Books Catechesis Practical

“The Catechism of Hockey” by Alyssa Bormes

Written by Pr. Phil Booe

A few years ago, a book that I always wanted to write was handed to me by a Roman Catholic priest and friend of mine. is an easy read for laypeople, written by a catechist who grew frustrated hearing parents fuss over the time commitments and effort involved in bringing their children to catechesis and teaching them the faith.

Parents Are Always Teaching

Parents are teaching (catechizing) their children constantly. Despite the notion some parents hold that they are unable to teach, they are always teaching—good or bad. One example I used in my dissertation, is that of a father who is a fan of a particular football team. Whether he realizes it or not he is teaching his children to be team fans. The father does not set aside an hour of each week to teach his children about the basics of football, the importance of team loyalty, or why rooting for his team makes sound logical sense. He does not send his children once a week to a class taught by an assistant football coach to learn about being football fans. When his children reach a certain age, he certainly does not contact the head coach of the team to evaluate his children to determine if they are ready to be fans.

Instead, the father simply lives out his life as a fan and models what it looks like to be faithful to the team for his children. He talks about football in casual conversation. He introduces his children to watching or attending football games and sits with them as they experience it together. He answers his children’s questions about field goals, downs, and interceptions while also offering up his own commentary on what makes football and his favorite team so great.

As his children age, they begin to follow their father’s example. At some point, they may be ready to play football, but even if not they have grown up hearing about it and seeing their father speak, act, and even dress like team fan. More often than not, because of their exposure to their father’s dutiful and continual teaching (catechesis), his children will eventually take on more responsibility for learning about football on their own. In time, like their father, they will don the team colors and jersey as they sit with their own children and pass down what they have learned.

The Catechism of Hockey

Bormes holds a master’s in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Minnesota. Add to that her experience as a public speaker and Catholic educator, it’s no wonder she knocked it out of the park with this, her first book.

Bormes uses Hockey (and by logical extension all sports fanaticism) as a metaphor to explain the responsibility parents have to raise their children in the teachings and observances of the Church. As I’ve noted, the book is Roman in emphasis, but very “catholic” in its applicability. I appreciate the 29 easily digestible (read: short!) chapters that make the book well suited for group study. You won’t need to be a sports fan to appreciate her analysis as she lovingly speaks law to the “sports parent” in all of us and tears down common arguments parents have for not “burdening” their children with the faith.

Hockey is like the Church

The author compares the Church to hockey. She notes that for hockey to be hockey (and not another game), there must be rules. The rules that define hockey are passed down in a “deposit” from generation to generation. Just as in the Church, there is a “deposit of faith” that defines Christianity. Rules, so to speak, that make Christianity what it is and not some false religion. The deposit of faith, too, must be passed down.

Wayne Gretzky on the Ice

In this vein, Bormes describes coaches as the catechists of hockey, with parents often serving as the first teachers of hockey. Coaches, then, add layers of meaning to the foundations of the sport taught at home. She relays a great example of Wayne Gretzky’s dad who taught him all he could until he knew it was time to pass young Wayne off to a coach. Thus for parents who aren’t very knowledgeable about hockey still have a duty to prepare their children on how to behave around, respect, and listen to the coach. Bormes seamlessly connects all of this to the role of parents preparing their children for life in the Church.

Throughout the book the reader will get a new appreciation for how parents are often very willing to sacrifice time, energy, effort, and even money (!) to make sure their children excel in various sports, but often have no passion for preparing their children for eternal things. The reader will be confronted with why there is so much of a disconnect between how parents encourage their children in sports, but are not as committed to making sure their  children are equipped and ready to be trained in the faith.

…But Hockey is Fun!

In Chapter 16, Bormes relates a conversation she had with a hockey mom. The mom said, “But Alyssa, the difference between hockey and the Mass is… hockey is fun!” The author responded, “Yes, you are so right, hockey is fun…but not if you don’t know what’s going on. Then it’s just a hard bench in a cold place and you find yourself looking at your watch, wondering how much longer this can go on.” The point the author makes is that if Mass is just an “obligation,” adult catechesis is in order.

I have always said that the liturgy, understood well by the hearers, is the most experiential type of worship one can engage in. You are literally hearing the words of God, confessing the same, speaking along side prophets and apostles, and taking into yourself the very body and blood of Christ. It’s far more “fun” when you know what’s going on. I think Bormes would agree. She further notes that if parents are just doing church “for the kids,” they will likely grow up to also just do it “for the kids” (if at all) and “generations of Catholics will be baptized and taken to Mass with no real idea of what is taking place.” Don’t we see that in Lutheran churches today?

Using the the elements of hockey as a metaphor, Bormes almost slips in a lesson for us all about how we prioritize so many other things above our life in the Church. She brings in the necessity of parents encouraging their children toward church work and she even works in a illustration about the penalty box and penance. That last bit brings up my only regret: that this book is not from a Lutheran perspective. That’s the only thing that keeps me from making it required reading for the parents who bring their children to my catechesis classes.

Go Learn.

I’ll leave you with some great insight from the last chapter. The author points out that parents often think it is someone else’s (the church) responsibility to teach their children the Faith. To this she says, “True, but [parents] are a part of the church.”

Parents may reason that someone else is more qualified. Bormes notes that this same reasoning seems to escape them with they teach their children to throw and catch a ball, brush their teeth, ride a bike, or anything else.

Finally, if parents reason that they don’t know enough to teach, the author’s response is simple: Go learn.

About the author

Pr. Phil Booe

The Rev. Dr. Phil Booe is a husband to Becky and father to Alex and Katie. Originally from North Carolina, he currently serves as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Luverne, Minnesota (LCMS). He holds a B.S. in Criminal Justice from Western Carolina University, an M.Div. from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and a D.Min. from Bethel University in Congregational Counseling and Catechetics.

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