A-Rod, Steroids and Lent

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

Last week New York Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez finally had his day of reckoning. Facing 200 reporters in Florida, A-Rod admitted to taking a “performance-enhancing drug” from 2001 to 2003. In a deliciously ironic declaration, he said “I’m here to take my medicine” and then went on to explain, in a thirty-minute interview, some of the details of his steroid use.

Most would agree that the use of steroids in sports is wrong. It’s wrong because it provides an unfair competitive edge to the players who use them. It’s wrong because it misleads other players, officials and fans who presume that everyone’s competing on a level field. And it’s wrong because it invariably causes serious and long-lasting harm to the body.

A-Rod’s admission of steroid use created huge headlines and the news conference was high-theater, in part since he’s a member of baseball’s most storied franchise, the New York Yankees. (Sorry Red Sox fans, it’s true. It’s one of the reasons you love beating them!) His story is intensified by the fact that he’s a three-time American League Most Valuable Player and baseball’s highest-paid player.

A-Rod confessed to stupidity and immaturity. Others have suggested that he simply got caught-up in the culture of his day and, in fact, many other baseball players, with varying degrees of admission and contrition, have been involved in the steroid story – including Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Barry Bonds, and Jason Giambi. It was heartening, I guess, that in an expression of solidarity, a number of teammates showed up at the news conference to lend personal support to their comrade on the most difficult day of his life.

The steroid scandal has cast a huge shadow over professional baseball, affectionately called, “America’s pastime.” Sports writer Mike Lopresti has observed that while the legal and moral consequences of performance enhancing drugs can be debated, “the injury to the game is a good deal more gut-level plain . . . It haunts the sport still. Baseball is loved most when we can all pretend it’s simple.”

Oh well, one can only hope that A-Rod has learned from his mistakes, is sincere in his repentance, and that in the future he’ll perform well on the field using only the natural talents God has given him. We can also hope that baseball will clean up its act and recover its special place in the life of our nation.

In a strange way, however, it strikes me that the A-Rod steroid saga can serve as a model for our Lenten journey.

The starting point is this: while few of us have a problem with steroids or other drugs, every one of us is afflicted with another plague – sin! Sin is a foreign substance that damages our souls as surely as steroids harm the body. Sin is real and dangerous. It causes enormous suffering in the world and, if left unchecked, can separate us from God forever.

Rodriguez could begin the restoration of his public image only after he admitted his problem, took personal responsibility for his actions, acknowledged the harm it had done and asked for forgiveness. That’s an important lesson for us. Often when confronted with the sin in our lives we tend to ignore it or brush it away. “It’s not that serious . . . It’s not my fault . . . Everyone’s doing it . . . Nobody’s getting hurt . . . I’ll deal with it later . . .” are excuses we frequently hear when people explain their immoral behavior.

But like A-Rod, our spiritual rehabilitation can begin only when we discard the excuses, and with brutal honesty, acknowledge our abject sinfulness before God. With the Psalmist we plead: “Have mercy on me, O God, in your kindness. In your compassion, blot out my offense. . . My offenses, truly I know them; my sin is before me always.” (Psalm 51)

Good. That confession is the beginning of our rehabilitation. But there’s more. If A-Rod’s sincere he’ll have to do better in the future – he’ll have to avoid the people and the situations that could tempt him to use drugs again. In the same way, having confessed our sins and received God’s forgiveness, we have to resolve to do better in the future – to change our ways and amend our lives. As we ask each day in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.”

Chances are we’ll never have to humble ourselves in front of 200 journalists and a watching world to confess our sins and ask for forgiveness. But someday – and this is even scarier – we’ll have to stand solo before the Judgment Seat of Almighty God to give an account of our lives, and explain what we’ve done and why we’ve done it. No excuses will be accepted at that point.

Lent is a perfect time to acknowledge the sin in our lives and the harm it causes. And the season gives us all the spiritual tools we need to conquer sin and grow in holiness – prayer, fasting and good works. Each of these traditional pillars of Lent has its own purpose and effect, but together they strengthen us spiritually and help us grow in the image and likeness of Christ. Therefore, as we begin our 40-day journey our prayer is this: “Father, this great season of grace is your gift to your family to renew us in spirit. Teach us how to live in this passing world with our heart set on the world that will never end.”