There is not one of us without sin, St John tells us; our consciences tell us the same thing. As Lent approaches, so does an opportunity to spring-clean our spiritual life. For many of us, if we are not careful, this can become an opportunity for more guilt: I said I would fast, and I haven’t; I said I would pray more, and I haven’t, I said I would give alms and I haven’t; all of which can end up weighing us down and leaving us worse off at the end of Lent than we were at the beginning. Circumstances change cases, and it is certainly the case that what might work for one person won’t for another, and too often, when preparing for Lent, we can look to the example of great Saints, only to find that in practice we cannot emulate what they did – then fall away altogether. Some of us have the temperament to cast the first stone – at ourselves, and precisely because of the acute consciousness of our own sinfulness.
Like others here, I was moved by what Fr Malcolm wrote about his own experience of same-sex attraction. How easy it would be for stones to have been thrown at him – and how good it was that they were not. Too often such stone throwing is its own form of what is now called ‘virtue-signalling’. What do I mean by that? I don’t mean it is wrong to draw attention to sin, but I do mean that it is wrong to do so in a tone that makes it seem as though one is, oneself, without sin; at the very least we should treat other sinners the way we would like to be treated. Not all of us bear the burden of sin equally. The fact that I am partial to a glass of wine or three is a venial sin which I can easily attend to – and usually do during Lent. Were I inclined as Fr Malcolm has been, then the cross would be heavier. Those heterosexuals inclined to fornication can find an answer in marriage; those inclined to the same-sex cannot, in the eyes of the Church, do the same. How easy and simple it is for those able to satisfy their sexual appetites to counsel others to bear the cross; I wonder how easy they would find it to take their own advice?
Yes, we tend to focus on those who noisily advocate normalising their own particular sin, but less is said about those who do not do so, who silently and with dignity take up their cross and follow Jesus; a course made the harder by the reproaches of the activists who share their propensity for that sin, but not their resolute self-sacrifice. It is that last we should remember, and it is their witness that we should celebrate. How much more I admire someone who says they have this propensity to sin and refrains, than I do those who adjure them for the tendency.
So, as we move towards Lent, perhaps one thing we could all do, as denizens of an on-line community, is to fast from casting stone – at ourselves, or others – and remember, instead, that we are all sinners, all carrying our own crosses, and bear with each other and support each other in prayer.