In the midst of the media storm which has accompanied the interview of Lance Armstrong by Oprah Winfrey, there is an interesting piece in America magazine.
The article is written by well known Jesuit author James Martin SJ and explores the question of whether we should forgive Lance Armstrong. It is an interesting read and the middle section gives a very useful commentary on the different elements necessary in the sacrament of reconciliation.
However, it has got me thinking about a slightly different question – what does it mean for me to forgive Lance Armstrong (or any person entirely unrelated to me and my life circumstances)? Yes, I did read It’s not about the bike and Every second counts three or four years ago. Yes, I found his story engaging and interesting. But I have known disappointment of this sort before. As a child I had to write a short essay on someone I found inspiring. This is around the time of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, and I chose the Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson. After a long rivalry with Carl Lewis, Johnson finally triumphed taking the gold in the 100m final. The ink was hardly dry on my essay when the news broke of his use of performance enhancing drugs.
I suppose my issue here is with the choice of the word ‘forgiveness’. I know what it is to forgive. I know it is not something that I can will myself to; is it not something I can rationally argue myself into; nor is it something I can choose. Forgiveness is not something which crosses my path on a daily basis. Rather it is something which I discover I am in need of when I begin to recognise that I am hooked onto something in my past. I am still holding onto the identity which an old wound has given me. Sooner or later (sometimes after far more time has elapsed than I would care to admit!) I begin to see that I am jeopardising my future wellbeing by continuing to cling to the wound. At this point I pray for the grace of forgiveness, and after a period of time I find the interior freedom that I had lost.
Lance Armstrong’s appalling behaviour doesn’t even feature as blip in this way of understanding. So forgive him I cannot, because I don’t quite understand what forgiveness would mean. This does not mean that there are not those who will need to pray for this particular grace, I am just saying, I don’t think I am one of them.
Rather, I choose to look on him with compassion. He has made a monumental screw up. I hope he manages to find redemption in the years to come. By that I mean I hope he is able to look himself in the mirror, to own what he has done, and to find a way to make a meaningful substantial contribution to the community in which he resides.