, but nothing that I have not already thought of and tried. I expressed my own desire to work in college campus ministry again, and my love for working with that age group. He seemed interested in what I had to say and I thanked him for the opportunity to talk and for the wonderful haircut.

It was a great opportunity, and I am glad I took it. Now, it is up to the workings of the Holy Spirit.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.

 O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

Wedding Feast: An opportunity missed

I slept in recently on a Sunday, not too late, but late enough to have to go to a parish other than my own. My wife and I arrived a few minutes late, and to make matters worse, there wasn't a parking spot in sight.

The parking dilemma has happened before (not having been late), and it was because that Sunday was the "Children's Mass." So naturally I was cursing the concept of a "so-called-Children's Mass" on my way in asking, "Why isn't every Mass a Children's Mass? Why isn't every Mass an 'Everybody Mass'!?"

This is one of those moments when you feel like slapping yourself in the face: I walked in at the start of the Gloria and could not find a single seat open. I was not too worried about finding a seat since I had brought my pregnant wife with me, and I knew there had to be at least one gentleman in the place who would make some room for us. But as we were scanning for seats, I noticed two things. First, everyone was wearing there Sunday's best, which is sadly unusual. Secondly, there were a lot of children in the first set of pews wearing little suits and white dresses. *Slap* First Communions! "I'm sorry, Lord, I take it all back."

My frustration turned to joy almost immediately; there are few things as beautiful as witnessing a First Communion. The Collect was said, and the readings were read. We sat knowing what the homily would be about, namely, First Communion.

Fr. Bob (not his real name), is one of those priests who sincerely loves God and His Church, but is not the most 'liturgically' or 'theologically minded.' After finishing the Gospel, he kissed it set it down, and walked down into the nave. Pacing back and forth he asked the children, "Why are you all dressed up?"

To which one replied, "We're getting married."

A roar of laughter erupted and Father said, "I hope there's an equal number of boys and girls." He then proceeded to correct the child and explain that they were receiving the Eucharist for the first time. And what he said was very encouraging and good.

I feel, however, that missed an opportunity. That whole parish was rocking with laughter to the embarrassment of one child. Here was the perfect opportunity to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. In the midst of the laughter he could have said, "In a way, that's true."

Certainly not every child was preparing to marry another child, but in that moment, they were preparing to enter into a union of one body with Christ, which is itself very much like the union of a husband and wife.

Stop and think for a bit, if you do not already know what I am talking about. In the Mass the priest repeats the words of St. John the Baptist saying, "Behold Him, who takes away the sins of the world" followed by "Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb." This second text is an allusion to Rev. 19:9 which says, "Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb."

There is a marriage taking place between the Lamb and His bride, the Church, who we traditionally call the Bride of Christ. We tend to forget this aspect of Communion, because we no longer follow the traditional order of the Sacraments of Initiation—Baptism first, Confirmation second, then Eucharist last—with children who have received infant Baptism.

The difficulty is that Communion is not the marriage itself, but rather the consummation of the marriage that takes place in Confirmation. The analogy is that we enter into a solemn relationship, much like betrothal, in our Baptism. We swear our fidelity to our beloved. In Confirmation, we perfect that promise made in our Baptism and receive the necessary graces to carry out the duties of our perfected relationship. In this way, Confirmation is more like the rite of Matrimony. Furthermore, Communion is the full expression of that love between us and Christ. It is an expression of fecund self-giving. It is deeply intimate and is more like the consummation of marriage. It can and should be repeated as an expression of love that is life-giving. Baptism and Confirmation, much like betrothal and the marriage rite, cannot be repeated because they carry with them a permanence, a solemn promise.

Now, obviously not all of this can be explained in depth to a seven-year-old, who would lack the comprehension of the full sense of the analogy, but nevertheless, it ought to be explained in part that we unite ourselves to Christ by this Sacrament and in doing so we express our mutual love for each other.

I should note that the reception of Confirmation is not restricted to those who have received their First Communion. Archbishop Aquila, while serving as the Bishop of Fargo, re-established the order in that diocese.