Lancing the Wound of Sin

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“Always remember that God sees everything.” – Padre Pio

My husband used to be a biker—not the Harley kind, but the bicycle kind. He used to be in a cycling group in high school, going out in a pack or “peloton,” racing along the highways of southern Ontario. He knows how difficult cycling can be and has the scars to prove it. So it was with mild interest that we followed Lance Armstrong’s crash and burn. Sure, we were surprised to hear that he’d been accused and then convicted and stripped of all his highly-prized medals and victories, but it wasn’t until his Oprah appearance that the true nature of what he’d done hit me.

I can’t say I’ve been more disgusted…or felt sorrier for a guy in a long time.

It seems like coming out now is delightfully convenient—what with the statute of limitations being over for perjuring himself in 2005 during a federal criminal investigation. But perhaps he knows the jig is up and since his paychecks are getting smaller and smaller…well, coming clean = more press and BIG press. Or perhaps he’s fessing up now because he thinks the International Cycling Union will let him compete again…somewhere, somehow.

Oh what tangled webs we weave, when first we practice to deceive.

But I hope he’s doing it because it’s just the gosh-darn right thing to do. I mean, this man not only cheated through winning all seven Tour de France titles and, what, two Olympic medals, but he vehemently and defiantly lied to the courts, to his fans, to the whole world about doping, sued people who spoke the truth about him and was a self-proclaimed “controlling, arrogant bully” who ruthlessly “won at all costs.” And right now, it looks like he’s getting away with it. Okay, they stripped him of his wins and he is banned from ever competing again. BUT he is not going to jail (that we know of) for perjury (which is a felony that carries up to five years in prison) and in that, teaching all the little boys and girls out there that it’s okay to lie, cheat, and commit every other kind of wretched evil in order to win. In fact, if you’re rich and famous enough, you may even get Oprah to help you come clean to the world. What a disgusting example for us all—and so typical an attitude found in the big-time personalities of this world.

But as much as I began watching the interview with Oprah with a sense of disgust and anger, I ended the first portion with a real sense of compassion for him. NOT because I feel like he’s been wronged or that he doesn’t deserve the consequences he’s facing at the moment, but I was slapped in the face with how he personifies the human condition.

We are, all of us, deeply, deeply flawed and capable of awful levels of deception and intrigue. Lance Armstrong is a regular guy like every other, with Adam and Eve’s choice of good or evil at his fingertips every day. Somewhere along the path of those seven Tours de France he allowed himself to commit fraud, drug trafficking, witness tampering, and perjury, and utterly rationalize it away, telling himself “I won these things fair and square” and “I can’t be cheating because everyone else is doing it” and he allowed those sins to fester in his soul. Fulton Sheen said once that the worst thing in the world isn’t sin, it’s the denial of sin.

But he was given another chance to come clean, and he took it, God love him, even if there was some amount of coercion to do so. And while I’m not sure he can come out of his time-out and take the dunce cap off yet, he is acknowledging his sins and errors and attempting to reconcile his life. And I can respect him for that because that’s what I try to do every day.

His confession reaffirmed to me the joy that is present when a person chooses to live in freedom and truth. Lance Armstrong said he was happier on the day he admitted his guilt than he had been before, and what a grace for him. Because although we might trick ourselves into thinking the opposite, everything we do is clearly seen by the good God and eventually becomes known, for “nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light” (Lk 8:17).

His example also clearly demonstrates to me that we, as a society, still expect ethical and moral living from those in the spotlight. I am sure there are many who don’t see a problem with his decisions, but there are many who do and thank God for that too.

And his example shows me clearly how radical, by worldly standards, our faith is in giving us the high moral ground to follow. We are called to be noble and magnanimous, to forget about ourselves constantly and consistently, and to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences, simply because it is the right thing and God expects it. And that is counter-cultural in its insistence that God’s law be placed above everything in a person’s life, even his or her biggest dreams. Although it was clearly difficult for him, confessing was the biggest victory Lance Armstrong’s ever scored in my books, and it was truly a gift for him. May he live out the rest of his life cognizant of that fact and be blessed by it.

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